17 years. It's been an eternity and the blink of an eye all at once. It is, now that I think of it, half my current age. I suppose there are many people who would say that it isn't a very long time at all, not in the scheme of a lifetime, anyway.
It was 17 years ago tonight that I met the man that I would marry, the father of my children, my buddy, the love of my life. We spent that Groundhog Day of 1991 getting to know each other (way into the hours of February 3). We married a year and a half later, and 9 months after that, our son was born.
Being married to a Marine wasn't easy at first; I moved from my hometown to Virginia Beach…where I didn't know a living soul. He would sometimes be gone for as long as 6 months for the USMC while I was at home in our small apartment with a baby and a biweekly letter or phone call from only God knows where. I have letters from Dubai, Athens, Rome… They all ended the same, usually. I love you, mama. I'll be home soon. Semper Fi…
Five years into our marriage he left the Marine Corps and we moved back to my hometown, then to Pennsylvania where he got a federal job, I had our daughter, and I finished up my college degree. Our relationship was never perfect — far from it. We were both ardent and headstrong individuals; our upsets were always like fire and gasoline. There were many times that I wanted to rip his head off or claw his face, but we managed to make up before I had the chance.
Mark began to feel bad in 2002… A lot of unexplained pain and what not. He was losing weight. The color faded from his face. It took more than a dozen physicians to finally find the cancer, which had been destroying his body for several years by that time. He endured the amputation of a leg, inpatient chemo, and the ravages of the monstrous disease in early 2003. I was with him until he took his last breath. His fight ended on the fourth of July. Leave it to a Marine to die on Independence Day…
The last thing he ever said to me was "be happy." Well, I'm trying. So far it's working out okay. I suppose everything takes time.
Leading to tonight, it's been 17 years. No, I suppose it's not a lifetime. But it's been enough time. Enough to make a lifetime worth of memories, of remembered words and distant voices, of valuable and unteachable lessons.