“And?” the interviewer asked.
“I don’t know. It’s one of those things,” Mike said. “One moment, I was hanging out with my buddies hoping to win the bet. The next moment, my life changed forever.”
“I smiled at him,” Valerie said. “He stammered. Jake, my brother, said something silly and we all laughed. It was a long lift ride and when we got to the top…”
“We weren’t really apart after that,” Mike said. “We spent every moment we could together. Valerie’s parents had this rule: as long as we got good grades, participated in school, and worked our jobs, we could hang out at their house. We were ‘A’ students, star athletes and model employees.”
“It sounds wonderful,” the interviewer said.
“It is wonderful,” Valerie said.
“What happened?” the interviewer asked.
“My parents died,” Mike said. “A stupid accident. I have three younger siblings. Megan, my older sister, and I wanted to keep the family together but we don’t have any other relatives. Meg went to work and I… I joined the Army.”
Mike and Valerie’s eyes held for a moment. Like a current, sorrow and regret flowed between them.
“What was that?” the interviewer asked.
“I was intimidated by Val and her family,” Mike said. “I joined to Army because I thought I would make something of myself. I wanted to be good enough… for her and myself, I guess. But I left her.”
“I think it’s one of those things,” Valerie said. “You have such an amazing thing when you are so young… I don’t think either of us appreciated the preciousness of our relationship. We took our relationship for granted because… I don’t know.”
“Because it was so easy,” Mike said.
“Yeah.” Valerie nodded. “We had no idea what it meant to be in the Army. But once he left for basic training, Mike was basically gone.”
“What was that like?”
“It sucked.” Mike and Valerie said in unison. They laughed.
“I finished high school and Mike worked,” Valerie said. “I didn’t see him for six months then he was gone for…”
“Two years,” Mike said. He reached to hold Valerie’s hand. “When I came back, she had graduated high school and was on her way to UCLA. I had been around the country and some of the world.”
“And the desire to be together was still there,” Valerie said. “I thought he’d finished his two years. He was done. He was home. We’d move to LA together and… But after a few weeks of leave, he was gone.”
“That was about a hundred times harder than the horrible first time,” Mike said. “And I don’t think things really were the same after that. Until Monterey.”
“Monterey?” the interviewer asked.
“My team was assigned to Fort Irwin for training. Valerie moved to Barstow to be near me. When she went back to school, we saw each other every weekend.”
“We got married on New Year’s Eve,” Valerie said.
The retelling of Celia’s Puppies, Denver Cereal Volume 2, continues tomorrow…
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