If Flyboy was a little frightened after we first met, he was now fully terrified. The arrangements were quickly made for me to transfer to a university in Texas, with the goal of ultimately attending the same nursing school my aunt had gone to years before. Flyboy was happier with this long distance relationship than he’d originally imagined. As long as we were half a country apart there was no pressure – just an easy opportunity to get to know one another better. I think Flyboy could have been happy with that arrangement for quite a while. And when I brought up the idea of transferring mid-year, I could hear him stop breathing. He tried to sound positive. Even I was in a bit of disbelief that my parents had taken the Texas thing seriously – I did not see that coming. Though he tried to exude enthusiasm, Flyboy was in a state of all out panic.
Having extended phone conversations is nothing like being together in person. I’m sure there would have come a time when the long distance part of our relationship would have run its course, bringing us to a point of decision regarding our future together. But we weren’t there yet. And as much as the idea of being in closer physical proximity to each other held an undeniable excitement, we both knew it would cause us to ask the hard questions sooner rather than later. And though we hadn’t said it out loud. neither of us felt we were ready for that.
But here we were, the transfer decision made and the time drawing close. Flyboy was set to graduate from pilot training on December 19, 1974, and he invited me to fly to Texas to pin on his wings. His dad and step-mother would be there, too, and it felt somehow wrong being the one bestowed such honor when it was his dad who had been a part of the whole process from dream to reality. I was still pretty new on the scene. But I did it, and I couldn’t have been prouder of Flyboy.
There was a military parade and the ceremony itself, complete with one of the first multi-media presentations I ever remember seeing, but one I will never forget. I heard this poem for the first time while watching T-38s on the screen screaming silently through the air (and to this day it still makes me well up):
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
– John Gillespie Magee
Later that night was the formal banquet and we danced the night away. I pinched myself several times wondering if this was all for real or if it was just a dream. For on this night, no matter how crazy it may have seemed to dive headlong into this unlikely relationship, the stars were aligned, God was smiling, and all was right with the world.
The next few days were a blur as we did a little sightseeing with Flyboy’s parents and then headed to California for Christmas. We drove west together, stopping overnight somewhere in New Mexico and staying in separate rooms. After spending six months writing letters and talking on the phone, we were together every waking moment for a whole week. After that whirlwind visit, we loaded up Flyboy’s car with nearly everything I owned and headed back to Texas, where I would start my second semester of college one short week later. Whatever our apprehensions for the future, we were living in the moment and thoroughly enjoying it. The future would take care of itself