Writing Exercise: 1

Prompt: mimic a stylistic aspect of Cheryl Strayed's Love of My Life describing the love of your life.

He’s The Lieutenant now.

He walked across the stage to meet a man who helped him through, who he feels to whom he owes much of his success. But even in that pivotal moment, solemnly swearing to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, he stuttered, he stammered and he wasn’t The Lieutenant. He was The Boy Who Skipped Trig with a charming, disarming smile, with a blush to his cheeks because he realized he stepped into something possibly humiliating. Back then, I was The Girl He Wanted To Get To Know Better, or The Girl He Thought He Could Never Have. And whenever he stepped onto a landmine of embarrassment, I would laugh dismissively, reassure him in a way that would ease nearly any concern. He was The Boy Who Was Too Good For Me, and I thought myself The Girl Who Wasn’t His Type. I was in the audience when he stammered, when he mixed up his words despite his mentor guiding him through. I couldn’t see his right hand from my seat, but I know him, and I’m sure it trembled just a little bit.

I was asked to come forward—Toni Rowl, His Wife—and pin his bars to his uniform, and my hands trembled too. Commissioned and Soon To Be Commissioned officers, his mentors and teachers and instructors, their families, watched as I alone approached him. Because I’m His Family, and he is My Family and we’re all we have. Neither of us are close with our parents, and aside from a close friend, I was The Only One He Wanted There. I tried to remember how far from the seam the gold bar was supposed to go, tried not to stick myself or stick him with the metal posts as they slid through dark blue fabric. He smiled what I call his politician’s smile, the one that could make panties drop if he wanted it to, the one that was all confidence and reassurance. The one he gave me as I cried when my father kicked me out at nineteen years old. I wanted him to look perfect. He told me not to worry about it. I tried to summon my own quip or snark, to reassure both of us with humor despite the oppressive silence and the several eyes watching us. It didn’t work as well as I’d hoped.

I am The Lieutenant’s Wife now.

I watched him march with as a member of the Saber Guard, a position of honor and recognition bestowed by his peers and comrades. His perfectly measured steps in the parade, his firm expression—he was a lieutenant, he was going to get the job done. I remembered how he told me that, during practice, he’d hit himself in the face with the sword a couple of times. Later, he told me how he had to count over and over in his head to keep a perfect march. Telling me these things, he wasn’t The Lieutenant. He was My Husband, The Boy Who Skipped Trig and The One Who Loved Me No Matter What.

In the morning, I watched him dress in his ABUs, his last name—our last name—embroidered across the right breast.

“Are you ready to go?” he asked me, his combat boots loud and clunky on the hardwood floor of our apartment.

I gave a faint nod and kissed him, held his hand as we walked out the door. At home, he’s my husband, The One Who Saved Me. So I kiss him and tell him I love him. Remind him of how amazing he is. Once outside, he pulled his hand from mine, and yanked his hat, his cover, from the pocket of his pants. He put it on, the single gold bar visible for all to see. Outside, he’s The Lieutenant—he isn’t allowed to be my husband, or The Boy Who Skipped Trig. I can’t hold his hand or kiss him or hug him. I’m not allowed to touch him.

But I still have to remind him to take off his cover when we enter a building.