I was watching home videos with Kiley last week. She likes to watch the ones of her as a baby with “Dada Todd”, as she calls him. As we went through a few we came across one that had me in it. Or at least it looked like me. But the person I was watching on the screen was a version of me that no longer exists. Her voice was different. Her demeanor was different. She was just a memory now.
It made me wonder whether I had ever truly been real. Have you ever wanted to impress somebody or want acceptance that you’ve been willing to tweak your personality, interests, values, hobbies, and etcetera? I have. I always have. Name a boyfriend growing up and I could name something I pretended to be interested in so they’d like me. I did it every time. Or I’d ignore some monumental difference between myself and said boyfriend if I thought that acknowledging it would mean a break up. That’s some low self-esteem right there. Well when Todd came around I’d like to think I was growing up…. but I hadn’t grown out of some of those habits.
I was home for the summer from college. Todd Weaver was deployed to Iraq with his National Guard unit and he was home on leave. And he called me. Me! Todd was the classic all American star athlete with looks that could get any girl. I couldn’t believe he was giving me the time of day. I don’t want to give anybody the impression I was some desperately lonely girl who would do anything to date him. But I did think he was pretty cute…. And I just wasn’t his type.
Football games don’t interest me. There I said it. Not even a little bit. Todd was a die- hard Cowboys fan…. and I remember a lot of overly dramatic yelling at the TV, throwing his arms up in disbelief at whatever had just happened on the field. It was yet another bad year for the Cowboys. Oh poor Todd. I tried to be into it for him. Todd loved skiing... I dreaded it. I did it because I loved him. I did a lot of things because I loved him that didn’t necessarily come naturally for me. But Todd had an idea of what kind of a life he wanted to lead and what kind of a wife he wanted by his side. I wanted to be that wife.
I feel a lot of guilt. He could have found the girl that loves football and traditional family values. But instead he found me. I used to say what I though he’d want to hear, stifled some of my obnoxious behaviors, and tried to be the wife he dreamed of. I remember thinking to myself early on in the last deployment “Am I going to be able to make this work? He isn’t going to love the real Emma”. Before I ever had the chance to find out if our relationship could stand the test of time…. time stopped.
On September 9th 2010 he was killed in action in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The Emma Weaver that Todd knew was gone from that moment on. Okay that’s not accurate. I remember sitting in the living room with my Army wives after the notification officers had left. I got up to get nail polish remover. Todd wasn’t a fan of brightly colored nails so while he was deployed I took the opportunity to paint them blue. I just couldn’t go to Dover with blue nails!
During the year after Todd’s death I spent a lot of time alone. Learning how to be me again. I learned how to handle motherhood alone. I learned how to take care of myself and Kiley and our home. Help was there when I needed it but for the most part I purposely challenged myself to be more independent.
A friend had stopped by to visit with us one evening and in our conversations it turned to the topic of my future in love. I wasn’t interested at the time of even considering dating. But for information sake I talked about what I would need from a man to accept in able to be in our lives. I could only see myself in a relationship with somebody that A) knew Todd or B) was in the military. In my mind the kind of person that knew my late husband or understood his sacrifice would have a more understanding heart. You throw the word “war widow” around and it’s easy to see why it’s hard to start dating. Widows don’t forget. They don’t ever stop thinking about their husbands. That being said I wasn’t holding my breath! But during that conversation that night I knew that in whatever relationship may come in the future that I would have to approach it in a very different way than the old Emma would have.
I promised myself that I would go forward in love with an open heart. I wouldn’t wear a mask of any kind. I would be honest. I would be up front about how I plan to always remember Todd and how he will always be a part of my family. It was only fair to lay it all out there so the poor guy could go running in the opposite direction should he feel so inclined. Well when Alex came into the picture I don’t think either of us really knew how we felt about each other. He was a good listener, made me laugh, and loved playing with Kiley. I couldn’t tell how he felt about me…. but he sure did spend a lot of time with us. So I took the opportunity to talk about some of the topics that I assumed would have him putting on his running shoes and heading out the door. But he didn’t run.
It didn’t take long for a very strong bond to form between us. I kept my promises to myself, as we grew closer. I let my weird sense of humor out without shame. I don’t pretend to like terrible B movies of any kind. I’m sorry Alex I just can’t watch them! If I need to cry he holds my hand. If there is an event for Gold Star families he will gladly go with me. And as we approach the four-year anniversary of Todd’s death I know he will help me honor him. He will be patient as I struggle through the hardest time of year for me.
Sometimes I wonder where my old life would have taken me. Would Todd have had any luck in his big parenting plans of using granola bars as a reward for Kiley? I certainly didn’t. When the paleo diet came into popularity I could see how that would have been something he would have been into. Deeper than that I wonder whether I would have continued to be the old Emma or if I would have been strong enough to one day come clean about how much I had been editing myself. Would he have accepted me with the same love he had for old Emma? Would we have had another baby like we had talked about in our last emails? There are so many questions…none of which I will ever have answers for. It is with these questions that I have learned a hard lesson. It took losing my husband, the father of our sweet daughter, and my world, as I knew it to make me see how important being “real” is.
My life looks a lot different than where I was four years ago. I think only my widow sisters will understand how much it hurts me to say I am happy again. How could I not feel pain and guilt sometimes? It’s a double-edged sword really. Life: it’s saddening because it’s not what I had planned for myself. But it’s amazing at the same time. I have an incredible family, on Earth and in Heaven! Kiley will turn 5 years old this month and starts Kindergarten in the fall. Shelton will be crawling any day now. We’re happy and healthy and loving life. I am truly sorry for not having been myself for so long. It is a lesson that has not been lost on me.