A second ring. I make a mad dash to the bedroom. A third ring. I grab the phone and fidget for the answer button. A fourth ring.
Hello? hello? Evan, are you there? Nothing, just an immense, unanswerable void on the other end of the line where I longed to hear his voice.
We got one two-minute-long satellite phone call a month when he was at war. This was before Skype, before the true ubiquity of video chat services and instant messaging.
And I had missed it! My spirits sank, and I retreated into an all-encompassing despair.
Those first few months were the hardest of my life. Because it wasn’t like the movies, and it all happened before I could understand it.
Evan, my first boyfriend and first love, was deployed to the Middle East in 2003 to help launch the invasion of Iraq. A whip-smart 22-year-old radiating good health, he joined the military out of high school, mostly for economic reasons but also because he believed in his country.
Then 9/11 happened, and everything changed. Our young lives were reluctantly drawn into war. Our young romance was forced to grow up quick.
Overnight, vast distances and questions of national security and military strategy became our shared life. Not ordinary couple stuff, like spending every waking minute together, finishing each others' sentences or making regrettable IKEA purchases.
The pleasantly uneventful flow of life had been interrupted by the deepest possible form of political violence, and I had no idea if I would lose the most important person in my life to it.
“Sometimes we live the wars between nations as personal events,” writes one of my favorite authors. It’s a simple statement but one that resonates with me with frightening force, especially on a day like today, Presidents Day.
It was more than a decade ago, on Presidents Day, Feb. 17, 2003, that I said goodbye to Evan as his unit deployed overseas.
It’s a day still burned into my consciousness, the unbearable desperation of the occasion heightened by the fact that we both doubted the whole basis of the war and feared our president was committing a historic blunder.
An oft-ignored holiday honoring our past commanders in chief, celebrated more for shopping and sales than anything sacrosanct, is the day I began my adult life. It was my initiation into the real world via realpolitik, the power play of national and foreign policy interests that bypasses most American lives but changed mine forever.
I wrote Evan every day of the war. I mailed letters and care packages like it was my religion. I tried my best to pull moments of his life here at home into reality, to ground him and alleviate feelings of homesickness.
Paradoxically, I felt complicit in the thing I opposed, supporting and loving a man fighting a war I was protesting back home in the streets.
Evan eventually made it home, disillusioned but safe. Thousands of Americans and hundred of thousands of Iraqis, however, never made it back into the arms of their loved ones.
And to this day, I am still haunted by moments where I dream it never happened – that the government threw a war and nobody came.
Michelle Ryder is a freelance writer living in Bonney Lake. She is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.