As summer 2004 drew near and I (Melaina) finished my first year at Texas State, Jason was preparing to deploy with his unit of Marine Reservists to Iraq. The last day of finals, I headed over to the campus ministry building to say bye to people and found Jason sitting by himself in the lobby. This is how the conversation went...
Melaina: "Bye, Jason. See you next semester."
Jason: [looking awkward] "Um, actually, I won't be here next semester because I'll be in Iraq with my unit."
Melaina: "Oh, that's right." [awkward pause] "Well, take care of yourself. Don't try to be a hero or anything." [exits stage left quickly, completely embarrassed by her idiotic statement]
And we went our separate ways for the summer.
At the beginning of the fall semester the campus ministry posted Jason's address and encouraged everyone to write him a letter. I had never personally known anyone at war, and it seemed like the least I could do. So I wrote a letter, filled with small talk and encouraging Bible verses, and mailed it. And then about a month later, I got a letter back. He wrote some of what life was like for him in Iraq, as much as he could share, and thanked me for the letter.
Admittedly there were no romantic feelings between us just yet, but there is something romantic about writing letters to a soldier at war, so I wrote again. About a month later, I got a letter back. So I wrote again...and then I got another letter back. With each letter I wrote, I felt I opened up more and more to him. And with each letter I received, I felt like he was becoming a good friend.
so, do we hug now?
When Jason came back to Texas, there was a mini welcome back party for him one night. And I did not know how to act around him. I mean, when he left for Iraq, he was just someone I said "hi" to if I passed him in the hall. Yet through our letters I felt we had deepened our friendship. Did he feel the same way? And how was I suppose to act around him now? It felt like I should give him a hug when I saw him, but I would never had hugged him before he left. Would it be awkward to hug him? Or would it be more awkward to not hug him? For the record, I believe I did give him a hug, and engaged in some small talk, and then proceeded to not talk to him for the rest of the night. For the final weeks of the semester, we acted awkward around each other and then didn't see each other the entire summer.
The next year I stayed and interned at our campus ministry after graduation, and Jason took on a student leader role as well. And of the 4 interns at the ministry, I was the only one who could attend Jason's team's weekly meeting. So we began spending more time together than we ever had before.
The campus ministry had a rule that interns were not allowed to date students. And so, thankfully, there was no weird romantic pressure on the development of our friendship, and no rush to push things to the next level.
But over the course of the year, I found myself more and more looking forward to times when I would see Jason, whether it was in meetings or when he would come hang out with my roommate and me (something he did more and more of). I wasn't sure what he was feeling, and I had no idea what was going to happen.
But summer was coming and I was no longer going to be an intern...