P.S. I’ve Got a Big Secret
Author: Linda Ambard
I’ve got a big secret and soon the world will know it. The person involved will know it, but to understand the magnitude of these unspoken words, one must reflect on the past. A little more than five years ago, everything I knew about my life imploded with the assassination of my Phil. We had been married for more than 23 years and the only dreams I had revolved around growing old and dying together one day far away. My identity was wrapped up in being the great military wife and mother. I was content to live in my husband’s shadow and later in my children’s shadow. I was the quiet foil who brought it all together and created the family life they all gravitated towards. On 27 April 2011, my job was ended. My dreams ended and I entered a vast barren wasteland of surviving.
Initially, I couldn’t fathom letting another man into my life. Phil and I had that what if talk just before he deployed. We had never had that talk before, but this time even though I made jokes about Raul the Pool Boy (and I do not have a pool nor do I know any Raul’s), Phil pressed on. I was having none of it since he was supposed to be in a safe position. Finally, he looked at me and asked one question that is etched on my heart, “Linda, if you died first, would you want me to be happy again?” Why, yes, yes, I would. He loved me that much.
It is easier to have that conversation than it is to consider that conversation. I was totally broken and as I made my way forward and found a way to make meaning and to make something positive out of my life, considering those words never entered the picture. I changed because I had no choice. I am no longer the quiet shy girl hiding in the shadows. I have found a niche in telling my story, advocating for military issues, and training our military members. While the road was lonely and long, I recognized people only could see my story. They treated me differently—like I needed to be fixed, that I was somehow broken, I was somehow in a different class.
While my voice and advocacy gave me a positive way forward, people couldn’t see beyond my story. When men did pay attention to me, they wanted to fix me, use me, or for me to stop talking about my story. They simply could not see I was becoming more than that defining moment—more than that story. As time went by, it became almost expected and a badge of honor to others that I wasn’t dating or involved with others. I didn’t see it as honoring or as a badge of honor, but I had no interest in convincing someone to see beyond my voice. I shut down and I truly thought I would live the rest of my days alone. I comforted myself in the thought of knowing very few people had what I had for 23 years.
And then….I became friends with a runner. He never treated me like my story and he treated me as normal. While I didn’t realize it initially and while I am good at running scared, there came a moment I knew we were destined to be great friends. It wasn’t our first race together or even our second race together, but when the Marine Corp Marathon 2015 was on both of our calendars, he showed up to navigate me to different places, get me coffee, and to talk to me. He didn’t have to. I didn’t even recognize what was starting to take root in my heart. I just knew I felt safe with him in a way I hadn’t felt safe since 2011. Over a dinner that took hours after running a long race, there was a moment that took me by surprise. I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth, and a thought crossed my mind. How could I be enjoying the company of a man? How had hours gone by and my story not have been a part of those hours. In that moment, I recognized we were going to be great friends.
After that marathon and through many messages, feelings started to grow, but I was stilted and unsure. I was so busy convincing myself of why it couldn’t work, why I should remain single, and why he wasn’t feeling the way I was feeling, it took him spelling it out around Thanksgiving. It was as simple as this. He never looked at me like I was broken. He never walked on eggshells around me. He never treated me differently. He treated me like the girl whose story is only part of the equation. While I can talk about Phil, and while he encourages me to write about my journey forward, it is only a fraction of what we share. He makes me laugh and he makes me dream again. He also is my soft place to lean into. While I cannot tell you what the future holds, I can tell you I am a better version of myself for letting him in.
People (to include one of my children) have asked me who I love more, Phil or this guy. It is apples and oranges. Consider being a parent for a second. When I had my first child, I never thought I could love another the same. Then my Joshua was born and I felt that same ferocious love and loyalty as I did for Patrick, my oldest. Three more children followed Josh and I love them equally yet differently. I am not looking for a replacement or even a man to validate me or to care for me, yet this man does. I still can be scared. Nothing about this relationship is anything like what I have had in the past. The dawning recognition this relationship is very, very different but that it is equally important to me makes me want to run. I don’t because I realize life is too short to run from happiness. I don’t run because I realize I am a better person with him than I am when I stand alone. I have grown and my heart is full. I am dreaming again and that is because of my secret.
PS My secret is about to be known to the world and to the man. Thank you for seeing beyond my story and thank you for not being intimidated by my telling of that story. G.B., I adore you…I love you. Nuff’ said.