“I feel like I’m dreaming,” I texted to one of my closest friends back home.
I was sitting on a piece of sun-bleached driftwood, my feet in the sand, staring west across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The water stretched between the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, where I was planted, and Victoria, British Columbia, approximately 25 miles away.
Every five minutes, a deafening roar pierced the silence. I looked up. This time, two fighter jets soared across the horizon. It was like they were performing synchronized swimming in the sky.
“Cooooooolllll,” I thought. “I’ll have to ask Frank about that move.”
Just a few months earlier, I separated from my husband, got laid off from work, and had no idea where my life was headed. Thanks to the wonders of online dating and a penchant for making the first move, I now found myself 3,000 miles from home, on a 3-day-long first date with a Navy pilot named Frank.
We had met face-to-face in Seattle just two days before (for more, check out Part 1 and Part 2!), and by then, I was pretty sure I’d met my soul mate. I mean, what were the chances my second eHarmony match would mention a love of bacon, hiking and dental floss all in one profile?
I dug my toes a little further into the sand, smiling. The earth was rockier than at Discovery Bay, where we’d been yesterday, serenaded by a nearby group of musicians. We had sat mostly in silence, in between bouts of making out, punch drunk and full of chocolate from a tour of Theo’s – one of the many surprises Frank had had in store for me.
Earlier, we’d ridden the Seattle “Ride the Ducks” Tour, shivering beneath a tiny blanket, while we ventured from land to sea and back to land. Frank had sung along to the corny soundtrack -especially when it was a country song- which did a much better job of warming me up. His voice was on key, deep and rumbling, making me giggle and blush.
That morning, Frank made green smoothies at his house and brought one for me for breakfast. It was delicious.
We had time to kill before he had to report to base, so Frank drove us up to Deception Pass.
“Do you know why they call it that?” he asked.
I shook my head, still not comfortable enough to make my usual jokes.
“The original explorers had trouble finding their way around Whidbey Island and thought it was a peninsula. But we call it that because some pilots try to fly under the bridge, which looks deceptively easy.”
I shuddered at the thought of trying to fly a fighter jet under the tiny archway.
“I was hoping you’d get to see my last flight on the Prowler [before we officially retire it],” Frank apologized. “But now it’s not scheduled until Thursday.”
“That’s okay,” I replied immediately.
“You’ll still get to see me fly today, though,” he added, while I wondered what the heck a Jersey girl with almost zero understanding of the military wore on base. My running outfit? Sneakers? I had only packed one small suitcase.
I tried not to ask too many questions as Frank explained that I needed to keep his I.D. on me in order to get around base. He introduced me to everyone, and some of his squadron shot him a knowing glance when they thought I wasn’t looking. The base reminded me a little bit of a college campus, a self-contained community with its own hotel, McDonald’s and gym. In my bright red raincoat and running shoes, I was sure I’d get thrown out any minute.
I camped out in a large room with movie theater-style seats and a projector screen, trying to look busy with my phone, while everyone else went behind closed doors to discuss top level security clearance-y type things. I glanced around surreptitiously; the back wall held the coffee mugs, each emblazoned with a flight name (think “Maverick” and “Goose”).
“When do I get a flight name?” I asked Frank later.
“You have to earn it,” he replied with mock solemnity. “Want to see us get suited up?”
I’d never been a sucker for a man in uniform, but snapped about a hundred pictures as Frank pulled on one thing after another from his locker.
After missing both his ascent and descent (thanks to my sheer blonditude), Frank led me over to the tarmac to snap this photo:
That night we shared another romantic dinner and tried not to think about the inevitable.
Our goodbye the next morning was bittersweet, standing in front of my red rental minivan, my age-old insecurities threatening to spill over: How does he feel? Did he have a good time? Does he really want to be with me? As he walked away and put on the final piece of his flight suit, his cap, I thought,
“Nothing will ever be the same.”
I was right.
Stay tuned later this week for the final edition: Part 4: Crash Landing!