Pete - The Ring (Phonetically - Petay)
It is a 14-karat white gold ring with four bands spaced a millimeter apart. Each thread follows the same pattern with two diamonds on each row. As I stand in front of the military base jewelry counter on the majestic island home of Mt Fuji, I had found her. My spirit rejoiced, my heart danced, and my soul sang. She cries out to me, beckoning me to come. I place her on my finger and in an instant I knew. Pete was home. Yes, Pete the Swahili name for ring. Pete and I were inseparable. A bond had formed. Without her bright and brilliant exuberance, sitting on my right index finger, I felt lost. How could I know standing their looking down at Pete that I would lose her and when I needed her the most Pete would find her way home.
In the military, we never stay very long at any given duty station, so it wasn’t shortly after I had found Pete that we packed up our bags and moved to Tampa, Florida. A city with the world’s longest continuous sidewalk separating Bayshore Boulevard from Tampa Bay. My absolute favorite drive. It’s why I love Florida. After all, it’s my birthplace and the first place I laid eyes on the bluest of blue ocean water. This new duty station changed my whole trajectory in the military. I had always been part of what we in the Army call the conventional forces, but for the first time I stepped out of my familiar into the unknown—the world of Special Operations. A bold, adventurous new life that I knew not where it would lead.
Every four months, I would find myself in the Middle East and my second year into this assignment was no different. I lived in a 20-feet long, 8 feet wide container. My abode had 100 others just like it stacked one on top of the other inside a massive warehouse. This particular ground hog day, I thought I did what I always do, place Pete on my nightstand. As I awoke, I went to retrieve Pete and she wasn’t there. I began to frantically search for her but to no avail. I was distraught, but calmed myself as I had to go to work. I just knew that evening, I would find her. I never did. I’d lost Pete and I felt helpless. As this tour ended, I packed my bags for Tampa knowing that I had left a part of me back in Qatar.
Several months had passed and I just felt frozen in time. I couldn’t shake the sadness I felt at losing Pete. I regularly talked to my grandmother and told her that I had lost her. She knew how much Pete meant to me and offered to finance her successor. I saw this surrogate as someone who could rival the beauty of Pete. Oruka, which means ring in Yoruba, would shine brighter and be my powerful Masai Warrior. Everyone loved her. Yet for me, she was not Pete.
Months later, Oruka and I were sent back to the Middle East. It was becoming a monotonous round robin. I felt like I was on a carousel, but during my time in Tampa, I had gotten engaged. I had one month left before I would be known as Mrs. Johnston. My last deployment before the nuptials. A habit my fiancée and I had was to call each other every evening and morning during my deployments. It was as if we needed to reassure one another that we were still a couple. This particular day, I headed to my second home the phone stalls, which resided outside my quarters. It was early morning in Colorado and unbeknownst to me a decision had been made that would shatter my resolve and make me question the very essence of my being.
As I dialed his number, my fiancée promptly picked up the phone, but his voice was different. His good-morning, I love you call was replaced with a solemn quiet. I was in unfamiliar territory. I asked him, What’s wrong? and then out comes the words I think we should postpone the wedding. A wave of confusion comes over me and all I can hear tumbling out of my mouth is What? He says it again, but by this time, I was in my own world. I was battling to get control of me. Just as quickly as he picked up the phone, he was gone. I fought valiantly, but there was no going back. What was once to be was now no more. It’s like that moment when I received the call that we were deploying to Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 96 hours, I was standing in the middle of the desert just as I was at this moment wondering if I would make it back home again. I was once again in this God forsaken desert confined to an 8x8 cell facing a life without something or someone I loved. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.
These metal walls were the only place I felt safe to unleash my pain. The questions came: What could I have done differently? Was there something wrong with me? Why me? On this particular evening, I had a different response. As the questions ran through my mind, I began to surrender. My spirit called to me and said, Look down at the foot of your bed and pull back the mattress. I didn’t hesitate. I just knew. I lifted the mattress looked down and there looking back up at me was Pete. I began to shake uncontrollably. I dropped to my knees and felt my soul rejoice.
Pete represented the love I have for myself and when I needed Pete the most, she was right there. The pain I had been feeling at the loss of a fiancée seemed to wain ever so slightly to the joy of rediscovering myself. Pete and I were one again. We had come full circle.
In the flush of loves light, we dare be brave. And suddenly we see that love costs all we are and will ever be. Yet it is only love which sets us free. Maya Angelou