It's been four years since I broke up with my partner. We're among the few, proud Americans who can say that official U.S. government policy ended our relationship. Today I'm going see him for the first time since that breakup. As nervous as I am, this story is a joy to tell. It's a story about good luck.
Our story isn't all that unusual: Everyone who served under "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) had to deal with separation or breakups caused by the military life. I was sent to Japan, and like many LGBT service members, my life was changed forever. No matter how common, this is our story.
I remember the first day I met him. I remember how I had to down three drinks just to muster the courage to say hello. I remember the first time we kissed and the last time we spoke before I went off to boot camp. I remember writing him letters. I remember how the drill instructors didn't read them, or looked the other way. I remember how lucky I was.
I remember calling him every weekday after training. I remember calling him "babe" and removing gender from every pronoun I ever used. I remember sailors asking me about my girlfriend, and I would say, "I don't talk about my personal life." I remember having a reputation as an impersonal jerk. I remember when somebody said, "Stone's not gay; he's always talking on the phone with his 'babe.'" I remember having a note that read "die, fag" slipped under my doorstep one morning. I remember knowing that the walls were thin, and so was my privacy.
I remember submitting an "overnight chit" to get permission to spend the weekend out in town. I remember having to explain to my boss why I was renting a hotel room with my "cousin." I remember spending half my pay every month just for one weekend with my partner in D.C.
I remember hugging him in front of the White House, giving him a kiss on the cheek in front of the Lincoln Memorial and holding his hand through the Smithsonian. I remember fear in uniform, and I remember fearlessness in civilian clothes. I remember that last time we spoke. I remember feeling like I'd lost half my soul.
For the last four years our relationship has been a memory. It's something I would think about at night, when all the other sailors were asleep. I would stare at the ceiling, wondering where he was. The memories would haunt me when I felt hopelessly alone. The memories would heal me when I wondered if anyone could love me again.
Every man I ever met had to stand in his shadow. I'm lucky, after all.
I'm lucky that he and I haven't met anyone worth keeping. I'm lucky that he and I are getting another chance to be together. I'm just lucky -- maybe the luckiest man alive.
For those of us who survived DADT, we left behind our old selves and put on a uniform. We will never be who we were. We can never have back what we lost. We can only hope to put our lives back together, bit by bit. As I find each piece, I'm finally starting to realize how lucky I really am. I'm lucky to know that no young, idealistic guy like me will ever have to sacrifice his love for his duty again.