I met James for the first time at a youth camp in Philadelphia. I remembered being upset with my parents for signing me up for that month-long activity when I wanted to stay at home, but I eventually thanked them for it. Otherwise, I would not have seen this cute, blonde kid with green eyes.
Back then, I was a shy girl with pigtails and braces. During the first week of camp, I settled with sneaking glances towards James while the other girls found it easy to talk to him. So, you could imagine how shocked I was when James asked if he could share my table during lunch one day.
Since that introduction, James and I became inseparable. I was not the most athletic kid, but he would always pick me to be in his group during camp activities. I knew that some of the other campers were not happy about it, but they did not say much when he was around.
James also had a way of making me feel special. For instance, even if the cabins for the girls and boys were at far ends, he would wait outside my cabin so that we could eat together. When we went hiking, he kept asking if I needed help to carry my backpack.
Were we childhood sweethearts? I did not think so at the time, but we were closer than anyone. Our closeness did not diminish even when camp ended, and we had to go back to our cities. Though we only met at the same youth camp every year, we connected through telephone calls.
Then, on my prom day, James surprised me by flying to Los Angeles from New Jersey to be my date. That’s when we began to date exclusively.
James had told me for years his dream of becoming a soldier. Most of his relatives were in the army; that’s also where his mom and dad met and fell in love. Hence, it was not surprising that he wanted to follow in their footsteps.
As for me, I wanted to become a therapist. I had always loved being of some help to others. But ever since I learned about mental health issues, I figured that the best way to be helpful to them was by giving them therapy.
Whenever people heard about our career choices, we heard common questions: “How will you have time for each other?” That would often make me smile because I asked the same thing, James, and he said, “Distance never bothered us before. We will find ways to be together.”
Those words made me fell in love with my boyfriend more. He was full of hope for our relationship, and I admired that. I felt like the luckiest girlfriend in the world.
James wanted to continue serving the country for as long as possible as his parents. Unfortunately, during his 11th trip to Afghanistan, an improvised explosive device blew up near his vehicle. It damaged one of his legs severely that the doctors had to amputate it.
Due to what happened, James got dismissed honorably. Everyone welcomed him as a hero, and the local mayor even gave him a plaque of appreciation. Throughout all these events, though, I noticed that James barely smiled.
James said he did not know what to do with his life anymore when we had our privacy. “I envisioned myself staying in the Army until I turn 55 or 60. I don’t have a backup plan, babe. What do I do?”
My heart broke for my boyfriend as I saw how hopeless he felt because of his situation. The confident James I had known since I was a kid was replaced by this fearful soldier who somehow lost himself. Still, what’s having a therapist for a girlfriend for if he could not lean on me?
Treating My Hopeless Boyfriend
The first thing that I did was ensure that James knew that I loved him and that I did not pity him. He was a strong man inside and out, and he had to be reminded of that. Then, I encouraged him to try new activities with me, such as painting, snorkeling, or anything that would not remind him of the amputation.
Was it easy? Nope. Even if I was a mental health professional, there were instances when I wanted to give up, especially when he was doing the same thing. Despite that, I could never let the love of my life stay miserable, so I kept on helping him get better.
Six months – that’s how long it took before we had a breakthrough. James developed a deep interest in mental health, and he thought of studying psychiatry. Other than the fact that we could move into a bigger clinic together, he would still be of service to people, albeit in another way.