Where do I even begin? Do I begin with the fact that I have brown hair? Or that I am married to a military man? What if I started with my traumas or the times that made me laugh? Maybe I should even start from the beginning. When I came out of the womb, perhaps? Of course though, I don’t remember my first few years of life, so that would be challenging. It occurred to me yesterday that my journey through life is worth telling. To tell you the truth, I am not here to state my full life story, I’m just letting you know the important ones that led me to where I am today.
My name is Ellie and I am 23 years old. I just finished my Master’s degree and I am currently a psychologist at Camp Pendleton. My days consist of sitting down with active military members, veterans, and their families to talk about the hard stuff. Most of the conversations with my patients are stressful and emotional, but it is my duty to make them feel better with each session. It is easy to be empathetic with them because I myself understand what it is like to have PTSD. The hardest part about my job is the nightmares I get after a long day at work. All of my dreams are so vivid. I have this recurring dream where I am walking towards the field on base, I suddenly feel the presence of a man. As I turn around to look he is running towards me with a gun in hand. I start running as well, but he catches up to me. As I hear his breath nearing me I wake up, in a state of panic. I can only imagine the nightmares my patients get. The sessions are not about me, they are about my patients, but I have such admiration for the work they put in every day. Seeing them trying makes me want to be a better version of myself too. I bet you can see that my job is so fulfilling to me.
I suppose you want me to tell you some juicy details now, but not so fast. I want to take it slow. If I learned anything from therapy, you have to start slow to really understand the person. I want you to really know me for me. First, I will let you in on some details about my husband and our love. I have known my husband since I was 18 years old. Carter is the whole package. He is currently 25, has a toothbrush styled mustache, a bald head, with gorgeous green-blue eyes, and a smile that is contagious. Carter is almost a whole foot taller than me, it is funny because he rests his arm on my head still to this day. He says I am a perfect armrest. I really am perfect aren’t I? We met on a dating app, but of course, we don’t tell anyone that because society believes no one can actually meet the love of their life on one of those silly apps. I guess we are just the exception.
If anyone asks how we met, we say at the beach. Carter is a big surfer. He used to have the whole “surfer boy” persona down. He had the long curly blonde hair that fell at his shoulders, would only wear shorts, and constantly would call me dude. When Carter first got to boot camp to become a Marine, he slipped up and called his drill instructor, dude instead of sir. Let me tell you, it did not go well. The drill instructor, IT’d him. IT is the acronym for Incentive Training. It is pretty much a fabricated word in the military for a negative punishment. When he got IT’d, he had to do Marine Corps push ups, crunches, mountain climbers, and more. He said he got IT’d many times, for smaller things, but that time he will never forget. We laugh about it sometimes. I’m grateful I found a man that can laugh at his own mistakes.
Carter and I dated for only seven months before he went off to San Diego for boot camp. We lived about an hour away from each other, but there was never a dull moment between us. He would constantly surprise me with flowers, drive us to pretty view points near the beach, and never lacked being a gentleman. He always closes my car door, listens to me with empathy, displays courtesy to anyone he meets, and most importantly knows how to keep his word. Carter still demonstrates these amazing qualities, and has perfected all of them. The military really knows how to form a boy into a man.
My favorite memory of us was on our second date. We went to the beach. We got to walk on the coral reefs. I wore sandals because I assumed we wouldn’t be climbing on sharp objects, but little did I know that Carter had a different plan. He helped me climb on the reefs and made sure I didn’t step on any ocean life. We saw starfish, small sea crabs, sea urchins, seas sponges, and so much more. The date only got better after we got off the reefs.
Carter found this plastic white wiffle ball that had a big hole through the center. He softly threw the ball at my back. I remember at that moment I knew I had a big crush on him. Oh, he is flirting with me. Score! Since the ball bounced off of me and went north I remember standing and thinking, Okay, I’ll flirt too.
As I was running to go get the ball, he picked me up and whirled me around to the opposite direction. My heart was so happy. At that moment I knew he was strong and adorable. We sat down on a rock a little after we stopped throwing the wiffle ball at each other and took pictures. I still love those pictures. At that time he had a full beard, mustache, and his beautiful locks. He sure was sexy. We got back in his car, which was an old green Scirocco, made in the 90’s.
As we started driving, he drove me to a street sign that had my name on it. It was spelt “E-L-I-E”, which isn’t how I spell my name, but I am used to it at this point. I always have to tell people, Ellie with two L’s. Anyway, my nerves were making me shake that whole date; I was filled with so many emotions. I loved how spontaneous he was and how he wanted to make me feel special. I believe we ate somewhere during our date, but I forget where. He drove me back to my car and we had our first kiss. He definitely was pondering the idea of kissing me for at least 10 minutes, I could just tell. He kept looking at me, leaning in closer, then looking the opposite way. He finally decided to kiss me. My heart started beating super fast, I felt these big butterflies, and my body became relaxed. I didn’t want to get out of the car and end the date, but I had to go home.
Carter and I had many more dates like this one. The dates were always filled with some type of outdoor scenery, spontaneity, and laughs. The day he left for training was definitely a hard one for me. Right before he left I bought a Sheriff Woody stuffed animal from the Disney store. His last name is Woodman and his friends always called him Woody, so it felt like a sentimental gift that was a perfect representation of him. I held that stuffed animal every time I was missing him, which ended up being a lot of the time. Initially, I thought he was only going to be at boot camp for three months, but unfortunately he broke his arm. He was stuck in a medical platoon for more than two months and it ended up being roughly six months in total until he got out of training and became a Marine. It definitely was worth the wait though, because who knows, maybe I wouldn’t be married to him if it wasn’t for that time apart. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard to be away from him. It was good though to become my own person and for Carter, him as well to fully become the man that he is today. We never block the other from fulfilling their own dreams. That is the part about our relationship that makes me the proudest.
The communication was definitely the hardest part about him being gone. We only were allowed to send letters to each other because for the duration of the time he was in training. Each day I would write him a letter on paper and ship out whatever I had accumulated in my notebook. It was my only way of connecting with him, so it was important that I let him know what was going on and give him that reassurance. Some nights I would stay up from having a big pit in my stomach. I would toss and turn, bawl, and hug Woody tightly until I passed out. These nights would happen a lot so I got used to it. Just because I was used to it though, did not make it any easier. I was just focused on the end goal; when I would see him again. It helped me get through any setbacks along the way. Sometimes I would go weeks without hearing from him. It would make my mind spiral with intrusive thoughts, expecting the worst, but hoping for the best. It only made me a stronger woman though. Without this experience and everything else the military threw at us, it would have taken me longer to realize how much I love him.
I finished most of my my letters with:
I love you immensely my handsome and I can’t wait to see you again soon. I miss you more and more each day. Hugs, kisses, and cuddles. Ellie
It was important for me to know that I was demonstrating how much I cared about him, in my words, because I could not physically show him just how much he meant to me. I still have all the letters he sent to me in a photo album in my room. I look at the book every time I miss him, when he is gone for deployment or out in the field. I never expected myself to be in a military relationship, but looking back on it, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
He will always be the most important thing in my life, but it does not mean I am perfect though, nor our relationship. I always like to think it is, but the likelihood is far and few between. Since we are in a military relationship, trust is everything.
Before I met Carter, I was a Princess from my hometown. I participated in a pageant which consisted of on-stage questions, a five minute speech, a five minute talent, and an interview. I had the time of my life representing my hometown. We had a festival each year that celebrated our accomplishments and brought the town together as a unit. My hometown is the Daisy Capital of The World. People from all over come to the three day festival just to see the vibrant colors. When I was little I used to go to the festival with my parents and younger sister. I did not appreciate the beauty of the flowers at the time because I was young. As I got older, I still enjoyed going to the festival with my family and friends. I learned to appreciate the smell of the dais iiesn the air, as I entered the festival. Seeing the daisy princesses each year made me want to be just like them. I too, looked forward to being a princess one day, thankfully I was able to.
The festival has been shut down for many years now. I was the last Daisy Princess to take charge at the festival and bring inspiration to younger girls. I was a princess with eleven other amazing young women. The last memory I have from the festival was also everyone else’s.
The last day of the festival is one I will never forget. It was a hot, dry, and sunny day filled with joy, laughter, and excitement. We only had an hour left of the festival, so we enjoyed it by listening to live music at one of the stages. I remember taking a deep breath, letting the smell of daisies fill my lungs. I felt so proud to have accomplished this day as one of my own icons, when I was little. I was fulfilling my dreams and nothing was going to stop me, so I thought.
As I was enjoying myself, listening to live music, with my other eleven princesses, we heard this banging noise. I did not think much of the two first bangs because I just assumed it was the band's speakers. As the sounds became quicker paced I looked around me, noticing that no one was smiling anymore. Everyone’s faces were filled with fear. The banging noises would not stop. I could hear them getting closer to me, as I was told to get on the ground. I fell onto the dead grass. My joy now turned into fear; I was confused. My life literally flashed before my eyes, I felt as though I was living in a movie.
As I was on the grass I grabbed this lady next to me and layed underneath her, at the time not processing what I was doing. I was okay sacrificing her, for the sake of my own life. I looked down into the grass, unable to see anything, because the lady’s head blocked the sun from my view. I just started bawling, uncontrollably. Still my brain had no idea what was going on. I was in autopilot. As I closed my eyes, Sandy Hook Elementary, The Las Vegas Shooting, the Dayton, Ohio shooting, and so many others flashed through my head. I began to question: Why my home? Why the ones I love? Why my town? As I looked up, he was standing near. He looked 19, I swear I had seen pictures of him before somewhere. Maybe he went to school with my friends? I thought to myself. I put my head back underneath the lady, trying to calm my breathing. At this point the loud bangs had stopped, but I could hear his feet nearing me. My thoughts rushed through my brain: Where is my family? Is everyone okay? Is this really happening to me?
I hear his boots ruffle in the grass as he nears me, but then it stops. As I try to steady my heart rate, he suddenly picks up the gun and begins to spray bullets over me. I hear people screaming, as he has now started chasing them, leaving me behind, unharmed. I lifted my head away from the lady, which I now realized was a dead lady. My heart sank when I processed what I had been doing, but I had no time to dwell on it, so as my eyes filled with tears I started bolting to the top of a hill. As I ran to the buses like a headless chicken, I did not know where to run to, I just knew I wasn't safe. Inside the gate of my happy daisy-filled festival, where my dreams became a reality while growing up, is an imposter with anger in its heart.
As I ran towards a bus, a police officer came up to me. She was nice, roughly in her 30’s. She asked me questions that I was not prepared to answer since I was still in shock. She did let me know though that the shooter was now pronounced dead. The emotions that overwhelmed me still make me uncomfortable. Why was I happy for his death? I felt so much guilt from the relief that washed over my body.
I finally found a bus that I was able to hop onto. I thankfully found a bus that had many of the other princesses on, as well. When I got on the bus, I asked if anyone had a phone. A nice lady, whose husband was a police officer, gave me her phone to borrow.
I called my mom, “Hi Mom. Where are you, dad, and Grace?”
“Dad and I are watching TV,” she said without a care.
I frantically responded, “Where is Grace?”
“She isn’t here.”
As my voice cracks I say, “What do you mean she isn’t with you?”
I start bawling. I felt as though I left my sister behind at the festival. Just when I thought I would have to get out of the bus and run to the festival, my dad responded.
“She is at the beach, Ellie. Your sister is fine. Why are you asking such questions?”
As I try to push back the crackle in my voice I say, “There was a shooting. I need you both to pick me up if you can. I just wanted to make sure everyone was safe and okay.”
“Oh no!” My dad exclaimed. “We will get in the car now.”
As tears rush out of my eyes, I say, “Just in case anything happens to me, I love you
As I hung up the phone, I handed it over to one of the princesses. As she called her parents, two little girls came over to me. The sisters were roughly 4 and 7. I asked them where their parents were and they said still at the festival. I knew I could not cry in front of them so I tried to keep it together for their sake. I sat them down next to me. I gave the oldest one my crown as I told her she has super powers. I told them both no one would harm them now, because they were surrounded by princesses who loved them all very much. The 4-year-old started to cry, but I picked her up, put her on my lap, and cradled her until she calmed down. The little girls did not deserve this fate. They did not deserve to be stripped away from their parents for their own survival, stuck with strangers. I am glad I was there for them.
As we finally got to our destination I was too afraid to step foot off the bus. I did not know if there was someone waiting there for me. I was uncertain about all of my surroundings now. Since I stayed on the bus, while it was parked, I played with the 4-year-old. She wanted to walk around the bus, so I did so with her. She found a penny on the floor.
I told her, “Find a penny, pick it up, then all day you will have good luck.”
She smiled at me, “I want you to have good luck too.”
As she hands me the penny, I try to hold back my tears. I knew then she was put in my life for some reason. The whole time I thought I was taking care of her, but in reality, she was taking care of me as well.
As I got off the bus that day, I was filled with every emotion possible. I had so much adrenaline in me that I felt I could run for miles, but at the same time I wanted to lock myself in a small bathroom for the rest of my life so no one could ever hurt me again.
When I tell people this story they are always shocked that I married a military man. His job is to hold a gun and shoot the enemy if need be. If I am being honest with you sometimes, I myself get confused, but I know he is doing this for my safety, he is not trying to harm me. It is important to differentiate that and set boundaries with each other. Carter has always been a great help to me. He listens to me, understands where I am coming from, and is always emphatic to my needs.
To this day, seven year later, I still hold the lucky penny with me everywhere I go. I would never go a day without my luck. I have not been that lucky since the festival, but I know for a fact I would not be here today, sharing my story if it wasn’t for the luck I was given that day to stay alive. Many people were injured after the shooting and several dead. I am still so grateful I did not lose any of my family or friends that day, but so many people grieve for the loved ones they did lose.
It was not fair that a 20-year-old boy bought a gun in Nevada illegally and brought it over the border, and decided it was necessary to hurt his people because the tickets for the festival were too expensive. I do not understand why the civilian people of my town were punished for something we can not control. That day, July 28, 2019, is a day I will never forget.