At the ripe age of 19, only a year out of high school and into adult life, I married. He was my high school sweetheart and had enlisted in the military. Although we were desperately in love the long distance was killing us. After a particularly hard month for our relationship I got an envelope in the mail that said “open only when I call.”
I waited for that phone call with such fear and anxiety that I can’t even explain. I assumed this was a massive break up and I was about to be dumped. When I answered his call on it’s first ring he asked “is it there?” I said “yes” in a quick breathless kind of way quickly followed by “what is it.” He was simple matter of fact “open it.” As I tore into the envelope he started talking about how I was his other half, friend, and soul mate. How he was in another country and all he could think was how much I would love it there with him. He had sweet anecdotes from our friends and silly stories of our early dating. I wish I could remember every word but I was completely shocked. I don’t even know how I said yes, just that I was sure that he was the one.
We were young, no one agreed that it was a good idea, but we did it anyway. We moved to England separately. He was already there and I followed a month after the wedding. It took half a year to get any semblance of routine or normalcy and it took a year to find work. It wasn’t my first major move but it was the first time I lived out of the country. They spoke the same language but everything else was different.
I lived in England for 3 years. My time there included a bombing on the underground, politcal elections, local knife attack on school children, they even restarted Doctor Who. I paid taxes to have a car and tv. I couldn’t have screens on my windows or doors due to taxes. I also paid taxes back home to federal, state, and local.
Before England I wouldn’t have called myself a patriot, I didn’t self identify as American. I was a disenfranchised youth that had been taught my vote didn’t matter. I felt, like most of my generation, that I had no value to my government. Living in a country that you contribute fiscally to, participate daily in, and have zero say on anything, will make you a patriot. I had no rights of citizenry, to even fight a ticket. Everything went through our base and consulate.
There were entire towns that we avoided due to their distaste for Americans. I found myself explaining why and what made America different. I learned in England that our value is that any person no matter their station in life, can accomplish their dreams through hard work. That isn’t a normal belief, that isn’t standard. British friends would say “well his father’s a bus man” as if that meant anything, as if it was already decided.
Overseas I learned that we are not divided, that we all have value. Our system will continue to work as long as we vote, as we participate. It’s okay to have differences or to disagree, fundamentally we’re a lot more alike than you realize. My husband is republican, I am a democrat. We don’t actually fight over politics. I enjoy hearing his views and sharing mine. I appreciate seeing both sides to an issue. We still meet in the middle and agree on most fundamental issues, although we view it from different angles.
I’m an American. I have rights of citizenship, I have suffrage. I will vote and I will spread the message of voting until I have no voice left. Perhaps I’m too much an optimist but I believe as long as we cast our vote, the system is working. I would hate to live even in a beautiful place that took any of those rights away.