The drive to Colorado took two days. It was April 15, 1987, and I had just come from Fort Rucker, Alabama, the Army’s Aviation Center. It had been a mild winter down south, but as I stepped out of the car I shivered. It was snowing. Welcome to Fort Carson.
I entered the Replacement Center and headed to the counter.
“May I help you ma’am?” The specialist said to me.
I looked at her name tag. ‘Aragon.’ Her eyes were so deep. I had trouble looking away. I wasn’t sure why, but I was drawn to her.
“Yes, I am PCSing.” I said. “I’m excited to be permanently assigned to Fort Carson, after all the schools I’ve been attending.”
She nodded, holding my gaze somehow as she pulled out paperwork. She handed me a pen, and our hands touched. I pulled back after a few seconds because I was afraid she would notice my hands were sweating.
“Please sign in, ma’am. I’ll need your ID and your orders,” specialist Aragon said.
I let go of the pen, the touch, the moment, and pulled out my military ID and a copy of my orders and handed them to her. She studied it, looked at me then back at the photo ID, as if comparing it, and smiled.
“Welcome to Fort Carson ma’am,” she said, as she typed.
“Thank you, specialist Aragon.”
“Lisa,” she said. She paused as if realizing she should not have gotten so familiar.
I smiled. “Thank you, Lisa.” I knew I couldn’t just tell her my name, but I wanted to. I wanted to break all the rules and get really familiar with her.
She handed my ID and orders back to me. Our time was ending too soon. Here I was, twenty-three years old, and this was the first time I had been attracted to a woman, and I couldn’t just let her walk away. As I tried to figure out how to see her again, she provided the solution.
“We’re having a picnic tomorrow if you’d like to come,” Lisa said.
She scribbled down the address and a phone number and slid it across the counter. I slipped it into my pocket and headed out the door.
My emotions were churning. I wanted to see her again and tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough.
I arrived at the picnic fashionably late, so as not to seem too eager. Little kids were searching for Easter eggs and an easter bunny was handing out candy. As I got closer, I realized that the easter bunny was Lisa. I grabbed a drink and headed over to say hello.
“I was hoping you’d come,” she said, not bothered by the fact that there were dozens of military families around, children, eyes—let alone that she was wearing giant bunny ears and a fluffy tail.
Her ease put me at ease, though. “I’m glad I did.” She made me feel safe. My guard down. Like maybe this was okay.
“I’m almost done here, so I can show you around if you want,” she said while handing children more candy.
I nodded. “Sure, as long as you change first.”
Lisa pouted and started to reach for my hand, but then realized where we were. Instead, she picked up a backpack and motioned for me to follow. “Come on.”
It took me a minute to realize how easy it was to get carried away, to get caught, and I wondered if it was worth it to take the risk. In this minute it was worth any risk.
I spotted a Class 6 Store, basically a military liquor store. I wanted to pick something up. Something to what? Calm your nerves? Take off the edge? We got alcohol and headed back to my hotel room. Inside, we flirted, had a few drinks, and snacks. I ran my fingers through her hair and kissed her.
Lisa pulled back, looked at me, and smiled. “Are you gay?”
I smiled back and kissed her again. “I’ve never felt this way about a woman before. Are you gay?”
She didn’t answer. She kissed me and said, “I’m hungry, let’s go get something to eat.”
As soon as I opened the room door we had to separate, show no affection. I wanted to hold her hand, put my arm around her shoulders, tussle her hair, but we weren’t safe out here. We couldn’t be ourselves, because someone was always watching. The world suddenly looked so different. I was falling for someone for the first time in my life, but I couldn’t tell anyone, or show anyone that we were together. I didn’t know how to process the feelings. I shoved my hands in my pockets to keep from making a mistake.
I looked at Lisa. I didn’t want to leave the room and go out into the world, where all of our actions were scrutinized, where there was a severe penalty just for seeming to care about someone. I wasn’t sure how she had lived this double life for so long. I didn’t know if I could do it. I just wanted to stay in the room, in this safe place, where I could be close to her and touch her. If I went out that door, I couldn’t even hold her hand, and that pissed me off.