Neil: The night before you left, I remember you driving me home, dropping me off at the cul-de-sac. And then I remember you driving away — going back up the street from the cul-de-sac — and I just dropped to my knees. I couldn’t see anything. My eyes filling with tears. Pouring down. I never cried that hard.
Mike: That image stuck in my head my entire deployment. I can still see it today. I remember sitting in bed, literally already a combat veteran, crying in mother’s arms and not being able to tell her exactly why I’m crying.
I saw you drop to your knees.
Neil: Oh. From your rearview mirror? I don’t think I knew that, but that was tough not to be able to tell anyone what was going on, especially on my side. I’d write you letters and sign them as Lisa just in case they were ever found.
Mike: And they were. And I would tell people about Lisa, and show pictures of my ex-girlfriend Lisa, and say “this is the girl writing me letters.” Yeah. And that’s hilarious. And say “this is the girl writing me letters” and the whole time — and honestly, honestly, honestly at that moment, at that moment — I didn’t … I never imagined our relationships would last. I am not sure if I’ve told you that before or not.
Neil: I just remember that it was easy for me. I was resolved to stay faithful and to wait for you and your return. You were worried about not being able to coming back. I was not worried about that, but I do remember you did not call me for upwards of three weeks. And I’m freaking out. And you can’t call my mom either. Right? I can’t call your mom to see if she’s heard from you or anything like that. I just remember one day finally crying into my mother’s arms, and she was asking what was going on, and I told her I had not heard from Mike. “It’s so long, and I’m really worried about him.” And she was like, “Why are you so worried about him?” And I said, “Because I love him. ‘Cause I love him.” And that is when I came out to my mother, and she just held me and said that she knew already that and we were not really as sneaky as we thought we were.
Neil Rafferty and Mike Rudulph met online and have been together for 11 years. Neil later joined Mike in the Marines. They now live in Birmingham.