Jim and “the boys.”

I’ve known for the past five months that the time was fast approaching when I’d be closing out this blog. Because from the moment I met him, my heart was no longer adrift. In fact, that was how I knew he was the “One True Thing” I’d been searching for – he grounded me.  It was in his eyes – the strength of a man who’s been tested, in ways unimaginable to most. I could sense that strength of character, his true mettle, in our first meeting.

Our paths crossed, unimaginably, via the social medium of Twitter, in this small town on the edge of the Montana prairie. Yet, nearly 25 years ago, unknowingly, our lives just missed intersecting. He, four years my senior, a West Point graduate and Army Ranger – Me, an ROTC graduate and Signal Officer. We were both stationed at Fort Lewis, and then Korea, missing crossing paths by a year on both counts.  I used to pass the Rangers on my morning run around Grey Army Airfield every day. It’s funny to think of him being in that group of hard-charging, hard-bodies. In Korea, I nearly got reassigned to 2nd Infantry Division where he was stationed, only he had already left. Instead, I headed midway down the peninsula.

I have come to believe in fate since he’s come into my life. We have so much in common: our love for our children; of literature and writing; for the outdoors – fly fishing and hiking; as well as our labs; a shared aesthetic eye for the beauty around us, as well as a reverence for our Montana lifestyle; but, mostly a mutual sensitivity. Our love was forged from the bonds of friendship, something we both felt we’d be lucky to gain from the other.  Instead, that friendship quickly grew into a great respect and appreciation for one another, our disparate paths in life and the choices we’d made to bring the two of us to this small town. Since our meeting, we have been virtually inseparable, and our days have been idyllic: long Emails and phone calls in his absence (he works at the National Training Center in California preparing Brigade Commanders going to war); shared walks along the creek and hikes in the woods with our labs; and rainy afternoons watching movies or sharing a bottle of wine over lunch. Our plans were to be fly fishing side-by-side by now, with him intent on giving me a healthy respect for the trout of Big Spring Creek.

Those plans all fell by the wayside rather suddenly about a month ago when I fell ill, thinking I had a sinus infection. An MRI a week and a half later revealed a serious medical condition. I’d unknowingly suffered a stroke. My right front carotid artery had dissected, causing the lining of the vein to flutter away and for it to clot behind it. The real issue was that some blood was still passing through which could mean another stroke. When I was scheduled for the MRI, I insisted that he stay at home. He’d lost his wife only six months ago, and I didn’t want him to have to deal with anything else. He respected my request for about an hour, until my friend Amy texted him to let him know I’d be another hour in the imaging machine  – at which point he rushed up, in order to be there when I came out. He took me home that afternoon, and to the doctor later, to hear the terrifying results.

Since then, he has not left my side and remains my rock. He knew me well enough, that the morning I scoffed at having an MRI done, he sat me down and insisted I do it. He stoically drove me to Billings the next day, and was by my side when the neurologist confirmed the findings. He held my hand when I needed his strength, and he’s never faltered. He’s overlooked my physical disfigurement, encouragingly telling me that he really doesn’t notice my eye (it now droops, and the pupil is smaller than the other). He’s rushed to my side when I’ve let fear overtake me, and held me in his steely gaze, reciting a Burmese prayer, to give me courage. He’s held on tightly, not just to me, but to the future we imagined these past five months.  He’s brought out strength I did not know I had, and he’s forced me to continue to believe in the future, something I have wrestled with for a long time now, not just since this incident.

In short, he is a man beyond measure. He is a man of substance who sets the bar for all lesser men. A lesser man would not have had the courage to accompany me through this. A lesser man would not have lent me his strength so that I could pull through a difficult time. A lesser man would not have overlooked my physical scars. A lesser man would have faltered in every way, along every step of the path we’ve traveled in the past month. A lesser man would not see all that I am, and all that I still have to give, despite what I’ve been through. A lesser man would not have the courage, the conviction, and the faith, not just in me, but in himself and in God.

I thank God every day for this man, because I know where I am truly fragile, and so does he. It is that part of me which he has held closest – rocked, and cradled, cooed and comforted. May I learn from his courage, his strength, his faith, and his conviction, so that I may become stronger. May I be as brave as he, and rise to the occasion to do the same for him.

I love you Jim Klingaman, you are a man beyond measure. My heart is no longer adrift, I feel it anchored eternally to yours. I am no longer seeking a home, I have found it within us. Together we shall overcome.

All my love always – Your Andre