A little over six years ago, my 18 year old self arrived at the University of Pittsburgh ready to embrace the first chapter of my adult life. I had already planned exactly how my four years at college would be spent, I would get my business degree, join a sorority, land a great internship, and so much more. What wasn't included in my grand scheme though was a relationship. I specifically recall that I wanted to wait until at least my senior year to settle down with anyone so I could enjoy "playing the field" whatever that means. Oh, how I was so naïve...
On the night of August 25, 2011, aka my fourth day of being at college (we hadn't even started classes yet) I was drug to the Pi Kappa Alpha house, Pike for short, by friends who had visited there the previous night. I definitely wasn't feeling this plan, I had spent my entire Wednesday night at a different fraternity and wanted to go back there because I thought they were "cool bros" (I was such a dumb freshman). However, majority rules so I sucked up my disappointment and went to the Pike fraternity house on top of Pitt's campus.
My friends and I gravitated towards the beer pong table. Anyone who knows me well though could tell you that I'm not one to play games, including drinking ones, so I grabbed a Natty Light (the college nickname for Natural Light Beer) and observed the revelry going on by the beer pong table.
Before I could register who was talking to me, I heard the words, "So, how's the frat water?" Ladies and gentleman, these are first words my now husband ever said to me. Romantic, right? Although this was the cheesiest, most corn ball joke I had ever heard, I couldn’t help but laugh, especially since the man who had said it was giving me a megawatt grin and was obviously entertained by his own joke. He was tall, tanned, strawberry blonde, and I was instantly smitten.
We exchanged the usual information: name, grade, housing assignment, major, etc. This Ben Lesniak, sophomore, Panther Hall, Political Science and History major, was a newly initiated brother of Pike, more commonly referred to as a “NIB” for short. This meant that he had to spend a portion of his night “working the door” which pretty much meant making sure people used the back door and not the front one. This apparently helped the fraternity to avoid any suspicion from the Pitt Police that a giant house party was going on, although the blasting music literally rattling the windows and the stream of drunk college students snaking into the back of the house certainly wasn’t a dead giveaway….. *Sarcasm*. Anyway, being a NIB meant that you were legitimately at the bottom of the totem pole in Greek life (until you get pledges, of course). However, at this point I hadn’t even started classes yet, let alone did I know anything about Greek life, so I thought that Ben must have been pretty damn important for having a job which made me even more intrigued. Ahh, to be so young and ignorant!
Although the small talk was flowing, our conversation was cut much too short when it came time for Ben’s front door duties. I guess he also realized that both of us were hitting it off, so he begged me to stay put for a little while he managed to finagle his way out of his shift.
Further on into our relationship, when Ben and I discussed this fateful meeting, he let me know that 50% of him was hopeful that I would stick around for him to return and 50% of him was pretty positive that I would leave my post and continue on with partying. He said that if I left, he knew it was a lost cause and he wasn’t going to look for me.
What seemed like an eternity later, although it was probably closer to 15 minutes, the very funny, handsome Ben Lesniak returned. We jumped right back into our effortless conversation, eventually exchanging numbers, before we parted ways for the night.
Our first “official date” followed a week after at Pittsburgh’s famous hoagie joint, Jimmy Johns. A very long lunch lead to an even longer walk around campus where Ben preceded to make a joke about being serial killer. I’m not kidding. As I remember, the hopeless romantic in me commented about how easy it was to get along with him and how I felt like I already knew him even though he was practically a stranger. His reply? “That’s what the last girl said….” Followed by a maniacal laugh. Ben’s humor was absolutely absurd, but yet it drew me in closer.
Like I stated previously, I had told myself prior that I absolutely did not want to get into anything serious before my senior year of college but there I was, just about a month after our first date, being asked to make things “official”. You’re all probably thinking that I followed my heart (which was giving a resounding “yes!”) and we lived happily ever after blah, blah, blah. But… I turned him down! There wasn’t a question in my mind that this man was perfect, but I was set in stone about my four year plan and not even Prince Charming himself could mess things up.
Two weeks later, on the night of September 29, Ben and I both migrated to Heinz Field in downtown Pittsburgh to watch Pitt crush the USF Bulls 44-17. Although we initially attended this event separately, we quickly found ourselves spending the entire night attached at the hip. I must have had a little too much liquid courage because I pretty much told Ben flat out that we NEEDED to go out. Even my drunk self knew that turning this guy down had been a huge mistake. Thankfully, shockingly, he wasn't frightened away but since I was clearly very intoxicated the status of our relationship was still in limbo.
A few days later on the morning of October 1st, Ben and I were once again together and sitting on his couch in Panther Hall. We quietly watched the drizzly, foggy weather keep the campus quiet of any outside activity as we nursed our minor hangovers. We had spent another night side-by-side and it was blatantly obvious that were quickly falling for each other. After sheepishly talking about being each other's boyfriend and girlfriend, in true 2011 fashion we changed our Facebook statuses to “in a relationship." I was finally ready to rewrite my four year plan which predominantly featured this great guy.
Four years and four weeks later, I was sound asleep at my parent’s house in Bucks County, PA. In the morning, I would soon be going to work as a Human Resources Assistant for the Council Rock School District, a job of which I am very thankful to have landed.
Abruptly, my phone rang at 4:30 am- a wakeup call I certainly did not plan for. It was Ben which instantly made me nervous, do any good calls happen during the crack of dawn??! At the time, he was stationed in Quantico, VA at the Marine Corps Basic School which is where he trained for his duties as a 2nd Lieutenant. A myriad of catastrophes could happen, from a failed test to a broken ankle, but this call wasn’t about school.
“Kara, I got Japan.”
I instantly knew what he is referring to. For the last two or so weeks, Ben and I had been anxiously awaiting news about what duty station he would be assigned to for his first three years as an active duty office. We were more than 99.99% sure he would get Camp Lejeune, NC. It's got a pretty bad reputation for being extremely boring and a little bit too southern, so we assumed that getting a billet there would be a piece of cake. It’s far away from my home in Pennsylvania, but we had already agreed that I would move in with Ben the first following summer. We had planned the next few years of our lives down to what apartment complex we would live in, but as I should’ve known, plans change.
My 4:30 am still asleep brain couldn’t quite comprehend what my then boyfriend was telling me.
“Japan? Are you sure?” I let out a whimper and began to cry from confusion.
Although the shock hit me hard, I can't lie that Ben and I instantly saw the silver lining that was the little island of Okinawa. We were SO EXCITED that we would get to move to Japan together, what an exciting experience! We never questioned for even a second that I wouldn’t be joining Ben, however, there was one major problem: we weren’t married! Since I was just Ben’s girlfriend, I was not on his orders which meant I wouldn’t be going on this Asian adventure halfway around the world. Not to mention, we were 22 and 23 years old - while that might be an acceptable age for marriage in some parts of the US, it was absolutely outrageous in the Northeast.
Although I was terrified to anger my parents and disappoint my siblings and friends, I knew that Ben was undoubtedly the person I was going to spend the rest of my life with which meant that I was going to Okinawa no ifs, ands, or buts (the marriage thing was still being ironed out.) I somehow found the greatest courage I’ll probably ever have in my life to let my family know about my grand plans and let me tell you, it was NOT easy. Understandably, I was just a 22 year old who had just graduated college five months prior so this news was very unexpected and the reactions weren't exactly great. I can confirm though that the dust did eventually settle and my siblings and parents are now really happy for Ben and I and are thankful things worked out the way they did.
In November, the day after Thanksgiving and after over four insanely happy years together, Ben proposed to me at the National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge Park. I'm absolutely in love with France (yes, I've been to Paris and I studied French for four years!), so he thought that the Arc de Triomphe-esqe arch was a perfect backdrop (which it was!) Even with the crazy circumstances, our proposal still felt magical because not only had we talked about marriage for years upon years, it also meant that we would truly be together no matter the circumstance and in the military that is critical.
A month later, I met Ben in my knee length white lace dress at the Newtown Courthouse on New Year’s Eve and we exchanged vows in front of our families. It was intimate, it was joyous, and it was perfect. I’ll admit, I had always pictured a quite different wedding in my head but I can honestly say that I don’t have any regrets. The best moment of my entire life is when Ben and I stood hand in hand repeating our vows to one another. As I type this I can't help but tear up, it was that intense! I married the man of my dreams and I couldn’t ask for anything more.
We’ve now been in Okinawa for a little over a year and a half. The paperwork to get me here turned out to be an absolute nightmare and we spent the first three months of our marriage apart, but I can sure as hell say that it all of the stress and craziness was worth it. Ben and I are big believers in the butterfly affect and we wouldn’t dare change a thing about our crazy love story because at this very moment we couldn’t be any happier with our lives. Life works in mysterious ways and when I find myself wanting to plan ahead for mine and Ben’s future, I tend to think twice and instead focus on enjoying the now because the future is always unpredictable!
We're Kara and Ben, a Marine Corps family currently stationed in Okinawa, Japan. Enjoy our adventures, travels, photos, thoughts, and life together halfway around the world!