On her small farm in Maryland, Rachel Porto, author of the popular blog A Little Pink in a World of Camo, described for us the very first time she met her husband, Cpl. Jonathan Porto.
Love at first sight
"He kissed me and I was done. That was all it took. I was hooked. It was like all the cliché, fairy tale crap you hear... I got the tingles, my knees went weak… it was magical." That was in 2008, after they met randomly at a bowling alley. "It was just love at first kiss. Right away."
That first kiss quickly turned into something more. The couple began dating and eventually he proposed -- twice actually. First by using the metal chain from his dog tag as a ring. And then the old fashioned way, by asking permission from her parents. Rachel said yes both times. They were married in May 2009. The young couple seemed to be living the "cliché fairy tale" life after all, she tells HLN.
Pregnant and alone
Rachel and Jonathan (or "Jonny" as she called him) found out they were pregnant on their honeymoon. They went to Camp Lejeune, where he was stationed. It turned out Jonny didn't have to work after all, so he got a little cabin on the beach for just the two of them.
The day after Mother's Day, Rachel wasn't feeling well. The smell of raw meat in the fridge made her sick. Rachel says she knew immediately she was pregnant but Jonny didn't believe her. An at-home pregnancy test quickly revealed that she was. Jonny seemed to be in shock, eating a bag of chips in silence, while she was on the phone announcing the good news. "I wasn't only pregnant but I was right. And that is also what matters," Rachel says with a laugh.
Soon after, Jonny had to leave for training. He was gone for months. A few months after that he was deployed to Afghanistan. On the day he left, he knelt down and talked to Rachel's belly. He told their soon-to-be-born daughter to behave and that he couldn't wait to meet her. Their daughter Ariana was born one month later. Sadly, Jonny would never meet her.
After they were married, Rachel decided to start a blog. She had moved seven hours away from her home to be with Jonny. Alone and in a new city, she thought the blog would be a good way to keep in contact with her family. But it turned out her words reached more than just family. Perfect strangers -- other military wives from all over the country -- began to regularly read her blog. Each new post brought them closer together. Each new post, connecting military wives going through the very same things. It was these strangers who would be a source of great support for Rachel during one of the darkest moments of her life.
The baby and the men
March 14, 2010 started out like any other day but Rachel knew something was wrong. She felt sick. It got worse as the day wore on. That night a friend called to say there had been an accident, a casualty with a company that Jonny was attached to. The friend was certain it was her husband. Rachel tried to calm the friend down, to assure her that it would be all right. But Rachel says she knew it was Jonny who had been killed.
She tried to sleep that night. She was restless. So was Ariana. After tossing and turning, they finally fell asleep. Then, the door bell rang. "I knew what this was going to be. I knew. I mean there's no other reason somebody's going to be ringing my doorbell before it's light out."
Rachel got up and realized she didn't have any pants on. She says she spent a long time trying to decide if she should wear sweat pants, or a robe. Eventually, she chose sweat pants. And then she opened the door.
Two men dressed in uniform were standing outside. They asked her if she was Mrs. Rachel Porto, wife of Cpl. Jonathan Porto. "I really did not want to be her right then, because I knew that if I was her I knew what I was going to hear," says Rachel. She eventually said yes. Then the men informed her that Jonny had been killed. "I will swear to this day that [the officer] was shouting at me… chances are he was probably speaking just as calm and gently as he normally does… but in my head it was so loud, like he was screaming at me."
Rachel eventually called her parents. Her mother asked who was with her. "The baby and the men," Rachel said. Her mom asked, "what men?" Rachel said, "These men that just ruined my life."
Not a 'war widow,' but a Marine wife, always
Three days after Johnny died, Rachel shared the news on her blog. She wrote, "I am being forced to do something that no 23-year-old woman should ever have to do. I am being forced to do something that no one should ever have to do, not at this early in life, especially. I am being forced to lay the love of my life, my saving grace, my entire world to rest." Rachel says she told her readers about Jonny's death because she needed to get it out. "I documented everything else in there. It needed to be documented that this had happened." She later wrote that she hates the term "war widow". She prefers the term, "married to an angel."
Finding their joy
It's been four years since Jonny died. Rachel just celebrated what would have been their fifth wedding anniversary. After she turned 26, she had officially outlived him. But her life now isn't just about marking anniversaries and birthdays. It's now about life. Ariana is a precious, curious, active 4-year-old. In addition to full-time mommy duties, Rachel holds a job and was just accepted to grad school. Life marches on. "I always hurt. You're always going to hurt. But you learn how to manage it... Some days it's harder than others. And some days you get pissed that this is the life you have to live. But you've got to find your joy and your reason and keep pushing through."