Dave Isay has helped bring oral history into the media fray with his StoryCorps project, which records the real-life stories of everyday people, providing a fascinating examination into our culture and heritage.
The author of two New York Times bestselling books, Listening is an Act of Love (2007) and Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps (2010), he now delves into that thing that makes us all tick—love.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, here’s an excerpt from his new book, All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps.
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JOEY LEON GUERRERO, 35, talks with his wife, DELORA DENISE LEON GUERRERO, 28
Joey Leon Guerrero: The first time we met, I stepped into your office and I asked you to sign one of my papers—I guess it was for my meal card. But we didn’t talk at all until we got deployed and I heard that you were coming to Company B.
Delora Denise Leon Guerrero: You sent me a couple of e-mails, but I was there to work. I was focused, driven. I was, like, We’re in Iraq. There’s no time for romance or relationships.
So we spent four months as friends, getting to know one another, seeing each other at work.
During that friendship phase I heard you talking about your family, and I loved it. I’m very family oriented too. I also noticed your leadership—the way you talked to your soldiers and your supervisors, how you carried yourself, the way you dressed, how your weapon was always clean. You didn’t let anything slip by. I liked how driven you were. And as we became friends, I liked how you were opening up to me—you were so honest and real.
Joey: But you gave me the cold shoulder. So I was, like, I’ll stay focused on being friends for now. Because I knew one day you were going to change your mind.
Delora: And then the defining moment was when I was about to leave on R&R, but a sandstorm kept me in Baghdad. We were outside, and you were helping me with my bags
by the door of the tent. All of a sudden we get indirect fire—mortars started falling. Boom! Boom! Boom! It wasn’t the first time I had heard mortars, but it was the first time I was standing outside talking while they were going off.
So I ran to the bunker. Eventually, you came in kind of casually, because you were seasoned. And then we were crouching across from each other in the bunker, waiting for the all clear. I was just looking at you, and it was like a romantic movie scene where all the visions of the last four months come into play: everything we talked about; how you talked to your kids on the phone; the fact that you called your mother; how you treated me. All of it came together while I was looking at you, and I thought, You know what? Life is way too short to pass you up. And I think it was that moment where it changed from friendship to, I can’t let this one go or I’m a fool.
When I went on R&R, I had you on my mind. And when I got back we would walk every night just to get away from the other soldiers and talk. Our romantic moments were walking to the bunkers. Doesn’t really sound romantic, I guess: being fully dressed in uniform with a weapon slung on your back…
Joey: . . . But from our perspective, we did what normal couples would do. We just did it as a couple in Iraq.
Delora: You picked out a ring online. And when you handed me the box, more mortars hit. We had to evacuate and go back into the bunkers. I thought, Is this a sign?
Later that day, you walked me home.
Joey: That’s when I got down on my knees with my weapon slung on my back, hoping we weren’t going to get hit. And it wasn’t your traditional engagement ring box—it was
more like a post office box—and I tore that open and said, “Would you marry me?”
I was kind of hesitant at first—being proposed to in Iraq is not what every girl dreams of.
Delora: But I knew you were the one for me. So when you said, “Do you want to wait?” I said, “No. This is where we are. This is the moment.”
Joey: You didn’t turn your back on me. You gave me a chance, and you accepted me.
I can’t ask for anything better than you.
Recorded in Frederick, Md., May 22, 2010.
From All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps by Dave Isay. Reprinted by arrangement of Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) 2012 by Dave Isay.