When Love Takes Flight

Written by Deborah Hackett

Edited by Alexis Martina

Looking back, I thought God had shown me the testosterone-fueled gift he had selected to be my husband five times before I met The Actual One. That’s right, five times. Discernment isn’t my gift. All I can tell you is that God’s plan blew mine out of the water.

The real love story of my life began on December 19, 1998. I needed to be at a soccer game but instead found myself on a cold airfield in Northern England, going flying with a fighter pilot, thanks to – I’m now going to insert two words that will horrify many of you – my mother. (Who wants their momma to fix them up?)

My mother had deemed my life to be devoid of fun: I was running a busy radio news team and had joined the Reserves. My life revolved around working, working out, or soldiering, and momma wasn’t happy. So she spoke with Derek, a dear family friend who flew sailplanes, and asked him to take me to his gliding club to meet new people and develop a new interest. His response: “I know just the person.” 

Shortly thereafter, literature about the Royal Air Force display pilot Flight Lieutenant Willy Hackett began appearing at the house. Then one day, Derek said that he had been telling Willy about me, and Willy had offered to take me flying. I had no interest in flying, but as he was a friend of a very close friend, I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. I accepted the offer, unaware that my life was about to change forever.

My first impression as Willy walked across the blacktop toward me was that he didn’t look much like my idea of a fighter pilot. “Danger Zone” was probably playing in my mind. He didn’t look desperately healthy, and not one item of clothing matched. (It turns out it was the morning after his station’s Christmas ball and he’d had three hours of sleep.) But then he extended his hand to shake mine and he smiled.

Hello, sparkly blue-grey eyes. They still slay me.

We went flying and he didn’t feel like someone I’d just met at all. I’m sure the flight was fine (I know he greased the landing because he has crazy mad skills), but all I remember is how easily the conversation flowed. Afterwards we had a cup of tea while we completed the required paperwork (British, y’all), and he explained he had done dozens of interviews as a display pilot. When I learned that he had never been to a radio station, I gave him a business card and said if he’d ever like to look around one, to get in touch. Hand on heart, I wasn’t flirting. I’d just come out of a bad breakup and thought a fighter pilot would be way out of my league.

A week later, he called and we made plans to meet for drinks on New Year’s Day (two diet cokes - I’m not high maintenance). Again, I was fascinated talking to him. I always tell people I fell in love with a storyteller.

We went back to his apartment, where I had parked, and he invited me in for a cup of tea. (That’s not code for a little extra: we are British. It really was a cup of tea.) I was excited to be spending more time with him, but although conversation flowed easily as we sipped our tea, he kept looking at his watch. So I decided to put the poor man out of his misery and leave while I still had some amount of dignity left after apparently boring him rigid. Out of politeness, I thanked him for the drinks and said if he were ever in the town I worked in I’d return the favor. I was dumbfounded when he suggested the following night.

Instead of drinks, we attended a party for my boss, who was a hobby pilot; I knew he’d love to meet Willy. It was there that Cupid struck. As I walked out to meet Willy, he was just turning around and it hit me: he was here with me. A lovely, handsome, intriguing and successful man had agreed to come to a work party with a woman he barely knew and a bunch of strangers. That night, I was taken aback by his patience, kindness, and humility.

In the months that ensued, I learned the difference between crush, infatuation, and love. My feelings for and reactions to Willy were totally different. I had dated some great guys. But dating my intended was very different. There was a compulsion to see him whenever possible, like someone had stretched the elastic between us and let go. And I wasn't excited to see him, I was ecstatic to the point of nausea and actually had a mix tape (19 years ago) to help me relax as I drove to see him.

Over the years, more dates followed, along with deployments, joys, struggles, and triumphs. Almost twenty years and two children later, I love him more dearly every day. When I see him snuggle one of our little girls, when I watch him get in a plane or talk about flying, when he tears up at a chance to help someone out, when he bows his head in prayer, I am ever reminded how thankful I am for this miraculous gift.

Oh, and we solved the mystery of him looking at his watch on that New Year’s Day date so long ago: he’d just been given a brand new Brietling watch with an image of his plane on it!

But here’s the kicker. It turns out that first day we met, he’d been told I wanted to interview him, while I’d thought he had made a kind offer to a friend of a friend. What began as a secret set-up changed our whole lives.

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