The fairy tale goes like this: they are high-school sweethearts from a small town, Metamora, Illinois, in the American Midwest. He graduates from high school, becomes a US marine and is sent to Iraq. When he returns, they get engaged. He proposes before he leaves for his second tour. She is 18; he is 21. She canâ€™t wait for him to come home.
The tour is cut short. A suicide bomber blows up near his truck and he suffers horrific, life-changing injuries.
A day later he is in San Antonio, Texas, at the Brooke Army Medical Center. She leaves her home town for the first time to fly there with his mother so they can be by his side. She is there for him. His injuries are severe. He will have numerous operations and she will stand by him throughout. It will be a year and a half before they all go home. In the meantime, she will move in with his mother. The homecoming is a triumph. He is a hero and she is his heroine. Their commitment to each other is inspiring and rock-solid. They get married. She is now 21 and he is 24. The wedding takes place on October 7, 2006, and that date is declared a state holiday. Renee and Tyler Ziegel Day. Their romance is covered by The Sunday Times Magazine. They plan to have a family. Love conquers all.
When I tell people that I am going to Illinois to do a follow-up story on Ty and Renee, they are curious. How are they doing?
A little over a year had passed. In January, they got divorced, I tell them. They react with shock and disbelief. What happened? There is more than curiosity in their voice, there is disappointment too. As though itâ€™s personal.
As though they had been promised a happy ending and they were ripped off. It turns out love doesnâ€™t conquer all. Itâ€™s a myth.