The tears started falling in the spring, when Crystal Maxwell first learned of her husband’s coming deployment.
The eight months that Leading Seaman Devin Maxwell would spend in the Middle East would be the longest the two had been apart since marrying just two years earlier after a whirlwind courtship. Recognizing his wife’s heartache, Devin hatched a plan to surprise her, not knowing the tremendous response it would eventually elicit.
Crystal, 25, and Devin, 26, met in December of 2009 at a military ball in St. Catharines, Ont. An army friend had asked Crystal to accompany Devin, then an army corporal, who didn’t want to go alone. She agreed, and the two met when he picked her up on the evening of the ball.
“He was a lot cuter than I was expecting,” Crystal recalled with a laugh. “He was wearing his army gear and stuff – he had come straight from the base – and what woman can resist a man in uniform? Once he changed for the dance, and had showered and put his suit on, I kept looking at him, and all I could think was, ‘Oh God, I’m in trouble.’”
The evening played out like a romantic movie: They danced for hours, he sang in her ear.
“We were doing the waltz around the St. Catharines armoury,” Crystal said. “It was amazing.” Within weeks of meeting, there was talk of marriage.
Around the same time, Devin put in transfer papers to the Royal Canadian Navy – the next step in following the path of his grandfather, who worked as a naval communicator. The new position would see him travel to Victoria.
There was no discussion about the possibility of breaking up; rather, the couple decided to bump up wedding plans so friends and family wouldn’t miss out. On March 27, 2010, four months after their first meeting, the couple married in front of about 45 people in a hastily arranged ceremony in Meaford, Ont. They moved to Victoria that May.
News of Devin’s deployment to the Arabian Sea was confirmed by early April of this year: For about eight months, HMCS Regina would replace HMCS Charlottetown on Operation Artemis, Canada’s contribution to a counterterrorism mission in the volatile region.
After a tearful send-off at CFB Esquimalt on the morning of July 3, Crystal drove to her office, hoping work would keep her distracted. She was there for about 30 minutes when she received a bouquet of flowers and a card.
“I love you and I’m going to miss you every second,” it read. “When you get home there is a black box in my closet for you. Follow instructions and remember you’re never alone.”
At home, she discovered a large box containing 241 envelopes – a love letter for every day they would be apart.
“Because you must be reminded every day why I love you,” read a note on the box.
“I just completely lost it,” Crystal said. “I was on the floor, sobbing my face off. It really hit at that point that he’s going to be gone for eight months ... but at the same time, he did something so amazing so that I’d be able to make it through.”
In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail, Devin said he started planning the surprise at the end of May.
“The majority of the writing was done on the two weeks of predeployment leave before my departure date,” he wrote. “I was home, so after dropping Crystal off at work ... I would hit the ground running the moment I walked through the front door, sometimes spending upwards of five hours a day writing.”
Crystal posted photos of the surprise to social news-sharing website Reddit, dubbed “the front page of the Internet.” To date, her images have generated 26.6 million views on photo-sharing site imgur, the original thread more than 2,000 comments.
“I was gonna show this to my wife until I realized how bad this would make me look,” wrote one commenter.
Crystal has been flooded with messages, with some people saying they were inspired by Devin’s actions and others asking to send care packages to him.
Devin only expected “some tears, a few sweet words and an ‘I love you,’” he said.
“The explosion this created on the Internet is something I never could have dreamt up in a million years.”
Still, he doesn’t consider himself a romantic.
“I’m just an old-fashioned kind of guy, one that once he finds a girl he loves, will do whatever it takes to make her happy,” he wrote.