Anastasiya Steele was born in the former Soviet bloc nation of Moldova and is not shy about saying she’s now married to the most wonderful man in America, a former Marine named Eric from Elkin.
But the couple has been in a financial crunch since he was discharged in 2009 after multiple deployments to Iraq. Eric, 28, came back with injuries to his legs, ankles, hip and shoulders after several close calls with improvised explosive devices.
He got a job earlier this year as a deputy in Rowan County, but as is the case with many disabled vets, big medical bills and high deductibles are draining dollars from the couple’s checking account. That’s usually something they can handle on their own, but Christmas is tipping the scales against them.
They have a 3-year-old boy, Phillip, and they’ve applied to get help this year from the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau, a program that provides free toys to struggling families. It is funded in part by the Observer’s Empty Stocking Fund.
Phillip loves toy cars, Bob the Builder and anything that plays “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” which he believes is the greatest song ever written.
“My husband has pride and doesn’t want people to look down on us, but I tell him this is not for us. It’s for our son,” says Anastasiya, 25, who has lived in the United States for 17 years. “I want him to have something under the tree.”
She says back home in Moldova, Christmas was a day set aside for families to gather around a table, spending time over a big meal. Her extended family will be part of the couple’s celebration this year, though she’s not quite sure how being in a room full of women speaking Russian will be all that relaxing for her husband.
Eric was honorably discharged in 2009 after earning a naval commendation medal for combat valor.
During his deployments, he endured a series of hair-raising incidents that included being thrown from a Humvee. The result is a long list of disabilities that includes post-traumatic stress disorder and a constant ringing in his ears.
Still a Marine at heart, Eric downplays his health issues and says he actually misses the Corps. “I miss the people, the brotherhood. It’s like a family.”
As for his wife claiming he is the most handsome man in the country, he says she’s looking past the extra pounds he’s put on of late.
The two met in October 2007, when he was dropping off a fellow Marine who was going on a date with Anastasiya.
That relationship didn’t end well. “I took responsibility for that, since I brought him to Charlotte. He was part of my team,” Eric says. “Anastasiya and I started talking, and we got closer and closer.”
The two married three months later, in January 2008, and have been taking turns looking out for each other ever since. She now feels it’s her turn to look out for him, as he works to regain his health.
She’s working, too, as an interpreter, but jobs are occasional and not adding much to their income.
Anastasiya is convinced that things are going to get better because her husband still has a Marine’s determination and a stubborn streak that says he’ll never give up.
“I think she’s stubborn, too,” Eric says, “stubborn enough that she’s still behind me every step of the way. A lot of women couldn’t deal with it.”
She admits it’s not easy. There are times he has nightmares and sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night screaming, and then there are the days when he’s angry for no reason.
That’s what war does to a man, she figures. “If I could have anything for Christmas, it’s for him to believe that he’s everything I could wish for, no matter how bad it gets sometimes. I know he’ll get better.”