SHELBY, N.C. -- He walked into the San Antonio cell phone store in his Army uniform, blue eyes shining and a grin on his face.
Amanda Newman knew immediately she was going to marry the handsome 6 foot, 7 inch Soldier who had singlehandedly commanded the attention of every woman in the store.
"From the second I saw him, I knew I loved him," she said, absent-mindedly touching the wedding ring on her finger.Amanda, then 19, always competed with another sales associate to be the cell phone store's top seller. But that was before she met Army Sgt. Chris Newman, the Southerner from Shelby who was stationed in Texas.
Amanda said she made a trade with her competitive associate -- giving him credit for her next three cell phone activations -- for a chance to help her future husband in the cell phone store. After assisting Chris with his phone, Amanda Newman handed him her business card, which had her cell phone number printed on it.
Less than 20 minutes later, Chris sent her a text message.
'There was no one else'
That was 2006. Amanda, now 25, still laughs when she talks about that day. She treasures the memories of her husband, who she fondly calls a goofball and the nicest person anyone could know.
"I felt like it was always meant to be," Amanda said of the relationship with her husband. "... There was never anyone else. He was the only one."
Chris Newman died Oct. 29 in an Afghan suicide attack. The couple was married for 15 months.
Amanda talked easily about how her husband could brighten up a room simply by walking into it. She loved his jokes and his good humor. She loved his daily bear hugs that engulfed her 5 foot, 4 inch frame.
Amanda said her husband loved his family and 5-year-old daughter immensely. He was also passionate about his job as a mental health specialist with the Army.
"My husband loved what he did," Amanda said with tears in her eyes. "There was nothing that he would rather be doing."
The couple was inseparable after meeting in San Antonio in 2006. They dated for two years before going their separate ways. But it wasn't over.
Amanda realized she missed the kind-hearted Soldier in late December 2009. She contacted a mutual friend and asked for Chris's new cell phone number. She sent Chris a text message and told him she loved him.
In true Chris Newman form, Amanda said he sent back a text message that said, "I love you like a fat kid loves cake."
The couple reconnected in Charlotte in January 2010. By July, they were married in an outdoor wedding in San Antonio.
"It was such a great night," she said, laughing about San Antonio's oppressive July heat.
A bad dream
Before Chris was deployed nearly a year later, he and his wife talked briefly about what could happen when he was overseas.
Amanda and Chris couldn't entertain the idea of anything bad happening. So, it was a shock for Amanda when two men knocked on her door late one night in October in San Antonio and told her that her husband and more than a dozen others died in Kabul, Afghanistan.
"This whole time, I've been like, 'This is a joke, right?' " Amanda said. "I keep wondering, 'Where's Chris?' "
Since Chris's death, Amanda said she has been overwhelmed by an outpouring of love from the Cleveland County community.
"The support that this town has shown has been incredible," she said. "It's amazing to me that people have been so wonderful."
Amanda described the endless cakes and casseroles that complete strangers bring to the house of her husband's grandparents. She said she sees people standing in their front yards waving flags and holding children in both arms.
Their small gestures don't go unnoticed. Amanda is touched, and she knows her husband would have been, too.
"He would just love all this attention," Amanda said. "He would so love it. It's just terrible that he's not here to see it. He would so appreciate all of this."
She knows that after her husband's funeral, things in Cleveland County will return to normal. And that's OK, she said. But she hopes Cleveland County and anyone touched by Chris's death don't forget.
"That's my worry -- that people will forget," she said. "In two weeks, I want people to remember Chris. I want them to remember who he was and what he did."