Part twelve in the series. The year was 1969.
"I’ll Never Fall in Love Again"
Song link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGhHfPoY-h8
The news of the war was depressing. I tried to watch President Nixon's speech but it scared and confused me so I turned it off. I also heard the older guys at work talking about it in hushed tones. I heard words like "massacre" and " My Lai", and "Protests". I tried not to let it get to me.
I received so few letters now. Intellectually, I knew he was fighting the war, serving his country, I was assuming he was safe. I still wrote him faithfully every night. Once and awhile I would get two--maybe three letters all at once, but the dates on them revealed they were old and not consecutively written. This is not what he had promised when he left.
I could not imagine his life, nor could he imagine mine, and it was increasingly clear to me with each passing day. His sporadic letters would talk of faraway ports and going out drinking with his friends. I wondered if he was with other women on those occasions. It could drive a young wife crazy.
The Chaplain finally called me. He said he had spoken to my husband, who had no idea what my "problem" was, but I should make some friends because "...you're probably just lonely". I thanked him for his efforts and hung up, feeling even more... angry. Yes, I was angry. I was angry at the war, angry with the Navy, angry at my husband for not getting it, angry at the chaplain for his lack of compassion, angry I was having to raise our son alone, and on top of it all-- I was tired of being both the mommy and daddy, not to mention also working full time. I hated my life.
I often called my mother, even though she still lived in Hawaii. One time, while finishing our conversation I turned my back to my son, attempting to make myself heard over his whining, "Mommy. Mommy...". All of a sudden I felt a blow to the back of my head. I screamed and looked around confused. My child was holding a baseball bat poised and ready to whack me again. I screamed at him, "No, you don't hit mommy."
He wanted my complete attention and had figured out how to get it. I hung up the phone. "BAD BOY!" I screamed at him. I marched him into his room and closed the door, "You can come out when you are a good boy." I sat down on the couch and began to sob. He was missing having a daddy and all he had was a part-time mother. It was not his fault he wanted more, but the truth is... I was completely drained.
Mike in 1969, sitting on our car.
By July 20, 1969 Americans were so disillusioned about the war, yet we were also about to witness a moment of great national pride; Astronaut Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon. That night I had our black and white television turned on to watch it broadcast "live". I was transfixed when suddenly I got an idea. I turned my little television toward the front door, opened it and looked up at the big full moon.
My straddled stance, half-in and half-out of the doorway, juxtaposed with the two different (yet the same) images caused me even more wonderment upon hearing those first tinny words; "One small step for man...one giant leap for mankind". The momentary freedom to escape the world was irresistible. It was a collective uplifting we all needed. It was a shame that exact moment could not have lasted longer, yet oddly it became the path to a new, exciting kind of hope for all of us.
I was a mere three weeks away from turning twenty-one. That night as I lay alone in bed the fissure in the foundation of my marriage was slowly expanding. Between my sobbing I felt a sore throat. Little did I know how my world was about to rock.
It should not have been as big a surprise to me how sick I was. It was tonsillitis and the doctors at the Army Hospital in Oakland decided I should get my tonsils taken out. When you are the single parent of a two-and-a-half year old you wonder how you can do it. When a child gets their tonsils out it is not that bad; a few days, some ice cream and things will be fine. Not so when you are an adult. In fact, the older you are the harder it is to heal.
Who could help out? Mother came to my rescue. She had a friend from California going to Hawaii; she offered to bring Mike with her to Hawaii. A godsend. Mom would keep him for as long as I needed her to. I guessed two weeks would be a reasonable time for both of us.
I scheduled my surgery. Having my tonsils out did not mean a hospital stay; it was an outpatient procedure. In the hospital, they sat me in an adjustable chair, blindfolded me, sprayed my throat with a numbing agent and snipped them out. I could see the tools go into my mouth, but I felt no pain. The doctor said I would have a sore throat for a week or so. That was an understatement.
My twenty-first birthday was the following day. I had stocked up on ice cream, but it was extremely difficult to swallow cold food. In fact it hurt more. I was also bored. Since I was not sick enough to stay in bed. I went out to celebrate my birthday by trying to have a drink in a local place I had passed by often.
Surprisingly the alcohol numbed my throat, but it also made me aware of how much was missing by not having any kind of "social life." I heard people talking about some bands playing at clubs in Jack London Square. When I got home late that afternoon I was feeling no pain, either in my throat or my heart. I fell asleep easily, but awoke after a few hours, my throat in pain again.
I got dressed and drove myself to Jack London Square to continue my celebration, and numb my pain again. I found the clubs I heard mentioned earlier opting to go to one named, "The Casuals".
It was an incredible place, dark with flashing strobe lights alive with throngs of young people crowding the dance floor, all pulsating to the loud beat of whatever songs the house band played. I sat at the bar. I did not know anyone but the bartender was attentive. On a band break I heard Tom Jones singing, “I’ll never fall in love again...” Soon it was two in the morning. I felt so alive. I didn't want it all to end. I left knowing I would come back again the next night, and the next....
I was totally excited, preoccupied with the music and what to wear to the club each night. As the week progressed I began to sample the other clubs, where I saw the groups; Tower of Power, Chicago, Santana and the Righteous Brothers. I was intoxicated by the atmosphere as well as the drinks; in a world I'd previously been oblivious too. I began wearing wigs. The doorman never recognized me, carding me each night.
After a week I went back to work energized by being around people my own age; people unencumbered by the responsibilities I lived with. All too soon the second week of "vacation" was over. I spoke with mother every few days. She was enjoying having her only grandchild around. Hesitantly I asked her if she would mind keeping him another week?
Mike in Hawaii with my parents.
"We'd love to." I was overjoyed they were enjoying him. It also meant another week of partying.
I suppose it was inevitable I would become addicted to the newly found freedom I was experiencing. My drinking was a nightly routine now. I would make it to work in the mornings just fine, but when I was finished I'd go home and sleep until eight, then shower, get dressed up and head out to the clubs. Friday and Saturday nights were the best, knowing I could sleep late in the mornings.
I no longer was writing my husband nightly, the need to was non-existent now. I was far too busy catching up with "life", quite literally, dancing my heart and its pain out. I did not give a damn anymore. Lubricated by alcohol, my guard was let down enough to let a man kiss or grope me. I had not slept with anyone yet. I knew I wanted to, but I was still clinging to a thinning thread of hope that our love was not entirely dead. I was however, on several levels, killing any vestiges of my love for him that remained.
Mike came home when mother brought him back to me about ten days later. She opted not to stay on for a visit. I was glad not to have her around to see what I was doing.
I received word my husband's ship would be coming back soon. The party would be over. After putting Mike to bed I opened a big jug of wine and drank most of it so I could fall sleep. I finally dozed off, not realizing a stranger would walk through my front door the very next morning. That stranger being my husband.
The first thing Ed wanted was some rice and eggs for breakfast, “Where is the rice cooker?” I had not made rice since he left. I was hung over, but knew it was in the cabinet. When he opened the lid of it he let fly with curse words I’d never heard from him before. It seems I had left the last bits of rice in there, from months ago when I fixed him his last meal before he left. It had turned black, moldy and eaten through his precious cooker. I had committed the worse sin possible it seemed. It was a metaphor of what was happening in our marriage, being eaten through by insecurities.
We argued the whole morning. I finally told him to go back and live on the ship. He refused, instead telling me to go. I called up a partying girlfriend, Patty, and left Mike at home to reacquaint with his dad. I would stay with her just until I could find a place for me and Mike to live.
I had no idea the repercussions would haunt me for the rest of my life.