Go West, Young Man

The rainy season has officially begun here in the Lakeside area. It’s rained pretty much every day or night for probably the last couple of weeks.

My lovely supermodel wife and I lived in Surprise, AZ for nine years before we retired in Mexico, so rain is still somewhat of a novelty to us. Everything has turned green and verdant, and the rain and clouds have moderated the heat, but the driving range at the golf course has been mostly closed of late, and that kind of sucks.

I’ve had a lots of time to contemplate writing, and I have a few hundred ideas bouncing around inside of my head, like unto super balls thrown at a concrete wall.

Yeah, I better get busy.

* * * *

My first official work for a living and get paid for it job was at the Go West Drive In outside of Missoula, MT. My two best friends in high school, Dave Nelson and Andy Hyde, worked there. When a position opened up, they suggested I apply for a job.

I had an interview toward the end of my sophomore year with one of the two gay guys that owned the Go West, Ed Sharp. The other gay owner was Robert Sias. Eddie and Bob. They were semi-legendary in Missoula’s history, mostly for their eccentricities. Especially Eddie. You can look him up if you like. At one time I think he and Bob owned every theater in Missoula. The Wilma. The Roxy. And Bob and Eddie’s Go West Drive In.

I worked in the concession stand with my high school buddies, selling soft drinks, popcorn and candy, hot dogs, hamburgers and pizzas. Initially, I was a lackluster employee at the Go West. So much so that Dave and Andy had a little talk with me.

“We think we might have made a mistake with you.” Andy said.

“Yeah. We’re not sure you’re Go West material, Rowen.” Dave added.

“You really need to step up your game, man” Andy said.

I got the message. Bring your A game, or go home. I brought my A game from then on. It was a message I never forgot. Do your job, and do it to the best of your ability, even if you’re mopping the goddamn floor.

* * * *

I have fond memories of the Go West. Working at a drive in when you’re in high school was just about the coolest thing, ever. I got to meet a lots of people–we had our regulars–and it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had working for a living.

My first date was at the Go West. I took three of my four prom dates there, two on the same night. I probably fell in love for the first time at the Go West. I can’t remember how many times I went there with my high school sweetheart.

It was a very popular place for young people to go in the Seventies–there wasn’t a whole lots of places to go in Missoula back then–and Bob and Eddie made a ton of money showing R and X rated B-list movies, and selling overpriced concessions to our patrons.

The concession stand at the Go West was huge. The walls looked like unto a log cabin, painted with a dark brown stain. Tanned animal skins and trophy heads adorned the walls. There might have even been a picture of Horace Greeley saying, “Go west, young man!” If there was ever such a thing as a classy drive in, the Go West was it.

A great deal of alcohol was consumed at the Go West. That was probably its’ greatest attraction for most of our patrons. Underage drinking was generally accepted at that time in Montana, and the drive in was almost every underage drinker’s favorite place to drink. And as the guys that worked there, we got a lots of invitations to “…come out to the car and have a beer!” We didn’t get the opportunity to do that very often, but when we did…

Getting shitfaced drunk at the drive in was pretty much par for the course. I helped more than one person stumble back to their car. There was one night a man got so drunk he couldn’t find his car. I think we waited until all the other cars left and took him to the only car that remained. I hope he wasn’t driving…

There was the night that my gay boss Bob came up to me and said, “Um, Maarrk, could you go to the Men’s Room and find out what happened. It smells like someone, umm, died in there…”

So, I did. And I found one of my classmates–his name also happened to be Bob–sitting on the toilet.

“Hey! Mark! I shit my fuckin’ pants, man!” Shitfaced Bob said when he saw me. And he laughed. Man, did he ever! From his waist to his ankles he was covered with shit. More shit filled, and I mean filled the legs of his jeans. I wouldn’t see that much shit covering one person again until I became a psych nurse.

And that wasn’t the only thing. In his drunken process of trying to clean up, Shitfaced Bob had smeared and flung crap all over the floor and walls of toilet stall. The stench of one thousand unwashed asses hung in the air. Guys stopped coming into the Men’s Room and drained their bladders of recycled beer wherever they pleased.

“Oh, for the love of God!” Gay Bob said when I told him what had happened in the Men’s Room. “Well, don’t just stand there! Umm, do something! After all, he is your, umm, friend!”

I spent the greater part of an hour getting Shitfaced Bob cleaned up. I probably ended up wearing half of his shit because I had never had to clean up someone in his condition before. Eddie had a spare pair of pants in the office, just in cases, I suppose, and I helped Shitfaced Bob climb into them, then helped him back to the car where his buddies were waiting with all the windows down.

They told me later the windows stayed down the entire trip to Bob’s house.

Dave, Andy and myself spent another hour cleaning up the Men’s Room. I think I took a two hour shower when I got home, and I probably burned my clothes.

* * * *

Speaking of windows, there was the night I saw a car I recognized parked close to the concession stand. I was taking out the garbage, and there was Tom’s car! I went to school with Tom. We were buds. He drove a white 1963 Dodge Dart station wagon, and as far as I knew, it was the only one of its kind still on the road.

I would buy that car from Tom at the end of my junior year for three hundred bucks. It was my favorite car, until I bought my red MR2.

I went to Tom’s car and tapped on the steamed up driver’s side window. The window slowly rolled down.

“Hey, Tom! I didn’t know you were here! Why didn’t you come in and say hi?” And a guy I had never seen before looked up at me and smiled. I vaguely saw movements inside the car so I looked deeper inside of the dark car. What I saw were the rhythmic up and down movements of a girl’s head right above the guy’s naked crotch. His pants were somewhere in the neighborhood of his knees. So I looked up at the guy’s face again.

“You’re not Tom!” I said to him.

“Nope.” he replied, and rolled his window up.

I was stunned, and impressed. That was the first time I saw a guy getting a blowjob. But what impressed me was his girlfriend. She didn’t miss a beat, not even one. All I knew as I walked back into the concession stand was I wanted a girlfriend, and I wanted her to be just like that girl.

There was one other sentinel night that left me feeling stunned and impressed, and that was the night I saw two really cute girls making out! In their car! I mean, deep kissing without coming up for air! And feeling each up and everything!! I had heard of lesbians, but I didn’t think they were real.

I was pretty sure I wanted to be a lesbian after that night.

* * * *

I don’t think anyone ever came to the Go West to watch the movies. If you didn’t come to the drive in to get drunk, you came to the drive in to get laid.

We cleaned the lot before each movie because most people at the drive in threw their garbage on the ground, rather than carry it to the nearest garbage can.

Food wrappers, candy boxes, and a whole lots of beer cans and bottles. We picked up everything we found. But there this one…thing…none of us wanted to touch.

That thing was an inflated condom, tied off like unto a balloon, filled with air and semen. And here’s the really weird thing. There was almost always an used condom balloon that needed to be picked up every time we cleaned the lot.

“Clearly, this is the work of one of our regulars,” Andy decided, and there was no argument.

“But, who could it be?” Dave asked.

That, was the question, and we spent hours discussing whom the culprits could be. We eventually decided it had to be a couple that came to the drive in almost every night.

They were an incredibly attractive couple. I’ll call them Tim and Tammy because I can’t remember their names anymore, and I don’t think I know any current couples named that.

Tim was a trim, handsome, muscular guy, probably in his early twenties. Tammy was probably around the same age as Tim, maybe a year or two younger. She was pretty much the stuff that wet dreams are made of–so stunningly beautiful it was almost like unto a superpower.

The only problem we had with our hypothesis was the car Tim drove. It was a red Volkswagen Beetle. It wasn’t the kind of car you think about when you think of having sex in the back seat. And if they weren’t in the backseat, they must’ve been gymnasts, like, Olympic Gold medal winning gymnasts. And, they nailed the dismount.

And then there was the matter of who blew up the condom and tied it into a balloon…  We were pretty sure that had to be Tammy.

* * * *

Our gay bosses, Eddie and Bob, weren’t just semi-legendary in Missoula. They were also semi-legendary in Las Vegas. Well, according to them they were, and they knew all kinds of famous people.

“We had dinner with Bob Newhart and his wife the last time we were in Vegas.” Eddie told us one evening as we were driving out to the drive in. Bob and Eddie drove us out to the drive in every night it was open. The Go West was almost twenty miles outside of Missoula, and they didn’t want us wasting our money on gas.

“I know him! He’s a comedian, and he’s really funny!” I said.

“He’s even funnier in person. I almost pissed my pants I was laughing so hard!” Eddie went on.

“God, is his wife ever an ugly woman! Umm, you couldn’t pay me enough money to sleep with her!” Bob said, which made all of us bite our tongues. Like he would sleep with any woman.

“Yeah, but she’s a sweet woman.” Eddie continued.

“Hmph!” Bob added.

I wasn’t sure if I could believe any of their stories. I mean, they were talking about people from Hollywood, like movie stars hung out with regular people…

“Yeah, it’s probably true. Everyone in Hollywood is gay!” Dave said.

“Not John Wayne!” I countered.

“Yeah, he’s probably not gay. That’s why Bob and Eddie haven’t had dinner with him.” Andy agreed. “And, our gay bosses are richer than Solomon…”

There came a night when we were cleaning up the concession stand, getting ready to go home. I was near the back entrance when someone knocked on the door. This wasn’t something that happened very often, so I cautiously opened the door.

“Hi.” a guy that looked a lots like Carroll O’Connor said. “Are Bob and Eddie here? Could you please tell them Carroll is here?”

Little Known Fact: Carroll O’Connor attended the University of Montana in Missoula. Another Little Known Fact: he evidently returned to town from time to time. And he was friends with Bob and Eddie.

“Um, just a minute…” I replied, and made Archie Bunker stand outside in the dark while I tried to figure out what to do next.

“Well, Jee-sus Christ, Maarrk! Umm, let him in!” Gay Bob almost yelled when I told him and Eddie who was at the back door.

That’s how I met Carroll O’Connor. He was a very nice guy, and greeted all of us, shaking our hands. He mentioned he was hungry. Dave, Andy and I cooked him one of our crappy pizzas, but we were so starstruck we burned it to a crisp, and had to start all over.

National Lampoon was a magazine back in those days, and as far as I’m concerned, it was the funniest magazine, ever. For all time. As fate would have it, their latest issue when this happened was a spoof of All in the Family. I had bought a copy at the magazine shop near the Wilma Theater, and read it while I waited for my gay bosses to show up, and I brought it to work that night.

Carroll O’Connor saw the my magazine and asked if he could look at it.

“Sure,” I said, and handed it to him. He laughed so hard he had tears running down his cheeks.

“Can I have this?” Archie Bunker asked me, wiping tears out of the corners of his eyes.

“Yeah, absolutely! It’s yours!” I replied.

Come to think of it, that was another night at the Go West that left me feeling stunned, and impressed.

* * * *

It wasn’t all shits and giggles and celebrities and booze and sex and mysteries of the inflated condom at the Go West. There was the night the Vietnam vet brought in a porcelain bust of a skull with a porcelain rat crawling on the skull. He had a beer in one hand, and he slid the skull down the counter, so the skull could get a good look at everything available. He talked to the skull as he walked down the concession line toward the cash register. He bought a few items for himself, and even more items for the skull.

“I have to ask,” I said to the guy. “What’s up with the skull?”

“This? He’s my best friend. He didn’t make it home from Nam, so now I’m going to buy him all the stuff he never had.”

“Wow. I don’t know if that’s cool, or creepy.” I replied, adding up his purchases on the register.

“Neither do I, kid. But it’s the only thing I can do right now.”

I still get goosebumps when I think about him, and it took me a long time to forget him. In a lots of ways, he was my first Nam vet, even though I met him at least fifteen years before I became a psych nurse. It was his memory that made me want to write this story.

There was that night, the Night of the Skull. And then there was the Night Randy Was Murdered. Randy was one of Dave and Andy’s friends. I think they went to grade school with him. I talked to him casually a couple of times at the drive in, but I could never call him my friend.

On that night, the first movie had ended. It was Intermission, the concession stand was packed. People were stretching their legs and stocking up for the second show.

Randy and three or four of his friends were gathered together inside of the concession stand, shooting the breeze, flirting with the girls that walked by. A long haired guy that nobody had ever seen before walked in, wearing a pair of flowered pink colored bell bottom pants.

Randy and his friends went silent, watching the guy, then burst into laughter.

The guy with the outrageous pants didn’t like being the object of their laughter, and walked over to them. There was a brief, heated exchange, and one of Randy’s friends said, very loudly, “Those are the pussiest looking pants I’ve ever seen!”

There was another, even more heated exchange of words, and then everything went into slow motion. Randy made a fist, took one step, and punched the guy wearing the flowered pants in the jaw, sending him flying to the floor.

Randy and his friends turned their backs on the guy, and started laughing again. The guy in the flowered pants jumped up, pulled something out of his pocket, and ran toward the group of men that had insulted him. He appeared to punch Randy in his left pectoral area from behind, then ran out of the concession stand into the darkness.

I’m not sure how long it took for Randy to collapse to the floor. He didn’t do it right away. I don’t think he looked like he’d  even been injured. Then he kind of stumbled, and then he fell like his knees had been cut out from beneath him. A dark red spot appeared on his shirt. That’s when everyone realized Randy had been stabbed. In a matter of moments, he was dead.

Cardiac tamponade.

And then the world moved swiftly, once more. And it moved really fast. Randy’s friends were shouting, yelling. Then crying. There were screams, there had to be screams. People running. People gawking. I was one of those. I couldn’t move. I had no idea what to do, and my brain was frozen. I think Dave had to shove me to get me moving, and even then I didn’t know what to do.

I know Gay Bob called for an ambulance. And the police. Even if the Go West hadn’t been halfway to Idaho, the EMT’s wouldn’t have been able to do much to save Randy if they had been standing next to him when it happened. The police ordered us to lock the gate and keep everyone there until they arrived to take control of the situation.

We chased everyone out of the concession stand. I think we let Randy’s friends stay.

An army of cops descended upon the Go West. They took witness statements, got a description of the assailant, then started a car by car search for Randy’s killer, looking for the long haired guy in the pink pussy pants.

We knew a few of the sheriff’s deputies. They dropped in whenever they were in the area because Bob and Eddie comped them food and let them fill their thermoses with coffee for free. In return, the cops would make a few random trips around the lot to make sure nothing too illegal was going on.

One of the cops we called Dudley Do-Right because he looked like Dudley Do-Right. He was actually a pretty decent guy. There was another cop we called Studley Do-Right. He liked to tell tall tales about his life in law enforcement, and he always had his perps right where he wanted them.

And then we waited. And, in advance, please excuse my wording in the next sentence. The only other time the concession stand was as…dead…after the first movie was the night we showed Last House on the Left and Night of the Living Dead. After the Intermission that night, not a single person entered the concession stand.

An ambulance crew eventually took Randy’s body away. I think the police escorted Randy’s friends back to their car and made sure they stayed there. They didn’t want any vigilante justice being handed out. The police eventually let us start cleaning up. I thought there would be more blood. I mean, Randy had been stabbed in the heart!

We were all somewhere beyond stunned. I can’t remember much of anything we said to each other, except we all hoped Dudley would find Randy’s killer, not Studley.

But it was Studley Do-Right that brought the long haired guy in the flowered pink bell bottom pants to the back entrance of the building so he could be identified.

“I got my man. I always do.” Studley Do-Right said.

I think we were all surprised the guy was still there. I mean, why hang around the drive in after you killed somebody? Unless you’re getting the greatest blowjob ever given…

But that wasn’t the case. He knew he had stabbed one of the guys that had been making fun of him, but he didn’t know he’d stabbed Randy in the heart, killing him almost immediately. He simply returned to his car, and his boyfriend, once he realized no one was chasing him, and watched the movie. He was probably the only guy in the history of the Go West that actually watched a movie.

In retrospect, that was probably the first time I thought the world wasn’t as safe as they made it look on TV. Bad shit could happen to you anywhere, even in bucolic, boring-ass Missoula, MT.

* * * *

That was a long time ago, and the Missoula of my childhood no longer exists. The last time I was there, I barely recognized the place. Bob and Eddie both got dead about three decades ago, and much like its semi-legendary owners, the Go West no longer exists.

Missoula is no longer the quiet refuge of redneck cowboys. Back in the Eighties, a bunch of aging hippies from California started moving in and transformed Missoula into an eclectic, diverse, much more urbane, and possibly, quite a spifferooney place to live. I think of it now as the Austin, TX of Montana.

And a river runs through it.

Actually, three rivers run through Missoula. The Blackfoot, the Bitterroot and the Clark Fork. It’s a beautiful place, and I still dream about it from time to time.

I may go back again, someday, before I get dead. My fiftieth high school reunion is coming up in several years. I might actually attend that one. We’ll see. Shitfaced Bob won’t be there. He got dead a few years ago. Tom won’t be there either, he got dead, too.

Sad to think that my generation has already started gotting dead at such a young age. You’ll have that, I guess.

Some trips down Memory Lane are more enjoyable than others. This one was mostly good, and I take solace in that. Not all of them have been.

You’ll have that, too.

The Long and Winding Road

I come from a big family. Two parents, Les and Sally Rowen. Four brothers, three sisters.

ColleenMarkJohnTomDeniseBruceBobJulie. My dad would say that when he was talking to one us and he couldn’t remember which one of us he was talking to. That happened more often than you might think. My dad seemed to be in a perpetual state of confusion when we were growing up.

One my younger brothers had a friend sleep over on a Friday night. We were eating breakfast in the kitchen the next morning when my dad walked into the kitchen looking like unto a bear that had just awakened from hibernation.

“Are you one of mine?” he grumbled at the kid, who froze, with a Cheerio hanging from his lower lip. The kid shook his quickly. “Okay. Real good then.” my dad said in relief, and poured a cup of coffee. “You had me scared there for a minute.”

My dad had worked for the ICBM Defense Program for most of my childhood. We moved roughly every two years from the time I started grade school until I was in the eighth grade. In 1968, my dad quit working for the missle guys, and we moved to Missoula, MT  My dad said we were going to live in Missoula for the rest of our lives.

We had all  heard that line before, many times. I doubt any of us believed it, including my mother. But two years came and went, and we didn’t move. And then another two years passed, and we were still in Missoula in 1972.

What do you know? Miracles do happen.

My sister Colleen is three years older than me. My brother that got dead from SIDS was born and died in between us. I think Colleen had graduated from high school 1971, but that’s where she met Rod Sanderson.

Rod was a year older than Colleen, and like unto a lots of guys, he fell in love with my sister the moment he saw her. Back in the day, Colleen was what was referred to as a stone cold fox. She was maybe 5′ 4″ tall, long light brown hair, and according to all my classmates, she looked like an angel. Actually, all of sisters are very attractive, except when they’re pissed off. Then they’re fucking scary. Real scary.

Colleen used to drop me off at school in the morning, and some of the guys in my class would hang around the front of the school, hoping to get a glimpse of her, or if God was truly benevolent, a word or two with her. All of my friends were in love with my sister, but she wasn’t interested in any of them. She already had a boyfriend.

Rod was an okay guy, I guess. He was the baby of his family, and I don’t know if spoiled is the correct term to describe him, but it’s the best term I can think of. If there was an easy way out of something that Rod didn’t want to do, he would find it. That didn’t make him a bad guy, but it hardly made him a stellar role model.

Rod’s parents, Vern and Jackie, doted on their only son. Like me, he had an older sister, but I didn’t really know her. Rod lacked nothing when he was growing up, and Rod liked toys. So, when he got older and his parents stopped buying him toys, if he saw something he liked, he bought it whether he could afford it or not.

All of Rod’s friends had hot muscle cars. Rod bought a Fastback Boss 302 Mustang. Dark blue. It was a beautiful car. He liked to hunt, and bought himself an arsenal of guns and rifles. And he bought a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

It wasn’t a big old good one kind of Harley hog, it was a 300 cc bike. As far as Harleys go, it wasn’t much of a street cruiser, but it was a street bike. Rod used it to cruise the backroads in the mountains to scout for good areas to shoot deer and elk and stuff. And he bought my sister an 80 cc Yamaha so she could ride the backroads with him. That was nice, but my sister didn’t really care for it much, and rarely rode it, but I loved it. Rod and I probably bonded riding the mountain roads outside of Missoula.

I know he also bought helmets, but we never used them.

Helmets were for fuckin’ sissies.

* * * *

Rod might have been a poser/wannabe all around he-man outdoorsman kind of guy, but his dad was the real deal. Vern was nothing short of legendary in certain circles. He was a hunter/fisherman/guide kind of guy. He had a lots of firearms and a whole lots of rods and reels and fishing tackle. And a boat.

Vern had a garage full of tools, and he knew how to use them all. He was a woodworker/carpenter.  He was a stonemason and a bricklayer. He was a plumber and an electrician.

Vern was essentially the opposite of my dad. Les didn’t hunt or fish. He wasn’t an outdoorsman. He probably would’ve gotten lost in our huge backyard if it hadn’t been fenced in. Les wasn’t an handy man. He had maybe seven tools, and he didn’t know how to use any of them.

Be that as it may, as Colleen and Rod’s relationship progressed, so did their relationship with each other’s family, and Vern and Les became pretty good drinking buddies. It was probably the only thing that they had in common.

Well, and they both loved Colleen. Seriously. I think Vern once asked Colleen what she saw in his deadbeat son.

Because she was the oldest daughter in my family, and the first girl to start dating, my dad spent a fair amount of time threatening to kill Rod to death for a list of infractions both real and imagined.

Getting drunk with his buddies. Getting my sister drunk. Getting me drunk. Bringing my sister home late. Bringing my drunk sister home late then passing out in his car in the driveway.

Rod eventually gave my dad a nickname: Ornery. And despite the fact that my dad did everything he could to make Rod’s life a living hell, Rod asked Colleen to marry him. And she said Yes!

* * * *

That’s probably enough of the backstory leading up the events that were about to unravel.

It was the Memorial Day weekend in 1972. Saturday, May 27th, to be precise. I had just completed my sophomore year of high school. I was sixteen years old, and I had just started working at the Go West Drive In.

My family went to a state park a few hours out of town to celebrate the holiday weekend. My mom cooked enough food and made enough sandwiches to feed an army. We were joined there by Rod and his parents. Vern had brought the motorcycles along in the back of his truck.

You never know, they might be fun, he said. And because Vern was anything but a fuckin’ sissy, he didn’t bring the helmets.

* * * *

I know I was reluctant to go with my family that day. I had to work, and I didn’t trust my dad when he said he’d drive me back to town in time to get to work. But Rod said not to worry, he’d drive me back in his Mustang. I quit arguing after that.

I know I drove out to the park with Rod and Colleen. We listened to one of my 8 track tapes on the way out. The Stylistics, a Philadelphia soul group that hit the top of the charts in the early 70’s. Rod was more of Country/Western guy, but even he liked their music.

“They’re pretty good for a bunch of niggers.” he said.

I can’t remember the name of the park anymore. I’m not sure I knew the name back then. It was a very scenic green valley at the foot of some mountains. A creek ran across the valley floor. There was a lots of room to run and play Frisbee. A rocky gravel road led up into the mountains. And the motorcycles turned out to be a flash of genius. Rod or Vern rode the Harley while me and two oldest brothers, John and Tom, took turns riding Colleen’s Yamaha up and down the road with one of our younger siblings as a passenger.

The road probably wasn’t all that different from any other mountain road in Montana. It had been blasted out of the side of the mountain in the 1940’s, maybe. The rock and boulders that been blasted loose building the road were moved to either side, forming a guardrail of granite. Some of those boulders were the size of a house.

I’m going to guess I spent roughly four hours or so out at the park, and then I had to go. As I was hugging my mom goodbye, my dad and Vern were climbing aboard the motorcycles. John and Tom were sulking because they couldn’t ride along on the bikes. True to his word, Rod drove me back to town, driving as fast as he dared down the curving road that cut through the mountains back into Missoula. And we listened to The Stylistics again.

I know I made it to work on time, and I know it was pretty much the same as any other night at the Go West. It was probably around 11:00 PM. We were cleaning up the concession stand and checking inventory when one of my gay bosses came out of his office and said, “Umm, Maark, could you come here? Your mother is on the phone…”

I walked to the office, and my other gay boss handed me the phone. I heard my mother crying.

“Mark? Oh, God! I don’t know where to begin, but right after you left, there was a terrible accident…”

* * * *

What follows is what I can remember hearing from the people who were there, and I also have to admit I have repressed, suppressed and denied these memories for so long it’s almost as if I had completely forgotten it even happened. But when I was writing my last post, Melpomene whispered in my ear, and the memories came flooding back.

* * * *

My dad wasn’t a outdoorsman/sportsman guy. He wasn’t handy at fixing anything. And he wasn’t very good at riding motorcycles either, so in that regard, it’s fortunate he didn’t take a passenger when he and Vern went for their ride on the bikes that Memorial Day weekend in 1972.

I don’t think my dad was drunk when I left. He’d been drinking that day, but my dad was Irish, and he could knock down some beers without outwardly appearing to be impaired. And to be fair, Vern had had his share of beer that day, too.

Vern drove Rod’s Harley. My dad drove Colleen’s Yamaha, and away they went, climbing up the mountain road. I have no idea how far up the road they went, no idea how long they were gone. I’m not even sure if they were driving up the road, or back down it when my dad lost control of his bike.

And sadly, the details I remember are sketchy. He was either going too fast and braked too hard, or he wasn’t going fast enough and lost control when he gunned the engine to increase his speed. He kind of weebled and wobbled, but didn’t fall over, then careened off the road, running headfirst into a pretty goddamn big boulder. The impact crumpled the front wheel of Colleen’s Yamaha like it was made of tin foil, and sent my dad flying over the handlebars.

The boulder my dad hit was big, but it wasn’t especially tall. The way I understand it, my dad essentially did a somersault over the boulder, just kind of kissing the top of the boulder with his forehead enough to sustain a couple of superficial cuts to his scalp. If he had collided with a taller boulder, he would’ve taken the top of his head off, and if he had been wearing an helmet, the only thing he would’ve injured would’ve been his pride.

Well, and the front wheel of my sister’s bike.

As I nurse, I can tell you that your scalp is a very vascular area, and even a small cut can bleed like the dickens. My dad was essentially uninjured, save for a couple of superficial cuts that bled like hell, creating the illusion that my dad had been mauled by a fucking Grizzly bear, and was about five minutes away from dying to death.

Vern possibly knew my dad wasn’t badly injured–he wasn’t unconscious, none of his bones were broken–but he was bleeding like a stuck pig, and that’s probably all Vern saw. He told my dad to lay still, and apply pressure to the cuts on his forehead, then Vern jumped on the Harley and tore off down the mountain.

Rod used his motorcycle to cruise up and down the mountain roads, but it wasn’t modified in any way to be a mountain bike. It was a street bike, and if you’re curious about the differences in the way the bikes look, you can do a Google search.

Even still, some explanation is required. Off road bikes have a beefed up suspension, and the engine and foot pedals are set on higher the frame for better clearance over things, like, rocks in the road and stuff like that.

I stated earlier this mountain road was probably much like any other mountain road, meaning it was dirt with rocks of varying sizes imbedded in the dirt, covered with varying levels of loose gravel. It was never designed to be driven at an excessive rate of speed, and certainly not a motorcycle designed for street use.

I doubt any of those things occurred to Vern on that day. His buddy had been injured, and was bleeding, a lots, and he needed help. Fast! Vern was a very good motorcyclist, but even good cyclists make mistakes, especially if they aren’t being careful, and Vern had thrown caution to the wind. I’m sure he never saw the rock sticking up out of the road, sticking up just high enough to catch the brake pedal on the unmodified bike he was driving, turning low to make that corner, racing down into the valley to get help for his friend.

* * * *

I don’t know how long my dad waited for Vern to return. I don’t think he even knew, but he did as he was told until he started thinking it was taking Vern an overly long time to return.

“I really wasn’t injured,” he told me later. “There was a little stream running along the side of the road. I soaked my handkerchief, and held it to my head. Once the bleeding slowed down, and Vern still hadn’t returned, I started walking down the mountain. I figured I would meet him on the way.”

And he did, only it wasn’t the way he had imagined. Instead of finding Vern leading a motorcade of vehicles coming to rescue him, he found Vern laying face up in the middle of the road, a large pool of blood under his head. Rod’s Harley was piled up on the boulders lining the side of the road about thirty feet away from Vern, the brake pedal bent at an impossibly acute angle.

Vern was breathing, but that’s all he was doing. He was unconscious, and he would not awaken. My dad checked to see where all the blood was flowing from. The back of Vern’s skull felt like a bag of loose change.

“I started running down the road, for maybe for a quarter of a mile,” my dad said. “And luckily, a car was coming up the road. I flagged them down, then we put Vern in the backseat, and drove down the mountain. When we got back to the valley, Jackie climbed in the car with him and they took off like a bat out of hell. Your mother and I packed up everything and the kids and followed them to the hospital.”

* * * *

One of my gay bosses volunteered to take me back to town immediately. The Go West was something like twenty miles outside of Missoula, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It was further out of town than the airport. It was probably closer to Frenchtown than it was to Missoula. The only thing remotely close to it was the paper mill where Vern and Rod worked. Vern had gotten his son a job there after Rod graduated from high school.

I was in a state of shock, and it took me a minute or two to respond.

“I don’t think you need to do that. It doesn’t sound like I need to be anywhere immediately. My dad’s okay, but it doesn’t sound like Vern’s going to make it.”

Vern had been rushed to the hospital. His condition remained unchanged once he reached the hospital, he was breathing on his own, but still unconscious. The doctors told Jackie there wasn’t much of anything they could do. Vern had suffered a massive injury to his occipital lobe and cerebellum. The back of his skull had caved in like unto a broken eggshell. He might wake up, and then again…

“If he had only been wearing a helmet…” the ICU doctor said.

* * * *

My gay bosses dropped me off at the hospital around midnight, and gave me the rest of week off. If I needed more time, all I had to do was ask. I went up to the ICU waiting room where everyone else had gathered–Rod’s mother and sister, my mother and sister–and the person they had gathered around was my father. A couple of steri-strips had been applied to the cuts on his forehead. I think his clothes were dotted with his blood, and smeared with Vern’s, but I’m unsure about that. He probably changed when he took my brothers and sisters home before returning to the hospital.

My dad was beyond inconsolable. He blamed himself for the accident; placing full responsibility for what had happened squarely on his own shoulders. He kept saying he wished he could trade places with Vern. The women were trying to comfort him. I went over to talk to Rod. He told me everything he knew about what had happened, and he kept saying this,

“I wish to God I had never bought those goddamn motorcycles.”

After that, I sat down, and waited. There was nothing else to do, but wait.

That’s when I saw the book. It was small, rectangular black book, less than fifty pages, very plain in appearance. It was titled, The Impersonal Life. I picked it up and started reading. I finished it in less than half an hour, then started re-reading it from the beginning, slowly. I slipped it into my pocket, and took it home when I left the hospital. I hid it in my bedroom like it was a Penthouse® magazine. I’ve read it thousands of times over the years.

It was the book that would eventually lead me to believe that I was going to be a prophet someday.

* * * *

You can look it up online if you’re interested. You can even download a copy of it if you like, in PDF format. I have a copy on my Galaxy Tab S2®. And while I could probably wax philosophic about the contents of the book for hours, all I will say about it is this: it either contains the most sublime, simple truth about God and His Purpose ever written, or it’s the most convincing complicated lie about life and everything ever told. And to be sure, a very convincing lie has to contain at least some small measure of the truth

I’ve never been able to decide which of those two statements are correct.

Maybe they both are.

* * * *

I spent all day Sunday and Monday at the hospital, sitting with Jackie. She was surprised to see me there, and it wasn’t as if she had no one else to lean on during that time. Dozens, maybe hundreds of people dropped in to see her at the hospital and hold hands with her and cry.

On Monday evening, there was a change in Vern’s condition. He started having trouble breathing on his own. He was intubated. By Tuesday, he was no longer breathing on his own. Jackie decided to take her husband off of life support Tuesday evening, and Vern stopped breathing. He died on May 30th.

Little Known Footnote in History: both of my parents died in May. My mom in 2007, my dad in 2011.

Vern’s funeral was probably on Friday, maybe Saturday. I can’t remember when it was, I have no memory of even being there, but I know that I was. I remember how quiet it was in our house during that period of time, and our house was never quiet.

I remember sitting up in the living room with my dad after the funeral. It was late. Everyone else had gone to bed. We didn’t say much. We didn’t talk to each other much during that time, and that is all on me. But my dad finally spoke, and this is what he said,

“I can’t for the life of me figure out why this had to happen.”

“This might help.” I said, and I gave my dad the little black book I had taken from the ICU waiting room, and he read it. It would be just about the only thing we had in common for the next fifteen years or so.

* * * *

Rod took me along when he and his buddies went back to the park to pick up the motorcycles. They were still laying on the side of the road. The rock Vern hit with the brake pedal had a noticeable dent in it. Thirty feet away was another large rock in the road, this one covered with dried blood.

Rod attacked the bloody rock with tools and his hands, screaming and crying until he got it loose, then threw it as far as could down the side of the mountain, leaving a crater in the road. We drank a beer, and everyone said some words of farewell to Vern, then Rod gave me my 8 track tape back.

“I’m sorry, Mark. I can’t ever listen to it again.”

I left it on the side of the road.

I know the mangled motorcycles languished in Vern’s workshop for a very long time. I think Jackie finally made her son get rid of them, and he sold them to someone for parts. He never bought another motorcycle. And he traded his Mustang in on a four wheel drive pick up.

* * * *

Colleen married Rod in June of 1973. Maybe it was July. She was a beautiful bride, and Rod was happier than he had been in an year. I’m sure they loved each other, but as Colleen told me when her marriage was falling apart, “I just had to get out of the house. I couldn’t fucking take it anymore. I would’ve married the milkman if he had asked me. But I almost felt like I had to marry Rod, you know, especially after Vern died. Dad wasn’t the only one who felt responsible for Vern’s death. I did, too. It was my motorcycle!”

About ten years later, Jerry would be standing under a falling telephone pole, and I would learn the hard way that grief is the wrong reason to get involved with someone. Nancy and I stayed for maybe a year and a half before we called it quits. Colleen and Rod stayed married for maybe three years before they got divorced.

I think even Rod realized they had made a mistake. I talked to him a couple of times on the phone during that time, but I was fucked up on every drug on the planet, and I was drinking. My memories of this aren’t the best, but I have a vague, hazy, whisper of a memory of Rod saying that Colleen was just another toy in his collection. He didn’t value her for who and what she was, and he didn’t blame her for divorcing him.

* * * *

A lots of time has passed since Vern got killed to death, and a whole lots of stuff has happened since then. I have traveled a very long and winding road to get where I am, but my journey is not yet over. There may be a lots more twists and turns I’ll have to encounter before it ends. Life will do that to you in the blink of an eye.

I can’t say that I’ve spent much time thinking about this story. It’s a story that I’ve rarely told, if ever. Hell, until last week I had pretty much forgotten it even happened. But there is one issue that always rises to the surface whenever I think about it, and it popped into my head as I was writing this.

It’s probably why I’ve tried so hard to forget it.

My dad felt responsible for Vern’s death because he was a lousy motorcyclist, and Vern had gotten dead trying to help him. My sister felt responsible because our dad had crashed her motorcycle, and Vern had gotten dead trying to help our dad. Rod felt responsible because he had bought those goddamn motorcycles in the first place…

But I have my own what if in this story. What if God recycled Vern’s energy because He knew I would see that little black book in the ICU waiting room, and it was the only way He could think of to get it into my hands?

If that what if is true, then Vern’s death rests on my shoulders, and mine alone.

The Lord works in mysterious ways, does He not? I’ve always thought that was just another way of saying, isn’t that ironic? And yes, He does work in ironically mysterious ways. I don’t know anyone who believes in God that would argue against that statement.

And there’s this: what if I failed to achieve the qualities God requires of a prophet? What if I had my chance, and choked? What if I missed the critical free throws at the end of regulation, and I lost the game? If that is true, then Vern’s death was wasted, and God made an huge mistake, inflicting many people with unnecessary grief and loss for no good reason. And He should have recycled my energy long ago, rather than keeping my stupid ass alive when I was so determined to die young.

That’s a possibility, but it’s also possible that the time for me to assume that role is yet to come. The fact that I’m still alive and pondering this is enough to keep my hope alive that my delusional dream could still come true.

And finally, it’s possible that I misunderstood everything and my desire to be a prophet is nothing more than a delusion, as my lovely supermodel wife insists. And if that is true, then I have nothing do with any of this, and Vern died to death simply because he got careless when he was riding a motorcycle too fast for the terrain and road conditions. And I can go back to forgetting any of this shit ever happened.

Maybe The Horne was right about me when he nicknamed me Wrongway…

A lots of questions, not many answers.

There’s only one thing that’s clear to me. No matter how much I want this, I’m no prophet, and I know that to be the undisputed truth.

That’s one bit of truth I don’t have to do any seeking to find.

Radar and The Cosmic Kid

I’ve mentioned the names of some of the guys I shared the Dental barracks with, way back when I was in the Army. It would seem my Muse, or Muses, have decided it’s time to elaborate on at least some of them.

Today’s Muse is probably Urania, but Thalia will certainly be whispering in my other ear.

* * * *

I arrived at Fort Sill in January of 1975. It was my permanent duty station according to the contract I’d signed with my recruiter, Sergeant First Class Robin Hood.

I’m not making that up.

When I arrived at Fort Sill, I had to be processed in because I was new to Army life, and the half a ton of paperwork the Army had already generated on me just wasn’t enough. I was delivered to the Main Processing Station. It was a huge building about the size of a football field with an huge office filled with desks and clerks and stuff. The rest of the building was bunks and latrines and stuff.

It was essentially a way station, like unto the Army’s version of Purgatory. Once all your paperwork was processed, a clerk from the MPS would contact your company, and someone would come pick you up so you could begin your Army career. It usually took two or three days.

I was at the MPS for a week. The clerk handling my paperwork was new to his position, and he forgot to call my company.

I didn’t mind hanging out at the MPS. I didn’t have much of anything to do except get cleaned up and dressed in the morning, and march to the nearest mess hall to eat with the rest of the guys being processed in. The rest of my day was free time, which I spent reading, or writing to Maureen.

I would’ve been happy to do that for the next two and an half years, but someone in the MPS finally asked what the hell I was still doing there and my company was notified that I had been processed, and someone came to pick me up.

That person was PFC Randall J. Paul.

Randy was from Los Angeles, CA. If there’s such a thing as a Valley Guy, Randy would’ve been one. Totally, man. He was a tall, pudgy guy with a huge honker of a nose. He looked like an older kid that had never lost his baby fat. Or a really tall cartoon penguin…

“Hey, are you PFC Rowen?” he asked. I was lounging on my bunk, reading. I looked up at him and nodded. “Well, c’mon, let’s go! I’m here to take you to Dental Headquarters. My name’s Randy. You can be my roommate.

“Well, okay, we won’t be roommate roommates, but we’ll be kinda roommates. There’s a shared bathroom between our rooms at the barracks. You’ll see what I mean when we get there. The room next to mine is empty, so you can bunk there.

“I’m so fuckin’ glad you’re here, man! Now you can take over my job and I can become a dental lab technician! I’ve been waiting to do that for a year…”

* * * *

I’m pretty sure Randy talked nonstop for the next six hours, like he was a manic bipolar trying to tell me his life story and everything I’d need to know about the Army without taking a breath in between. Randy’s monologue was punctuated with a whole lots of “…you’ll see what I mean–You’ll figure it out–It’ll all fall into place.” And, “Fuck the Army!!”

Well, it’s not like he was trying to do that. That’s exactly what he did. And years later, when I was a psych nurse, I’d discover Randy really was bipolar…

Our first stop was Dental Headquarters, where I would learn I wouldn’t be a dental assistant, I would become the new supply driver, and Randy would train me to replace him. James Toney, the clerk who would possibly save my ass with his testimony during my court-martial, couldn’t stop shaking my hand.

“Thank God you’re here.” he kept saying.

That first day was a blur to me. We stopped off at the barracks to drop off my gear, and Randy showed me my room, and I got to see what he meant when he said we’d be kinda roommates.

I accompanied Randy as he picked supplies up at the warehouse, linens from the laundry, and he introduced me to everyone at the four dental clinics on base. And when the work day ended, he introduced me to everyone in the barracks. They actually threw a little impromptu Welcome to the Barracks party for me in the dayroom.

Don One and Don Two. Mike. There were two Mikes, but Mike Two was called The Horne. If you fuck with the bull, you get The Horne. Tommy. Johnny. Virg. Brother Al. Lightning Bob. Jesse. Roger. And, Randy.

We drank beer and I tried to remember everyone’s names. They told me where they were from, and stuff. I told them where I was from, and stuff. And Randy rambled on philosophically about anything and everything.

“So, what do you think about your new kinda roommate?” The Horne asked me, when Randy finally did stop talking long enough to take a breath.

“Yeah, well, I don’t know. He’s too…cosmic…for me.”

A stunned silence filled the room, and you could actually see it, the lightbulbs coming on over their heads.

“Yeah, cosmic!” Roger said softly, followed by an equally soft chuckle.

“W-w-wow!” Don One said. “W-w-we’ve been trying to figure him out for a year, and you fuckin’ nail it in five minutes!”

“It’s like he has radar or something.” Don Two said.

“He fuckin’ looks like Radar!” Johnny added.

So two nicknames were born that day. Randy and I became Radar and the Cosmic Kid.

* * * *

What can I say? Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then. You might think I’m overly critical of myself, and I probably am. I tend to see clearly now the things I couldn’t see at all back then, but I’ve skipped ahead, and I know how this chapter turned out.

And the things I was able to see, well, they were so obvious that probably anyone could’ve seen them.

My early adult life appears to be the perfect example of what can happen if you don’t have a plan. How I ended up faring as well as I did is probably one of the great mysteries of the modern world, but only if you don’t believe in God.

What I see looking back is a really smart guy who was seemingly addicted to doing stupid stuff. Add in loss, heartbreak, rue and regret. Gently mix in drug and alcohol abuse. Rinse. Repeat.

That’s the part that kind of chaps my ass now. I really wish I had chosen to do something differently sooner.

* * * *

So, I moved into the barracks and essentially disappeared for about a month while I painted and decorated my room. I hated the pale puke green color the interior of the barracks had been painted back in World War II. I picked up some cheap ass carpeting and folded it to fit the two parts of my room.

Then I went for a cross country night march in the rain and broke my ankle. Randy and I started spending a fair amount of time with each other while my ankle healed, and we talked a lots.

“Wow. You might have a lotta book smarts, but you really don’t know much about life, do you.” was the Cosmic Kid’s assessment of me. I couldn’t really argue much with that.

We hung out with Roger and I unknowingly became his student.

Maureen and I broke up, and my free fall into Hell began. I started smoking pot, and because it’s a gateway drug, the Doorway to Oblivion opened, and I walked through.

Hashish. Amphetamines. PCP. LSD. Cocaine. Psilocybin mushrooms. Codeine. Oxycodone. Peyote. Mescaline. Heroin.  I eventually added all of them to my resume.

I stopped learning things out of books.

* * * *

Some of my cousins did a family history, tracing back our ancestry to the 1700’s. I discovered that I come from a long line of suicidal alcoholics. The successful people in my family tree were the ones who kept drinking.

So, the question is, would I have wandered down the path I chose even if Maureen and I had stayed together? The answer is yes. I wasn’t a leader back then, I was a follower. And seeing how all the cool kids in the barracks were doing drugs, and I wanted to be cool, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have ended up where I did.

The only other question is, would I have embraced the drug culture as fully as I did if I hadn’t gone completely rudderless in the prevailing currents of the time?

I don’t know the answer to that question. Maybe. Probably.

Yeah. That’s probably it.

* * * *

As exhausting as being around Randy could be, given his manic energy and cosmic consciousness, we ended up becoming good friends. We played Frisbee. We became storm chasers during tornado season. We played pool and fooseball in the dayroom. I helped Randy paint his room.

We drank and smoked and snorted and popped pills while we did all of the above.

Randy bought me a set of Mickey Mouse ears when he went home on vacation, and I wore them one day when I made my deliveries.

I went to dinner with Roger one evening and became a superstar the next day. I was found innocent of all charges when I was court-martialed, and became an even more legendary superstar.

“You have done well, my son.” Randy said. “Maybe you should go back to reading books…”

* * * *

“Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope.” – Freewheelin’ Franklin

* * * *

The life of a marijuana aficionado revolves around weed. When it’s abundant, life is good. When it isn’t, there are no words to describe the indescribable hell that life becomes.

Back then, pot wasn’t legal anywhere, and you had to know a guy or twenty to make sure you could almost always get it. Thanks to Roger, I knew a lots of guys, and after he left, I became the guy everyone came to see when they couldn’t get what they needed.

I never became a dealer, but I became a great middle man.

There came a time when no one had any pot, and there was a great drought of weed, and a terrible famine lay all upon the land, and all the people languished.

“Man, you gotta do something!” Randy said to me. “I’m fucking dying here!”

“Let me make some calls.”

From Roger, I knew I had to be smarter than the cops, and you never knew who might be listening in on your conversations. So I invented a code word for weed with the guys I dealt with most. I would say I was looking for Bob, and had had they seen him lately?

It was perfect.

But the cupboard was bare at the home of every dealer I knew, and none of them had seen Bob in awhile. One of them said he didn’t know who Bob was anymore, and even I started panicking.

I decided to call a guy I had met once. I tended not to deal with guys I didn’t know very well, but desperate times require desperate actions.

This guy wasn’t in on my code.

“Bob? Who the fuck is Bob?”

“You know, weed.” I whispered into the phone.

“Oh! That Bob! I’ve got one ounce. Forty bucks. You get here first, you get it” Click.

I have no idea what an ounce of pot sells for now, but back then the going rate was twenty bucks, so what this guy was asking was ridiculous.

“I’ll split it with you.” Randy said, handing me a twenty.

I had a little trouble finding the guy’s place. I had only been there once, but he still had the bag when I got there. He was a Mexican guy named Felix or something. There was only one problem. The weed he wanted to sell me didn’t look like any bag of weed I’d ever seen before. It looked like dried beans sprouts or something. And the baggie wasn’t half full, it was totally full, and was as fat as a proverbial singing lady.

“Is this even weed?” I asked.

“If that shit doesn’t knock you on your ass, man, I’ll give you your fuckin’ money back.”

Drugs never come with a money back guarantee, so I gave the guy forty bucks and drove back to the barracks.

“What the fuck is this shit? This isn’t even dope! What is that? Bean sprouts?!? Give me my money back! Let’s go back to that beaner’s house and beat the shit out of him!!!”

“I have a better idea. Why don’t we try it first.”

“Well, it doesn’t taste bad…” Randy said as we smoked a bowl. “Actually, that tastes pretty good!” he decided. “Holy shit! What is this stuff? My head feels like it just floated away…” Randy said, and his voice sounded like it was floating away with his head. “Jesus, man! I think you better take me to the Emergency Room…”

I turned to look at Randy. He was pale as a winter morning, and drenched with enough sweat that he looked like he’d been standing outside during a monsoon. Swarms of beads of perspiration were literally running down his face in waves.

“I’m serious, Mark. I think I’m going to die. You gotta do something, man.”

“Where would you like to be buried?” I asked, then started laughing as if that was the funniest line ever spoken.

“Goddamn! That’s cold, man! I can’t believe you’re gonna just sit there and let me die! You’ve become a real bastard, man!”

“Hey, Cosmo, take a couple of deep breaths and get a grip. I smoked the same stuff you did, and I’m not dying. Suppose I take you to the ER. What am I gonna tell them? Well, doc, we were just sitting around the barracks, and we weren’t smoking pot or anything, when all of a sudden my buddy decided he was fuckin’ dying? I’m not taking you to the ER, try taking a cold shower or something. Maybe that’ll help.”

And, it did. Fifteen minutes later Randy returned, and he no longer looked like the world’s worst weather system.

“What’s that?” Randy asked, as I handed him a twenty dollar bill.

“You said you wanted your money back.”

“I changed my mind. Give me my half of the bean sprouts, bitch.”

I have no idea what the fuck was in that bag, but I know it wasn’t pot. And even if it was bag of baby pot plants, those suckers had to have been laced with something, but again, I have no idea what.

Whatever it was we smoked, it was enough to get to get us through the drought, and there was much rejoicing.

* * * *

Life can be unpredictable when you’re in the military, but one thing that you can count on is the people you’re stationed with are only temporary. The Old Timers started leaving. Roger left, then Don One, and Don Two, and Mike. The Horne, Virg and Lightning Bob were gone. The FNG’s came in to replace them.

Tommy, who had never been part of our group–he’d hung out with the Dons and Mike–started hanging out with me and Randy.

“I at least know what to expect from you two. Nothing but trouble. But it’s better than getting to know someone that just got here.”

Tommy was a good old boy from Texas, and that was his given name. Not Thomas or Tom. He was a big man, and he didn’t look anything like a Tommy.

Tommy and Randy actually became real good friends, I wasn’t at the barracks a whole lots by that time in my life. I had become a legendary party animal, and I had rounds to make in my community.

Randy was next up to depart, so Tommy decided we should take him out for dinner, seeing how we were the only three Old Timers left. We decided to take Randy to a place somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. And seeing how it was the last time we’d ever be together, Randy decided to pull a nothing but trouble prank on Tommy Boy.

I know it wasn’t in Lawton, it was an out of the way place that you had to know about to find, but just where it was I have no idea. It was a big place, one of those family style country restaurants that serve Mom’s Home Cooking kind of meals.

The huge restaurant was packed. The tables were filled with families, Mom and Dad, a lots of bunches of kids of every age. Gramps and Granny were sporadically dotted around the tables in the restaurant.

We had drinks. We had appetizers. We had a down home meal with all the fixin’s, and dessert, then Randy unleashed his surprise attack.

For those of you who didn’t grow up in the 70’s when drugs were cool and paraphernalia was even cooler, you could buy strawberry flavored rolling papers that were an electric pink color.

The only thing anyone ever smoked in a paper that color was pot, but Randy rolled a tobacco cigarette in an electric pink paper, a good old big one, and put it in his pocket.

“Man, that was a damn fine meal. Good food, good friends, cold beer, man, I can’t think of anything else that I need right now. Actually, there is one thing. The only thing that could make this better is a joint. Oh! I have one right here in my pocket, and I’m going to fire this bad boy up!”

He reached into his shirt pocket, and pulled out the electric pink cigarette. You could smoke cigarettes in restaurants back then. Tommy’s eyes just about jumped out of his skull.

“Randy! Jesus! What the fuck are doing, man!” Tommy whispered furiously at Randy. “What are trying to do, get us arrested?!?” as Randy put the monster pink cigarette to his lips. “Randy! Have you lost your fucking mind!! If you light that–”

And Randy lit it.

I wish you could have been there to see it, the range of emotions that raced across Tommy’s face as Randy lit that cigarette. Surprise. Shock. Stunned shock. Fear. Anger, rage and then relief, followed by,

“Oh, you sonuvabitch! I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you for that. Did you know about this, Radar? I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you, too!”

* * * *

Randy left in early October of 1976. Only Tommy and I, and Raoul remained of the original barracks bums.

We sent Randy off in the evening, he got off to a late start for a guy that was getting out of the fucking Army! But then, he wasn’t the most organized guy I’ve ever known.

“I’m gonna miss that cosmic motherfucker.” Tommy said.

* * * *

I wouldn’t have to. Randy and I stayed in contact for years. He called me all the time when I was still in the Army. He even came to visit me once, driving from California in an old pick up truck. He couldn’t believe Raoul and I were best friends.

He’d call me at work when I was a psych nurse at the MVAMC. He called me at home. My lovely supermodel wife would shake her head and leave the room when he called. Randy moved to Wichita, KS, got married, had a daughter.

He called me at home early one morning after I gotten off of a stretch of nights. This was probably in the mid-ninties. He said he was depressed. He had a loaded gun, and he was going to kill himself.

“Where’s your family?”

His daughter was in school. His wife was at work, but she’d be home at noon. I kept him on the phone for four hours until his wife came home and convinced him to go to the VA for help. He was assessed, and sent home.

I called to see how he was doing the next day.

“Oh, they told me I was bipolar or some bullshit like that, and they wanted me to start taking a bunch of fuckin’ meds, man. I told them to go fuck themselves, and they told me to go home.”

* * * *

He called several months later at work again to tell me he had six months to live. He had cancer. It was a Friday in April. I told my horrible boss what my Army buddy had just told me on the phone, and  I was driving to Wichita as soon as my shift ended, but I’d probably be at work on Monday.

“Go! Let me know if you need anything!”

Maybe she wasn’t all horrible…

,* * * *

Lea and I arrived in Wichita at 4:00 AM. We checked into a no-tell motel, got a couple hours of sleep, took a shower, then went to see my dying buddy. His wife answered the door.

“Hi. I’m Mark. I’m Randy’s Army buddy–”

“Mark!! Oh my God! I’m so glad to finally meet you! I’ve heard so much about you! I feel like I’ve known you all my life!” she said, giving me a bone crushing hug. She was a big woman. “What’re y’all doing in Wichita?” She saw my wife, so she stepped outside to hug her, too.

“I’m so sorry,” Lea said. “This must be so terrible for you. Randy called yesterday and told Mark he had six months to live. We jumped in the car and drove all night, but we’re here!”

“What? Six months?? There’s nothing wrong with Randy! He’s not going to die!”

“The hell he isn’t!” my wife said. “I’m going to fucking kill him myself!”

“He doesn’t have cancer?”

“Oh God no! The doctor told him he needed to quit smoking, or he’d die from cancer…  I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you. Thank God you’re here. Thank God!”

I explained to Lea that Randy was bipolar, and she decided not to kill Randy. She finally calmed down, but I don’t think she’s ever forgiven Randy for that.

We spent the day with Randy and his family. As evening fell, Randy and I went for a walk so I could explain Bipolar Disorder to my friend, and the treatments available. Randy actually listened to me without interrupting every five seconds, and he appeared to be thinking about what I’d said.

“Do you have any questions?” I asked. We were sitting on a picnic table in a park near his house.

“Yeah. What was it like fucking Raoul’s wife? Man, she was hot! Jesus, Rowen, you should see your face! You look just like Tommy did when I lit up that fake joint in the restaurant!” Randy said, laughing as if he’d just uttered the funniest line ever spoken.

I have no doubt that my face perfectly mimicked Tommy’s face that night. And for a moment, I thought I might kill Randy myself.

My affair with Nadina had happened just before Randy left. I know I didn’t tell him I was tapping Nadina while her husband was out of town. Did I?

“How did you know?” I decided to ask.

“Because you went over to her house every day after work that week Raoul was at Fort Sam, and you didn’t come back to the barracks until the sun was coming up! What else could you have been doing? Playing cards? You should have seen yourself, man, you looked like you were going to die, man! And every day you looked worse! By the end of the week, you could barely walk!”

“Who else knew?” I asked, when I could finally speak.

“Only me. I was kinda your roommate, remember? I knew when you were home and when you weren’t. I didn’t tell anyone, I promise! Not even The Horne, or Tommy. And I sure as hell didn’t tell Raoul!”

I was able to breathe again, and that was good, but I couldn’t stop shaking. I stared at the ground for the longest time, unable to even think.

“Hey, are you okay? Jesus, maybe I should take you to the ER. Or maybe you should take a cold shower…”

Yeah, maybe…

I eventually looked up, and found that I could smile.

“I gotta tell you something, you’ve got the biggest balls of anyone I’ve ever known. And the most guts. Remember when we met? You were that naive kid from Montana who didn’t know the difference between pot and acid.

“You were the FNG who walked halfway across Fort Sill on a broken ankle, man! We went tornado chasing in the dark because you said you’d never seen one in person! We goddamn near died at least twice, but you never let a little thing like almost dying to death stop you!

“You were a heartbroken trainwreck that tried to kill himself and couldn’t smile for a month, and next thing anyone knows, you’re dating strippers, smoking weed, dropping acid, snorting drugs and popping pills like candy, and getting drunker than everyone else in the barracks, combined!

“You were the ultimate party animal, man! No one could keep up with you! You beat the fucking Army at its own fucking game! You took those fuckin’ fucks in Headquarters on, and you won! Remember that!

“You didn’t have a clue who you were, but you became the leader of the barracks. You fucked with The Horne, and you put that fuckin’ loudmouth in his place! Man, I still can’t believe you did that!

“And to top it off, you make love to the most beautiful woman on the planet, and then become best friends with the guy whose marriage you destroyed, and you didn’t even blink! If that doesn’t take balls, I don’t know what does!

“And look at you now, all straightened out, registered nurse, married to a fucking supermodel! You aren’t human, man. You have to be some kind of a god!”

“Oh, I’m not all that straight.” I finally replied. That was a lots for me to take in. “I still drink, and smoke pot. I’m human, man. Just like you. Just like everybody else. I don’t see myself in the same light you do. It seems pretty dark to me now, looking back. I have no idea how I survived.”

“Dude, no one else does either! I’ll tell you something, I never knew if you’d be dead or alive when the morning came. None of us did! We were going to have a pool on how long you were going to live, but Roger wouldn’t let us.”

“I miss him. I loved that guy.”

“We all did, he was the best. But you became even better than him.”

* * * *

I never saw Randy again. We talked on the phone frequently. His daughter grew up and went to college. His wife left him, she told him she couldn’t take it anymore and had to get off the roller coaster.

After that, I don’t know…

A friend of mine who reads my posts once commented that I have lived a crazy life. Well, I did hang out with a lots of crazy people.

If you ever want to know what’s happening on a psych unit, ask a patient. Randy was never one of my patients, but he had a psychiatric disorder or two. He never missed a trick, and he never forgot anything. Randy’s assessment of me was spot on.

I’ve been blessed with a lots of really tremendous friends, even when I probably didn’t deserve the kind of friendship they offered.

Thank you Randy, for your honesty and candor, and your cosmic viewpoint. I credit Roger the most for helping me become the person I’ve become. His humility and common sense were qualities I’ve tried to incorporate into the man that I am.

Okay, I haven’t done so good with the humility part…

But there’s a part of Randy in me, too. That’s the part that looks at almost everything from a different point of view. The part that looks for other solutions than the accepted ones. The part that seeks the Truth. The part that keeps searching in the dark, even if it’s dangerous.

Hey, you can’t let a little thing like the threat of death stop you. You only live once, and we all have to die from something.

Roger and Me

Prologue: I’ve been thinking about this story for about a month or more, mulling it over, mostly doing what I call a lateral drift, letting ideas fall into place. I thought I knew what I was going to write about…

What follows isn’t the story I started out writing. It blindsided me, much like this series of events did when they originally occurred.

All I can say, as far as this story goes, is my Muse is back! And for this story, she is Erato.

* * * *

I was never a cool kid when I was growing up, including high school. I’m not sure exactly when I became cool. Most likely it was when I stopped trying to be cool, and that was probably way back when I was in the Army in Oklahoma.

Back then, you couldn’t look for solutions to your personal problems on the Interweb. Your best hope was maybe an After School Special on TV about whatever your problem was. Or, if you were incredibly blessed, a wise and wonderful teacher would appear to show you the ropes. In my case, that person was a guy named Roger Hume.

If it’s true that I became the Obi Wan Kenobi of psych nursing, then Roger was my first Qui-Gon Jinn. I think he had about a year left in his enlistment when I first met him at the Dental barracks on Fort Sill.

Roger was from Evansville, Indiana. We were roughly the same height and weight. He was probably three years older than me, but light-years ahead of me in experience. He had chosen to join the Army rather than go to jail.

You had that option back then. The Draft had been suspended, and the Army wasn’t looking for a few good men, it was looking for any man.

“Yeah, when the judge gave me that choice, I jumped on it, man. Instead of being locked up, I got to learn a trade, and I still get to smoke dope and drink beer. It was an easy decision for me.”

I can’t remember what sort of offense Roger had committed. He hadn’t killed anyone to death, like our buddy Roy Bowman would, but it was serious enough to be incarcerated for. Roger would introduce me to Roy, and quite a few other dealers on and around Fort Sill.

He would introduce me to a lots of stuff. Like pot. He taught me how to roll a perfect joint. And speed, and LSD, and PCP. And strippers.

“The first one’s free.” he had chuckled, then added. “You’ll be back.” And he was right. I pretty much fell in love with drugs, especially after my high school sweetheart and I broke up.

Roger’s room was the first door on the left past the laundry room on the first floor. While Roger lived in the barracks, his room was the de facto gathering place for me and my group of friends.

The Horne. Randy. Lightning Bob. Raoul, when he lived in the barracks. Roger had stapled a lots of cardboard Coors containers to one of his walls, and we wrote a lots of lines of inestimable profundity on his wall while we were getting high. And we laughed our asses off.

Roger had a lots of sayings. He was the first to tell me, “The Army might be able to fuck with you in a lots of ways, man, but they can’t stop the clock from ticking. Every minute that goes by gets you that much closer to getting out.”

I doubt I can remember all of his sayings now. Mostly they pop into my head if someone says something that reminds me of the wisdom of my mentor. The only one that immediately comes to mind is this one:

“There’s only two kinds of one. A good old big one and big old good one,” followed by that soft chuckle of his. He said that a lots.

Roger worked in the Dental lab at the Headquarters Clinic. He made dentures and stuff. Raoul was his boss. Come to think of it, Roger introduced me to him, too. Roger called him Ralool. Raoul insisted Roger call him Ray. I was just about the only person that called him Raoul. Even his wife called him Ray.

* * * *

After my personally devastating break up with Maureen, Roger became my best friend. He had suffered a similar situation with his high school sweetheart. Betty Jo Bialosky? Maybe her name was Melanie Haber. Or was it Audrey Farber?  Susan Underhill? But I think everyone knew her as Nancy.

At any rate, Roger took me under his wing and looked out for me while he taught me how to pick up the pieces of my life without me realizing what he was doing. He even convinced one of the orthodontists to put braces on my teeth and straighten them out.

Aside from the GI Bill, braces were the best thing I got from being in the Army.

He taught me about the drug trade, and the cops. “It’s not something you want to get into too deep, man. It’s like the ocean, you know? Stay in the shallows, but always keep your eyes open. That’s what the cops do. You have to learn to think like them.”

That was a bit of advice that actually came in very handy once I became a pysch nurse.

Roger wasn’t a big supplier of drugs, but he knew almost everyone on base that was, and he introduced me to all of them, something that would come in incredibly handy for me once Roger got out of the Army.

One of the largest suppliers was a guy named Dave Lovelace. Dave was the type of dealer that Roy Bowman dreamed of becoming. I only met Dave a few times, and we never became friends. He worked in one of the medical clinics on base, and when I met him, he was a short timer. I can’t remember how long Dave had left in the Army, maybe a week or two.

Come to think of it, Roger was a short timer, too. He was down to a couple of months, and that clock just kept on tickin’, man.

Dave was kind of the Milo Minderbinder of Fort Sill. Other than psych patients, Dave was perhaps the most selfish and manipulative person I’ve ever known. Dave, was in it for Dave. Selling drugs was easy money. Money opened a lots of doors, and girls like Sunshine and Diane, and however many other women Dave had at his beck and call, were just part of the package.

Dave introduced Roger to one of his part-time girlfriends/fabric free shoe models, a girl who called herself Sunshine. I have no idea what her real name was. Sunshine’s best friend was Diane, and because of Roger, I would get to know her.

Sunshine was an…interesting…young woman. She said she was from Nebraska, I think. Diane said she was from the same place, for that matter. Well, that’s the story they told everyone. God only knows what the truth is.

They were about the same height as Roger and I. Sunshine had light brown hair and really big…eyes. She had a seriously hot body, and was quite a popular dancer at the Play Pen Lounge.

Sunshine said she didn’t like wearing clothes, so being a stripper evidently came naturally to her. All I know is if I took all the time I spent around her–not counting when she was working–and added up the time she was fully dressed, it might total an hour and an half.

I met Dave and Sunshine at a McDonald’s. Roger and I were going to meet Dave there and do a little transaction action, and Sunshine came along for the ride. We all ordered something to eat and sat down at a table. I remember I had one helluva case of the munchies, and was mostly focused on inhaling my Quarter Pounder® and fries while everyone else talked.

Sunshine said it was too warm inside the McDonald’s, and she felt like she was going to faint.

“Then take off your shirt.” Dave said, not really paying much attention to her. However, that caught my attention, and I looked up as Sunshine’s awesome tits popped into view. I’m pretty sure hers were the two most perfect tits I’ve ever seen in my life.

My lower jaw dropped far enough to fit everyone’s orders at our table into my mouth. It was five or six o’clock on a Friday evening in July or August, and the place was packed. Everyone in the restaurant stopped eating, and turned to look at the half-naked woman. The other servicemen inside applauded.

“Is your friend okay?” Dave asked Roger. He didn’t know me well enough to actually speak to me. “He acts like he’s never seen a set of tits before.”

“Well, never in a McDonald’s…” I recovered enough to reply.

* * * *

Okay. It’s not like I was Hugh Hefner. I had seen exactly four naked breasts, in person, at that point in my life–Maureen’s, and a girl swimming in the river near my sister’s house in Missoula. She gave me a random flash of her bodacious ta-tas as I was walking by the river one summer afternoon and made me the happiest boy in the whole USA. So, seeing any real tits back then, well, it was better than Christmas as far as I was concerned.

* * * *

“I’m gonna change my order, man.” Roger said to Sunshine, smiling a huge smile. “I think I want those two Big Macs® instead.”

“You didn’t think I’d do it, did you?” Sunshine said to Dave, as  the manager started running to our table. She had a very satisfied smirk on her face.

We got kicked out of McDonald’s that day. And we didn’t score any weed–Dave said something about things being too hot with the cops. He didn’t have any weed to sell, and even if he did, it wasn’t worth the risk.

But Roger got Sunshine’s phone number.

* * * *

I didn’t see Roger again until late Sunday night. He looked immensely content and at peace. And he couldn’t stop smiling.

“Hey, Mark, man! You’re not gonna believe what happened to me!” And he told me. If I had been him, I might’ve thought I’d gotten dead and went to Heaven. “Did I tell you Sunshine doesn’t like to wear any clothes?”

“Yeah, at least twice.”

“She’s making me dinner tomorrow night. Spaghetti. Hey, you wanna come?”

As surprised as I was, I wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to see Little Miss Sunshine again. Probably all of her, and I wouldn’t have to throw her any money to do it. I immediately accepted.

* * * *

Monday evening couldn’t come quickly enough for me. I finished all my deliveries and was waiting for Roger at the barracks. I rolled a couple of joints while he changed, and we smoked one while Roger drove to Sunshine’s house. We stopped at a liquor store on the way. Roger wanted to bring some beer.

“We have to bring wine. Red wine goes with spaghetti.”

“I don’t know anything about wine, man.” Roger replied.

“Neither do I, but the guy that runs this place probably does.”

I’m sad to say that’s true. It would take me years to develop a taste for good red wine, and after ten years of sobriety, it’s the only alcoholic beverage I come close to missing occasionally.

The liquor store manager suggested what he thought was a very decent Cabernet, and I paid for it. Roger picked up a twelve pack of Stroh’s. Roger liked it because it was fire brewed. And then we were back on the road to Sunshine’s house.

I was soon to discover it was actually Dave’s house. He was renting it, and ran his ‘drug empire’ from it. I don’t know just how big of a player Dave was in the Lawton drug scene, but he was a big enough player to have attracted the attention of local law enforcement.

It was late summer of 1975 in Oklahoma. The heat was on in more ways than one.

Sunshine answered the door, Dave towered behind her.  He stood close to six feet tall, longish hair, for a serviceman. He was fair skinned, blondish hair, kind of blue-gray eyes that seemingly never stopped moving. Dave didn’t seem to be especially pleased to see me again–maybe that was me being paranoid–he didn’t make me leave.

Sunshine was happy to see both of us, and gave me a warm hug after smothering Roger with kisses. I was disappointed that she wasn’t naked. She was wearing a T-shirt that was practically transparent, and shorts.

“This is my friend, Diane.” Sunshine said, then pulled Roger into the kitchen.

“Hi. Nice to meet you. I’m Mark.” I handed her the bottle of wine.

“Nice to meet you, too.” she replied, then looked at the bottle, and smiled when she looked back up at me. “Hey, Dave. You want to open this?” It’s likely Dave actually knew something about wine. He seemed pleased with the selection.

“Have a seat. Dinner’s almost ready.”

Diane was a tiny young woman, very slender, shoulder length kind of curly dark hair, green eyes. I didn’t fall in love with Diane the moment I saw her, but I did like her eyes a whole lots. She was also wearing a T-shirt and shorts. She had a very cute butt and very nice legs.

I have to admit, I was pretty nervous. I drank my first beer quickly, and opened another. I mostly sat quietly, hoping I wouldn’t say or do anything stupid. Diane was probably the only person who noticed. Dave was too self-absorbed, and Roger and Sunshine were too focused on each other.

“Relax.” she said, smiling, and patted the back of my hand. She was sitting next to me on the couch. “It’s just dinner, not an execution.”

“It’s that noticable, huh? You want to smoke a joint?” I asked, and pulled the joint out of my shirt pocket.

“Um, maybe after dinner would be better…”

* * * *

I was starting to relax. It was a hot evening, the air conditioning was on. Good music on the stereo. I think it was Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon.

Even Dave seemed to loosen up a bit and at least feigned an interest in the rest of us. We drank a toast with glasses of wine, and started eating.

Dinner was delicious. Not only was Sunshine an extremely popular fabric free shoe model, she made really good spaghetti, too. And the wine was very good.

Right about the time Sunshine should’ve said something about it being too hot and she’d need to take off all her clothes, a veritable army of cops and sheriff’s burst into the living room, guns drawn and a thousand voices yelling one hundred different orders.

The door wasn’t locked, so they had opened it quietly, then rushed inside, yelling at the top of their lungs.

“Nobody move! Everybody on the floor! Keep your hands where we can see them! Hands on your heads! Keep your hands on the table! On your knees, dirtbags!”

I had a rolled ball of spaghetti twirled around the tines of my fork. It had almost reached my mouth. I turned to the left and for the first, but not the last time in my life, I was face to face with a loaded handgun. This time it was the service revolver of one of the sheriffs. I think it was a .45.

* * * *

The cops moved us into the living room. One of the cops produced a warrant. They were looking for drugs, of course, but the warrant also said something about prostitution(?)

Yeah, I was a bit confused by that. I knew prostitution existed, in the movies. I had never known anyone who worked the streets, so to speak, and I sure as hell didn’t want to believe that either Sunshine or Diane were doing something like that. They seemed like really nice girls…

We sat in the living room while the cops executed their search for drugs and other suspected illegal substances and/or activities at Dave’s house. I sat on the couch next to Diane. Sunshine sat at the far end of the couch to Diane’s right. Roger sat in a chair to our right. Dave sat in a recliner to our left.

That’s when I remembered I had a joint in my pocket. And as I turned to my right to look at Diane, her eyes widened. She remembered it, too.

“Excuse me, but I have to go to the bathroom.” Diane said to the cop who was keeping an eye on us. He might have been a nice guy, but he sure didn’t look like one. He was holding a shotgun, and his scowl looked like it had been tattooed on his face.

“Too bad, bitch.”

“Hey, officer, man.” Roger said. “No reason to be rude to the lady.”

“No one asked for your opinion, doughboy.” The cop snapped. Roger started to reply, and the cop focused his attention on him, moving closer. Diane quickly reached into my pocket and removed the joint. And Dave saw that.

“Hey, that’s totally uncalled for.” he said calmly. “We were just having dinner when you goons busted through my door.” He started to stand, and the cop moved to confront Dave. “There’s nothing illegal going on here. We’re innocent-” The cop shoved Dave back into his chair, and ordered him to shut up. Diane quickly slipped her hand into her cutoffs and very slickly slipped the joint into her vagina.

That was the precise moment I fell in love with Diane.

Our guard spun around to make sure none of us were trying to sneak up behind him.

“So. How about the bathroom, Barney?” Diane asked. I snickered. I couldn’t help it. That was funny.

“Hey! Let’s move these innocent citizens out of here!” our guard called out to the other cops, who were having no luck finding anything illegal in the house, and certainly not the pounds and pounds of marijuana they were expecting.

A few of the officers wandered in, clearly disappointed in their results. We were all handcuffed. Roger and I were escorted to the backseat of one squad car. Sunshine and Diane were escorted to another. Dave was left sitting in the living room.

“Just be cool, man.” Roger whispered to me when we were alone. “You don’t know anything. You just met Dave. You never tried to buy any drugs from him. You were just having dinner. That’s your story.”

Shortly thereafter, we were on our way to the cop shop.

* * * *

I was questioned by Detective Callahan. He was really nice, and offered me something to drink and a cigarette. He asked me a few benign questions, where was I from? Why did I join the Army? What was my MOS? What did I want to do with my life? We smoked together while I answered his questions.

And then he started asking about Dave, and what was I doing inside the house of a known drug dealer. And what was my relationship to the women of alleged ill repute residing at the residence in question?

I really didn’t know much about Dave. I had just met him. No, I didn’t know anything about Dave selling drugs. Yeah, I’d smoked pot, but I didn’t care for it much. No, no other drugs. Drinking beer was better, and it was legal. The only reason I was at Dave’s house was because of the dinner my buddy’s girlfriend had cooked for us. Yeah, I knew Roger. We worked together on base, and lived in the same barracks. I wasn’t in any relationship with either of the women. I had just met them, too.

That was my story, and for once, it happened to be mostly true. The cops kept Roger and I for a few hours, then released us to our First Sergeant, who drove us back to Dave’s house so Roger could get his car. Sergeant Garcia spent most of the time talking to me about my choice in friends, and how I was jeopardizing my military career by associating with guys like Dave. And Roger.

“Hey, Top, man. You know I’m here, right. Anyway, I love you too, man, you know. And thanks for doing this. I really do appreciate that, Sarge.”

There was no one at Dave’s house when we arrived. The place was dark, the front door was locked.

“Damn. My beer’s in there, man!”

“What about Dave and the girls!” I was a little keyed up. Roger started walking to his car.

“Oh, I’m guessing the cops will keep them for awhile, and try to get one of them to break, you know. But they aren’t gonna get anywhere, man.” We got in the car and Roger resumed. “This is why I told you not to get too deep into dealing. Sooner or later, you’re going to get caught. Dave almost did tonight.” Roger started his car and we headed back to base.

“What about that prostitution thing? Do you think…”

“Hey, listen up, man. Sunshine and Diane are strippers. It’s not like either of them are fuckin’ nuns, you know?”

“So, is Dave their…pimp?”

“Yeah, I don’t know, man. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he was. The guy has the morals of a snake, you know. Good for him.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Hey, man, you’re not in Montana anymore. And you’ve got a job and a place to live, thanks to the fuckin’ Army, man. You never know what you’ll have to do to survive until you’re put in that position, you know. Sunshine and Diane are doing what they have to do to survive. You don’t get to judge what you haven’t been through yourself, man. You follow me?”

“Yeah, but I don’t have to like it!” Roger chuckled softly.

“I fuckin’ love it.” he replied. “Did you see Diane slip that joint into her pussy. I don’t know about you, but I’d fuckin’ marry any woman that did that for me.”

* * * *

I was silent the rest of the trip. Clearly, I had a lots of things to think about. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I watched the sun come up, and got ready for work. When I was reasonably sure Roger was up, I went down to his room.

“Hey, man. I see you didn’t sleep either. Let me tell you what’s gonna happen today, okay?” I was about to ask that question, so I was ready to listen. “By ten o’clock everyone in the clinic is gonna know what happened to us. Garcia’s gonna tell anyone he sees all about it. By noon, everyone in the company will know.

“You need to keep a low profile, you understand?” I nodded, wondering how I was supposed to do that if everyone was going to know about…everything. “Your story hasn’t changed. You were invited to dinner. Period. End of story. Walk away.”

“Got it.”

“And if anyone asks you about Dave, run!” I laughed. “I’m not kidding, man. If he thought we were a risk to him, he’d kill you, me, Sunshine and Diane in a heartbeat. And don’t trust any of those lifers in Headquarters, especially Garcia. He’s gonna act like your buddy, and be your friend.

“You and me, we’re living to get out of the Army. Those guys, the Army is their fuckin’ life. But Garcia was right last night. I am a bad influence on you.” and he did that soft chuckle. I shrugged. “Yeah, what can I say? Just watch out for those guys. You never know when those fuckers will go all military on you, and that’s exactly what those assholes will do.”

* * * *

It’s not the greatest feeling in the world, looking back on your life and coming to the realization that you were, well, pretty goddamn dumb. There were so many things I couldn’t or didn’t see. So many hints that flew right by me without a clue or so much as a hint of awareness.

Granted, this was my first foray into this unexplored territory, where here there be monsters was the reality, not a line in a story. I was taking a road that was not only less traveled, I was taking a road that was clearly marked, Turn the fuck around! Now!

And, of course, I didn’t. But I did learn a whole lots of stuff.

* * * *

Would you be surprised to learn that Roger’s prediction was spot on? Probably not, but I was. First Sergeant Garcia called me into his office and was all buddy-buddy with me. He asked a lots of questions, and I gave very few answers. Then he told me to get my hair cut, and chine my choos.

After lunch, people from the clinics came up to me as I was making my deliveries, wanting to know the details about my dinner and an interrogation by the Lawton PD. I’d never been so happy to see a day end, and it had been a very long day. I didn’t finish my deliveries until late that afternoon.

I dropped my van off at the motor pool, and slowly walked back to the barracks, trying to make some sense out of the sudden change of events in my life that had blindsided me. I reached the barracks long before I reached any epiphanies.

Roger’s head popped out of his room as I started climbing the stairs to my room. I was tired from lack of sleep and stress. All I wanted to do was sleep.

“Hey! Where the hell have you been, man! Get cleaned up and changed! We have to go, pronto!”

“Where are we going?” I sighed, trying to think of an excuse so I could bail on whatever Roger had planned.

“Sunshine called! They’ve been released! We have to go get the girls, man!”

I’m pretty sure I ran the forty yard dash to my room, showered and changed in less than four seconds.

* * * *

I can’t remember where we picked the girls up at, but I know it wasn’t the cop shop. They had both showered and changed clothes. Diane’s hair was still damp. She smelled like the air after a rain.

“Oh my God! You came! I didn’t think I’d ever see you again!” she said when she saw me, and flew into my arms. I wasn’t sure I could I believe that, but her embrace seemed sincere enough.

I think I got down on my knee and thanked her for stashing my joint in her vagina, saving us all from a fate worse than death, and possibly death.

We went somewhere to eat, and laughed and it felt so good. We stopped to pick up some beer, then checked into the nearest decent no-tell motel. One room, two twin beds. Sunshine wasted no time shedding her clothes.

Diane and I tried not to pay any attention to the sounds coming from the other bed. I guess we didn’t waste a whole lots of time taking our clothes off either, but when we reached the point of no return, I stopped.

“This is probably gonna sound a little weird, but would you mind if I just held you?”

“Are you gay or something?” she asked. This was clearly something that hadn’t happened to her very often, if ever.

“Or something.” I replied, and tried to smile. I laid back and Diane cuddled close, resting her head on my chest, listening to the beat of my heart.

“She must’ve been something.” Diane said softly.

“Who?”

“The girl who broke your heart,” she whispered, looking up toward me. “I can feel it.”

I’m not sure how long my silent tears fell. Diane whispered and cooed to me, hugging me tightly, brushing and kissing my tears away, until we fell asleep in each other’s arms.

* * * *

I woke up around 2:30 AM. Diane was sleeping with her back to me. I found my glasses and slipped them on, then watched her breathe for a couple minutes, admiring her body. I could see the top half of her very cute butt. I wanted to touch her, but I didn’t want to wake her up.

I got out of bed carefully, and went into the bathroom to pee and wash my face. I could taste the salt from the tears I’d cried earlier. I took a deep breath, and told myself to get it together, then went back into the room where everyone was sleeping.

I opened a beer, and because I was trying to do it as quietly as possible, it sounded like a goddamn bomb going off. Roger and Sunshine didn’t move, and I exhaled a deep breath in relief. But Diane woke up, and rolled over.

“Hey.” I said softly, and took a drink. The beer was fairly cold, and it tasted good.

“Hey yourself,” she replied, equally softly, and reached for the beer. “Feel any better?”

“Yeah, I do.” I handed her the beer, and she took a long drink. “Thank you. I don’t know what to else to say. That was incredibly sweet of you.”

“Are you kidding me? I should thank you! I thought all men were alike, and then out of fuckin’ nowhere, you come along.”

“That’s funny. I was thinking the same thing about you.” We both smiled.

“So? Are you going to tell me about her?” she asked, handing the beer back to me. I took a drink.

“High school sweetheart. We broke up in May. I was here, she was back in Montana. It was too much for her.”

“You’re from Montana? You don’t look like a cowboy.” I handed her the beer, and gave her the quick version of my life story. Then she told me her story. We had more than a little in common. I climbed back into bed and Diane snuggled close to me.

“If you don’t want to do anything, it’s okay.” she whispered in my ear.

“Yeah, well, the thing is, you’re the first person I’ve been with since, you know…  But I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m ready to pick up where we left off.”

“Me too.”

* * * *

“That went better than I thought it would.” I said mostly to myself as Diane and I laid on our backs, looking at the ceiling, catching our breath.

“I don’t know why your girlfriend decided to dump you, but I think she’s a fucking idiot!” I had to laugh at that. I turned to look at her. Her eyes were bright, and sparkling in the dim light of the room.

“Thank you.” I said.

“You’re welcome.” She smiled and kissed me. “It was my pleasure. And I seriously mean that.”

* * * *

The next thing I knew I was hit in the head with a pillow, and Roger was almost yelling at me.

“Hey, Mark! Wake up, man! We overslept and we’re gonna be late for work! C’mon! Get dressed! We gotta get movin’! Shit! I gotta call Headquarters before they send the MP’s after us!”

I think it was around 7:30 AM.

Diane and I got dressed as quickly as we could while we hugged and kissed and giggled a lots. In retrospect, I think there’s something about being so… vulnerable…that breaks down all defensive walls and boundaries, and you bond to someone in a way that you normally wouldn’t.

I’m making an huge assumption about Diane. I never asked her how she felt. This will probably sound a little weird, but there was this unspoken thing between us. As Antoine de Saint Exupéry so succinctly stated: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Well, it makes sense to me, and it makes sense in terms of my relationship with Diane. I wasn’t in love with her, but after what we had experienced, I loved her, if that makes any sense.

We were in our own world that morning, and it was a very special place for both of us. We had accidentally given each other a type of healing, and as a result we had kind of stumbled into the Garden of Eden, where everything seemed new and pristine, including us. And like unto Eden, it was also a place neither of us would ever be able to completely find again once we left it.

While Roger lied his ass off to First Sergeant Garcia, Diane and I stared into each other’s eyes and whispered terms of endearment and affection that probably would’ve made anyone listening roll their eyes and puke. Neither one of us wanted that moment to end, and it would, as soon as we stepped outside.

As blind as I was to almost everything going on around me, even I was able to see that.

Roger told Headquarters we had run out of gas, or something like that, and we’d report for duty just as soon as we could. I can’t remember where we dropped the girls off at, maybe Dave’s house, maybe a cafe. I know they both wanted coffee.

“Did you have a good time?” Roger asked once we were alone in the car and racing back to base.

“Yeah, I did. Actually, I had a great time!”

“Good. I wasn’t too sure there at first. I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop on you and Diane.”

“Hey, no problem, man. And yeah, things started out kind of shaky for me, but I regrouped.” And I told him what happened while he and Sunshine were asleep.

“That’s real good, man. I’m happy for you.”

“How about you?”

“Yeah, well, you saw how it was. I’ll tell you what, man. That lady really has my head in the blender. I’m gonna fall in love with her if I don’t watch my step.

“Hey, when we get to Headquarters, you just go along with everything I say, okay? Let me take the fall for this. I’m gonna be gone soon, and you have two more years to go at this dump. Just nod your head and agree with everything I say.”

“I can’t let you do that.” I said.

“Listen to me. You’re gonna go places. You’re gonna be someone someday. I’m going back to fuckin’ Indiana. I’ll probably end up working in the mines or some shit like that. Just do as I ask, okay? Don’t make me beg you, man.” He sounded like he might start crying.

“Okay, you win. But I think this is a bad idea.”

“Hey, man, name one good idea we’ve had in the last few days.”

* * * *

For the life of me, I have no idea what people saw in me back then that made almost everyone think I was on the path to greatness. I sure as hell didn’t see it. I’m not sure I do now.

Looking back doesn’t make anything jump out at me, other than how determined I was to be anything but great. It only shows me how strong a grip God must have had on me during that time of my life. I had lost more than my grip; I had lost my way, and I was going to get a lots more lost.

But God had taken me by the hand, though I knew it not, and He never let go of me, no matter what. Maybe that’s what everyone could see–things invisible to the eye… Clearly, there was a greater purpose at work than my self-destructive intent. I’ve perhaps ridiculously translated that into a desire to become a prophet.

Well, God has said He does stuff that won’t make any sense to us. In that aspect, God and I have something in common…

* * * *

I did as Roger asked, and nodded a whole lots and agreed with everything he said when we met with First Sergeant Garcia and Second Lieutenant Steffler.

We got a verbal reprimand–an ass chewing, but nothing else. And we were both ordered to get a haircut and chine our choos. We went to the barbershop on our lunch break.

That evening, Roger and I drank a few beers and smoked a few joints with the boys while we shined our shoes. We were asked to tell the story of our already legendary spaghetti dinner with the strippers and our trip to the cop shop. I let Roger tell the story. I wouldn’t have even been in it if it weren’t for him.

* * * *

Once Roger and I got haircuts, our shoes shined, and a good night’s rest, we pretty much lived at the Play Pen Lounge. Diane was happy to see me, and I tried hard to contain the joy my heart felt when I saw her. She was working, so the only thing she was wearing was a bikini bottom.

Sunshine practically tackled Roger when she saw him. A couple of burly guys appeared out of the shadows and grabbed Roger by the collar. Sunshine had to talk fast to keep Roger from getting the shit beat out of him.

Roger bought drinks for everyone, including the bouncers, and we talked to the girls when they took their breaks. We tried to set up dates with them, but they were busy. I don’t know how disappointed Roger was, but words do not suffice to describe my feelings.

“Can I call you?” I asked Diane.

“No, give me your number. I’ll call you.” I wrote my number on a napkin. She put it in her bikini bottom, right next to her very cute butt.

And true to her word, she called whenever she had the time. Our conversations were never long, nor were they all that satisfying, but they were better than nothing.

Be that as it may, we went back to see our girls almost every night, and did manage to spend several nights with them over the next few weeks at the no-tell motel, making sure we set the alarm to give us plenty of time to get back to base in the morning.

Those nights were very satisfying, and made all the unsatisfying time in between worth the wait. But the nights were short, and the days apart were long. And dating a stripper is, well, expensive, especially when part of the dating experience consists of hanging out at the bar where she works.

“Man, I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” Roger said to me one day. We were about three weeks into our new lives with our girls.

I had some money in the bank, and that was good, but after three weeks, it was almost gone, and that was bad. As much as I hated to admit it, Roger was right.

But that weekend, our girls surprised us by coming to visit us at the barracks on a Saturday night. Sunshine probably showed her tits to the guards at the gate, and even if she didn’t, it sounds like something she would’ve done.

They brought a case of beer and a whole lots of love, and we had ourselves a party that went down in history. We were in Roger’s room. He wasn’t about to let any of the guys in the barracks anywhere near Sunshine, especially once she took all her clothes off, and she did that within thirty seconds of arriving.

Diane kept her clothes on, and that was fine with me. Her very cute butt was on my lap and we did a lots of kissing and stuff. When she was around it was kind of a magical time for me.

Roger and Sunshine eventually moved into the bedroom, so Diane and I went up to my room, and she got to meet Maureen. One of my walls was covered with pictures of her.

“I love your room!” she said, looking around. I had painted the walls light blue, and I had painted pictures on the walls, random things that appealed to me at that time. There were a lots of black light posters, cheap blue and red carpeting on the floor.

“You didn’t tell me she was beautiful.” Diane said, taking a long look at Maureen’s picture gallery. Right next to all of her pictures I had painted an eye with a single tear. “Jesus. You must have really loved her.”

I didn’t say anything. I was holding my breath, afraid to even breathe. Diane finally turned to look at me, and smiled.

“I think it’s sweet. I wish someone missed me as much as you miss her. Now I really think she’s a fucking idiot!” And I could breathe again. I put an album on the stereo, and we danced and laughed until we fell to the floor.

“Are you planning on spending the night?” I asked. She was surprised by my question. “I didn’t want to assume anything, that’s all.” She took off her top and threw it in my face. “Wait right here.”

The room across the hall from mine was empty. It had been Johnny’s room, but he had gotten out of the Army and no one had taken his room yet. I slipped my ID card behind the jamb and popped the lock, and bought Johnny’s mattress into my room. I threw it on the floor then pulled the mattress off my bed and laid it next to the mattress I had borrowed.

“Oh! You’re good!” Diane laughed, and I threw my shirt in her face.

* * * *

We didn’t sleep that night, and when we weren’t entwined with each other we laid back and caressed each other endlessly. We talked about many things, and laughed a lots. I was happier than I had been in months. It would be years before I would be as well pleased as I was that night.

“What’s your favorite thing about me?” she asked. I turned my head to the left to look at her.

“You have the most beautiful eyes.” I replied immediately. “And you have a very cute butt.” She smiled. The light in her eyes danced. “Your turn.”

“You have the softest hands…  When you touch me, it feels like a dream..”

“Close your eyes.”

“God, I wish I had met you sooner…”

* * * *

“If something were to happen to me, would you miss me?” Diane asked, and I immediately became concerned.

“Why would you ask that! What’s going to happen to you?” I asked, raising up on one elbow to look at her.

“Relax! Nothing’s going to happen to me! It’s just a question! So, would you miss me?”

And that’s when I knew.

“Yes. I’d miss you very much.” I said, and I meant it. We stared into each other’s eyes for a time, and that twinkle appeared in her green eyes, like the first touch of sunlight as it laughed on the leaves.

“That’s what I needed to hear.” she smiled, and we wrapped ourselves together until the sun started to come up. We hung out my bedroom window, naked, smoking cigarettes, watching the sun rise.

The Marines marching passed the barracks that morning stopped singing their marching song when they saw Diane and gave me a Hurah!

“That’s the first and last time that’s ever gonna happen to me.” I beamed a smile to the Marines, and Diane. And we kissed.

* * * *

Diane and I got dressed and went down to Roger’s room. She woke up Sunshine and Roger and I escorted our girls out to their car in the morning sunshine. We hugged and kissed them goodbye and they drove off, smiling and waving and blowing kisses to us.

It was the last time we would ever see them.

* * * *

I slept most of Sunday, so I wasn’t too concerned when I didn’t hear from Diane. But Monday, and then Tuesday went by without a word from her, and I started feeling a tightness in the pit of my stomach. I asked Roger if he’d heard from Sunshine, and he shook his head. That was really bad. Diane wasn’t great at calling me, but Sunshine called Roger several times a day.

“Have you tried calling her?”

“Nope. I think our chicks have flown the coop, man.”

We went to the Play Pen on Wednesday night. Diane and Sunshine usually worked that night, but after walking around the bar, we couldn’t find them. I asked one of the dancers if she knew where Diane was.

“She’s not here!” was the reply she shouted over the music. I know I couldn’t hide the profound sadness I felt, and it flooded my face. The dancer couldn’t help but see it, and then her eyes grew wide. “You’re the guy! Don’t move! Wait right here!”

She returned a minute later with another dancer, and they cupped their hands so they could kind of whisper in each other’s ear, then the second dancer spoke to us.

“Are one of you guys named Roger?” Roger raised his hand. “And you must be Mark.” she said, looking at me. I nodded.

“Oh my God! We’ve heard so much about you guys!” she said. “Sunshine told us everything!”

“We didn’t think you were real!” the first dancer I had talked to added. “I’m Crystal!” and she extended her hand. We shook hands with Crystal.

She kind of looked like Diane, but her hair was straight, and longer and darker. She was about Diane’s height, maybe a little taller, with a bit more of a figure. She certainly had bigger…eyes…than Diane. She had a very cute butt, too.

“And I’m Katie!” the second dancer said. She was blonde, the same height and a similar body to Sunshine. We shook hands with her, too. “That has to be him! His hands are so soft!”

I do have soft hands. I tell everyone it’s because I’ve never done an honest day’s work in my life, which is possibly true.

“So, you’re the guy that melted the heart of the Ice Princess!” Crystal said, looking me up and down.

What? Did I hear that right?

“It must have been his hands! They’re so soft! And warm! We thought you had to be a wizard or something!” Katie added. That made Roger chuckle.

* * * *

I don’t remember my hands being warm. I was a nurse for thirty years, and if there’s one affliction most nurses suffer from, it’s cold hands. It’s a patient care profession, so cold hands are pretty much the last thing you need. It’s like we keep our hands on ice until we need to touch someone.

* * * *

“Yeah, I hear he’s pretty good with a wand, too! I want to be one of those, ” Roger turned to look at me. “A sexual wizard!”

“Ice Princess?” I said, in the general direction of the dancers.

“That’s what we called Diane!” Katie said loudly. “She was one cold bitch! But we loved Sunshine!”

“But Diane was different ever since she met you!” Crystal added. “She was actually nice to us! I think she’s in love!”

We bought the girls a couple of beers and tried to find out what happened to our girls over the music and the fairly constant interruptions from other patrons.

“They’re not here anymore! I think they said they were going back to–where was it? Fucking Nebraska or Kansas or something! They said something like it was too hot for them here and they had to get out of town!”

Roger and I looked at each other and he shook his head. We tried to get more information from Crystal and Katie, but they didn’t know much more than that. And they had no idea which town in Nebraska or Kansas Sunshine and Diane had gone to. Katie said sometimes the girls wrote a letter, to let the other girls they had landed safely and we’re doing okay. She’d let us know if Sunshine ever wrote. There was no way the Ice Princess would write to them. We thanked the girls for their time, and left them a tip, and got up to leave.

“Wait!” they shouted, and scurried off. When they returned, they handed me slips of paper with their phone numbers. “Call me!” they both said, then looked at each other and laughed. That was the first and last time that’s ever happened to me, too.

* * * *

“There’s no way those girls went back to Nebraska.” Roger said as we walked out to his car. “You know what happened? Dave got them out of town. They were probably too much of a liability for him. If the cops are that hot on his tail…”

“Unless he had them killed…”

“Then I’d have to kill him.” Roger decided.

“I’ll help you.”

“Nah, he wouldn’t do that, not yet. But they’re gone, man. They could be anywhere, except Nebraska. We’ll never see them again, and maybe that’s a good thing.”

“Maybe. But I’m going to miss Diane.”

“I hear that. I know what you mean, man. I know what you mean.” he sighed, and we rode silently for a few minutes. “Hey, Mark, man. Give me your hand, man.”

“Jesus. You can’t tell anyone about this, especially The Horne! If he hears about this, I’ll have to kill him. He’ll never let it go.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that. Okay. It dies with me. Wow. You really do have soft hands! Soft enough to melt a heart of ice, huh.” And he chuckled softly. I stared straight ahead, not seeing anything in front of me, seeing only the images that filled my mind.

“That wasn’t it. It was that first night together, at the motel. You and Sunshine were fucking like wild animals, and I started crying. Diane…Diane kissed away my tears. That’s when her heart melted…

“I felt it.”

* * * *

I eventually asked Roger if he wanted to go out with Crystal or Katie. Maybe one of them knew how to make spaghetti…

“Nah,” he replied, and chuckled softly. “Besides, they gave you their numbers, not me. I think I’m done with strippers for awhile, but I appreciate it, man, I really do. I need to start saving some money for the trip home. If I started dating another stripper, I’ll never get out of town.”

Oh well, I tried.

I wasn’t quite done with strippers yet. I went out with Crystal a few times. She wasn’t a cheap date, and I couldn’t keep up with her. She liked cocaine, and she liked it a lots. I couldn’t support her drug habit and mine, something had to go. Goodbye, Crystal.

I was never all that impressed by coke, hard to believe as that might sound, and it was probably the only drug I didn’t fall in love with back then.

I casually dated Katie on and off for the rest of the time I was in the Army. I liked her a lots, and we had a good time together. But Katie had plans and ambitions. Toward the end of my time at Fort Sill she met a second lieutenant and wasn’t about to do anything to mess that up. Goodbye, Mr Wizard.

We parted as friends. I hope her dreams came true. She was a sweet gal.

* * * *

Roger’s long awaited day finally came, and he packed up his car and hit the long road to Indiana. I never saw him again, but we talked on the phone from time to time for a couple of years before we finally lost contact with each other.

Writing this has made me realize how much I miss him. He was one of the best persons I’ve ever known, and he taught me more than I even knew.

Hey, Roger, man. If you ever read this, know that I love you, man.

And sometimes, when the sun is coming up, I think of Diane, naked in my window, rendering the fuckin’ Marines to silence. And I smile.

I hope she found some sort of a better life than the one she had. And Diane, if you ever read this, I sincerely missed you, probably more than I thought I would.

I know you tried to warn me, but I really wish you would’ve said goodbye.

The Virgin Mary

1980.

It was the year I was in school studying to become a surgical technician, and it was significant in several ways. It would be the first major step I took toward a career in healthcare.

I was very good at scholastic endeavors, once I got beyond high school, so I was at the top of my class academically. My instructor was a graduate of the St Cloud Hospital School of Nursing, and was the first person to encourage me to go into nursing. She thought I’d make an excellent nurse. I think she even wrote a letter on my behalf to Sister Mary Jude to help me get into school.

Her name was Terri, and she was totally infatuated with me. She mentioned that more than once, and not just to me. She announced it to the entire class. In Terri’s defense, I reminded her of her ex-husband, and while they were no longer married, they remained good friends. She became a very good friend of mine.

1980 was the year I kind of saved my own bro’s life after his spleen ruptured. It was the year my brother, Bruce, was diagnosed with an astrocytoma wrapped around his right optic nerve and and needed brain surgery to remove it.

It was the year I finally got over my break up with my high school sweetheart, five years earlier, and fell victim to the total agony of love once more. And it was the year I got my DWI and ended up going into CD treatment at the St Cloud VA.

A lots of stuffs happened in that twelve month period. Sometimes it seems to me that half of my life occurred in that one year.

* * * *

Her name was Mary Terese Pyka. She was a farmer’s daughter from Royalton, MN. I met her at a wedding reception at the Royalton American Legion, I think. I can’t remember who got married. I may not have even been invited to the wedding. Be that as it may, I walked into the Legion, and saw Mary sitting at a table with a few other girls.

And, yes, I fell in love with her the moment I saw her.

I bought a couple beers, walked over to her table, and asked if she wanted to dance. In between dances, we talked. She was going to St Cloud State University, business major, and was a couple of years younger than me. I had taken several General Education classes at SCSU after I was discharged from the Army, so we had that in common.

Mary was smart and beautiful, two of my favorite qualities in a woman. She was about my height, long blonde hair, eyes as blue as the sky, azure pools a guy like me could get lost in, and a totally hot body.

We drank and danced the night away, and had a really good time. I told her I’d like to see her again, and she gave me her phone number.

I’ve always been rather partial to brunettes, so I was actually kind of surprised that I liked Mary as much as I did. Most, if not all, of the women I dated post-Maureen had dark hair and eyes, much like Maureen. And the more they resembled her, the better I liked them.

Mary didn’t physically resemble Maureen at all. If she resembled any woman I’d previously had a crush on, it was Judy Kostelecky, my seventh grade classmate who got dead way too soon.

* * * *

I was about halfway through with my surgical technician training when I met Mary. I did half of my OR clinicals at the St Cloud Hospital, and the other half at Unity Medical Center in Coon Rapids. I had just moved into an apartment across the street from police department in Coon Rapids with my buddy, Gary Miklos. I think that was the last time we were roommates.

I called Mary a few days after the wedding reception, and we talked for a couple of hours. We talked on the phone a few times, and we really seemed to hit it off. I asked her out. We agreed to meet at the Ground Round in St Cloud. She went to school and worked in St Cloud, so she would already be in town. It was a Wednesday night in early May. I told Gary where I was going, and who I was meeting. He knew who Mary was. She was a sophomore at Royalton High when he was a senior there.

I bought a single long stemmed pink Gerbera daisy, and gave it to Mary when we met in the parking lot. We had a couple of drinks and dinner, and talked and talked. I told her some of my Army stories, and made her laugh a lots.

She told me a lots of stuffs about herself. And one of the things she disclosed was she had never had sex. I just about choked on a handful of peanuts.

“Let me get this straight. You’re twenty-two years old, and you’re still a virgin?”

“Yep. I’ve been saving myself for my husband, and my wedding night.”

“Wow. I didn’t think girls like you existed anymore.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“No, just a surprising thing. Given my checkered past, I didn’t think I’d ever meet the Virgin Mary in person.”

In the parking lot, I asked if I could kiss her. She smiled, and nodded. She was a very good kisser. In that regard, she reminded me very much of Maureen.

* * * *

I know I fell deeply in love with Mary in a very short amount of time, and she fell equally hard for me. I was the first guy she fell in love with, so everything was new and exciting to her. I was probably ready to give love another chance, but I was surprised by how quickly she broke through all of my defenses. No one had been able to do that since Maureen. We started dating seriously, and spent as much time with each other as we could fit into our schedules.

I drove out to the farm to meet her parents. Her dad loved me. Her mother hated me. I took her to The Ranch to meet my family. My parents loved her. She was a darling young woman.

I sent flowers to the farm, and her workplace. I sent her cutesy romantic cards. We talked on the phone almost every day that didn’t see each other. We talked about our respective days. We talked about getting married. We talked about everything and anything. My phone bill was off the charts.

When we were together, we couldn’t keep our hands off of each other. We kissed for hours. More than once Mary looked me in the eye and said she no longer cared if she was still a virgin when she got married, but I thought her dream was really very sweet, and almost sacred. I actually declined to take advantage of her.

Yeah, I can’t believe it either. I think my affair with Nadina had everything to do with my response. It wasn’t that I wasn’t tempted to pluck that cherry, but by not plucking it when it was so freely offered would hopefully balance the scales a little more in my favor with God, maybe. It’s probably what I thought at the time at any rate.

That only made her love me more. As for me, I couldn’t have loved her more if I had tried. I was happier than I had been in years. I was finally getting my life together. I was doing well in school. I had job offers from both of the hospitals I was training at. And I had a gorgeous girlfriend that was crazy about me.

Life, as I saw it, couldn’t have gotten any better. And if that was true, it could mean only one thing.

* * * *

On Labor Day, Gary and I bought a keg, and had a little party at a park several miles from our apartment. It was a warm, sunny day. We played Frisbee and listened to music. It wasn’t a big party, maybe twelve to fifteen people, and I drank a whole lots of beer in a very short time.

I got a DWI driving back to my apartment in Coon Rapids. I was taken to the police department across the street from my apartment, and booked. My BAL was 0.28, almost three times the legal limit. I knew I was guilty of drinking and driving, so I decided to give my full and complete cooperation to the cop that was processing my violation. I was such a nice guy about the whole thing, the cop actually apologized to me.

“Most of the guys I bust for DWI’s are real dicks, you know, cussing and swearing and lots of lip. But you’ve been really nice about this. I almost feel sorry for busting you.”

“Hey, you were only doing your job. And I clearly deserved it.” I said. And I meant it.

I was given a ticket, and a court date. And because I had been such a decent guy about the whole thing, the cop drove me across the street to my apartment, rather than lock me up. He wished me well as he drove off to serve and protect the community once more.

Believe it or not, that actually happened.

I have no clear recollection of what happened the rest of that day. I’m not sure when I told Mary what happened, but I do know she cried herself to sleep that night. And the next time I saw her she told me I had broken her heart.

“I don’t know, maybe this is what happens when you fall in love.” she said, her eyes full of tears. I had no verbal response, so I held her close and we kissed until we both felt better. But it was only a temporary fix. My DWI was the beginning of the start of the end of our relationship.

* * * *

I made arrangements to check into the St Cloud VA before I ever set foot in the courtroom. I figured it would make me look better to the judge. I was given a $450.00 fine, and 45 days in jail. The jail time was suspended pending my successful completion of a licensed CD treatment program.

I had just successfully completed my surgical technician training, and then checked into treatment at the beginning of October. I would spend roughly the next ninety days at the St Cloud VA.

Mary came to visit me. She was still in love with me, and happy that I was getting the help I needed. However, there was this one little thing. Mary’s mother was very upset that I had entered an alcohol treatment program.

“Would she be happier if I just kept drinking?” I asked. Mary merely shrugged in response.

We talked frequently on the phone, and she visited occasionally, but her visits became less frequent, and she seemed distracted at the beginning of our visits. I attributed it to her being the only woman in a room with, like, fifty former drunk guys, and most of the them couldn’t stop staring at her. She was kind of totally gorgeous.

She came to see me on my birthday. I could tell by the look on her face something was very different this time.

“I have something very difficult to tell you. I started dating another guy.” she said, looking at the floor. “I think my relationship with you will be too complicated for my family.”

“You mean, your mom.”

“Yes.” she said, looking at me. “You’re a really sweet guy, but my family comes first to me. And especially my mom.”

“Man. This totally fucking sucks.” I said. “Just tell me his name isn’t Rick…”

I know I tried to talk her out of breaking up with me. It had taken me five years to give my heart to the extent that I had with her, and I really didn’t want to have it broken again. But Mary wouldn’t be swayed by anything I said, and that was that. I walked Mary out to her car, and kissed her goodbye. I watched her car as drove off, then stood in the parking lot for several minutes, holding the freshly broken pieces of my heart in my hands, thinking I was done with love forever.

It was the last time I ever saw Mary Terese Pyka.

As I was walking back into the hospital, I couldn’t help but think, I totally should have fucked her when I had the chance!!

* * * *

I was discharged from the hospital the following Friday. My counselors wanted to keep me in the hospital longer, in view of the fact that my relationship with Mary had just dissolved, and I had been very open with them about what had happened when my relationship with Maureen had gone south.

Yeah, I was still talking about that in my group therapy sessions, and how much of an impact it had had on my life.

My counselors didn’t think I’d be able to stay sober for an hour if I was discharged. I actually don’t know how I stayed sober as long as I did. In retrospect, I stayed sober to prove to my counselors and Mary’s mom that they were wrong about me.

I called Mary a couple of times after I got out of the hospital, but she had moved on, and asked me not to call her again. I called her mom once. I told myself it was part of my making amends, but mostly I wanted to know why she disliked me as much as she did.

“I just think my daughter could do better than you.” she said, and hung up the phone.

As much as I hated Mary’s mom for hating me, and most likely being the driving force behind her daughter’s decision to break up with me, I had an immense amount of respect for Mary for making the decision she made for the reasons that she did. I wouldn’t have chosen my family over her if our positions had been reversed. In fact, out of all the people I’ve ever known, she’s probably the only person who would’ve done that.

I spent hours staring at the ceiling in my bedroom. I thought about killing myself, but I knew that was something I would never attempt again, no matter how appealing it seemed at the time. My mom would drop into my room occasionally and give me short pep talks. My dad told me to get my head out of my ass and get a job.

Thanks, dad. I know I didn’t think much of your advice at the time, but you were right. You were right about a lots of things I never acknowledged.

I applied for a surgical technician position at St Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, MN. They were hiring, and I needed a change of scenery. I got a call from the hospital saying I wouldn’t be hired because I had just completed treatment for alcoholism. I thought about it for about a week, then filed a discrimination lawsuit against St Mary’s Hospital with the State of Minnesota.

Five years later, shortly after I enrolled in nursing school, my attorney and their team of attorneys would reach an agreement that I agreed to never discuss.

In essence, the hospital didn’t have to admit any wrongdoing when they decided not to hire me after getting treatment for my alcohol problem, and the hospital slipped me several thousand dollars to make me go away.

My attorney advised me to take the deal, and after five years of legal wranglings, I took it, even though I really wanted St Mary’s to have to admit to all kinds of wrongdoing.

* * * *

Of all the women I’ve loved and lost, I have the most questions about Mary. Would I have stayed sober if we had stayed together? I probably never would’ve met Nancy, or her dead husband. And then I never would’ve gone to Wyoming…

Sometimes I wonder, and that’s all. I don’t wish I had a time machine. Given the Law of Equilibrium and Balance that governs time travel, the South would probably end up winning the Battle of Gettysburg if I found a way to stay together with Mary, and I’m not willing to accept that as a fair and equitable trade.

Would her mom have ever changed her mind about me? Would my children with Mary really be as bad as I was in my youth? I think the answer to that has to be Yes! 

Maureen and Mary were the only two women I would’ve been willing to make babies with, and God made sure we didn’t stay together so He wouldn’t have to break His promise and flood the planet once more.

I’m grateful to God for that, as heartbreaking as it was for me.

And there’s this: God might have actually spoken to me if I had fathered any children, but He probably would’ve told me to kill them, like unto He did with Abraham. But unlike Abraham, He wouldn’t have offered me a way out.

That Mother’s Curse. That’s not something even God wants to mess with…

I’ve tried to find Mary on social media. She has a LinkedIn profile, but I’ve never tried to contact her as much as part of me wants to. I tell myself she got fat, and looks totally matronly now, like her mother, wearing those floral gingham dresses. And I think to myself, thank you, Lord, for sparing me from that fate!

I have no idea who she married. I’m sure he’s a decent man, but a better man than me? Yeah, that’s not happening. And in terms of a stellar life partner, I know I couldn’t have done any better than I did with my lovely supermodel wife.

All in all, my life has turned out far better than I expected it would. And I’ve lived far longer than I ever thought I would. I’m retired, and living in paradise. Except for varying degrees of back pain, life couldn’t get much better.

I’ll take the back pain. Maybe that’ll help postpone things going totally all to hell again any time soon…

For Whom the Bell Tolls

If you don’t die to death from SIDS, you’ll probably live long enough to lose someone you love to death. A friend, a sibling, a parent, grandparents, someone. Death is out there, waiting. Sooner or later, it will come calling for us all.

As a nurse, I was exposed to a fair amount of death. People are generally hospitalized because there’s something wrong with them, and sometimes that thing can kill you to death. As a result, people tend to sometimes got dead when they check into the hospital to be treated for whatever ailment they happen to be being treated for.

I couldn’t tell you how many of my former patients got dead during my career. A whole lots. That’s a guess. And as a nurse I can tell you, you get used to death. Some of those deaths were shocking, and saddening. Some of them were not.

But death isn’t always part of the job, and then it’s personal. And those are almost always very saddening.

The first person in my family I remember dying to death was my mother’s dad. My grandfather woke up one summer morning in 1972 complaining of a severe headache. My grandmother gave him a shot of brandy, her cure-all for everything, and then he collapsed to the kitchen floor. He died in the hospital a few hours later of a massive stroke.

His funeral was the first funeral I attended.

Death has taken a lots of my friends and family members over the years. The first of my friends was a girl I knew in the seventh grade. Judy Kostelecky. She was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. Blonde hair, blue eyes. Yeah, I fell in love with her the moment I saw her. She might be the first girl I fell in love with. She died of leukemia in 1973.

Lou Ann Dougherty was one of my classmates in high school. She died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1974. She was one of my high school sweetheart’s best friends. Lou Ann’s death was an enormous collective shock to my entire class.

There was nothing I could’ve done to save any of them, but I might have been able to save Mike Perkins, the clerk of court at my court-martial, if I had believed Roy Bowman when he said he was going to kill Mike to death.

* * * *

Roy was a low-level drug dealer on Fort Sill when I met him, but he wanted to be an higher level drug dealer. I had made a few transactions with Roy in the year or so I that had known him. He sold a little bit of everything, weed, speed, PCP. His weed wasn’t the highest quality, but everything else he sold was top-notch.

Roy dropped in at my room in the barracks a few days before Mike’s murder. Roy was upset, and was venting to me as we got high and drank beer, and was hoping to gain some information from me.

Roy wanted my opinion on who had ratted him out. I’ll never be able to figure out why, but I was the guy a lots of guys talked to when they were trying to figure out certain aspects of their lives. Like I was so well put together or something.

“Roy, what you do is a supply and demand business. And you can supply what a lots of us are demanding. I can’t think of anyone, especially anyone in this barracks, who would rat you out.”

He told me he thought it was Mike, but I can’t remember why. I replied it could just as easily have been anyone else, but it most definitely wasn’t me. And then Roy said something like unto this, “Well, I know this. As soon as I find out who it is, I’m gonna kill that motherfucker!”

I’ve heard a lots of people say that line when they were upset, but the thing is, I doubt any of them would’ve actually killed anyone to death, even if they had the means and the opportunity. It’s something people say, but they rarely ever mean it. So I wasn’t overly concerned by Roy’s statement at the time.

As a matter of fact, I pretty much forgot all about it.

Four days after my court-martial proceedings, Roy  ran into Mike at one of the stripper bars in Lawton, the Play Pen Lounge. One of the fabric free shoe models I dated danced there. The place was a dump, and that’s a generous description of it.

There was a confrontation in the parking lot, and a lots of yelling and cursing and stuff. Roy shoved Mike into his car, and drove about twenty miles outside of town to Rush Lake. He beat Mike to death with his fists and a tire iron, then threw Mike’s body in the lake. Mike’s body was found the following day by a fisherman.

I was a little freaked out by Mike’s murder when I heard about it, but only because he had been murdered, and he was the first person I knew who got dead by being killed to death by another human being. I didn’t put two and two together until Roy was actually arrested.

I remembered my conversation with Roy when one of the guys in the barracks told me Roy had been arrested for murder, and I told him what Roy had said, but I didn’t think he would really kill Mike to death!

“Wow! You’re lucky Roy didn’t kill you, too!” he said. That was an unsettling thought, but in a few months I’d be too busy fucking up my life to give any thought to how Roy had fucked up his life.

* * * *

When I was a surgical technician in Elbow Lake, I worked at Grant County Hospital. It was maybe a thirty bed hospital, and it would close its doors a few years after I left. But while it existed, it provided a valuable service to the people in the community.

It was good for me, too. I had completed my alcohol rehab at the St Cloud VA in December of the previous year, and that was the only lengthy period of sobriety I would have for the next twenty-five years.

One of the people that I became friends with was a lab technician named Nancy. We were about the same age, and we had similar interests. Her parents lived just outside of Little Falls, just like mine. Nancy was married to a guy named Jerry. He was a biker guy and a professional house painter. They bought an old  farm house outside of Elbow Lake, and Jerry was systematically renovating the interior.

I helped him prep a couple of the rooms upstairs. He had a bad knee from a motorcycle accident, and kneeling was difficult for him. I would’ve helped him paint, but Jerry didn’t trust anyone else enough with a brush to accept any help with that.

About a week after he finished his renovations, one of his neighbors needed help erecting an utility pole in the yard of his farm. He wanted better lighting in his driveway, so he bought a telephone pole. All he needed to do was stand it up in his front yard.

Jerry was one of those guys that would do anything for a friend, and he volunteered to help. He held one of the guide ropes while the forty foot post was slowly raised. The operation was going smoothly, and then it wasn’t. A gust of wind caught the beam just right, it shifted and wobbled, then teetered and tottered, and then it fell. Everyone went running for cover, everyone but Jerry.

According to the neighbors, he stood where he was, watching the pole as desended toward him, and did not move. The pole hit him on the top of his head, killing him to death instantly.

* * * *

I was working in the OR that day. There weren’t any surgeries scheduled for that afternoon, so I was doing some random dusting and cleaning, and looking for something to do. I eagerly responded to the call for any available staff at the ambulance dock. When I saw who the passenger in the ambulance was, I had to sit down. The right side of Jerry’s head was unharmed. He looked like he could’ve been sleeping. But the left side of his head was a total fucking mess.

Jerry looked like he’d been beaten to death with a truckload of sledgehammers.

Nancy wasn’t in any shape to drive home, and I wasn’t in any shape to stay at work. My boss gave me the rest of the day off. I took Nancy home and stayed with her until her mother drove up from Little Falls. Then I went to the nearest bar, and ordered a beer. I had been sober for nine months. I didn’t get drunk that night, but I would a few nights later, and many, many times after that.

It was grief and loss and bereavement that brought Nancy and I together. Not exactly the things that are the foundation of most relationships. So, probably not a big surprise that our relationship went down the drain.

We moved to Wyoming, and we somehow managed to stay together for a year and an half. I moved out of our apartment in Lusk at least twice, but decided to give it another try or two before we both finally agreed staying together would be the worst thing we could do.

* * * *

Death can change your life. Ask Mary Todd Lincoln. Ask Lyndon Baines Johnson. And it’s impact is even more severe if you happen to be the person that gots dead.

Death is what it is. It’s a part of life, not an especially fun part, and its effects can be devastating. But life goes on, and it doesn’t stop and wait for you to catch up.

Life doesn’t care about death, no matter how intimately intertwined they might be. Life doesn’t care how torn up you are because of death, or how unready you might feel about getting back into the race.

Life only cares about what’s going to happen next, and that’s all. Life never stops to look back down the path. The vital force that is Life knows only one direction, and it only has one gear.

Forward.

When it comes to death, the only thing that eases the pain is time. And the amount of time required for each person to adjust to the loss caused by death can vary greatly. And for some people, not even time can heal those wounds.

A very good friend of mine just lost her mother, and she is in a world of pain right now. She happens to be a nurse, so she’s not a stranger to death, but it was her mother, and you only have one Mom.

I grieve with my friend, and feel her pain. I lost my mom nine years ago, and I miss her still. I lost my dad six years ago, and I miss him, too.

I’m getting to the point in my life where the generation that preceded mine has mostly passed on. My generation is now on the front line, and death is starting to pick us off, one by one. In another twenty years, most of us will have passed on. My nieces and nephews will become the Old Guard, and if we’re fortunate, they’ll remember us, and speak kindly of us, and maybe shed a tear or two.

And life, will go on.

The Seventh Commandment

For the more than casual reader of my blog, one thing has probably become very apparent.

I had a real talent for doing stupid stuff.

It’s an odd incongruity, an oxymoronic contrast to my otherwise high intelligence. I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for that. Please let me know if you ever figure me out.

In a previous post, I stated that I had broken all of the Ten Commandments, save one. To the best of my knowledge, I have never murdered anyone. I’ve certainly thought about it, and if Jesus is correct, then thinking about it is essentially the same thing as doing it. And if you count my suicide attempt, I’ve certainly tried to murder someone, even if the intended victim was myself, so there’s plenty of proof of intent. Maybe I’ve broken them all after all…

Spoiler Alert!!  This will be the most sexually explicit post I’m ever going to write, and there’s a whole lots of swear words, so don’t try to say you weren’t warned.

* * * *

To set the stage for this tale of the endless stupidity of my youth, I was in the Army. It was after my court-martial. I was no longer living off base with Raoul and Mike, I was living back in the barracks, in my old room. I was court-martialed in February of 1976, so it was probably around August of that year.

I’ve talked about my good friend, Raoul, before. He was an Hispanic Texan that was about ten years older than me, give or take. Raoul was kind of married. I mean, he was married, but he and his wife had what I can only describe as a volatile relationship. His wife, Nadina, might have been more than a little crazy. Well, that was according to Raoul.

Whatever the truth of that was I’ll never know, but as a result of the his crazy marriage, Raoul was kind of a nomad. Sometimes he lived with his wife, sometimes he lived in the barracks. Sometimes he lived in an apartment, or a rental house, or a trailer. He moved in and out of his house several times while I knew him, and I think I moved in with him at least twice when he wasn’t living with his wife.

I can’t remember how long they had been married. Five or six years, I think. I know it was less than ten.

Raoul moved into the barracks for the first time long before he advised me what to do when my van broke down and I incurred the wrath of my XO, who was backed up by the full weight of the US Army.

Then, I think, he moved back with Nadina. I know Raoul and I were living in a rental house together while I was going through my court-martial. And I know he moved back in with his wife when that ordeal ended.

I don’t think he was ever very clear about the source of their marital discord. But he appeared to blame his wife for all of it. Oh, it’s that time of the month again. She’s just like her mother. Didn’t you know? All latinas are fuckin’ loco en la cabeza, amigo!

Why do you stay married to her? I asked him once. Are you kidding me? You’ve seen her! She’s a fucking goddess! And when I say fucking goddess, I mean fucking goddess. Jesus and all the saints, amigo! I’ve been with a thousand women in my life, and she’s the most incredible piece of ass I’ve ever had!

So, there was that.

I’m not sure what else went on between them, but it clearly wasn’t all sexual bliss.

Raoul moved into the barracks for the second or third time at the time this story begins. But there was a different reason why he moved in that time.

“My fucking wife is having a fucking affair! And she’s going to divorce me! Can you believe that shit! That pinche puta!!”

That’s how he explained it to me. I think those were the exact words he spoke.

“What?!? That’s fucking…nuts! She’s crazy about you! How do you know she’s having an affair?” I decided to ask.

“No! She’s just crazy! And I know she’s having an affair because she fuckin’ told me she was, that’s how I know!!”

“Jesus. Christ. That’s fuckin’ cold. I’m–I’m sorry to hear that. Did she say who she’s having an affair with?” I decided to ask another question.

“No! The fuckin’ whore wouldn’t tell me who she was fucking! I have a couple of suspects in mind, and if I ever find out for sure who’s been fucking her, I’ll fucking kill him!!”

I had a pretty good idea that my high school sweetheart would read my last post, and I have to admit I was more than a little anxious about what her response would be. But I hope to God that Raoul never discovers my blog, and if he does, I doubly hope to God he never reads this post. I have no doubt he would make good on his vow for revenge.

I knew exactly who his wife had been fucking.

It was me.

* * * *

There have been many times in my life when I wished I had paid just a little more attention to detail when I tried to kill myself. If I had only severed my radial artery…

There are other times I wish I had built a cabin somewhere way out in the middle of goddamn nowhere and removed myself from all contact with everyone. That certainly would’ve decreased the chances of me ruining anyone else’s life.

Right now, I wish the long, complicated stories of my stupid life were very simple. And short.

There’s a backstory to this, of course.

When I finally decided to try to move on after the dissolution of my relationship with my high school sweetheart, the first couple of women I dated were fabric free shoe models. In other words, strippers.

Those relationships tended to be short, but intense, and all about sex. That was fine with me. I wasn’t capable of much beyond that.

My first relationship with a woman that wasn’t a stripper was with Theresa Besicca. She was a WAC at the Headquarters Dental Clinic. She was the only woman I’ve dated that was a lots taller than me. She was three or four inches taller than me, light brown hair, really big…eyes.

Theresa really loved to play racquetball, and she was very good. She had more or less demolished all of the guys at the clinic, except one, and none of them enjoyed getting their asses kicked by a girl. She challenged me to a game, and I accepted.

She totally kicked my ass, but unlike every other guy she beat, that only made me try harder. We started playing a lots of racquetball, and then we’d have a couple beers. We became friends as she taught me how to play racquetball.

I was lousy at racquetball at first, but Theresa was very good, and she was also a good coach. As I got better, our games became more intense, and because we were friends, there was a considerable amount of trash talk between us. And then came the day I made a preposterous proposition to Theresa.

“If I beat you, you have to have sex with me.”

“Ha! What do I get if I beat you?”

“Then I have to have sex with you.”

Theresa stood there for a long moment, looking at me, sizing up her opponent. And then she slowly nodded her head.

“Okay, but if I win, you have to do everything I say. You have to be my slave!

For a moment I thought about letting her beat me, but then I imagined her wearing black boots and a big strap on dildo, telling me to Bend over.

Yeah, she was going to have to earn that.

“And if I win, all you’ll have to do is get naked.”

“I’m going to eat you alive, little man.”

“Bring a big spoon.”

That, was one helluva racquetball match. She won the first set handily. I barely won the second. And I smoked her in the third.

Theresa honored our bet.

After that, we still played racquetball, but not as often. We had discovered a different form of exercise. Theresa still loved playing racquetball, so she needed another regular partner. And she found one. My good buddy, Raoul. He was a pretty good player, and they started making lots of racquetball dates. And then they moved on to a different form of exercise…

* * * *

As much as I loved and respected Raoul, I never understood why he stepped out on his supermodel fucking goddess wife. I never would have done that, so maybe that’s why I can’t understand it.

Nadina was a beautiful Hispanic porcelain doll of a woman. She was about my height, hair as dark as obsidian, dark brown eyes. She was younger than Raoul, but older than me by a few years. The length of her hair changed a few times while I knew her. It was really long, then very short, then she grew it long again. She was small, slender and perfectly proportioned. And, of course, I fell in love with her the moment I saw her.

Nadina had once been in the Army. Raoul met her when they were both stationed at Fort Sam Houston. She had been a surgical technician. Like me, Raoul fell in love with her the moment he saw her. Unlike Raoul, Nadina had no intention of making the Army a career. When her term of enlistment ended she became an housewife, taking care of the beautiful home she and Raoul lived in. After she was discharged from active duty she talked about to go to school, but rarely left the house. She wanted to have a lots of children, but was unable to conceive.

She might have been Bipolar, Raoul thought she was, but I never saw any signs of mania during the time I knew her. To be sure, I’ve done my own a psych assessment on her over the years. She’s still kind of a gorgeous mystery to me. In retrospect, I think Nadina was the most attractive, possible nymphomaniac, chronically unhappy person I’ve ever met, but I haven’t been able to come up with anything better than that.

I would spend a lots of time hanging out with Raoul and his darling wife at their house. We drank a lots of strawberry margaritas, Nadina’s favorite drink. And we smoked a lots of dope while Raoul and I played chess.

During those times, she appeared to be happy and content to me. I had a very difficult time believing Raoul when he told me how crazy his gorgeous wife was, but in retrospect, I think Raoul played his part in her kookiness, whatever it might have been.

Be that as it may, they were both really good people, and they were a very welcome refuge to me during that time of my life. I was an emotional basketcase, and I would be one for years. But they welcomed me into their house and their lives, and they helped keep me alive when all I mostly wanted to do was die to death.

* * * *

Theresa also helped me. Our racquetball matches were probably the most consistent exercise I ever involved myself in. And if I was concentrating on playing racquetball I couldn’t stay focused on how miserable I was. And I actually started feeling pretty good.

Theresa was the first woman I told the story of the scars on my wrist to. It was after our titanic match, winner take all. Literally. We had showered at her cute little bungalow off base. She didn’t like the barracks. Too many goddamn lesbos…

Whew! Probably no strap ons then, I thought.

We were naked, and sitting cross legged on her bed, and she asked about the scars on my wrist.

My scars have faded to the point that they’re probably not as noticeable as I always think they are. But they were much more noticeable forty years ago, especially the largest one. It takes time for scars to fade, and because the ER doc did such a lousy job sewing me up, that wound ended up having to heal by granulation.

It’s a slower process, and the resulting scar is much larger. And because of that, it was very red to reddish pink for what seemed like forever to me.

I remember covering my scars with my left hand to hide them when Theresa asked me how I got them. I didn’t tell her the very long story I wrote yesterday; I told her the highlights, if they can be called that. When I finished, she very slowly reached out and moved my left hand, then very tenderly kissed the scars on my wrist.

A tear ran down my cheek.

Four decades later, I am still moved by what she did way back then. We made love for a very long time. It was the first time that act meant something more than just sex to me since Maureen.

I think that was the first time I thought I might be able to live again.

* * * *

I couldn’t have had a long term relationship with Theresa or anyone else at that time of my life, and if I didn’t yet realize that, Theresa certainly did. That may have been one reason why she decided to have an affair with Raoul. I’m guessing. I never asked her about it.

The fact that Raoul was convinced he was married to a certified bowl of Hispanic fruit loops probably gave him all the incentive he needed to see just how green the grass was on the other side of the fence. As to how I learned about their tryst, that was easy.

Raoul told me.

* * * *

“I played racquetball with your girlfriend yesterday.”

“Yeah, I know, but she’s not really my girlfriend.”

“Yeah, but you’re having sex with her.”

“So.”

“So, I thought you guys were kind of a couple…”

“Yeah, but it’s not that serious. I mean, it’s like this: If I were to call her and say, ‘Hey, can I come over? I want to fuck your brains out.’ And she says, ‘Um, now’s not good. I’m fucking the Marine Corps Band.’ My response would be, ‘Okay, how about tomorrow?’ And that would be that.”

“Seriously? I’d be pissed that she was fucking the fuckin’ Marines. Go Army!” he said, and we laughed. We were driving on the range roads, smoking a joint on our lunch break. “What about me?”

“What about you?” I asked. I had no idea what he was trying to tell me.

“What if I had sex with Theresa?”

“Why the hell would you want to do something like that? You’re married to the most beautiful woman on the plan–Wait! Did you have sex with my girlfriend?”

“I thought you said she wasn’t your girlfriend!” he said. I started laughing, then Raoul joined in.

“Seriously,” I replied. “I don’t care who she fucks, as long as she saves some pussy for me. But I gotta tell you, what you’re doing is dangerous. You’re gonna ruin your marriage. You’re gonna fuck up your life. You’re gonna end up living in the goddamn barracks with a bunch of losers, like me.”

“Hey, you’re not a loser, amigo. You’re just a kid with a broken heart. You’ll get over–whatshername–”

“Maureen.”

“Yeah, Whatshername. You haven’t lived as long as I have. You have to forget her! Move on! Don’t tell me you think you two are going to get back together! Jesus Christ, Rowen! Get your head out of your ass! You’re gonna have to trust me on this one, but you’ll fall in love with someone again someday. And after you’ve been married for awhile, you’ll find its possible to love more than one woman at a time.”

“That, is the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard. You’re gonna have to trust me on this one. I may not know as much about life or the Army as you do. But I know about love. And you don’t fuck with love, ever! If you do, love will damn sure fuck you back.”

* * * *

I have to say, I’m very proud of that observation. I’m equally proud of the fact that Love backed me up after I said it. I can only wish this was where my story ended, but I still had a commandment to break.

I genuinely wasn’t upset that Raoul had sex with Theresa. We were not in a committed relationship. For all I know, she had sex with every guy she played racquetball with. I was by no means faithful to her. I still dropped in to see at least one of the fabric free shoe models I knew.

I didn’t feel any guilt about having multiple partners when I was with Theresa, but the weird thing was, I felt guilty having sex with any of them because it felt like I was cheating on Maureen. Yeah, try to figure that fucking mess out!

I’m not sure how Nadina found out about the infidelity of her husband, but she wasn’t stupid, and she was a woman. She knew. Neither Raoul nor I knew that she knew when we were having that conversation, but that would change in a very short time.

* * * *

Raoul had to go to Fort Sam Houston for some training of some sort, and he had to be gone for a week. While he was gone, he wanted me to do something for him.

“Hey, can I ask you a favor, amigo?”

“Sure. What’s up?”

“Can you swing by my house while I’m out of town and check on Dina? I mean, I keep a gun in my bedside table, and Dina knows how to use it. Hell, she’s a better shot than me! But I’d just feel better if there was a man around the house, especially in the evening. I’m going to be partying a lot, and I’m not going to call Dina once I start drinking. It’s a married guy thing. I’ll call her during the day! Just drop in and check on her, that’s all.”

“Yeah, I could do that. Maybe I can teach her how to play chess…”

“Forget it. I’ve tried. I end up playing myself. And I’m not suggesting you move in or anything, just drop in once or twice and make sure she’s okay. Okay?”

“Okay!”

* * * *

I can’t remember what day Raoul decided to head for San Antonio. Saturday, maybe. Sunday, probably. I figured Nadina could take care of herself for a day or two…  I called her on Monday.

“Hey, how’re you doing?”

“Oh Mark! I’m so glad you called! I was going to try to call you after work!”

“What’s up?”

“I was wondering if you could come over this evening. I’ve got margaritas chilling…”

As odd as this might sound, I didn’t really care for strawberry margaritas all that much. The only reason I drank them was because Raoul and Dina did, and they contained alcohol.

“Sure. Do you need me to pick up anything for you?”

“I’ll see you at six.” Click.

I popped three or four Percodan before I went to check on Nadina. I was using pills pretty heavily by this time, and one or two just wasn’t cutting it anymore. And my use was just getting started. I rang the doorbell at five minutes after six.

“You’re late!” Nadina laughed as she answered the door. She was barefoot, wearing a T-shirt and tight jeans. Her hair was probably just past shoulder length at that time. She had a bright smile on her face.

The margaritas were already poured, the glasses were sweating. She lit a joint and we smoked and she talked. We drank and she talked. I had known Nadina for probably a year or so, but I think this was the first time she really talked to me.

Most of the stuff I knew about her I had heard from Raoul. And whenever I visited them, I mostly talked to Raoul. Dina might add some comments occasionally, but mostly she was quiet. She had a lots to say that night. I mostly nodded my head from time to time, like I would as a psych nurse listening to Harold ramble on and on at when I worked nights.

She told me her life story. I sat back and tried to keep up. I’m usually pretty good at remembering things like this, but I don’t think I can remember much of anything she said. I was hypnotized by her eyes, the brightness of her teeth, and the sound of her voice. I was mesmerized by her curves.

Nadina sat kind of sideways on the couch, one shapely leg curled under the other, one bare foot on the floor. Her body was facing mine, and I mimicked her pose so I could face her.

It just occurred to me, she reminds of someone. I would see a perfectly wrapped, hot little body like that a few years later when I went to Dallas with Shorty. Martha! Sonuvabitch! Maybe that’s why I ended up falling so head over heels in love with her!! Martha subconsciously reminded me of Nadina!

Wow. That was really weird.

Nadina was the perfect hostess. She refilled our drinks. She lit another joint. When the first pitcher of margaritas was empty, she made another. And she lit another joint…

“I rolled these today. Ray doesn’t think I know how to roll, but I can do a lot of things he doesn’t think I can do. Would you like another margarita?”

“Yes, please.” I said. She poured more slushy pinkish red drinks for both of us, then she said something I’ve never been able to forget.

“I know Ray’s been fucking your girlfriend.” and she turned her head to look me squarely in the eyes. “I know that’s what he’s been doing with her. And I know you know it, too. I know you’re Ray’s best friend, but you’re my friend, too. Don’t you dare fucking lie to me, Mark.”

I sat there for what had to have been an hour, trying to figure out how I could get out of the house without her noticing. But she had her eyes locked on mine, and she didn’t blink. And I knew if I so much as blinked, it was as good as a confirmation on my part. And how did she know all the stuff she said she knew? That, was spooky.

If there was ever a time I wished I could say, “Scotty, beam me up!” this was one of them. I stared back into her dark eyes, and I knew I whatever I said to her, it had better not be a fucking lie. There was only one thing I could say.

“She’s not my girlfriend.” I said. It wasn’t a lie…  It really wasn’t much of anything. I didn’t confirm her assertion that her husband was having an affair, but I didn’t say anything to deny it, either. So, it wasn’t what I said that initiated what happened next, it was how I didn’t say it.

“I knew it!” she whispered, very softly. I expected her to start crying. That’s what any other woman would’ve done, right? “I have to go to the bathroom.” she said. And she smiled! “I’ll be right back.”

I think I was so stunned I didn’t know what to think. And I was most definitely stunned.

“I want to thank you for being honest with me.” her voice floated down the hallway into the living room. She was in the bathroom in the hall, and she must have left the door open. I could hear her peeing. “I know that wasn’t easy for you, and I appreciate it.”

Well, she was right about the not easy part, but I didn’t feel very good about what I had done, no matter how much she appreciated it. She flushed the toilet and washed her hands.

“But you know what I think? I think what’s good for the gander is good for the goose.” Her voice grew louder as she walked back toward the living room.

“I think it’s the other way around.” I replied. I decided I needed a drink, and reached for my margarita. And then I froze.

“You know what I meant.” Nadina said. She stepped into the living room, struck a little pose, and smiled. She was totally naked. And then she said another thing I’ve never been able to forget. “I want to fuck your brains out.”

* * * *

There can’t be any confusion as to what happened next, can there? Raoul may not have been completely honest with me about the reasons for the marital discord between he and Nadina, but that part about her being a fucking goddess, that, was not a lie.

* * * *

I called Nadina on my lunch break on Tuesday.

“I’m baking lasagna. You hungry?”

“I could eat.”

“And I have dessert, too!”

“Oh yeah? What did you make?”

“Pie. It’s really moist, and creamy!”

“See you at six.”

“Make it five.” Click.

She answered the door wearing an apron, and nothing else. She insisted I eat first. And then I had dessert.

* * * *

I called her on my lunch break on Wednesday.

“How are you feeling?” she giggled.

“Sore. How about you?”

“Horny. I’ve been playing with my pussy all morning. She really misses you.”

I finished my deliveries in record time that afternoon, and my van didn’t break down. After a couple erotic wrestling matches with Nadina, I wondered how Raoul had the energy to play racquetball. Or even get out of bed in the morning.

* * * *

I didn’t call Nadina on my lunch break on Thursday. I called her first thing in the morning. And at nine. And at noon. And every chance I got. When I rang the doorbell, she didn’t come to the door.

“Mark? Is that you?” her voice called out.

“Yes!”

“Then, come in! The door’s open!’

She was naked, sprawled across the couch, her legs spread wide.

“See how much I missed you? Did you miss me?”

“Yes!”

“Show me how much you missed me!”

And I did.

* * * *

By Friday, I didn’t have to wish I could got dead. I was pretty sure I was going to die to death. And I didn’t even care that I would go straight to Hell. I started taking four or five Percodan at a time. I could hardly walk. I thought my dick was going to fall off.

I called Nadina around 10:00 AM from one of the clinics. She sounded a little distracted, maybe. She wasn’t at all as…friendly…as she had the previous days.

“I’m out of weed. So I called Brian.”

Brian was the guy Raoul bought weed from. He was a civilian that worked on base. I can’t remember how Raoul met him, but Raoul had a nose for weed. Brian looked like Fat Freddy of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. We used to tease him about that, but he had good weed, and he almost always had some to sell.

“I have weed. All you had to do was ask.”

“Oh, I didn’t think of that. You always smoke Ray’s weed when you’re here…”

That was true. But that’s the kind of guy Raoul was. However, whenever he dropped in at the barracks he insisted we smoke mine.

“So, do you want to get together tonight?”

“Oh, yes! Yes, very much!” and her voice brightened appreciably. “Brian said he’d be over about four…  Why don’t you come by then.”

“Great! See you then!”

“And don’t be late this time!” Click.

I was outside her door at 3:55. I recognized Brian’s car as I pulled up, so I knew he was already inside. I was about to ring the doorbell, when I heard Nadina scream. I opened the door and saw Brian mauling Nadina, trying to kiss her. There were two glasses of water on the table, and an ounce of pot.

“Hey! What the fuck do you think you’re doing!” I shouted.

Brian was startled by my appearance. Nadina must not have told him I was coming over. He let go of Nadina, and she ran down the hallway.

“Hey, Mark! It’s not what it looks like! She–” And then Brian froze. Nadina had come back in the room, and she had a gun pointed at Brian’s head.

“Get out of my house, you motherfucker!”  she screamed.

“Hey! Heyheyhey! I’m leaving! I’m leaving! Just don’t shoot!”

Brian ran out the like Usain Bolt, only faster. Nadina followed his exit with the gun in her hands. He almost hit my car as he roared off. Nadina let her arms drop, but held on to the handgun. She was trembling.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Close the door, and lock it.”

I did, then I rushed over to her, and she just about flew into my arms. The tears I had expected to see four days earlier appeared now, and they would not stop.

“I can’t believe he did that to me!” she sobbed, and even I knew she wasn’t talking about Brian.

* * * *

Nadina eventually stopped crying, and then we had sex, if you can call it that. It was sex at its most primal level, and we fucked like lions! We were locked together for easily seven hours. We probably took bathroom breaks, and drank margaritas, but I don’t remember much of anything except being inside her, and her wanting more.

I remember taking a shower at about 6:00 AM. Nadina stood in the bathroom and watched me. She had a very satisfied smile on her face. She had put on a lacy little white robe. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the end of our affair. I was almost too weak to stand. If I had known our affair was over, I probably would’ve wept in relief.

“When my husband asks, this is what you tell him…”

I went back to the barracks and slept like a man that had been in battle for a week. I don’t think I woke up until Sunday.

* * * *

I know Raoul called me on Sunday. That’s the only reason I know I didn’t sleep straight through to Monday. I was sitting at my desk, naked. My dick wasn’t black and blue, it was black and purple! And it hurt! If I had had any razor blades close by, my dick probably would’ve cut itself off.

“How was your trip?” I asked.

“Fine. Business as usual. Did Dina tell you about Brian?”

“She didn’t have to. I was there.”

“See? I told you it was a good idea for you to check on her!”

“I thought she was going to shoot him!”

“Nah, I’ll probably shoot him first. At the very least, I’m gonna kick his Fat Freddy ass! So, how often did you come over?”

“Um, I called her on Monday. She made lasagna on Tuesday, so I came over for that.”

“She’s a good cook, huh.”

“Dude, I’ve eaten at your house a thousand times!”

“Yeah, she’s a good cook, huh.”

“She’s a great cook!”

“When else were you here? Did you see anything?”

“Um, I called her Wednesday. I dropped by the house on Thursday for about an hour, and I was there Friday for pretty much the entire night.”

“Yeah. Yeah, that was good. Thank you for taking care of my wife.”

“Yeah, just doing what you asked. How’s she doing now? She was pretty freaked out the last time I saw her.”

“She’s okay. I got back in town about noon on Saturday. And you’re not going to believe this, but she fucked my fuckin’ brains out! I mean, I thought she was trying to kill me!”

Raoul was right. I couldn’t believe it. Nadina must’ve had a crotch made from titanium!

“You’re a lucky man.”

“Yeah. So, what’re you doing? You wanna play some chess? I picked up a couple hits of acid…”

“It’s gonna have to be another time, man. I’ve been hitting it pretty hard this week. I need rest.”

“Yeah, okay. Well, see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, tomorrow.”

* * * *

Monday was business as usual. I went back to delivering supplies. Raoul went back to making dentures, and playing racquetball with Theresa. I don’t think I ever played another game of racquetball in my life.

Theresa’s term of enlistment ended that September, and then Raoul quit playing racquetball, too.

I don’t know if Raoul ever kicked Brian’s Fat Freddy ass or not, but he did find a different supplier for his weed, some guy named Lloyd or something, and I never saw Brian again.

I was a frequent guest at the home of Raoul and Nadina. Raoul and I played a lots of chess, and we all drank a lots of margaritas and smoked a lots of joints. And I took more and more pills. They were easy for me to get, I had half a dozen dentists writing scripts for me, and because I was in the Army, they were free.

Nadina wasn’t as quiet around me as she had been prior to to Raoul’s training trip, and he mentioned something about it a couple of times.

“He saved my life! Do you think I’m going to treat him like a stranger?” was Nadina’s response.

That satisfied Raoul. And it more than satisfied me. I was like unto a goddamn hero! But whenever we were alone, like, when Raoul went to the bathroom, or went into the kitchen to make another pitcher of margaritas, Nadina and I would pounce on each other like tigers, and kiss as much as we possibly could in two minutes, then assume positions of posed nonchalance before Raoul returned.

I have to admit, that was a pretty crazy time for me. I’m not sure if I fell in love with my friend’s fucking goddess wife or not, but I almost forgot about Maureen for a couple of months. And the reason for that was mostly I was worried that my friend would find out about me and his wife. And the only thing that really made that worry go away was an handful of pills.

Actually, worried doesn’t doesn’t come close to describing the sum of all my fears. I was closer to terrified. I wasn’t afraid that Nadina would tell Raoul she had an affair with me, though that was certainly a possibility. What terrified me was the greater possibility she’d confront Raoul about his affair with Theresa.

I was actually kind of confused about why she didn’t do either. I know I talked to her about it. I think her response was something like unto, Don’t worry about it. I know what I’m doing.

In October, Nadina dropped her bombshell on her cheating husband that she had been having an affair, and kicked him out of her house for good. She filed for divorce, and moved back to Texas. She was from the Corpus Christi area, and she moved back in with her parents while she figured what she was going to with her new life.

I went to see her one last time before she left. She couldn’t afford the house she and Ray had lived in, and she sure as hell didn’t have anything keeping her in Lawton anymore.

I’d like to say we had twelve hours of sex, but we didn’t even have twelve minutes of sex. We sat on the couch and held hands, and talked. She explained some of her rationale to me. She could have told Raoul she was having an affair earlier, but that would have made me the prime suspect.

She wanted to protect me. That’s why she didn’t confront her husband about his affair. I would have the only suspect in that case.

“However much I hate Ray right now, I have nothing against you. You told me the truth when you could have lied. You chose me instead of Ray. You were my only friend when I needed someone to be there for me. You gave me what I needed, when I needed it. In more ways than one.” She flashed a sly smile, and winked.

I told her how much I was going to miss her, and that I’d never forget her.

“I know you won’t.” she said, and she smiled again, but there was sadness in her eyes. And she kissed me. “I know you’re going to have a lot of memories about me, but this is the one I want you to remember the most. Your friend, kissing you goodbye.”

Clearly, I have other memories of Nadina. But our last kiss, it’s the one I treasure the most.

* * * *

Raoul moved back into the barracks, and that’s where we were when this story started. I bought a really nice camera with lots of lenses and stuff, and a metal Copal case from Raoul. And his stereo, and speakers.

He needed the cash because he had ruined his marriage and fucked up his life.

I became his best friend, and he became my best friend. We took many trips to Texas. On one of them, he would break my glasses, I would break his arm, and jump out of a speeding car after he turned into Satan the devil.

If he ever suspected me of having an affair with his wife, he never came right out and said it, but we talked about it a lots, and I was quick to point out I had been the one who warned him he was playing with fire when he fucked with Love. And I had also been the one who had saved his wife from being raped.

* * * *

I’ve occasionally wondered if Nadina set that whole thing with Brian up. He started to say something before Nadina pointed a gun at his head. If she did, she was damn good, and then she probably was every bit as crazy as Raoul claimed she was.

I choose to believe she wasn’t crazy, no matter what her husband said. After all, she never told Raoul she knew he was having an affair…

* * * *

“Yeah, you were right about that. You’re a pretty smart guy.” Raoul said. We were getting drunk in my room, listening to his former stereo. Dozens of pictures of my former girlfriend looked down at us from the wall.

“I’m not that smart. My girlfriend left me for a loser named Rick. How sad is that?”

“Oh yeah? My wife left me for… I don’t even know his fuckin’ name! How sad is that!” I want to find that sonuvabitch and, how do you say it? Kill him to death? That’s what I want to do! Hey! Would you fuck my wife?”

“What kind of question is that? She’s your wife. No way, man”

“Well, suppose she wasn’t my wife! Would you fuck her then?”

“You mean, I’m walking down the street, and I see Nadina, standing on the corner or something.”

“Yeah, like that!”

“Is she married?”

“I don’t know. What difference does it make? Would you fuck her?”

“So, I walk up to her, and say, ‘Hey baby, I got about ten hours to kill, and I can’t think of a better way to spend it than in your pussy. Do you think that would work?”

“On Dina? No way! Answer the question!” he demanded, and sat up in his chair, staring at me. I sat up, and stared back.

“Look dude, the only way I would ever fuck your wife is she would have to come up to me, totally naked, and she would have to tell me that she wanted to fuck my brains out! Now, can you imagine that ever happening?”

“No. No, that would never happen…”

* * * *

See? I told you I was quite an accomplished liar.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

There are times when God has my Muse by the short hairs, and there are times when my Muse has me by the short hairs. Today, it’s the latter. In my short history as a blogger guy, these posts have not been much fun for me.

I couldn’t sleep last night, and that’s never a good sign for me. And there was another oddity. All of the dogs in the neighborhood were barking, and they did so until about 4:00 AM. There’s been a lots of bands and explosives and stuff at night, but the dogs have never behaved like unto that before.

I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time, as I measure time. It’s going to be painful to me. And probably to Maureen. She’s my former high school sweetheart, and this tells the story of the dissolution of our relationship.

We broke up almost forty-two years ago, but some parts of this tale I remember like they happened ten minutes ago. Other parts, I wouldn’t be able to recall if my life depended on it.

Memory, is a funny thing.

But I do remember this. I fell in love with Maureen the first moment I saw her our freshman year of high school. This should come as no surprise to anyone that reads my blog on a regular basis.

It seems to be the only way I fall in love.

* * * *

I enlisted in the Army after graduating from Loyola, and went to Basic Training at Fort Ord, CA in July of 1974. I learned to march, and shoot an M-16. I was a pretty good shot. I was well on my way to earning my Expert badge on the rifle range, when I received a letter from my high school sweetheart.

I had received a lots of letters from Maureen. And she had received many from me. I saved all of them and read them over and over. But this letter was different. Maureen wrote that she had met another guy. I read her letter just before I went out to qualify for my Expert badge, and I probably missed every target.

My drill sergeant chose to feel very disappointed in my performance–I had had the highest score of anyone in my company on the rifle range–and he had me do a lots of push ups to help me get my mind right.

I doubt I ever thanked him for his concern, but thank you, Drill Sergeant Byrum. That was really nice of you.

Maureen’s next letter said nothing about this other guy, nor did any of her following letters. I called her as often as I could from the phone booth outside the barracks, and she assured me everything was fine between us.

After I completed Basic, I was given a least two weeks of leave until my Advanced Individual Training began in the beginning of November. I flew back to Missoula around mid-October to see my high school sweetheart for the first time as a member of the US Armed Forces.

My sister, Colleen, was living in Missoula with her first husband, Rod. I had lived with them so I could complete my last year of high school in Missoula, rather than have to start over at a new school in Minnesota when my family moved back there at the end of my junior year. I think Colleen picked me up at the airport, and if she did, Maureen may have been with her. This is one of the things I can’t remember.

At any rate, Maureen and I had a very joyous reunion, whenever it was that we first saw each other again that October. I spent every waking and every sleeping moment I could with Maureen. She was studying to be an X-Ray Technician at St Patrick Hospital, and she had an apartment across the street from the hospital.

I vaguely remember being at my sister’s house, but I think I spent much more time with Maureen at her tiny apartment. We missed each other. A lots.

Maureen had class and clinicals during the day. I have no idea what I did while she was at school. I did meet her classmates, but the only one I remember was a stunning redhead with long hair. I think her name was Kelly…maybe…  Maureen tried to study, but I’m pretty sure I was able to distract her. We had really missed each other.

We would go out drinking and dancing in the evening, and some of our friends from high school would meet us at the bar. I seem to recall a semi-epic Halloween party at one of our favorite bars that booked decent bands. I’m going to say we were both ready for me to go Fort Sam Houston, TX for AIT when the end of October rolled around. I departed for Texas secure in the knowledge that we were still together as a couple, and our love for each other was strong.

* * * *

I celebrated my nineteenth birthday all by myself in Texas. I graduated third in my class, and received a promotion to PFC at the end of my training. And seeing how it was so close to Christmas, the Army gave me another couple of weeks off, and I flew back to Missoula through the worst storm I’ve ever flown through.

I think everyone on that flight prayed the entire time we were in the air. The turbulence was unreal. I kissed the tarmac when I got off the plane, and then I kissed Maureen. This was an especially joyous reunion. My sister and her husband were there. All of my closest friends in high school were home from college for the holidays. They were all at the airport to greet me, too.

One of Maureen’s sisters and her husband had flown to California for the holidays. They were going to be out of town for a couple weeks and they had asked Maureen to stay at their house while they were gone. Maureen asked me if I wanted to stay there with her.

It was Christmas. I was essentially living with my favorite person on the entire planet. That holiday could not have been any sweeter for me. It would be one of my most treasured memories for a very long time.

There was one dark spot. Maureen and I decided to throw a big holiday party at the house, and essentially invited everyone in our class to come. It was probably the last time our class got together like that until reunions became popular.

I know I got really drunk at the party. And I know Maureen wasn’t too pleased the next day. But that’s all I can remember. I’m sure I did something stupid, after all, this is me. I probably tried making out with all of our female classmates, or humped their legs. Or both. It wouldn’t surprise me.

This was perhaps the first warning shot my addiction would fire across my bow, but like any great athlete in training, I ignored the pain and kept on going.

* * * *

January, 1975. I reported to my permanent duty station in Fort Sill, OK. Toward the end of the month, I went for a walk in the rain because I missed my girlfriend, and broke my ankle.

Life. One thing happens after another, and before you know it, everything goes to hell. And that’s what happened in late April. I got another letter from Maureen. The mysterious guy she had met back when I was in Basic Training had reappeared, and it was evidently much more serious this time.

I told my CO I needed some personal time off immediately, and because I was still an exemplary soldier, he gave me a week off without hesitation. I called Maureen to let her know I was flying back to Missoula. She seemed surprised that I was coming to see her. I also called my sister to let her know I was coming.

My sister, Colleen, and her husband, Rod, were starting to go through the throes of their divorce. Colleen wasn’t going to be in town, but she would leave a key on the porch so I could stay at her house. I have no idea where Rod was, they weren’t together, and he wouldn’t be at home either. I did have two cars to choose from for transportation, and that would be about the thing I’d have going for me.

I think my flight landed in Missoula around 7:00 PM on May 2nd or 3rd. No one met me at the airport. It was one of the loneliest moments of my life, ever. For all time. I took a cab to Colleen’s house, and stared at the walls for a few hours.

Maureen had been at a Gordon Lightfoot concert with Rick, I think that was his name. To this day, I fucking hate Gordon Fucking Lightfoot, and I’ve hated almost every guy I ever met named Rick.

Well, I’ve never claimed to be sane.

Maureen came over to break up with me after the concert. She told me that was why she came over when she arrived, but then she added something like  unto this, “That’s why I came here, but I just realized I’m still in love with you…”

So, we didn’t break up that first night. I’m not sure that’s a good thing or a bad now, but it was better than anything I could’ve hoped for at the time. We didn’t break up, but we didn’t exactly get back together either. All I knew for sure when she left was she was still my girl. Kind of.

Vague Musical Reference That No One Else Will Give A Damn About But Me: How Long by the British group Ace was getting a lots of airtime in Missoula at the time Maureen and I were going through our shared angst. It reached No. 3 in the US charts. I cannot hear that song without becoming an heartbroken teenager again. And the answer to that musical question ended up being since about August of 1974.

Maureen was no longer living in her tiny apartment across from the hospital. She had moved into a big place with a couple of girls from our high school class, Colleen and Priscilla, so on the odd occasions that I went to see her there, well, it was very odd.

I knew a lots of Colleens back when I was in high school. There was my sister. And the Colleen I took to the Prom. I have a vague memory of talking to her at her dorm on the U of M campus. And there was Maureen’s roommate, whom we both knew from high school. And at least one more more Colleen from our class. And my buddy Dave dated a different Colleen…  And after that time I think I’ve met two Colleens in forty years or so. I may be wrong about this, but I think Roommate Colleen introduced my then girlfriend to Rick, the guy my girlfriend would leave me for.

Maureen’s roommates did their best to comfort both Maureen and I during what was an extremely ackward situation for all of us, and that ackwardness was only accentuated whenever I was around. We had all gone to school with each other, we were all friends.

It was a painful experience for all of us. And then a very strange thing happened one night. Roommate Colleen and I were talking in her bedroom, and then we weren’t talking anymore. We started kissing.  And Maureen walked in on us. A situation I didn’t think could get any worse, did. I think I mostly stayed away from Maureen, Colleen and Priscilla’s house after that night.

* * * *

I didn’t have a lots of close friends back in high school. I wasn’t a Jock, and I wasn’t a Brain. I was kind of a Nobody until Maureen entered my life and made me a Somebody. She was the most important and incredible person/event that had ever happened to me in my young and haunted life.

Our first dates were double or triple dates. We got to know each other kind of vicariously through our mutual friends, and it wasn’t until we started liking each other that we started going out all by ourselves.

I was in love with Maureen from the moment I first saw her, but I wasn’t going to tell her that. We kind of joked around about it, and we might say something after we drank too much cheap wine at the drive in. And then, like it does in all romantic tales, it really happened.

We went to go see Live and Let Die. I can no longer remember the exact date, but the movie was released in June of 1973, so we probably saw it in early July of that year. Whatever day/date it was, that was the night Maureen told me she loved me for the first time.

I still remember the astonishment I felt at hearing her say those three words to me after the movie. And then she started crying. I told her I loved her, too, but I did not cry. I thought I might got dead from an overdose of Joy.

The fact that anyone could love me, especially Maureen Ann Browne–it proved there was a God, and He did more than answer prayers, He was an honest to God miracle worker! If Maureen could love me, maybe there was hope that my life wouldn’t always be some kind of fucking disaster. And if that was true, then Maureen had to be an angel. She was certainly as beautiful as an angel, and that is not an exaggeration.

Maureen was one of those people that other people couldn’t help but notice when she walked into a room. She was probably the same height as me, long dark brown hair, deep brown eyes, and the body of Venus de Milo, with arms. I thought she was the Goddess of Beauty and Light, and that’s not an exaggeration either. And she was spookysmart to boot.

Back when I was young, I believed you needed to have another person to make you whole. And I had found that person. As a result of my belief, I desperately wanted to be with Maureen, always and forever, but I also understood her position when she was trying to decide her future, and mine, almost two years later.

We were no longer physically together. She was living in Montana, and I was stationed in Oklahoma. And I was going to be in Oklahoma for another two and half years! I couldn’t just tell the Army that after giving it a lots of thought, I no longer felt being in the military was the best career choice for me, and I just wanted to go home and be with my girlfriend.

Well, I suppose I could’ve said that, but I knew the Army wasn’t going to be at all swayed by that sort of a plea.

I  knew where I wanted to be when Maureen decided what she was going to do with her life, and that was with her, but I had no tricks, no aces up my sleeve. I couldn’t make her choose me. So I anxiously waited for her to make up her mind, and while I waited, I hung out with the one other best friend I had in Missoula, Dave Nelson.

Dave was my first friend in high school. We practically became brothers. And Dave did what any guy would do when his best friend’s life was melting down. He introduced me to a few girls he knew, and we got drunk with them. We went canoeing, and got drunk. We went fishing, and got drunk. We drove around town in my sister’s Toyota Corolla or her husband’s Toyota Land Cruiser, and got drunk.

In retrospect, mostly, we just got drunk. Young guys. We didn’t have a lots of tools in the old tool box, eh.

* * * *

On the 8th of May, Maureen made her decision. She had most likely known all along what she was going to do, but that was the day she decided to tell me. She invited me over to her house and made me a really nice meal. I think we had sex, one last time. It was probably my going away present. As far as presents go, that’s a pretty nice present. But it wasn’t the same–there was no making love involved–and I don’t think either one of us enjoyed it anywhere near as much as we had in the past.

“I’ve made a decision.” She started out saying something like unto that after she had done everything she could to soften what would be the cruelest of blows to me, and that was all I really needed to hear. “I think we should break up. It’s not that I don’t love you anymore. It’s the distance and being apart.” She may have said more, she probably did. I didn’t hear any of it.

“Okay. I understand.” I said something like unto that when she finished.

“That’s it? That’s all you have to say? Aren’t you going to fight for me?!?”

I don’t think I had any response to that. Who was I supposed to fight? Geography? Rick? Time and Space? The Army? Her? And what was I supposed to say? She already knew I loved her. That didn’t seem to be tipping the scales in my favor, and that was all I had to offer her.

I’m sure I should have said something. I should have said anything! But I had nothing to say, no answer to her demand. She had chosen someone else over me, and there was nothing left inside of me. Part of me got dead that night, and it stayed dead for a very long time. Actually, I’m not sure it ever came back to life. Maybe it was never there, that’s a possibility, too.

I drove back to the empty house I was occupying, and all I wanted to do was die. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that empty. I didn’t think it was wise for me to be alone, so I called my best friend. The one who had just stopped being my best friend.

I’m not sure if I talked to Maureen that night or not, but I did talk to Dan. I think he was Roommate Colleen’s boyfriend, and Dan did something extraordinary. He came over to talk to me, face to face, and kept me alive that night. We drank a lots of beer, of course, and talked all night.

I’m not sure if I ever thanked him, but thank you, Dan. That was a stand up thing to do.

* * * *

Friday, May 9, 1975. I was supposed to fly back to Oklahoma the following day, but I couldn’t do it. I called my CO, and he extended my leave for another week after listening to my tale of heart wretching woe.

I went out with Dave that night. I was a single man on the prowl, so I sat at the bar and cried in my beer. That’s pretty close to the truth. I was about as much fun to be around as a suicide bomber.

I no longer remember which bar we went to, but Dave and his girlfriend were there, and probably another girl Dave was hoping would distract me from my misery. The fact that I can’t remember her name indicates how successful she was. And just like that rainy January night in Oklahoma when I was overcome with despair and loneliness, I suddenly couldn’t stand being around anyone, and decided to go for a walk.

It wasn’t raining that night in Montana. I had nothing to impede my progress as I left the bar and marched in the darkness toward my sister’s house, which was on the far end of town from the bar I’d been at. I didn’t care. I probably would’ve walked all the way back to Oklahoma if the idea had occurred to me. Nothing slowed me down, I looked neither to the right or the left, until I ran into the Missoula County Fairgrounds.

The county fairgrounds are huge, and they’re surrounded by a tall wire fence with strands of barbed wire running across the top. I could’ve walked around the fairgrounds, but I was young and drunk and pissed off, and no goddamn fence was going to stand in my way.

I climbed the fence, and walked across the fairgrounds until I reached the fence on the far side of the grounds. I had conquered the first fence without an hiccough, so I scaled the second, but this time the fence fought back. As I was coming down, my right hand got kind of tangled in the barbed wire.

I sustained a wound on my right hand/wrist. I was bleeding, but not too badly. I ignored it until I reached my sister’s empty house, and I took a look at it in the bathroom.

I spent a fair amount of time staring at my reflection in the mirror. The abhorrence I felt toward everyone in the bar transferred itself to my reflection. The feelings I had been struggling not to feel  since the age of seven boiled over.

I saw a pack of razor blades on the counter…  My wrist was already bleeding…  Might as well open that sucker up and let everything out…  I knew I had to cut between the tendons and ligaments on my wrist…

My first few attempts were pretty lame, but that fourth one, that stuck gold. I was actually surprised I cut as deep as I did, but that feeling faded almost immediately. I didn’t feel anything after that, not even pain. I laid down on the floor, stretching my right arm out away from my body. I didn’t want to accidentally lay on it and impede the flow of blood out of my body, and said goodbye to my life and this world.

* * * *

A little background information here. It sounds as though I had done a lots of research into how to kill myself, and that is not true. One of my Army buddies was a guy named Joe Parnell, and Joe had spent some time in prison.

Life in prison isn’t anywhere near as much fun as they make it look on TV, and Joe decided he couldn’t take another minute of being incarcerated. So he slit his wrist. I noticed the scars on his wrist one day when we were getting high at the barracks, and asked him about them.

It was Joe who had explained the dynamics of cutting one’s wrist correctly to me. And that was why I extended my arm. Joe said he would’ve died to death except for one little thing. He didn’t extend his arm, and the weight of his body diminished the blood flow out of his body enough that he was still alive when the guards found him.

He said it was the stupidest thing he’d ever done. Even stupider than the stupid stuff he’d done to get his ass thrown into prison.

* * * *

It was weird. Great descriptive term there, but I lack any other word or phrase, and I’ve thought about this a lots.

I felt someone shaking my shoulder, waking me up. Leave me alone! I thought, but the shaking sensation persisted. I woke up and turned to see who was disturbing me.

There was no one there. Just a kind of ting-ly feeling in the air. It gave me goosebumps. Actually, it still does. It just did.

I saw my wrist, and the pool of blood on the floor. I have no idea how long I had laid there. I knew this was wrong, and stupid, and I needed to do something to stop it. I called the local crisis line, and told the person on the other end I needed urgent help, and I had no transportation.

While I waited for someone to come get me, I wrapped a towel around my wrist so I wouldn’t bleed all over everything, and cleaned up the pool of coagulating blood on the floor.

I’m pretty sure I wondered why I was still alive. I have given that a lots of thought over the years, and this was what I eventually concluded: I got lucky. I somehow managed to miss every artery in that area of my right wrist, so instead of quickly bleeding out, I more or less oozed however much blood I lost. The pool of blood I cleaned up was about one foot wide and maybe a foot and a foot and an half long.

Obviously, I didn’t lose enough blood to got dead, but it was enough to make me feel very lightheaded while I cleaned up. There was another reason I didn’t got dead, and that will be revealed shortly.

An orange Volkswagen microbus pulled into the driveway, and a hippie looking guy drove me to the St Patrick Hospital ER. My wound was cleaned, and sutured, and then the doctor asked me what I wanted to do. He could admit me to the pysch unit, but if I promised I wouldn’t try to harm myself again, I could go home.

I know, right! All of my psych nurse colleagues will have an hard time believing this. I would feel the irony of that for decades to come.

“I’m good. I made a bad decision, but I’m past that. I’ll go home, and sleep. I’ll be okay.” And I meant that. I would think about taking my life countless times over the following years, but I would never make an intentional attempt like that again.

The sun was coming up as the hippie looking guy drove me back to my sister’s house. I cried tears of joy to see that sunrise. And I told the hippie looking guy about the angel that woke me up, and saved my life.

“Wow, that’s far out, man. God must have another plan for you, man. That slash on your wrist looked pretty bad.”

That, was the other reason.

It was at that moment I started to believe God really did have a plan for me. I hadn’t narrowed it down to becoming a prophet yet, but I was alive, and I was alive for a reason. That was the precise moment my quest for God and the Truth began.

I have three scars on my right wrist, two fairly superficial, one very substantial. It’s about two inches long, and maybe half an inch at its widest point. The ER doc did a crappy job sewing me back up.

I’ve told a few people the entire story of how I got my scars, and several more a very condensed version of how I got them, but mostly I try to keep them from view.

* * * *

In retrospect, I probably should have just gone back to Oklahoma, rather than prolong my misery and hang around Missoula for another week. Dave showed up at my sister’s house early Saturday morning to check up on me, and saw the bandage on my wrist.

“Jesus, Rowen! You stupid sonuvabitch!! What the fuck did you do!!!” he said. I told him everything.

“Well, there’s only one thing to do. We’ve got to get you out of here.”

I can’t remember everywhere we went, but we drove my brother-in-law’s Land Cruiser, and we eventually ended up at the Aber Day Kegger. The ADK was a monster beer bash sponsored by the University of Montana. It was legendary, back in the day. A lots and lots and lots of kegs and a lots of bands and live music. Thousands of people went to the ADK.

My right wrist was bandaged. I was wearing a T-shirt and a long sleeve wool shirt. But it was very warm that day, and I rolled the sleeves of my shirt up to cool down a little. I was alive and the sun was shining. I sat on the mountainside drinking beer and listening to the music. I think I actually felt almost not totally miserable for the first time in a week.

And who I did run into in that crowd of thousands of people?

Rick and Maureen. I think that was the only time I met him. We might have even shook hands. I can’t remember for sure.

“What did you do?” Maureen asked when she saw my bandaged wrist.

“It’s nothing.” I replied. Something like that. Rick stepped away and let us talk. I don’t think he was all that happy to do it, but he did, and that was very nice of him.

I eventually told Maureen a very condensed version of events, but enough for her to know it was no accident. She said she would’ve been devastated if anything had happened to me. And I know I thought, Good! Then you’d know how I feel!

I told her to have fun or something, and walked away. I stayed mostly in that general area, hoping to decrease the odds of us continually running into each other throughout the day.

Dave gave me a little pep talk at the ADK. Maureen wasn’t the only girl on the planet. There were millions of them out there. I’d meet a lots of girls, and all of them would be better than that fuckin’ two-timing, backstabbing bitch. I can’t remember how long Dave and I stayed at the kegger, and I can’t remember anything of what happened after we left. I’m pretty sure I actually slept that night.

When I woke up the next morning, I tried to make some sense out of everything that had happened. I stared at the self-inflicted wounds on my wrist. I remembered seeing Maureen at the ADK. I remembered the music, and Dave’s pep talk.

I decided I would take Dave’s advice and try to move on, and I would try like hell to hate Maureen, and fail miserably at both.

* * * *

I spent the last week of my extended vacation in Missoula howling at the moon and getting drunk with Dave. He did his best to cheer me up by trying to hook me up with girls, and I was such a pathetic mess I mostly talked to them about how much I loved the woman who had broken my heart into a hundred million pieces, like unto the Portland vase.

She was the girl of my dreams, literally.

Before I ever started dating Maureen, I dreamed about her almost every night. And it wasn’t a daydream dream where I imagined us being together. She would come to me in my sleep.

I can’t remember if I dreamed about her while we dated, but I probably did. I spent almost every night with her for two years after we broke up. I would dream of her with decreasing frequency as the years lengthened. I think the last time I dreamt of her was just before we moved to Mexico.

I’m guessing the next time she visits me in a dream she’ll tell me she’ll kill me in my fucking sleep if I ever write another post about her.

Ah, my once beloved, I am so sorry for any pain I’ve ever caused you.

* * * *

Maureen and I would talk several times on the phone that last week. I’m not sure we talked in person. It’s possible…  She listened politely while I cried and whined on her shoulder, like any best friend would. I was such a pathetic lovesick whining crybaby. It embarrasses me to think about it now.

It was really nice of her to do that, and I’m not joking when I say I was a pathetic sissifated sniffle-snaffle mess of an human being.

All good things must end, and so must all lousy things. The days and nights of that week flew by relatively quickly. This time I had to return to Oklahoma.

Saturday, May 17, 1975. Maureen came over to see me at my sister’s house before my flight back to Oklahoma. We both cried. And cried. And cried. I think I used up two decades worth of tears in two hours. I told her I would love her until the day after I died. She told me she would probably always love me too. She may have taken me to the airport. That’s also possible, but again, my memory fails me.

That was the last time I saw Maureen.

I’ve been back to Missoula several times since then. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope I’d run into her somewhere in town. Alas, it was not to be.

I would eventually stop crying and start dating again. I would break up with some of the girls I dated after Maureen. Some of them broke up with me. Either I grew tired of them, or they were tired of me, but there was no ambiguity about saying goodbye on anyone’s part.

That was perhaps the oddest thing about our breakup. We didn’t break up because we no longer loved or cared for one another, or one of us no longer felt that way. We broke up despite the fact that we were both still in love with each other.

It would take me at least five years to realize Maureen and I had actually broken up, and that’s why every relationship I was in during that timeframe failed.

It would probably take me another five years to realize that Maureen and I would never get back together again. And if my high school sweetheart didn’t think I was a pathetic lovesick whining crybaby, she probably will if she reads this.

I carried that torch for a long time.

Time heals all emotional wounds, right? Well, only if you make a choice that you want to be healed.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you may have noticed I am somewhat of an hopeless romantic. I have stated that I still have affectionate feelings for some of the darling women I dated before I got married.

I even have affectionate feelings for one woman I never actually dated.

Somewhere deep inside me, I still love Maureen, too.

I haven’t seen my former sweetheart in over four decades. Do I love her now like I loved her then? No, I don’t. Neither of us are nineteen anymore, thank God. We’ve traveled thousands of miles on different paths. She has a family, and children, and grandchildren. I doubt very much she’d trade any of that for what we once shared.

I’ve been married to my lovely supermodel wife for almost three decades. We have a great life together, and I wouldn’t change a thing that got us to the very satisfied and comfortable place we are now. We are, and always will be, very much in love. I cannot imagine my life without her.

There’s no going back to that place again, and it would be foolish to think it could ever be recreated. The flames of Love are like unto snowflakes, each unique and different. And once a flame goes out, it’s extinguished forever.

And then there’s this: there’s no guarantee that if we had decided to stay together back then, we’d still be together now. Given the path of self-destructive behavior I was walking back then, I probably would’ve destroyed her life as well as mine, and then I really would’ve had to end my life.

Plus, she would most likely be the mother of my children, and there’s no telling what sort of price the world would have to pay for that. I was cursed by my own mother, and even the thought of Mark Junior running rampant on this planet sends chills down my spine.

Everything happens for a reason.

Only God sees everything perfectly from beginning to end, if even He does. But the reason for this chapter of my life hasn’t been all that important to me for quite some time. Now that I’ve purged this chapter, maybe I can file it away in my Do Not Open Again Ever File.

My Muse and I can both move on. And I’ll be able to sleep tonight.

The Epic Party at the End of the World

I have previously mentioned that I had an older brother named Allen, who unfortunately died from SIDS. He would’ve been two years older than me, if he hadn’t gotten dead.

In a strange twist of fate, my best friend, Shorty, was two years older than me, and he had been born in November, the same month as Allen.

It’s not a stretch of the imagination to believe I adopted Shorty as my older brother back then. Like Jerry, I had real brothers that I loved far less than I loved Shorty. Our relationship would be tested by this trip, but it would not be destroyed. And when we really needed each other, we would have one another’s back.

That’s what brothers do.

* * * *

The Big Epic Amazing Party continued despite the fact that one of its hosts and the central figure that inspired it were no longer in attendance. And it continued despite the Wrath of God thunderstorm raging outside that seemed intent on washing Dallas off the face of the earth.

It rained like a bastard. Rain came down in buckets. It rained cats and dogs. In buckets. But the epic party would not be denied. The only thing the rain did was keep everyone inside. No one in their right mind wanted to venture out in that downpour.

Why should they? It was warm and dry inside. There was food, and beer. Pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes, and beer. Whiskey, and beer. Vodka, and beer. Red wine, white wine, and beer. Quaaludes, and beer. And there was music!

Well there’s a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey
Love the one you’re with

Thank you, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. That was very good advice, and I took it. I mostly forgot about Shorty and Martha, and focused my attention on Randi, and on having as much fun as I could before the flood waters reached the sixth floor.

It rained like hell for at least two hours, and then it just rained. When the rain lightened, some of our guests decided to hit the road. I have no clear memory of when Phase One of our epic party came to a close, but at the end only four people remained: Michael, Hillary, Randi and me.

We sort of cleaned up, you know, threw stuff in the refrigerator, picked up abandoned glasses and plates, random trash. I checked the keg. I was sure it would be empty.

I was wrong. There was a lots of beer left in that keg. I know, right! How the hell was that even possible? And yet, it was. I pumped the taper to keep the pressure up, I didn’t want the beer going flat, and threw a half ton of ice on the keg to keep it cold. Then I turned off the lights in the party room and locked the door. Randi and I helped each other make it up the stairs.

The door to Michael and Hillary’s bedroom was closed when we returned to the apartment, so we tried keep the noise down, like there’s such a thing as a quiet, stumbling drunk.

“Where do you guys sleep?” Randi whispered loudly. The pillows we used as mattresses were easy to find, but where the hell did the blankets go? Oh yeah! Hillary put them in the closet!

I have no doubt half the stuff stored in the small closet came falling out with a crash when I opened the door. Randi came over to help me, and we laughed, not quietly, and kissed and kissed and kissed and kissed. We eventually extracted the blankets from everything else and shoved it all back in the closet to get it out of the way.

“I gottagottagotta amember not to open that door again!” I burped loudly. Randi shrieked! Yeah, we were quiet, all right.

“Oh, this is so…open.” Randi said when she surveyed the landscape in the living room. She had a point. Luckily, there was no longer a coffee table cluttering the space, so I scooted the far end of the couch out away from the wall a few feet, creating a semi-secluded space. I tossed several pillows into the space, and just like that, I had created a love nest.

“That’ll work.” Randi announced.

Home run!

I might kiss and tell, but I do not write Letters to Penthouse. The most I’ll say about this was there was a point in time when I wished I had saved a few of the condoms Raoul had so thoughtfully provided for me in Fort Sill.

I never went past a certain point if birth control was an issue.

Never.

It was the only thing I’ve ever been totally committed to and responsible about in my life. Yep, the Mother’s Curse would modify my behavior far more than all of the sex education classes I took in high school ever would.

“It’s okay. I’m on the pill.” Randi whispered in my ear.

Green light!

“Here, try one of these.” Randi offered me a ‘lude. I declined. “Well, then take half!” I agreed to that.

It has been written that Quaaludes enhanced sexual intensity and performance. Yeah, I don’t know about that. It has also been written that lions copulate approximately one hundred times a day when they’re mating. I can honestly state that neither Randi nor myself were lions, but we did make excellent use of the impromptu love nest I had created in the living room. I was actually still a little sore from my erotic wrestling match with Shelly, but not that sore.

* * * *

I woke up looking at the back of the couch. I was laying on a pile of pillows on the floor, and I was naked. But I knew how all of those variables had occurred this time, and that made me smile. I rolled over and found myself

Alone.

There are times when the emptiness deep inside your soul cannot be filled, no matter what you do to satiate that cavernous void, and this, was one of those times for me.

I missed Randi. I missed Martha. I missed Shelly, but I especially missed Maureen. We had broken up in May of  1975. I hadn’t seen her almost three years, and I missed her more than I missed Randi, Martha and Shelly combined. At that time, I thought she was the reason my soul was so inconsolably miserable, but the depth of my emptiness would far surpass her absence. And even if she had been present, it would’ve surpassed her ability to fill.

I curled up in a ball of spiritual pain, and cried. I mourned my losses, grieved over my heartaches, until I cried myself to sleep.

* * * *

It’s a good thing I didn’t have to respond to any emergencies when I woke up, like, you know, an actual flood. It had stopped raining. It was gray, and cloudy–just like the inside of my head. Michael and Hillary were in no better shape than I was. We slowly took turns taking showers. We slowly cleaned the apartment some more. Even the conversations I had with Michael and Hillary were slow. I’m not sure I ever completed a sentence before I ran out of the necessary energy to finish what I was saying. And just about the only thing I could say was, “Man. Was that a great party, or what.”

We ate leftover whateverthisstuffis for breakfast. I can’t remember if any of us felt any better after eating or not.

Shorty had not returned. I was still pissed off at him, so even if I was concerned, I wasn’t about to admit it. He was a big boy, he could take care of himself, even if he was in the foreign country of Dallas.

Besides, all he had to do was open his damn mouth and half of Dallas would’ve welcomed him into their homes, and the other half of Dallas would fight to take him into theirs. Shorty was all right. I kept telling myself that.

I think we all took a vote and decided the apartment was clean enough…and quit cleaning. Michael and Hillary laid on the couch. I mustered enough energy to go check on the keg and make sure she was safe and the beer was cold. The keg was fine. I could relax. I returned to the apartment and laid down on a pile of pillows in the middle of the living room.

We watched a black and white movie from the 1930’s or 40’s. For all I know, it was the same movie I had kind of watched with Raoul my last night on Fort Sill.

One person could lay on the couch comfortably, but two people the size of Michael and Hillary could not. They tried changing positions, slowly, but they eventually gave up and retired to their bedroom because they could both lay down on the bed comfortably. And more than anything else in the world on that dreary day in Dallas, all three of us were sorely in need of comfort.

I had recovered from my attack of transient global heartbreak. There was a lingering sense of loneliness, or emptiness, somewhere deep inside my soul, but it was quiescent now. I was feeling more exhausted than anything, and it wasn’t long before I fell asleep. I was awakened by the sound of someone knocking on the door.

“Fuckin’ Shorty’s finally back.” I muttered to myself, and heaved myself off the floor. It seemed like it took me an hour to walk ten feet to the door. I opened the door to let Shorty in, and those two guys in suits… don’t… look… like… Shorty…

Actually, they looked like cops. I somehow mustered enough energy to be surprised.

“Hi, how’re y’all doin’? I’m Detective Murtaugh, and this is my partner, Detective Riggs. We’re here to serve a warrant on one Mr Michael Schrödinger. Is there any chance that Michael’s here today?”

“And if so, could y’all have him come to the door, please.” the other detective added. “We’re here to arrest him.”

A Dark and Stormy Night, Part II

I had a strange thought when I went to bed last night. Anyone reading my last few installments has to be thinking, Jaysus! Was this guy ever sober? I mean, the only thing he writes about is getting drunk!

Yeah, I did spend a fair amount of time drinking, but I did other stuff, too. Like, smoke pot. So, there!

And I remembered something I had failed to mention about Dallas. I brought my camera. I took a lots of pictures while we were on vacay in Big D. Hillary, Michael, Shorty. The sales zombies. Martha, Martha, Martha. Randi’s tits. Hillary even took a picture of me.

I lost them when I moved in with Cynthia ‘Fatass’ Jamieson. But Shorty has a set. If you want to see them, contact him. That picture of me with my afro looking like a dandelion that’s about to blow away, is so great. As much as I would I end up hating Hillary, I couldn’t fault her on that photo. It was quite possibly the best picture anyone has ever taken of me.

* * * *

The Big Epic Amazing Party that I had conceived on the spur of the moment while talking to the angelic Martha as a means to hook up with her was hitting its stride. It was about 9:00 PM. At least thirty people were present in either the apartment or the spacious party room four stories below.

Good old rock and roll was playing on stereos. Shorty had tuned in the same radio station he had found on the stereo in the party room to the boom box in the apartment. There was food galore, booze beyond galore, weed and cigarettes being smoked, Quaaludes being sectioned and popped openly. As far as all of those things went, they couldn’t be wenting any smoother.

Everyone was having a great time. I was having a blast. I had been having probably the best time I had ever had in my young life, and this party was just the icing on the cake. I was drinking a beer on the balcony of Hillary and Michael’s apartment. An extremely beautiful and talented young woman was at my side, and she only had eyes for me.

I’ll tell you what, life rarely gets much better than that. And in one tick of the clock, all that changed.

A choir of angels started singing. As the door of the apartment opened to admit the angelic being that had made all of this conceivable, an heavenly light radiated from the other side of door that slowly illuminated the entrance, blinding everyone with its brilliance.

And Martha stepped into the apartment.

Martha was always beautiful, even when she was a disheveled, crying sales zombie, but that night–OhmyGod! If Helen of Troy had the face that launched a thousand ships, Martha of Dallas could’ve launched two thousand.

And Helen could never have looked as good as Martha did wearing a cowboy hat. She was darlingpreshadorbs, squared.

Everyone in the room had turned their heads to watch Martha’s grand entrance. Everyone but Shorty. He was standing by the door, totally oblivious to what was happening behind him. He had somehow fucked up and was standing exactly where I was supposed to be standing.

This had been my idea! Spontaneously planned when I gazed into Martha’s wishing well eyes and my wish had been that on this night, she would be mine, and mine alone. I was supposed to be standing at the door, not Shorty!!

Even after all these years, and all things that transpired through the decades–after all this time, I still want to rip Shorty’s liver out of his body and eat it in front of him before he bled out.

My best friend stood where I should have been standing, grinning like two village idiots. He finally realized everyone was staring at the doorway. He turned to see what everyone else was looking at, and almost knocked my perfect little Martha off of her feet. He grabbed her reflexively, and pulled her into his uncouth arms, and then he gave her a big wet kiss on the cheek.

The room erupted in cheers, like Shorty had just won the fuckin’ Super Bowl or something.

Everyone cheered! Except me. And Randi. She didn’t cheer either. She hated Martha.

I have rarely felt that deflated in my life, and I have had plenty of reasons to feel deflated over the years. The world around me, which moments ago had been bright, shiny and euphoric, had become darkness, dust and ruin.

Just. Like. That.

There’s no way I could not have looked anything except devastated, but I found a bleak smile somewhere inside me, and feebly flashed it at Randi. I fashioned my arm as an escort, and extended it to her.

“Shall we?” I asked. She hooked her arm in mine, and smiled. I walked over to offer my congratulations to Shorty. To the victor go the spoils. The race had ended before I got out of the starting blocks, and Shorty had won.

* * * *

 For anyone reading this that feels sorry for me right now, all I can say is Thank you. For anyone that thinks I was a goddamn idiot, all I can say is, You are absolutely correct!

I mean, throwing a party that would end up lasting three days on the offhand chance that I’d end up with Martha was almost as stupid as Shorty buying drinks for everyone at the bar for exactly the same reason. And there was such a simple solution to this equation that it surprises me to this day that I didn’t think of it at the time.

Except I’ve never been very good at math…

What I should have done was ask Martha out, you know, on a date. Just the two of us. Yeah, we’ll get a bite to eat, take in a movie… Then we could go back to your place… I’ll bet it’s darling. Just as darling as you! And then, you know, you could fuck my brains out…  Well, that’s what Jerry says you want to do! Did I mention that I have a bionic dick?

I mean, what woman in her right mind could resist an offer like that?

* * * *

I wish I could say that I have total recall of everything that happened after I had lost what seemed to be at the time, the most important race of my life.

Alas, I have trouble remembering what happened last week, and I’ve been sober for almost ten years. Dallas Daze took place almost forty years ago, and I doubt I had ten consecutive days of sobriety back then.

Here goes nothing…

I like to think that Martha actually apologized to me for screwing up my grand design of screwing her silly by stupidly ending up with Shorty, not me.

And even if she didn’t come right out and say it, the look of almost sorrow in her eyes when I greeted her said as much. That actually did happen, and I would end up taking a ton of consolation from that.

Shorty couldn’t have been more elated. I’m surprised he didn’t jump on the railing of the balcony and crow like a rooster. He had won the Martha Lottery, and he wasn’t about to let anyone, specifically me, steal his winning ticket.

In a very short amount of time, he grabbed Martha by the arm and they vacated the premises. Yep, he left our epic party–abandoning me, leaving me all alone– with roughly thirty people, one of whom was head over heels in love with me–plus, there was a ton of food and more drugs and alcohol than all thirty of us could possibly handle.

I mean, seriously, what a jackass!

And at the precise moment he and Martha left, a huge flash of lightning lit up the night sky. A crack of thunder that sounded like a explosion ripped across the city. And it started raining like unto the time of Noah and the Great Flood.

That actually happened, too.

Shorty had clearly meddled with the primal forces of nature, and there was going to be hell to pay. And as ridiculous as that might sound, it would end up being the truth.

Every. Word.

Dallas, Part V

I have become somewhat obsessed with this story. I hadn’t thought about it much in the last couple of decades, but it’s pretty much consuming all of my waking moments of late.

I kind of need to get this sucker out of my system, though I couldn’t tell you why. My first attempt at being a rich and famous author was focused on telling this story. All of it. I’m not going into anywhere near that much detail with this telling, and it’s still taking forever.

I know I told my brother, Bruce, the whole story once. We drank an entire case of beer by the time I had finished. And Bruce probably slept through the last two hours of my narration. It has always been a long story, and I’m trying like hell to make this very long and convoluted story shorter. But the worst is yet to come…

* * * *

Michael and Hillary came home from work Monday afternoon. Shorty and I hailed them from the pool. They smiled and waved, and we decided that was as good a time as any to inform our hosts they were hosting our Big Epic Party on Friday, seeing how they were in a good mood.

Who were we inviting? Just the people from work. And maybe some of the bikini babes Shorty and I had met by the pool. And anyone they wanted to invite. I mean, it was their place…

Drinks? Um, we’re getting a keg of beer. Some sodas. Maybe a bottle of whiskey…  And we still had weed!

Food? Sure. We could get a party tray. Or something. Somewhere. Probably. And chips. We had to have chips, and dip, probably. And we still had weed!

And when Hillary was satisfied, everything was cool. 😎  We had Michael at party.

The apartment complex even had a spacious entertainment room more than ample enough to hold all the people were planning on inviting to our epic shindig. This just kept getting better and better, except the being broke part, and not having any idea how we were going to pay for it part.

Michael and Hillary were in better spirits than they had been when I returned from Fort Sill. But that didn’t mean all, or anything for that matter, had been forgiven.

George, evil George, mean and icky George had won custody of the glass topped coffee table with the black wrought iron frame, and Hillary’s improved mood vanished the moment she saw it.

That table became the object of her hatred for George. That table had to die. And if it couldn’t be killed, it had to be severely damaged at the very least. Hillary changed clothes. We smoked a joint, and gathered around the table with dark intent, armed with one instrument of mass destruction.

A ridiculously small hammer.

We all took turns trying to break the glass top, but that plane of glass was almost an half an inch thick, and it was able to withstand our initial half-hearted blows. Neither Shorty nor I held any animosity toward the table, and we felt more foolish than anything when we took our turns smacking the table top with the hammer. Even Michael’s attempts at breaking the table top were pretty lame, and he certainly didn’t like George.

We tried breaking the glass table for at least half an hour without success. We were all giggling like schoolgirls. Michael, Shorty and I were ready to call it quits. We had hit it with our best shots, but the table took them all and laughed at us. That, was an insult Hillary could not ignore.

We had all been sitting on the floor around the table as we enacted our dark ritual, but then Hillary rose to her feet. She uttered a string of curses that would’ve rivalled anything Rose could have come up with, and smote the the table with the hammer full force, and a small section of the corner of the glass top flew free.

We were all surprised, even Hillary. She might have been more than surprised, but whatever it was she started feeling, she converted it back into anger. And satisfaction.

George might be getting the table back, but it wasn’t going to be pristine.

* * * *

We all got up early on Tuesday. We were all going to work. Shorty and I had flipped a coin. He would go with Michael. I would go with Hillary. And we would trade off the next day. Neither of us really wanted to work with Michael, and not because we didn’t like him. We did. But Michael didn’t work with Martha, and Martha made the world go ’round.

Shorty and Michael went to Bernie’s House of Carpets. Hillary and I went to Jerry’s Emporium of Telemarketing and Stuff. We were making the big bucks in Big D.

My life as Jerry’s bitch was okay, I guess. I’ve certainly had worse jobs. The sales team didn’t drop everything to talk to me. They waved and said hi, and kept on working. I invited everyone to our party, and everyone said they would be there. But that’s about as far as our interactions went.

It clearly wasn’t me that disrupted productivity at the office, so it had to be Shorty. That was my take. I think it was the way he talked. That Minnesota accent was as foreign as a British accent in Texas, and people couldn’t get enough of it. And, he could spin a fairly funny tale. We both had a lots of funny stories about our lives and the characters we knew.

However, I did have one work related perk that Shorty wouldn’t have that day. I got to see 💕Martha. 💕 Angelic Martha. 😇 Beautiful Martha. 😍 I love you, Martha!❣And she looked marvelous!

We exchanged greetings, and I especially made sure she was still coming to our Big Epic Amazing Party. On Friday. At Michael and Hillary’s.

Yes! She was!!

However, we both had jobs to do, and that was just about the extent of our interactions. Martha had to sell stuff, and she had been in a slump. She was fueled up on caffeine and Quaaludes, and she was hitting it hard. She just needed some good leads.

I had been tasked with mastering the Supply Room. It was a big closet at the end of the hallway past Jerry’s office, ten by twenty, maybe. It was full of boxes, bags, stuff and junk. It looked like a bomb had gone off it in. A big bomb.

I took everything out of the room, and swept and mopped the floor. I found some pallets in the underground parking garage, and put them on the floor, then organized the hell out of everything I put back in supply room.

I was done by eleven o’clock. Jerry just about had an heart attack.

“What do you mean, you’re done already!” Jerry shouted as he walked over to the Supply Room to appraise my work. “I told you to–”

Jerry was speechless. I smiled a very satisfied smile.

“Je-sus Christ! I can’t believe this! This. Is. Beautiful!”

“Thanks. Anything else you want me to do?”

“Yeah…” Jerry’s voice trailed off. He looked at me in an entirely different way. He rattled off a list of things, then started pulling random people over to look at the Supply Room. “Do you see this? Do you see this! This, is a goddamn masterpiece, that’s what it is! I will fire the first person that fucks this up! Do you hear me! Fire!!”

I spent the rest of the day impressing the hell out of Jerry. And Jerry spent the rest of the day annoying the hell out of everyone by telling them how fucking awesome I was. By the time the day ended, I was sure no one was coming to our party. Not even me.

Shorty had a good day with Michael. There was a building boom in Dallas, and Bernie had a lots of carpeting that needed to be installed. Michael was happy to have the help, and the company. He usually worked alone.

Our first work day in Dallas had been a success. We had made forty bucks, and we didn’t spend it on beer. It couldn’t have gone much better.

“I think Jerry’s gonna ask you to marry him!” Hillary teased me when we were all together at the apartment. Except for that part. Her teasing was good-natured, thankfully. But Hillary’s good mood would vanish quickly. George was coming over to pick up his furniture.

* * * *

I have to confess, I was a complete dick to George when he showed up. I taunted him like I was one of the Brownies in Willow. I taunted him like I was a French soldier in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

To his credit, George kept his head down, and did not respond to me. He was a much better man than I. He picked up his stuff, he had gained custody of more than just the maimed coffee table, but I couldn’t tell you what. George said something about the broken glass top of the coffee table, but he was in enemy territory and he had no back up. He collected his stuff as quickly as he could, and got the hell out of Dodge.

* * * *

I called my mom on Wednesday on my lunch break. Michael and I had flown through our first job, then drove back to the office to meet Hillary, Randi and Shorty outside her office. I had laid carpet for a couple months during the summer when I was in high school, so I knew what Michael needed without being told. We made a good team.

I went inside the office while everyone else waited outside, and used Hillary’s phone to call Mom so I didn’t have to call her collect. I think that probably surprised her.

Apparently, a wire money transfer wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, but Mom came through. She told me which bank to go. One hundred dollars was waiting there for me. Michael knew where the bank was, we went there after lunch. I gave fifty bucks to Shorty. We were in this together.

💖 Thanks, Mom. You were the best. 💖

The rest of the week was uneventful. Shorty and I were working stiffs. I think the only problem was I had been so efficient as Jerry’s bitch on Tuesday that Shorty didn’t have much of anything to do at the office on Wednesday. So Jerry spent half the day showing Shorty all the stuff I had done.

“Do you see that?” Jerry showed Shorty the Supply Room. “That, is a goddamn masterpiece! A masterpiece! I should have taken before and after pictures! No one fucks this up, and lives!”

Shorty spent the rest of the day disrupting the productivity of the sales zombies in the bullpen. They had a great day. They didn’t sell much, but they had the best day, ever. Hillary said her sides hurt from laughing so much.

The only person happy to see me in the office on Thursday was Jerry. I think I actually begged him to stop shouting my praises. Not even my parents loved me as loudly as Jerry did.

I didn’t ask if he had anything for me to do, I just did stuff. I cleaned the windows. Almost everyone in the office smoked, and there were no prohibitions against smoking indoors back then. When I finished, sunlight flooded the bullpen. Some of the sales zombies actually donned sunglasses.

Jerry simply nodded this time. I was sooo thankful.

I was able to spend some quality time with Martha on Thursday. Her sales slump had become a drought, and she was freaking out. She was crying and disheveled once more. Hillary and Randi tried to stop me as I headed for Martha’s desk, but I was immune to their black magicks that day.

I took Martha outside, and smoked a cigarette with her. I told her jokes and funny stories, and got her laughing. I gave her a little pep talk to get her focused. She even found the strength to flash a look of determination.

“You can do this. You’ve done it a thousand times. I believe in you. Now, get in there and make a sale!” And I gave her a little pat on the ass, for good luck.

I stood there alone in the underground garage, watching her cute little butt as she strode back inside. And I promised myself I would never wash that hand again.

Half an hour later, a shriek of exuberance reverberated out of the bullpen. Martha had made a sale! Her fellow sales zombies swarmed her to congratulate her. I stood just outside the bullpen, watching, and I made no movement to join them. Through the crowd of people that surrounded her, I could see Martha’s elated face. She had her eyes locked on me. Through the tears of joy that rolled down her angel face, she silently said, Thank you!

That memory is also filed in my Happy Box. I haven’t accessed that file in at least twenty years, probably longer. Good to know it’s still there.

* * * *

By Thursday afternoon, Shorty and I had almost two hundred seventy-fifty dollars between us. We could throw a big, epic, amazing party with that kind of coin. And we had almost an ounce of pot, too! We decided we’d work only half a day on Friday, if that was okay with our new employers and co-workers. We had a party to plan.

Yeah, that’s fine. We completely understand, our bosses said when we asked them on Friday morning. I invited Jerry and Bernie to the party. They said they’d think about it.

Michael and I were the A Team once more, and we finished the first job in record time. It was Friday. Shorty and I would be gone on Monday. Michael decided we deserved a treat. We went to a bar and had a couple of beers.

I didn’t spend as much time talking to Michael as Shorty did. They were both motorcycle guys, so they could talk for hours about bikes. I was not a bike guy. I knew they were the things with two wheels, right? And that was about the extent of my knowledge.

“Hey, it’s been surprisingly great having you and Shorty here. I wasn’t too wild about it at first, but you guys have been a real pleasure to have around.”

“I know what you mean. I had some serious doubts about this too, but hanging out with you and Hillary has been pretty much the most fun I’ve ever had. In fact, I’m not sure I want to go back to Minnesota.”

“No shit! Wow, it’d be cool if you stayed. Not with us…” Michael laughed. “No offense.”

“None taken.” We clinked beer bottles. I was going to miss this place, if I left. I had a pretty big decision to make, but first, I had an epic party to prepare.

Michael and I drove to Hillary’s office. We were meeting Shorty, Hillary and Randi for lunch. We walked to a nearby deli. I think we ate there frequently that week. I didn’t think anything about it at the time, but when we returned to the office, Michael walked in with us.

Hillary’s office had the atmosphere of a carnival that day. Shorty had been in his glory, and no one did a fucking thing that morning. Not even Jerry, and he didn’t seem to care that no one in his office was doing what they were getting paid to do. He had been laughing his ass off. Shorty picked up where he left off when we returned.

Now, I’m a comedian. Okay, I’ve always wanted to be a comedian, much like I’ve almost always wanted to be a prophet. It was one of the things I wanted back in my Dallas Daze. And I’m sure I was more than a little jealous of Shorty, who was killing it at the office.

“Oh, God! Stop it, Girtz! You’re killing me, man!” Jerry said. He had rejoined the audience after lunch, and was laughing so hard he actually had tears running down his cheeks. “Oh, hey, Marco! Come with me. I want to talk to you.” He clapped me on the shoulder, pushing me toward his office, and closed the door once we were inside. He offered me a glass of bourbon. I actually declined.

Jerry couldn’t believe it either.

“Man, I am gonna be so glad when you guys leave. I can start making some money again!”

“I might stay in Dallas.”

“What?!?”

“I’m seriously considering staying here.” I repeated.

“No kidding? What are your plans?”

“There’s a lot of stuff up in the air. I need a job, and a place to live. I can’t stay with Michael and Hillary.”

“You–you’re serious! What happened? Did you fall in love or something?” Jerry chuckled at the thought, then he became serious. “Martha! You fell in love with Martha, didn’t you!”

Was it that obvious?

“No! Nonononono! Not Martha! You need a good girl, like Randi. Fall in love with Randi, she’s fucking crazy about you!”

“What?!?” It was my turn to be confused.

“What? You didn’t know that? What are you, blind?”

I didn’t know what to say. I had no idea. Maybe I was so infatuated with Martha that I couldn’t see anything else. Plus, there was Shelly. I had been thinking about her a lots, even if it was because I was trying to put together the pieces of what really happened between us that night. Maybe she felt something similar to what I did, a sort of sacredness…  I like to think of Shelly as a virgin, and in a way, she was. Or maybe we actually had thrown water condoms at the Marines…

“I…don’t know what to say.” I finally said, for many reasons.

“Never mind. That’s not why I called you in here. I don’t care who you fall in love with. I called you in here because–because I wanted to thank you– to thank you for what you did, you cleaned up that closet, my supply…room…”

You know, I don’t think Jerry spent a lots of time thanking anyone for anything. This was the worst thank you speech I had ever heard, and Jerry looked so uncomfortable…

“Hey, Jerry. It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not! Sheila tells me I’ve gotta work at this, goddammit! Can you believe this shit? I’m a grown man! I’m successful, right? And I can’t even tell someone thank you without fucking it up!”

If there was something I could’ve said then, I had no idea what it was. I said nothing, and even now, I think that was the best answer.

“Look, the work you did around here, it was great. You need a job, you got one. And that’s a promise! But that other thing you did, that thing you did with Martha the other day. That, was beautiful. I was wrong about you, hippie. I thought you were a killer when I met you. But you’re no killer. You’re a good man, and I…I just wanted you to know that.”

Years later, when I had become a legendary psych nurse, I would understand the therapeutic value of silence. Back then, standing in Jerry’s office, I had no idea what I was doing, but I sensed what I wasn’t saying was my best course of action. And then I knew what to say.

“Thank you.”

“There! You see that! How do you do that!” Jerry was practically screaming! “I should hire you to teach me how to be, you know, fuckin’ gracious and shit! You want to be my teacher, hippie? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t call you that! Whaddya think? You wanna work for me?” Jerry was on a roll. “Listen! The other reason I called you in here for was this.” Jerry reached in his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. He flipped through them until he found a Benjamin. “I wanted you to have this, too. You earned it, and I know you could use it. Go ahead, take it. But don’t tell Girtz I did this! Hell, I should make him pay me for fucking up my office! Naw, I’m just kidding. But you listen to me. Find yourself a good girl. You’ll save yourself a fortune…”

I took the C-note and silently put it in my wallet. Jerry was quite a guy. I liked him a lot, and I can tell you this in all seriousness. That guy didn’t miss a trick. He saw everything, and everything he told me was true.

Every word.

* * * *

By the time I left Jerry’s office, I wasn’t sure my hearing would ever be the same, but I was positive of one thing. My powers of observation were nowhere near as acute as I thought they were.

I took a long, hard look at Randi, and my eyes locked onto her tits. Maybe that’s why I hadn’t noticed the whole her being head over heels in love with me thing. Well, at least that explanation made sense to me. I got Shorty away from his crowd of admirers so we could get moving on setting up Party Central. I think the sales zombies were actually cheering us onward. I made sure to make eye contact with Martha.

Promise me you’ll come. I said, silently

I promise! she replied

And Randi saw that. I know she did.

It would have to do. The only way I could insure that Martha would actually show up was to kidnap her…  I’m kidding. No, I’m not. I totally would have kidnapped her if that’s what I had to do.

Shorty and I headed for the garage and Hillary’s car. We were going shopping for the epic party! Michael was still in the office, and he disengaged himself from the crowd to join us. As we started walking down the hallway, I vaguely saw a human form walking up the hallway toward us. And then I saw who that someone was.

It was George.

* * * *

Shorty and I said goodbye to Michael in the garage. If he was bothered by the fact that he had just violated the restraining order George had filed against him, he hid it well.

He was a little bummed out that he wouldn’t have a partner for the afternoon, but other than that…

Neither Shorty nor I gave the seemingly innocuous event that had just happened so much as a second thought. I mean, George didn’t even acknowledge our existence. Nor did he even speak to Michael, so even if we had thought about it, we wouldn’t have thought it was a big deal.

We were focused on the party. Well, okay. I did have a few other random thoughts bouncing around in my head, but all I wanted them to do was stop!

A shopping we did go. First stop, a liquor store, for a keg. We had to have a whole bunch of beer. Everything else was optional. We got a thirty gallon keg. And a couple sleeves of plastic cups. And then some sodas. And a bottle of whiskey. Or vodka. Or something like unto that.

Then we stopped at a grocery store, probably, and bought chips and dips and snacks and stuff. And napkins. And whatever else struck our fancy as something we could afford. Money was no longer our overriding concern.

All I know for sure about our out of pocket expenses for the party was both Shorty and I still had money in our pockets when we were through. And I still had Benjamin safely tucked away in my wallet. Just in cases…

Hillary had procured the key to the entertainment suite at the apartment, and I had it in my pocket. The liquor store had given us an enormous plastic container to put the keg in. We set the keg up in the party room. There was an ice machine in the party room, so we wouldn’t need to buy any ice to keep the keg cold, or for drinks.

We tossed anything that needed to be refrigerated in the fridge in the party room, and we were pretty much set. We showered and changed clothes. All we had to do after that was wait for Martha, I mean, our guests to arrive.

Michael and Hillary came home. They were quieter than usual, maybe, but I only say this in retrospect. I’m sure I didn’t give much thought to how Michael and Hillary were acting at the time. Shorty and I spent the majority of our time tending to the keg, getting it to produce a stream of beer at the perfect rate of flow.

There was even a stereo system in the party room. Shorty dialed through the stations, looking for one that played good old rock and roll while I rolled a bunch of joints. Shorty was a gifted mechanic, but there were two things he couldn’t do with his hands. He couldn’t snap his fingers, and he couldn’t roll a joint to save his life. This was something only I could do.

* * * *

Our guests started arriving around 7:00 PM. The guys in the sales force were the first ones to show up. Free booze. It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Shorty’s cousin, Leroy, came. I have purposely kept him out of this story up to this point, or I’d be on Part X right now. Leroy was also an interesting guy. He had been in Texas for so long his Minnesota accent had been replaced by a smooth Texas drawl. He was a true urban cowboy.

Leroy was married to a cute Texas blonde. She was six months pregnant or so, and she didn’t come to the party. I know Leroy and she had visited Hillary’s office at least once and everyone at the office knew them, and all of them had fallen in love with her.

A couple of the bikini babes we had met at the pool dropped in, but they weren’t wearing bikinis, which was disappointing.

The redheaded hippie chick and her hippie dude boyfriend came. They looked like the King and Queen of all the Hippies. They thought the party was groovy. They were totally grooving to the music. And they loved the fact that I had pre-rolled a bunch of joints.

Bernie actually came to the party, but he took Michael into the bedroom and they stayed there for a long time. They eventually rejoined the party, but Michael pulled Hillary into the bedroom and then they stayed there for a long time. I figured they were having sex, and left it at that.

Bernie was tense, a little too agitated, maybe. I’d be able to pick up on little things like that that once I became a psych nurse, but at that time I didn’t think much about it. Bernie relaxed after drinking a couple beers. He even told a couple jokes. I have them filed in my Joke Box, but that’s so cluttered it’d take me the rest of my life if I ever tried to reorganize it, so…

Bernie didn’t stay long. He left before the party really got started

A bunch of people I had never met walked in. They were Hillary’s friends from Detroit. She never told us she had invited anyone. But they were probably the people I enjoyed meeting the most at our epic party. I can’t remember any of their names, but they were a blast!

I lit up a few joints when they arrived and passed them around. This party was starting to become a party!

There were maybe thirty people at the party by this time. Almost everyone brought something to eat. Before long, we had a smorgasbord. And everyone brought more booze, and Quaaludes.

We wandered back and forth from the party room to the apartment and back to the party room. My memory of this isn’t completely clear, but I think the party room was on the second floor, so you had to be prepared to handle at least four flights of stairs.

That in and of itself limited the migration for most of our guests, but Shorty and I probably ran into ourselves coming and going. We were here, then there, shuttling pitchers of beer, snacks and ice from Point A to Point B.

This was our party, and we made sure there was plenty of everything available for our guests, no matter which room they were in. I probably needed to take another shower by 8:30, which happened to be when Randi arrived.

“Hi.” a voice whispered in my ear. My heart skipped a beat. Her voice sounded exactly like Shelly’s. Now that I think about it, I’m surprised I hadn’t noticed that sooner. Maybe it was the whisper…  If Randi had been able to mimic Shelly’s cute little giggle, I’m not sure how I would’ve reacted. I turned to the sound of the voice and saw…tits.

Well, they were wearing a tight red blouse, but I knew those tits, and thanks to Jerry’s repeated warnings, I knew they were in love with me.

“Hi there! I replied, seeing Randi, maybe for the first time. She. Looked. Radiant!

Randi was seriously smoking hot that night. I poured her a beer. I asked if she needed anything. She said she wanted some fresh air, and asked if I would join her on the balcony. Why certainly! I’d love to! And I meant it. I asked her about her day, her son, her parents. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, and that is a testament to just how gorgeous she looked.

As busy as I had been busing beer and food and ice. As much as I had been enjoying meeting all of Hillary’s friends from Detroit, there was something always in the back of mind, something that made my head reflexively turn every time I heard someone enter the party room, or the apartment.

That something was a someone, and that someone was Martha. 

As keyed up as I was about this, as much as I had been anticipating this, and let me tell you something, I didn’t look forward to Santa with as much anticipation as I did to Martha’s arrival. I had even tried to position myself to be near the door at all times to give myself an edge over Shorty. I was not going to let him beat me to the finish line this time. Despite all that, I was totally caught off guard when I heard a chorus of angels burst into song, and that could mean only one thing.

💕Martha💕 had arrived!

And that’s when I realized where I was, and a crowd of about fifteen people were standing between me and the door where the angelic object of my desire was about to make her grand entrance.

And standing right there, mere feet from the doorway–just stupidly standing there like a goddamn idiot, was Shorty.

Dallas, Part IV

I’m the oldest son in my family. I had an older brother, Allen, but he got dead when he was very young.

Despite what you may have heard, there are only two causes of death. SIDS and GIDS. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Gradual Infant Death Syndrome.

SIDS is the unexplained death of a child less than one year of age. It claims about 2500 lives in the United States each year. GIDS is the Number One cause of death of everyone else, every year.

My brother got dead from SIDS. I’m going to got dead from GIDS, someday. Hopefully, not today. I have stuff to do.

* * * *

I certainly had stuff to do when Shorty and I were vacationing in Dallas. We were as good as broke, and our flight home wasn’t for another week. We were fucked, so to speak. Two men in their early twenties could burn through eighty bucks in a New York minute, whatever that translates into in Dallas time. Hell, Shorty had burned through one hundred fifty bucks in about four hours.

On Monday morning, I did what any broke twenty-three year old man on vacation in a foreign land would do.

I called my mom. Collect.

I didn’t tell Mom I had smuggled an half pound of weed into Texas, nor that Shorty had sold most of it, then blew the profits buying drinks for everyone so he could get into Martha’s pants. I can’t remember what I told her exactly, but I’m sure I lied, a lots.

I’ve stated before that I am apparently a very convincing liar. Well, my mom had learned if my lips were moving, I was probably lying. And she wasn’t dramatically moved by my tale of woe. I needed one hundred dollars immediately, or I was probably going to got dead from starvation. She could wire the money to a bank in Dallas, it’d be easy!

“Let me think about it.” was her noncommittal response.

“What does that mean?”

“Call me in two days.” and she hung up the phone.

“What did she say?” Shorty asked. He had been standing next to me while I talked to Mom.

“Well, she didn’t say no.”

“Man, we’ve got to make some money, brother.”

There was a novel idea. Why don’t we get, you know, jobs! We jumped in the car and drove to Hillary’s office, and asked Jerry if we could talk to him. He waved us into his office.

“We’ve run into a cash flow problem.” I said.

“Welcome to the club.” he replied. “What do you want, a loan?”

“No. We want jobs.” Shorty answered.

“What?!?”

I don’t think Jerry was expecting that. I explained we didn’t want to be on the payroll, but we’d be willing to do odd jobs around the office. Or we could help Michael install carpeting. We had already done that! But now we needed to be paid for our services. We’d work cheap, for say, twenty bucks a day.

“You guys are serious!” Jerry said. I’m not sure I can describe the look on his face. We nodded. “Well, ain’t this a bitch.” We looked at each other, then nodded at Jerry again.

“Let me think about it.” he said. “Wait out there, but stay out of the bullpen. No one does a fucking thing around here once you two yahoos show up!”

“He didn’t say no…” Shorty whispered. No, he hadn’t, but he hadn’t said yes either. We just might find a way to survive in the Big City…  We tried to stay away from the bullpen, but someone spotted us, and pretty soon no one was doing a fucking thing. I had never noticed that before. I wanted to disappear because we really needed to stay on Jerry’s good side for one week, but I forgot all about that when Martha smiled at me, and I beat Shorty, getting to her before he did, for the first, and last, time.

Success! I was enthralled being in Martha’s angelic presence. I’m pretty sure heavenly light radiated from her. I would’ve crawled fifteen miles through broken glass, with two broken ankles, just to let her pee on my toothbrush. That’s how much I was in love with Martha.

I don’t remember much of our conversation, except the part where I invited her to the Big Party at Michael and Hillary’s apartment on Friday. Yeah, Shorty and I have had such a great time, and we’ve met so many wonderful people, like you, Martha. Oh, you’re just about the most amazing person I’ve ever met. Sure, you are! Anyway, big party. You have to be there. You will! That’s great!

Yep. I had totally lost my mind. And I couldn’t have cared less. I would’ve robbed a bank to pull this off, if I had to.

“Hey! I thought I told you two to stay out of the bullpen!” Jerry shouted over the chatter in his sales office. “Zombies! Back to work! You two, my office!”

Maybe Jerry knew more than I thought. Everyone jumped. Hillary and the rest of the sales force went back to work. Shorty and I followed Jerry.

“You see my dilemma, right?” Jerry said to me. “Seriously, I don’t think I can afford to have either one of you around here. All of my girls want to to fuck your brains out, which I can’t understand for the life of me.”

I missed the import of that statement at the time.

Shorty and I shrugged our shoulders. It wasn’t our fault we were irresistible to women.

“But I like you guys. I talked to Bernie. He’s okay with one of you guys working with Michael. You can lay padding and clean up, stuff like that, okay?” We nodded. “Twenty bucks a day, just like you asked, all right?”

“Yeah, that’s cool.” we agreed.

“And I can probably find something for the other one. I’ve got a few odd jobs around here I haven’t been able to get anyone to do, but I don’t think I have enough work to last the week..”

“Jerry, anything you can do for us will help a lot.” I said.

“Okay. Show up tomorrow morning. Now get out of here before I change my mind.”

Shorty and I went back to the apartment to enjoy the last day of our vacation. We were sipping beer poolside and soaking up the sun. I thought about telling Shorty about my trip to Fort Sill, and Shelly, and the booze cruise on the range roads, but all I said about it was it was good to see my Army buddies again, and left it at that.

And this might sound a little weird, but my time with Shelly had become almost…sacred…to me. I didn’t want to demean it. And the rest of it was too complicated to explain. Kind of like this story…

So I told Shorty about the Big Party we were having on Friday instead.

“What? Are you nuts? We don’t have any money! How the hell are we going to pay for it?”

I could’ve been a dick. We could’ve had a ton of money, if someone hadn’t blown it all! But I didn’t go there. It would all work out, I had no doubt. And it was going to be totally worth it. Martha was coming to the Big Party.

And I am totally spending the night with her, we both thought. It. Was. On. We clinked our beer cans together, and smiled.

The Big Party! Friday night!! Martha!!!

It was going to be epic!

Back in the USSR

I departed from Dallas with Raoul on a Friday afternoon, heading for Oklahoma and Fort Sill, a place I was sure I’d never return to once I left. And yet, there I was…  The trip was uneventful. It was about a three hour drive from Dallas to Lawton. I talked a lots; about my life since leaving the Army, and how I was seriously thinking about staying in Dallas and not returning to Minnesota, ever. Raoul drove and listened.

Raoul could not get over my appearance. I did look a lots different–long haired afro and a beard. He couldn’t wait to show me off to the few people on base that still knew me. There weren’t many left.

Fort Sill didn’t look any different to me. The buildings were still familiar to my memory, and somehow foreign at the same time. It was an odd sensation. The Dental barracks wasn’t any different. It was a bland two story wooden building, ten rooms on each floor.

It was a full house of twenty guys when I lived there back in 1975. There were maybe an half a dozen guys living there in 1978. Raoul’s room was at the far end of hallway from the main entrance on the first floor. He was the sole occupant on that end of the building. Everyone else was living in the rooms nearest the main entrance on either the first or second floor.

There were a couple guys I knew living in the barracks, but I can’t remember their names. They were FNG’s about the time I left, and I didn’t spend much time getting to know them, but they welcomed me back as if we had been friends forever. They couldn’t get over my appearance either.

Everyone wanted to know what it was like being a civilian. It’s weird how the military brainwashes you into thinking you won’t survive once you get out. I assured them I had readjusted to civilian life, and they would, too. We sat in the dayroom, drinking beer, reminiscing about the past, waxing philosophic about the future. Every guy in that room looking at me had one similar thought: I am totally doing that when I get out of the fuckin’ Army!

After about an hour of talking to the guys, Raoul announced we had stuff to do. We headed down the hall to his room. He made a couple quick phone calls, and we waited for his mystery guests to arrive. He wouldn’t tell me whom he had called, but whomever he had called were on the way over. While we waited, he showed me the room he had set up for me.

The rooms in the barracks were identical, but you could decorate your room any way you chose, within reason. I had to change my design at least once because the Army didn’t approve. I recognized the carpeting in Raoul’s room. It had once been mine. Some of the posters in his room had also once been mine. I didn’t take much with me when I was discharged. Raoul had a couple of lounge chairs and lamps, and a pretty big console TV in his living area. A bookcase was centered in the passage between the living room and the bedroom. It was very cozy.

Each room had a living area and a sleeping area separated by a partition wall. There was a single bed and a sink in the sleeping area, and a shared bathroom between the the adjoining rooms. The bathroom had a toilet and a shower. My room was on the other side of Raoul’s bathroom. The only thing in it was a bed, and a side table, but the bed was made.

“Thanks for going all out for me.” I said.

“You’re not moving in! You’re only going to sleep here, if you get any sleep this weekend!”

“But I like what you did with my stuff.”

“We raped your room ten seconds after you left. I had to pull rank on the FNG’s to get the stuff I have. Part of you is in every occupied room in the barracks.”

I did have a pretty cool room, back in the day. I can’t remember if we went to look at it or not. We might have. Raoul had keys to all the rooms. I know my room was unoccupied, it was the third room from the stairway on the right on the second floor. Only the first two rooms on either side of the hallway were occupied on the second floor.

He opened the drawer of the bedside table in the room he had set up for me. There were six condoms inside.

“You never know when those will come in handy.”

I can’t remember if Raoul had been a Boy Scout or not, but he had been in the Army for a very long time. He was prepared for anything. If the Russians had ever attacked Fort Sill, Raoul would’ve been ready. He probably had a tank hidden under his bed.

We heard loud footsteps, and laughing and shrieking in hallway. Raoul smiled.

“Amigo, the putas are here!”

Puta is Spanish slang for slut, or whore. The putas Raoul was referring to were three WAC’s from my Army days. They were possibly the only three WAC’s left on base that knew me. And they had primed themselves for my party by drinking a lots of beers before they arrived.

Gloria, LaVerne and Shelly.

Gloria was recently divorced. She had been unhappily married when I knew her, and she generally looked miserable. She didn’t look miserable anymore! She had long, light brown hair, pale blue eyes framed by oval wire rimmed glasses, and she had lost at least fifty pounds. She was short and sleek. She looked great!

“Marky! Is that you?!? OhmyGod!” She ran to hug me.

“Oh. My. God.” LaVerne said from the doorway. She was a light skinned African American. We had the same hair. She broke into a grin and pushed Gloria out of my arms.

“Jesus Christ, Rowen. Is that you?!?!” Shelly said as she walked in. “I didn’t think you could get any uglier…  Actually, all that hair hides your ugliness.”

“Good to see you, too, Shelly.”

Shelly was a lesbian. She was my height, short, dark brown hair and eyes. She was an hot little package, and I had had the hots for her back when I was in the Army, but I didn’t have a vagina, so…  I was surprised to see her. She was pretty much the last person I expected to see. Back when we had our Get to Know You party at the barracks that the FNG’s had organized to meet the WAC’s, Shelly didn’t come. I would learn she had recently broken up with her girlfriend, so she had nothing better to do. She looked great, too.

“Man, I can’t get over the new you!” Shelly said, running her fingers over my afro, then all the girls were touching my hair and my beard.

“Hey, what about me?” Raoul said.

Gloria and LaVerne giggled and started messing up his hair. But Shelly stared at me is if I were a creature she had never seen before. And then she kissed me. And I kissed her back.

* * * *

I woke up the next morning looking at the bottom of the bedframe to my left. I was laying on a mattress on the floor. The mattress that had been on the bed was missing. It was probably the mattress I had been sleeping on, but I couldn’t figure out why I had taken it off the bed. Or why I was naked.

I rolled to my right, and rolled into Shelly. We were laying on two mattresses on the floor that had been placed next to each other to make one larger bed. And I wasn’t the only person that was naked. Shelly opened her eyes and giggled softly.

“Hi.” she whispered.

“Hi!” I replied, surprised. “Excuse me, but I have to pee.”

“Warm up the seat for me, please?”

“What?”

“Sit down, and warm up the seat for me, okay?” She smiled and kissed the tip of my nose.

“Oh, okay.”I said, once I understood what she wanted. I found my glasses and stumbled to the bathroom. Shelly giggled softly again. She had a really cute…giggle. I had gotten a glimpse of her body under the blankets when I got up. Shelly was cute all over.

I sat down–the toilet seat was cold, and peed. And I tried to put the pieces of the previous night together. I flushed the toilet and peered into Raoul’s room. Mattresses covered his floor too, and sprawled across the mattresses were Gloria, Raoul and LaVerne, in that order. They were sleeping in a heap. Clothing was strewn everywhere. And I think Raoul had a pair of panties on his head. Probably Gloria’s.

Shelly rushed into the bathroom, wrapped in a sheet. She lifted it above her waist as she sat down. I left so she could have some privacy, still trying to remember what got happened. I couldn’t remember much.

We had been drinking beer and smoking joints and cigarettes in Raoul’s room, listening to music, dancing, laughing. And kissing. There was a lots of hugging and kissing going on. I think I even kissed Raoul…  I sort of remembered that.

“Hi!” Shelly whispered, rushing back to bed and diving under the blankets. “I’m freezing!”

I was sitting on the edge of the box spring, staring at the sink.

“You look surprised.” Shelly said. I nodded, distractedly. “Actually, so am I. You’re first man I’ve ever slept with. Aren’t you cold?” I guessed I probably was, even though the radiator was emanating a fair amount of heat, and climbed under the blankets with Shelly. She snuggled close to warm up. She felt very warm to me.

“I was your first?” I asked, trying to take that in.

“Uh-huh. I’ve always liked girls.”

“Yeah, me too. Does that make me a lesbian too?” Shelly laughed, her dark eyes twinkled brightly.

“I don’t know, but if you didn’t have that beard you could probably convince a lot of girls you were one.”

“This is probably gonna sound a little weird, but how was it, your first time with a guy?”

“This is probably gonna sound a little weird, but it was amazing!”

I had to smile to myself when I heard that. And then I had to make sure it would be an experience I’d remember.

* * * *

I had a lots of Saturday mornings like that, not the making love to a lesbian part. I’m pretty sure that only happened once. The trying to remember what happened the night before, and putting together the pieces of my life as they drifted into my consciousness part. I had way more of those experiences than one person should have had.

There’s probably more of my life that I have little or vague recollection of than I have total recall of. That was perhaps the most disconcerting part of the early stages of my sobriety. I started remembering stuff–random images popped into my head when I least needed them–but all I got was pieces, never the complete picture. I had no idea where that piece fit into the puzzle of my life; what came before, what followed. I was like unto an amnesia victim, maybe…

Raoul and his girls eventually woke up. Shelly and I listened to them moaning and groaning and laughing as they untangled themselves from the blankets and made their way to the bathroom.

I was feeling pretty damn good about myself. Shelly was so content she was absolutely glowing. That memory of her is forever filed in my Happy Box, and I know where to find it.

Raoul and I walked the girls out to their car. Gloria and LaVerne looked bleary-eyed and pale. But Shelly smiled and glowed, and blew me a kiss as they drove off.  It was the last time I ever saw her.

* * * *

Raoul and I decided to take a booze cruise after cleaning up ourselves and Raoul’s room. Well, we didn’t do a lots of cleaning. We emptied the ashtrays, and policed empty beer cans. We left the mattresses on the floor, just in cases.

Raoul said the mattresses were my idea. It wasn’t safe for the girls to drive, as drunk as they were. There were a lots of empty rooms and available mattresses…  And the girls were drunk enough to agree. Even Shelly.

We went to a little diner just off base for breakfast, bought a twelve pack at the store next to the diner for the road, and headed out to the range roads on base.

The range roads led out to the firing ranges on Fort Sill. There was a lots of artillery training at Fort Sill, and the ranges were where all the training took place. Artillery fire is incredibly loud, so the ranges were placed as far from civilization as possible by design. There was probably five thousand miles of paved roads crisscrossing the outlying areas around the base, leading out to the ranges.

I liked the range roads. They weren’t greatly travelled, and once you learned your way around, you could get almost anywhere quicker on them than driving the main surface streets. There were even unmanned gates you could use to get into Lawton.

I’m sure those are long gone…

There wasn’t much to see on the range roads. There are some very scenic places in Oklahoma, but not so much out on the ranges. The terrain was hilly, covered in scrub brush, weeds and wild flowers. The vegetation was mostly brown and dead that February, awaiting Spring, and rebirth.

I was feeling reborn that morning, and couldn’t stop smiling, no matter how much I tried. I was driving, Raoul wanted to kick back and relax. Also, my new appearance was incredibly distracting to him, and he glanced at me frequently, as if he was trying to figure out who I was.

We were driving on a road neither of us had ever been on before, and we had put a lots of miles on our cars traveling the range roads.

“You look real happy, amigo.” he said.

“I am.”

“No, I mean, really happy! What happened with you and the lesbiana last night.”

Some guys don’t kiss and tell. I’m not one of them, obviously. The only real problem was I had no clear memory of what actually happened the previous night.

“I looked in the drawer, amigo. Four condoms were missing. Four!” Raoul said.

“Yeah, well. I think we filled a couple of them with water and threw them at the Marines.”

“Yeah, right! You fucked that little girl four times! In one night! You’re a fucking machine!! You must have one of them bionic dicks or something, amigo!”

Yeah, I’m still not sure about that, but I had noticed something while I was taking a shower. My groin was sore, and tender. And my penis was bruised. It was actually black and blue! I did tell Raoul about that. I may have even showed him my battered penis later…

I think Shelly had tried to kill me. That last erotic wrestling match in the morning was almost more pain than pleasure.

Almost.

“Me? What about you! You banged two girls! You, are the true fucking machine!” I countered.

We laughed a lots, and drank a toast to our penises, those brave little soldiers. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a sign that said, BUMP. I looked down the road, but couldn’t see anything that looked like a bump. And then the road… disappeared.

Seriously, it just vanished. The car fell into a pit about ten feet deep. The sides had a slight slope, and possibly looked something like unto this:

\___/

We flew through the air like stuntmen in a movie. We might have even been screaming. The car ricocheted heavily off the bottom of the pit, then bounced up the other side, and we were back on the road again. I hit the brakes and swiftly came to a stop.

“Whatever you do, don’t turn off the car!” Raoul’s voice said. I couldn’t see him. He was sprawled upside down on the floor. In the backseat. Spilled beer drenched the interior of the car. Raoul and I were soaked in beer.

“What the fuck was that?!?” we both shouted, and got out of the car to check it out.

I tried to find a dry spot on my shirt to clear the beer off my lenses so I could see again. The “bump” we had hit was a trench roughly ten feet deep, and maybe twenty feet wide. Raoul figured it was used to teach guys how to drive tanks.

I marvel about that event to this day because we probably should’ve gotten dead that day. And if we hadn’t been so incredibly lucky, we would have been. If we had been moving any slower, we would’ve fallen into the trench with no hope of ever getting out because we weren’t driving a tank. We would’ve been stuck there until someone came along. For all I know, we could be there still. If we had been moving any faster, we would’ve crashed headfirst into the far side of the trench and that would have killed us to death instantly. But we were moving at the perfect speed to bounce in and out of that deep sonuvabitchin’ crevasse without gotting dead.

We were stunned.

“My car!” Raoul said, and ran to look it over, swearing feverishly in Spanish as he ran. Another miracle! The car had sustained no external damage. We couldn’t even find any damage to the undercarriage!

We were so surprised and happy, there was only one thing to do. We popped open a couple of beers and drank another toast. While we were standing around in awe and wonder at our incredible good fortune, it started raining. We didn’t even care.

We laughed, and asked each other repeatedly, Are you okay? Did you get hurt? and laughed harder. Neither of us had so much as a scratch. We stood in the rain, letting it rinse the beer out of our hair and dilute the smell of beer in our clothes. When we were suitably wet, we climbed back into the car and turned the heat up.

Raoul drove. I don’t think he wanted me hitting any more bumps. And fortunately, there were no more bumps to hit. We found a gate, and headed for the nearest liquor store. What else do you do when you don’t got dead? We kept the car running until we got back to the barracks, just in cases. It started right up again. Yep, that was a miracle for sure.

We changed into dry clothes. I did some laundry, there was a washer and dryer at the barracks. We drank beer and smoked until we fell asleep watching TV, some black and white movie from the 1930’s or 40’s. Then eventually crawled to the mattresses on the floor and slept until Sunday morning.

* * * *

Well I woke up Sunday mornin’, with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had one more, for dessert
Then I fumbled through my closet, for my clothes and found my cleanest dirty shirt
And I shaved my face and combed my hair and, stumbled down the stairs to meet the day

Thank you, Kris Kristofferson.

That’s how I felt that Sunday morning, February 25, 1979. I’m not sure you could call this blessed, but I rarely had serious hangovers back during my drinking days. I might have an headache, but I rarely vomited.

I think I did have a beer for breakfast that day. And another for dessert. By the time Raoul woke up, I was half drunk already. I was heading back to Dallas that day, and Raoul would be driving, so…

We moved all the excess mattresses into my room, then went to the little diner again, then headed for Dallas. I have no recollection of this trip. But Raoul safely delivered me to Dallas and Michael and Hillary’s apartment.

Raoul didn’t want to come up to the apartment. He just wanted to get back to the base and sleep.

“It’s been great, man.” I said, hugging him. He was one of the best, truest friends I’ve ever had.

“If you stay in Dallas, let me know, amigo. Maybe Shelly and I will come visit you.”

It was the last time I ever saw him.

* * * *

The mood in the apartment was noticeably different when I walked in. Hillary’s ex-boyfriend, George, had won his lawsuit against Hillary for their disputed possessions. Did I know about the lawsuit? I wondered. If I did, I hadn’t given it much thought.

Michael was sullen and aloof, and numbed out by ‘ludes. Hillary was livid! She was pissed beyond reasoning, and she was just getting started.

And to top it off, most of the pot I had smuggled into Texas was gone!

“Oh, I sold some of it while you were gone.” Shorty explained. “You brought so much of it, and I was running low on cash.”

I was initially irritated, but I got over it quickly. There was no way I was going to try to smuggle any dope back to Minnesota, so Shorty had actually done me a favor, and we still had enough weed to keep us high for the reminder of the week. I was running low on cash too, so I asked Shorty for half the cash he made selling my pot. He got a kind of sheepish look on his face, and handed me a twenty dollar bill.

“Where’s the rest of it?”

“I kinda spent the rest…  We went out, and I started buying drinks…” I would later find out Martha was one of the people in the group Shorty went out with, and he wanted to greatly impress her.

Shorty had sold about five ounces of weed while I was gone. He had to have made at least two hundred bucks from his transactions, and he gave me twenty bucks. I shook my head, wondering if I should kill him now, or wait and make it look like an accident. I had about fifty bucks in my wallet. Shorty had less than me. And we weren’t leaving until the following Monday.

Eight more days, not much more than eighty bucks between us. It was going to be a long week.

Dallas, Part II

Shorty and I flew into Dallas on a Friday or Saturday, I think. I know it was the weekend. We spent a couple days getting to know our host and hostess. Michael liked to wear jeans and plain black T-shirts. He kind of reminded me of The Fonz. Hillary was a diva. She had enough clothes for twenty people. Michael actually took us into their bedroom to show us her closet. I don’t know how she managed to get that many outfits into that one small space.

Our first Monday morning in Dallas, Shorty and I went to Hillary’s office. She wanted to introduce us to her friends and co-workers. We rode in Hillary’s big green sedan. It was a Dodge or a Chrysler, I think. Michael drove a big white two seat panel van, much like the van I drove when I was a supply driver in the Army. The van belonged to Michael’s uncle, Bernie, who owned the carpet company Michael worked at.

Small World Factoid: Hillary’s boss and Michael’s boss were best friends.

There were about a dozen people that worked at Hillary’s office, but I remember only two. Randi and Martha. Almost everyone in Hillary’s office was a transplant from Detroit, including Hillary. So was Michael, for that matter. I think the only one who wasn’t was Martha.

Randi was a pretty, very well endowed brunette with short curly hair–it was so curly it was almost an afro. The only reason I mention her hair is because I had an afro, and a short, thick beard at that time. Randi and I would’ve made a very cute couple. I think Randi was a single mother, so the last thing she would be interested in was a casual hook up with me, no matter how darlingpreshadorbs we would’ve looked together.

I had asked my sister, Denise, to perm my hair a couple of months earlier. I had promised myself I wasn’t going to cut my hair for three years after I got out of the Army, but my hair was straight, fine and flyaway, and I wanted something with a little more body. I wanted hair like Randi’s, but ended up with hair like Julius Irving. I hated it, until my dad saw my new hairdo.

“Your hair looks like a goddamn dandelion that’s ready to blow away.” he said, in disgust. And then I loved my hair.

Martha was a stunning Texas blonde. She was easily one of the most beautiful women I’ve met in my life. She was petite and perfectly packaged; immaculately groomed, not one hair out of place. She looked like an angel, and I fell in love with her immediately.

Shorty and I couldn’t stop staring at her. Randi and Hillary hated her. Martha liked to party and have sex with random guys. She was essentially everything I was looking for in a woman at that time. I was totally hoping we’d become close friends while I was in town.

I remember Shorty and I were each drinking a beer as Hillary showed us around and introduced us to everyone, which is probably why I can’t remember most of them. And most of them were guys, so…  There was another gal that worked at Hillary’s office. She was a redheaded hippie chick, and she was in relationship with with some hippie dude. That’s probably why I can’t remember her name.

I seem to remember a sense of tension in the office. There were sales quotas to be met and commissions to be made by the salespeople. There was a lots of nervous chatter as the day began.

Then Hillary’s boss strolled in, like unto a king.

His name was Jerry. And he wanted to meet Shorty and I. He took us into his huge office, poured us a glass of bourbon from his bar, and sat down behind a desk about the size of Rhode Island. He then proceeded to interrogate us for an hour or more. Interview doesn’t seem appropriate to describe the gravity of our first meeting. He may have even taken notes, or he could’ve been doing paperwork, I can’t remember for sure.

Jerry kind of knew Shorty. They certainly knew of each other. They had talked on the phone a couple of times, and Hillary had told everyone about her trip to Minnesota to visit the crazy mechanic. Jerry seriously wanted Shorty to buy more stuff from him, and worked that into the conversation a lots. But what Jerry seemed to be most interested in was our experience with guns. Did we own any? Did we go hunting? Had we killed anything? Ever? Lately?

Neither Shorty nor I were sportsmen. We didn’t hunt animals, though we probably could have if we needed to. Neither of us owned a gun, but we had a lots of friends that did. And I had qualified as  a marksman, back when I was in the Army. The only shooting I did anymore was with my camera.

Oh, you were in the Army! Did you go to Nam? We’re you in combat? Did you ever have to kill anyone?

“Are you looking for a hitman?” I asked, in jest. A look of shock or surprise raced across Jerry’s face, and just as quickly disappeared.

“Me? No, I’m an honest businessman.” Jerry replied, and changed the subject. When he was sure he knew everything about us he needed to know, he invited us to his house for dinner. “You seem like a couple of nice guys, and you’re down here on vacation. Let me call my wife to let her know to set a couple extra plates at the table.” He gave each of us his business card, writing his home number on the back while he talked to his wife. “Call me if you need anything. Any time.” We put his cards in our wallets.

Hillary gave us the keys to her car, and we drove back to her apartment. Shorty and I spent the rest of the day hanging out by the pool drinking beer, chatting it up with the poolside bikini babes working on their tans, and playing Frisbee. I brought a couple discs to Dallas with me. I could throw a damn Frisbee back then. I think we even talked a couple bikini babes into playing Frisbee with us. I loved watching them run around and jump up and down.

At around 3:00 PM, we drove back to Hillary’s office. We had a dinner date with Jerry. The office was loud and chaotic. Most everyone was upbeat and cheerful, high on adrenaline. Shorty and I would discover they were all high on something else as well: Quaaludes. The sales force in Hillary’s office popped them like they were M&M’s.

The only person in the office that wasn’t upbeat that afternoon was Martha, who looked like she had been standing in an hurricane for an hour, then dragged behind a truck down a gravel road for a few miles. She was crying into the phone, mascara running down her angel face à la Tammy Faye Baker. Her hair was disheveled and looked like a rat’s nest. Shorty and I couldn’t stop staring at her for completely different reasons this time. We started to walk over to her desk to, you know, offer some words of comfort and support, and ask if she wanted to go have sex in the backseat of her car. That’d probably make her feel better…

Randi and Hillary appeared out of nowhere, stopping us in our tracks. They gave us a look that froze the marrow of our bones, we backed away from Martha’s desk, slowly. Randi and Hillary secretly smiled at each other. They were enjoying this.

Jerry strolled into the Bullpen, that’s what he called the Sales Office. It was a huge room, filled with desks, chairs and telephones. No cubicles, nothing to separate the desks or provide even a hint of privacy. Satisfied with what he saw, he asked if we were ready to go.

I can’t remember what kind of car Jerry had, but I remember he didn’t drive. He had a chauffeur. We followed Jerry’s car through rush hour traffic in Dallas for maybe an hour, heading out to one of the suburbs. The houses started getting big, then bigger.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Shorty asked.

“Uh-huh. Jerry must be rich.”

We finally arrived at Jerry’s mansion in a neighborhood of other mansions. I had been to the homes of some of the dentists I worked with when I was in the Army. They lived in really nice houses. Jerry’s domicile made them all look like trailer houses. There were six or seven banana trees, twenty feet tall, growing in the living room. Real bananas were growing on them. The cathedral  ceiling soared probably another twenty feet above the tops of the trees.

“We were wrong. This guy is fucking rich!” I whispered to Shorty.

Jerry introduced us to his supermodel wife–I think her name was Sheila–and his two young sons, then took an immense amount of joy giving us a tour of his home. There were rare Italian marble countertops in the huge kitchen. Gold plated faucets and hardware in the bathroom. Jerry spared no expense when he built his castle. Even his garage was nicer than half the places I’d called home. He had an exotic custom built sportscar in the garage that he had driven exactly once.

“I got a goddamn speeding ticket! I can’t drive the fuckin’ thing, it goes too fast!” he laughed.

He led us upstairs. The master suite was the size of a bowling alley. The shower in his bathroom was large enough to accommodate five Planet Zablotnys. Shorty and I were totally impressed. I think both of our mouths were open in awe.

“Do you mind if I ask how much it cost to build this place?” I asked.

“Yes, I do.” Jerry replied. “Go ahead and guess.”

“A million dollars.” Shorty said.

“I think it’s closer to two…” I added. Jerry nodded, but he never actually told us how much he spent.

“Wow. You must sell a helluvalotta stuff.” Shorty and I both said.

“I’ve done all right.” Jerry replied. His face was beaming.

We had a bourbon at Jerry’s bar, he drank with us this time. I had been in bars that weren’t stocked with as much booze as Jerry had in his house. We ate a delicious meal with Jerry’s family while his wife quizzed us about our visit. She was also curious about how much we knew about guns.

Sheila was a raven haired goddess. Her hair was long and flowing, and framed her oval face like an avatar of midnight. She had dark eyes, and porcelain skin. I was mesmerized by her, and had to remind myself not to stare at her. I focused on the food on my plate, and then I had to remind myself to chew the food in my mouth before I loaded another shovelful.

Jerry interrupted her, telling his wife he had already gone over this subject with us.

“They’re good guys. They’re here on vacation. Leave ’em alone.”

“That’s all?” Sheila asked us.

“Yeah, that’s all.” I said, trying not to talk with my mouth full. The stew she had made was savory and delicious. “It’s still ten below zero in Minnesota. We’re pretty much in love with the weather here.” I was pretty much in love with Jerry’s wife. I think I was surprised she didn’t have a chef, then I wondered if she needed an assistant. I’d be willing to peel her potatoes…

I started quizzing Sheila about her life. I figured it was only fair. Sheila and Jerry were from Detroit, so they knew all about winter weather, and wanting to escape it. I was trying to figure out if Sheila was interested in having an affair with me while we were in town, but couldn’t figure out a way to tactfully ask her that in front of her husband.

Sheila didn’t have to work for a living, so she had other pursuits. She managed Jerry’s household, and did volunteer work in the community. She was working her way up the hierarchy of the high society housewives of Dallas. Sheila didn’t seem to be especially happy or fulfilled, but she had a lots of other perks and benefits in her world. I couldn’t feel bad for her, no matter how much I tried.

Jerry’s boys were another matter. I can’t remember their names either, but they were around eight and six years old, respectively. They giggled all through dinner. They loved listening to Shorty speak, and asked him a million questions. He sounded like the guys in the movie Fargo.

“How come you don’t talk like that?” they asked me.  I think they laughed at me because I was probably the first hippie dude that had ever been inside their house.

“Ya mean like this, then? Yah, you betcha!” I said, breaking out my rural Minnesota accent.  Easiest laugh I’ve gotten in my life.

After profusely thanking Sheila for a delicious meal, Jerry, Shorty and I retired to the bar for more bourbon and cigars. Cuban cigars, of course. I had a pretty good buzz going by that time. Shorty and I had been drinking beer all day, and Jerry was generous with his liquor. Shorty didn’t care for bourbon, so I probably drank his whiskey, too. He sipped on a beer.

“What’s the deal with all the questions about guns?” I asked. If I hadn’t been so lubricated, I probably would’ve been a bit less direct. I liked Jerry, and I didn’t want to do anything to offend him, especially once I met Sheila.

“You seem like good guys, so I’ll tell you, but you have to promise me you won’t say a word of this to Hillary. Or Michael.” Jerry said, after a moment. We promised. He paused for a short time before speaking, wondering if he could trust us. “You shouldn’t have come here.” he finally said.

“You invited us here!” Shorty said. I wasn’t the only one under the influence.

“Not here. Dallas!” Jerry said. “Jesus Christ! Are you guys going to be able to drive?”

“Yeah, we’re like this all the time. You were saying…”

“You shouldn’t have come here. And be careful with Hillary. She’s dangerous.”

“Hillary? She’s my friend!” Shorty replied, shaking his head.

“Listen to me. She’s not your friend. You guys are walking through a minefield.”

“What?” Shorty asked.

“We’re in trouble.” I translated for Shorty.

“Hillary and Michael are good people. I like them.” Shorty said. Dogs aren’t as loyal as Shorty. It’s one of the things I admire about him, but it’s a quality that many people have taken advantage of.

“Michael’s a putz. The only reason I put up with him is because he’s Bernie’s nephew, and Bernie and I go way back. We both started out with next to nothing in Detroit, and we’ve supported each other every step of the way. I love that guy like a brother, more than a brother! I have a brother, and I can’t stand that sonuvabitch!!”

“If Hillary’s so dangerous, why do you keep her?” I asked.

“What I do is my business, not yours,” Jerry snapped. I was momentarily afraid I had gone too far. “But the truth is, she’s the best salesman I’ve got. She got you to buy something, didn’t she?” Jerry said to Shorty, and he laughed. Shorty was hardly Jerry’s best customer.

I couldn’t get Jerry to explain exactly why he thought Hillary was so dangerous, or why he thought we were packing heat, but there was no doubt he didn’t trust Hillary, or Michael, any further than he could throw his house.

My head was spinning for a couple reasons when we decided it was time to leave. We said our goodbyes and thanked Jerry and Sheila for their hospitality. And we then we thanked Sheila a couple of dozen more times for the meal. It was really good. Jerry walked us out to the car.

“Are you sure you guys are going to be okay?” he asked. “You’ve both been drinking since eight this morning.” It was around 8:00 PM.

Alcohol had a random effect on me back then. Sometimes I could drink all day and not feel overly impaired. Other times, two beers would have me reeling from lamppost to gutter like unto a skid row bum. On that day, I was feeling great, until the last two glasses of bourbon.

“Yah, sure,”Shorty replied. I think Jerry got a kick out of the way Shorty talked, too. He smiled and clapped Shorty on the back. “Just tell us how to get the hell outta here and back to the highway. We’ll be fine once we find that.” Jerry gave us directions that we immediately forgot, and we took off.

“What do you think about this?” I asked Shorty.

“I think I should’ve peed before we left Jerry’s.”

Shorty had entirely missed the intent of my question, yet somehow managed to come up with the correct answer. He wasn’t the only one with an uncomfortably full bladder.  We drove down the street, trying to remember Jerry’s directions, and ended up in a cul de sac. At the end of the cul de sac was the largest house I had ever seen in person.

If Jerry’s house was a mansion, this place was the Taj Mahal.

We were lost, and our bladders were beyond full. We drove out of the cul de sac and tried again, ending up in the same cul de sac a few minutes later. We tried again, taking the opposite turns out of the cul de sac we had taken the last time, and ended up in front of the Taj Mahal once more.

We tried again, taking random turns when an opportunity presented itself, and ended up in front of the Taj Mahal for the fourth time. By that time, our bladders were about to burst.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna piss my pants in about thirty seconds.” I said.

“I’m right behind you, brother.” Shorty said, and put the car in Park. “I hate to have to do this, but I’d hate to piss my pants even more.” We got out of the car and started pissing on the front yard of the Taj Mahal of Dallas.

The porch lights came on, the front door opened, and a little old guy came running towards us.

“Hey! What are you guys doing there!” the old guy asked, then he said, “Hey!! Stop pissing in my yard!!!” even louder when he saw what we were doing. “Stop! Or I’ll call the police!!”

“We are the police.” I said. There was no way I could’ve stopped peeing then without causing serious harm to myself, and it was the first response that popped into my head.

“What?” the old guy said. He had run the mile and half from his front door to the street, and stood about five feet from where Shorty and I were defiling his meticulous yard. The old guy clearly wasn’t expecting that answer. And we sure as hell didn’t look like cops.

“We’re not cops,” Shorty said. “Don’t listen to him, he’s drunk.”

“What??” The old guy’s voice had lost some of its anger.

“That’s right. We’re hitmen.” I said. Shorty and I continued to piss like racehorses.

“What!?!” the old guy said. He wasn’t angry anymore. He sounded more confused than anything else.

My flow of urine was starting to ebb, and then it stopped. I shook a couple drops of pee off of the tip of my penis, and zipped up my fly. I took a quick look and saw Shorty was still going strong. I needed to stall the old man a bit longer, so I extended my hand to the little old man, and smiled, real friendly-like.

“I’m really sorry about having to piss in your yard and all, but I don’t think I could’ve waited another ten seconds, man. By the way, you have a beautiful house. I can’t imagine a nicer place to toss a whiz, can you, Shorty?”

“Nope. It’s probably the prettiest place I’ve ever taken a leak in my whole life.”

“Thank you.” the old guy replied, then recoiled in disgust. “I’m not going to shake your hand! Get away from me!!”

Shorty finally finished, and zipped up his fly.

“Yah, thanks, man. I had to pee so bad I could’ve cut metal.” He also extended his hand. The old guy shook his head and took a step backwards. Now that we didn’t have our dicks in our hands, we might pull guns on him. After all, I did tell him we were hitmen…

“Well, now that you’re done, you can get off my property, or I really will call the police.”

“Yeah, really sorry about this,” I apologized again. Shorty also apologized, then he got a bright idea.

“Hey, can you tell us how to get back to the highway? We’ve been lost in here for about the last half hour…”

The little old guy mumbled to himself for a minute, then actually gave us directions. Armed with this knowledge, and feeling ten pounds lighter, we made it to the highway and laughed all the way back to the apartment, forgetting all about Jerry’s warning. We relived our relieving experience, and how beautiful Jerry’s house and wife were.

I would remember Jerry’s warning in the morning, but Shorty completely forgot about it. We never discussed it again, which is probably a real shame.

Then again, I don’t know if it would’ve made any difference in the long run…

Dallas, Part I

It was February of 1978. My good friend, Shorty Girtz, was flying down to Dallas, TX for two weeks. He was going to visit a friend of his named Hillary.

Hillary was a telephone salesperson, and she had coldcalled Shorty’s service station one day hoping to sell him something. The company she worked for sold all kinds of stuff. It was kind of the precursor of Amazon.com, maybe.

Shorty loved talking on the phone. He and Hillary hit it off and became friends. They talked to each other frequently, almost every day, I think. Shorty invited Hillary to come visit him, and Hillary accepted. She flew up to Minnesota in August or September of 1977, and in return, she invited Shorty to visit her in Texas.

I had met Hillary when she came up to Minnesota. She was attractive, taller than me or Shorty. Come to think of it, Shorty was taller than me. Hillary had long black hair, a decent body, and she liked to party. We hit it off. All of Shorty’s friends liked her, except Shorty’s girlfriend, Robin.

You know what? I think that’s why Robin went out with me when I started dating the Banana Split Girls in September later that year!

Shorty asked me if I wanted to go to Dallas with him. I asked him where we were going to stay. We would stay at Hillary’s apartment, so we wouldn’t have to pay for lodging. I thought about it for about five seconds and said, “Yeah, sure. I’m up for that.” I put in my two week notice at work and prepared for a trip to Dallas.

I was getting tired of being an orderly at the nursing home anyway…

I didn’t need to do a lots of preparing. I bought a half pound of weed, and called my buddy, Sergeant Raoul Sanchez, to let him know I was going to be in Texas. I got out of the Army in July of 1977.  Raoul was still in the Army, and was still stationed at Fort Sill. He would drive down to Dallas to meet me while I was in town.

I didn’t tell Shorty I was bringing a half pound of weed with me. I didn’t want him freaking out. But I had a perfect solution. I had a Mamiya Sekor 35mm camera and a metal Copal camera case. It looked like a metal briefcase–the kind spies and secret agents carried. I removed the big telephoto zoom lens, put the big baggie of weed in the big leather lens case, and locked it up. If airport security didn’t do a lots of snooping around in my camera case…

Robin drove us to the airport. She was very quiet during the trip. She was anything but happy about what her boyfriend was doing. She kissed us both goodbye, and charged me with taking care of Shorty while we were in Big D.

I was a little nervous at the airport, but just a little. I had learned a lots about transporting drugs when I was in the Army. And the first rule is Don’t panic. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much the first rule of everything.

I was pretty sure the airport security guys wouldn’t be too attentive when they checked my camera case. I mean, who smuggles dope to Texas from Minnesota? If you’re going to smuggle dope, it’s the other way around. And I was right. The security guys barely noticed us. Once we were through Security I told Shorty what I had done. I was right to keep him in the dark because he totally freaked out.

“You did what?!?” he hissed. We were walking to our gate. I turned into one of the bars and ordered a couple shots of whiskey.

“Relax. If I was going to get busted, it would’ve happened back there. We have nothing to worry about now.” I had checked my suitcase, but my camera case was my carry-on bag. I wasn’t letting it out of my sight. Or grasp.

“I can understand you bringing a little weed, but a fuckin’ half a pound! We could go to prison for that!!” Shorty said. I hailed the bartender for a couple more shots.

“You afraid of flying?” the bartender asked.

“No, he is.” I replied, nodding toward Shorty. The bartender poured him a double. I gave him a nice tip.

Our flight was uneventful. We took off from Minneapolis, where the temperature was probably -10°. We landed in Dallas where the temperature was probably in the mid-fifties. Waiting for us at DFW airport was Hillary.

And her live-in boyfriend, Michael.

“You didn’t tell me she had a boyfriend!” I whispered to Shorty.

“She didn’t tell me she had a boyfriend!”

I was having second thoughts about this whole Dallas trip, but it was a little late now. Well, if this thing fell apart, I could always call Raoul. He would drop everything and come get me if I asked him to. We could go hang out with him in Oklahoma as Plan B if we needed to…

Michael and Hillary took us to a Friday’s® near their apartment. We ate, drank a few beers and played several games of pool. I’m a mediocre pool player at best. Shorty was probably less than mediocre. But we played pool and told jokes, it was a good ice breaker.

Michael was a carpet layer. The company he worked for was right next to Hillary’s office. That’s how they met. Michael was a tall, skinny guy with long curly black hair. He was a handsome guy. He had moved in with Hillary about one month earlier, after Hillary had broken up with her previous boyfriend, George.

I didn’t know anything about Hillary’s complicated lovelife, nor was I much interested in hearing about it. Shorty knew all about George from the almost daily telephone conversations he had with Hillary, and he knew all about their acrimonious break up. However, he didn’t know that Hillary had hooked up with Michael. Nor did he know the true depth of hatred that existed between Hillary and George.

I wasn’t paying much attention to the chatter. I wasn’t too wild about the live-in boyfriend thing. I mean, Michael seemed like a decent guy and all. Maybe this vacation thing was probably going to be okay. At least we weren’t freezing our asses off in Minnesota…

We eventually went to Hillary and Michael’s apartment. It was in a new-ish complex designed for young urban professionals. It was filled with hundreds of singles, and at least half of them were women. The apartment we would all call home for the next two weeks was on the sixth floor.

I really liked the whole lots of single women thing, but…  I still wasn’t sure about this situation.

Once in the apartment, I opened my camera case and produced a very large baggie of weed.

“Wanna get high?” I asked our hosts.

“I wasn’t too sure about this thing when Hillary told me about it, but I think this is gonna work out okay.” Michael said. He had a big ol’ Texas sized grin on his face.

I was glad to hear I wasn’t the only one that thought this was kind of a fucked up mess, but I didn’t say anything. I did breathe a sigh of relief, and smiled at Shorty and winked.

I had just hit a grand slam.

We had gotten through that mess.

There were so many more to follow.

Dancing in September

Before I became a married guy, I was a single guy. I dated a lots of girls before I got married, generally one at time, but in September of 1978, I dated three girls at once.

Pat Levinski was a blonde. Sandy Evan was a brunette. Robin Wolfe was a redhead. Put ’em all together and you have a banana split. They were all living in Rice, MN, which is a small town about halfway between Little Falls and St Cloud on Highway 10.

There’s a saying that goes, If nobody knows the trouble you’ve seen, you’re not from a small town. I should’ve remembered that. In retrospect, I’m surprised now that none of them told the others who they were going out with back then.

My best friend at the time was Shorty Girtz. He was the owner/operator of a gas station in downtown Rice. Shorty’s station was the de facto gathering place of all young potheads living in the Rice area, and that’s where I met my three girlfriends.

I know I’ve said I was somewhat blithe of scruple prior to becoming a nurse, and there’s nothing that illustrates that fact as clearly as this story. Pat and Sandy were best friends, and my cousin, Danny W. Long, was kind of dating Sandy. Robin was a friend of theirs, but more importantly, she was dating my very good friend, Shorty. I had no moral conflict about dating all of them, not even Robin. Or Sandy. And maybe I wasn’t the only one with questionable ethics…

Small World Factoid: another one of my very good friends, Don Nelson, also dated Robin. Just not at the same time Shorty and I did. Well, not that I know of anyhow…

On the weekends, I liked to go out to the Little Rock Ballroom, just outside of Rice. It was set on Little Rock Lake, hence the name. They served cheap beer, they had live bands on Friday and Saturday nights, and the largest dancefloor in Central Minnesota. I loved drinking and dancing a lots back then. So did Pat and Sandy, and they could dance. I was a pretty good dancing guy back then, but those girls put me to shame.

I fell in love with both of them. Robin was a good dancer, but I think what drew me to her was her sophistication. She was easily the classiest woman in Rice.

I asked Pat out first. I probably took her to a movie in St Cloud. Then I asked out Sandy, and I probably took her to a different movie. And then I took Robin to yet another movie. There was a lots of hugging and kissing afterwards, but none of my relationships with the Banana Split Girls would progress to the level of the couple in the car in the woods that Don and I saw on our excellent canoeing adventure.

For roughly three and a half weeks I went out with one of my three girlfriends every night, or every other night. Even I needed to sleep every now and then. A movie, dinner and a movie, drinks and dinner, dancing and drinks, just drinks. Whatever they were up for, so was I. I was living the high life with a different gorgeous gal almost every night. I was pretty sure I was in heaven.

I went to work everyday at 6:00 AM. I put in my eight hours, then I’d go home and call my girls to see what they were up to, shuffle the deck and cut the cards, and the winner is…  We’d make plans for the evening, and away we would go.

There was only one downside that I clearly remember. My playboy lifestyle I was exhausting. I probably wouldn’t be that tired again until my wife became chronically ill and I lived at two hospitals.

I’m thinking now I also had to be broke because all that wining and dining and movies and gasoline had to be expensive, even at 1970’s prices. I was working as a long distance operator at the phone company in Little Falls, so I certainly wasn’t making a six figure salary. Looking back, I figure I was maybe making around five to six grand a year.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. So the saying goes. I found a way. There’s another saying, All good things must end. And so it was with me and the Banana Split Girls.

It was near the end of that magical month of September. I had gone out with Robin. I don’t remember where we went, or what we did. I was taking Robin home, and we decided to drop in at one of the greasy spoon dining places in Rice–it doesn’t seem fair to call it a restaurant–to get something to eat so we’d have a lots of energy for hugging and kissing.

We had eaten our entrees and were sharing dessert. Robin wanted a piece of pie. She must have had a sweet tooth craving or something. And guess who walked in? Pat and Sandy!

They took one look at me, one look at Robin, and turned around and walked out. And that was how my brief career as a player in the dating scene in Rice came to an end. Neither of them would go out with me again. Neither would Robin, for that matter. She decided she couldn’t date two guys that also happened to be good friends, and she chose Shorty over me.

At the time, I was probably a little bummed out that my playboy lifestyle came to such an abrupt end, but I was also relieved. I could go back to drinking beer with my guy buddies, who didn’t expect me to buy them all their drinks, and buy them dinner.

And I could go back to sleeping again at night. In some ways, that was the most fortuitous piece of pie I’ve ever had in my life.