Chapter 03: Dear JohnbySlirpuff©
Chapter #3 Dear John
'Dear Steve, I know you won't want to hear this, but I've found someone I think I have feelings for. I didn't mean for it to happen, it just did. I've been so lonely since you've been gone and although your letters helped, it just wasn't the same. His name is Keith and he works with me. Steve, it just started out as someone to have lunch with and then progressed to someone I could talk to and confide in about how I was feeling. I told him I was waiting for you and he said that was ok because he already had a fiancé. I don't know when it happened but one night I told him how I felt about him and Keith said he felt the same way about me. Steve, you've got to believe me, I never cheated on you before this; it just happened. He's going to break the news to his fiancé soon so we can be together. Please be careful, you still mean the world to me.'
At least I made it totally through Ann's letter this time. I folded it back up again and put it into my top pocket. I still had about an hour left before we landed and even though I was tired I started getting anxious. This would be the first time home in fourteen months. Ann was right about one thing, letters were ok in a pinch but the real thing was oh so much better.
When I had hit the San Diego airport I was dressed in my newest uniform. I purchase my ticket to Minneapolis and had about three hours before the flight left. We'd been warned about confrontations in the airports but besides the Hari Kristinas beating on drums I didn't see any problems. They had a USO in the airport and a donut and coffee really hit the spot.
"Coming or going?" a guy in an Air Force uniform asked me.
"Going home on a three week leave," I said with a huge smile as it was finally starting to sink in.
"Where were you?"
"Nam," was all I said.
"See any action?"
"Naw, worked in an office, never even fired my rifle," I told him grabbing another donut.
"You're lucky man. I heard a lot of horror stories about what's going on there. That's why I joined the Air Force; I didn't want to go over there."
"I hate to be the bearer of bad news, there are a lot of Air Force personnel over there. Most are stationed around the Da Nang airport, but they're there." I didn't want to be the one to bust his bubble but I figured he'd better get his head out of his ass now instead of later.
"Well, glad you made it back in one piece; where're you headed?"
"Minneapolis Minnesota; that's where I'm from. I've got nine brothers and sisters waiting for me."
"Wow, talk about a large family; let me guess, Catholic right?"
"You got it."
"Word of warning, they just kicked out a group of fucking hippies about a half hour ago. They were yelling shit like baby killers and other things at us when we got here. One of them spit on an army staff sergeant and he almost ripped the guy's head off. Airport security dragged them out, what a bunch of assholes. They don't know shit other than what they see on the news. They don't do crap like that over there do they?"
"As I said, I just worked in the office during the day and drank my fill in the club at night. Never had to worry about all the other shit going around me." I didn't know this dude from Adam and wasn't about to discuss what had or hadn't happen over there; I just wanted to go home.
So, here I sit in a quiet and dark plane. We'll be landing in Minneapolis at about five o'clock in the morning. Like Lassiter, I was coming back unannounced but unlike him, I already knew there was a problem on the home front.
When we landed I felt it in my stomach as I looked out the window. It was the end of April and still cold, I was thankful I hadn't packed my coat. I grabbed my duffel bag and stepped outside the terminal to a cold wind whipping through the covered parking garage. I pulled up the collar on my coat as I felt the chill down my neck; this was one thing I hadn't missed. I remember after graduation, we went up north to a buddies' parent's cabin. We planned on water skiing and having some fun with our girlfriends; we got snow flurries. We still had fun but never took the boat out.
"Need a cab?" the guy in the first of a long row of cabs called out. I Guess I did.
"Home on leave?" he asked making small talk.
"Yeah, three weeks."
"Where you coming from?"
"You stationed there?" he asked.
"Yup, been there for the past fourteen months," I replied now getting tired of all the questions.
"You're lucky you didn't go to Viet Nam. I see a lot of those guys coming home, one way or another," he added. I knew what he meant, I just didn't want to think about it any more; I was finally home.
Much to my dismay we shot the shit all the way to my house. I was tired, he was bored, and so it went for the next forty-five minutes.
"Twenty-one bucks," he said turning around. I gave him a five-dollar tip as he pulled my duffel bag out of the trunk. "Looks like everyone is still asleep, don't they know you're coming home?"
"I guess I kind of forgot to tell them," I said now with a shit-eating grin on my face. He left me standing there on my driveway pondering my next move.
The hide-a-key by the back door was still there and the house was dark and quiet as I stepped into the kitchen and closed the door. I put my bag down and took a deep breath. Nothing had changed. Everything was exactly the same, just like the morning I left. It was as though I'd gone out on a date and come home after everyone had gone to bed. The only difference was my mom wasn't waiting up for me this time.
With ten kids my mom's hands were always full. The only time she ever had time to herself was in the evenings when everyone had gone to bed. She would sit on the couch, with that ugly end table lamp on, and read both daily newspapers and any new magazines. However, the one thing she never did was go to sleep when one of her kids was out on a date; no matter how late it got. I got a rude awaking when I stayed out all night with a couple of my buddies. I came home to find my mom still on the couch, light on and dead asleep. Needless to say I didn't do that again. Well, not without telling her first.
I thought about making coffee, but decided instead to check the refrigerator and have a bottle of soda pop. Two pieces of cold ham and a bottle of RC cola hit the spot. Fifteen minutes later I met my brother Roger when he came downstairs.
I was still sitting at the kitchen table in the dark when he walked in and turned on the overhead light. He jumped and I smiled.
"Hello little brother," I said smiling. He wasn't very quiet.
"Holly shit," he yelled out giving me a big hug and began talking a mile a minute. I caught about every third word but soon my other brothers were downstairs making more than a little noise. That prompted my dad to walk out from his bedroom, in his boxers and tee shirt, to tell everyone to hold it down because their mother was sleeping.
He didn't even notice me at first but when he did, he smiled and walked over and gave me a big hug. That was one of only a dozen times I ever saw him show any affection. As I said before, my dad was a real hard ass.
"Why didn't you let us know, I would have picked you up at the airport."
"I thought this would be a lot more fun," as the rest of the clan was now up and talking really, really loud.
"Kids," my mom called out standing in the kitchen doorway wearing that old blue robe and dirty pink fuzzy slippers on her feet. She was about to say something else when I stepped forward.
"Hi mom," is all I got out before she was on me with tears in her eyes. She hugged me before finally letting go and slapping me hard on the arm.
"Stephen, why didn't you let us know you were coming home?" She only called me Stephen when I'd done something wrong.
"I thought it would be a nice surprise," I said now rethinking my motives.
"Well, you're home safe that's all that matters. Are you hungry?" a typical mom question.
We all sat around talking non-stop as I was barraged with a million questions all at the same time.
"Kids get ready for school," my mom shouted breaking up our family get together. "He'll be here when you get home, he's not going anywhere," she announced looking at me. Dad was already dressed for work and everyone ran up the stairs to get ready.
"Stop by work later and I'll take you to lunch," my dad said pouring a cup of coffee and buttering a piece of semi-burnt toast. That was the same breakfast he ate until the day he died, a cup of black coffee and one piece of toast.
"I need a shower and a shave and I hope I still have a few clothes left." Having five younger brothers I can only guess what was left in my closet.
"You can wear your uniform if you'd like," he replied. Then it dawned on me, dad wanted to show me off.
"All right, see you about eleven thirty." That brought a smile to his face. He left for work, my brothers and sisters went to school or work and I was left alone with mom. I was more tired than I thought.
"Does Ann know you're back?"
"Mom, no one knows I'm back," I replied.
"Ann called me about seven weeks ago," she started to say before I interrupted her.
"She sent me a letter," I said not looking up at her. "I just finished reading it on the plane this morning."
"Well, she called me three days ago and asked if I'd heard from you. I told her no I hadn't and she made me promised to let her know if I got another letter from you. You stopped writing to her didn't you?"
"Couldn't see the point anymore."
"Well, when you get the chance call her. I think something has changed or at least something's going on with her." I told mom I would when I got around to it; which could be in three weeks.
I washed up and took my car to my dad's office. He was busting at the seams as he reintroduced me to everyone I already knew. We went to lunch, he had a drink, I had a beer and as always we only said a couple of dozen words between us. I guess he was just glad to have me home.
I crashed for a couple hours in the afternoon after finding I only had a couple of items left that even fit me in my closet. I changed and just hung out after leaving word with my buddies that I was home and alive.
My only aunt and uncle, on my mom's side, brought their family and my grandma over that night and we had an impromptu welcome home party. I answered a hundred questions and avoided a million others. My best friends John, Craig and Jim came over just after seven. They had dinner with us and we were gone by eight-thirty. I thought my mom might say something about not staying out too late but she just smiled at me and told me to have a nice time.
"Asshole, why didn't you tell anyone you were coming home?" Craig asked.
"Well if you would have written me once in a while I probably would have," I shot back at him.
"Shit man, I sent you four letters and besides I was busy finishing school."
John told me that he'd gotten home last week and had only two weeks left before he had to report back. I asked him how he liked being stationed in Okinawa. I'd spent a total of three days there coming and going but never even made it to the downtown area, but I heard it was wild.
"It was just like a eight to five job after the first month. I went off base most nights and hit one club or another but there were about thirty other clubs and massage parlors in just the downtown area. I found myself a cute little slant eye girl that thought I was going to marry her and take her stateside. She tried to cut me wide deep and often when I told her I was rotating without her and don't say a fucking word to Jenny. She thinks I was true blue the whole time." He always was an asshole.
Craig and Jim asked if I'd called Ann yet. Why was everyone back peddling or stepping around the issue? Didn't anyone have the balls to come right out and say she was cheating on me? Finally Craig spoke up saying his girl friend had seen her.
"Randy saw Ann with some guy a couple of months back at the Three Circle Drive Inn. She pulled up next to her, just to say hi, and saw that she was going at it hot and heavy in the front seat. I guess Ann got all embarrassed and Randy drove off. Sorry Steve."
"No big deal. As they told us in boot camp, Susie Rotten Crotch, as they called everyone's girlfriends, was probably fucking your buddies before your plane even landed," I said laughing. "At least Ann waited for about nine months." However, I was still pissed inside but would find out whom and why before I left, one way or another.
"You see much action over in Nam?" Jim asked grabbing a couple of brews out of a cooler in the back seat.
"Some," I said taking a long draw off my cold beer as I remembered all the warm ones I'd drank over the last year.
"Well?" Jim asked again.
"Like I said, I saw some action now and then."
"You kill anyone?" John asked.
"A few," I said trying my best to change the subject.
"What was it like? Did you shoot them or kill them hand to hand," Craig asked as they were now all looking at me wide eyed.
"You guys are watching way too much television. I shot a few and if you want to know what it felt like, it was like nothing you can ever imagine. Your survival instincts take over and you do what you were trained to do. The first one I hit with a couple of body shots and it was all over. We were under fire and I was scared shitless but kept shooting until I saw him drop. After everything settled down we went looking for the dead. My heart had just started to settle down when we found him. He couldn't have been more than twenty and was very dead by the time we got to him. No matter what they tell you in boot camp nothing prepares you for it. He was just lying there with his eyes still open while what was left of his blood oozed out; it made me sick and relived at the same time knowing that it was him lying there and not me. I didn't do it for God and country I did it for me. All I could think about was I wanted to go fucking home but not in a box. So I sucked it up and did what I had to, that's all."
Everyone was quiet for about forty-five seconds.
"Shit man, I'm glad I joined the fucking reserves. There is no way I could have done that," Jim said opening another beer.
"You'd be surprised what you can do when your ass is on the line. But enough of this shit, do you think I want to spend my first night driving around drinking beer with you assholes, lets see if there is any action around here."
We hit three places but it was a pretty quiet night all around, after all, it was a weeknight. Believe it or not, we spent the next two hours bowling. I embarrassed myself like always but did see a few people I knew. Everyone was happy I made it back and all asked the same damn questions. Over the last year, two guys in our church didn't make it back. It just seemed that after so many years, people were getting numb to the nightly news telling everyone how many military men had died over there week after week. But hell, if you believed half of what they said it'd be only a week or two more until we pulled out. Two weeks, it was always just two more weeks, but not for the guys over there. Anyway, I was home and on leave, nothing was going to screw that up for me.
I was back in the house by midnight. Jim and Craig had either school or work and I was starting to drag.
"I'll get Jenny to fix you up with one of her girl friends and we'll all go out Friday night," John told me. "I know a little blonde friend of hers that would love to go out with you and you won't have even have to worry about getting lucky; with her you don't need luck, just a stiff dick," he along with everyone else laughed.
"That's right, I go through a fucking year not catching a thing, and my buddy wants me to get a dose of the clap on my first week back, some friend you are."
"Steve, she's clean, it's just that she likes sex; a lot. I'm not asking you to go down on her, just wear a damn rubber and have a good time."
The following morning I slept in to almost 6:30. I was so used to getting up early my body just woke itself up I guess. I must have laid in bed for the better part of an hour until I finally dragged my ass out. I didn't have a thing planned for this morning so I had a quick breakfast and headed out with no particular place in mind.
I just drove through the areas where I'd grown up, where my aunt lived and finally through the downtown area. I don't know what I was looking for; I think I was just wanted to see what had changed. I found that nothing really had changed much. There were new houses going up, but life had gone on without me being home. I headed back to my house. I found my mom at the kitchen table feeding my younger sister, or trying to anyway.
"Where were you? I thought you'd still be sleeping so I tried to be quiet when I got up. When I went upstairs to see if you wanted some breakfast I noticed you'd already left."
"Mom, I just went for a little drive to see the changes since I've been gone."
"Nothing much has changed that I'm aware of," she said continuing to try and feed my sister. "Where are you going when you go back?"
"Barstow, California, smack dab in the middle of the Mohave desert. I was hoping for an early out but came back one month too soon. So, I'll have to play Marine for another three more months and then I'll be home for good."
"What are your plans for when you get out?"
"Going back to school is first on my agenda, after that I don't have a clue. I had other plans, but now things have changed."
She knew what I meant but wasn't about to bring it up again, at least not right now.
"You know your cousin Mark is over there but I guess he won't be back for another three or four months. I heard last week they plan on pulling everyone out by the end of the year. I'll sure be glad to see everyone come home, especially right around Christmas time."
I didn't have the heart to tell her that there wasn't a chance in hell that was going to happen. As I said before, you could only believe ten percent of what you heard on the news.
Friday night John picked me up first. After that we grabbed his girlfriend Jenny we headed out to pickup her friend.
"Steve, her name is Cindy and she's a nurse at the University Hospital. She's not as skinny as Ann, but she is really nice."
And if she added she had a great personality I probably would have ran screaming from the car. I guess I kind of expected a short, fat broad by their description but was pleasantly surprised she was neither. I did the nice thing by going up to the door to pick her up and only got the second degree from her father. When he asked what I did for a living and I told him I was a Marine; I saw a smile come across his face.
"I was a Marine too; Semper Fi," he said shaking my hand. "Been to Viet Nam yet?"
"Just got home," I replied hoping he wouldn't start asking me questions.
"Cindy you take good care of him, he's a damn war hero," he said finally letting my hand go.
"Cindy, we better get going, they're waiting out in the car for us."
"You kids get out of here and have fun, but not too much," he said looking at me. We basically ran out.
"Sorry about that. My dad wants to see and size up every guy I go out with. So, you are a war hero?"
"Nope, I just spent twelve months at the wrong tropical resort." Everyone thought that was funny.
We went out and grabbed a bite to eat and ended up at the local drive-in movie. It was a horror triple feature so we'd be here for at least the next three to four hours. John and I went out to the trunk and grabbed the cooler of beer and the bag of munchies. We had it all so we just sat back and relaxed.
All right so I didn't relax. John was right, Cindy was an animal.
"What do you mean you don't have any condoms? I'm not on the pill and there's no way I'm going to let you just try and pull out. I neither need or want a baby right now," she told me in no certain terms.