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Once I Was Decisive, Maybe

by MISSY BEATTIE

I drove to North Carolina to visit family and consider again a move from Baltimore to Chapel Hill. I’m indecisive, inertia’d. I need someone to say, “Honey, we have a job opportunity here. What do you think?” Because this is way it was, the reason for all those addresses during my life with Charles.

Lesbaru-ing along, I was thinking my thoughts, daydreaming. Suddenly, I looked at my image in the visor’s mirror and said, “When’d you get to be so old?”

Had an impulse to call my first husband and reminiscence. Spoke with him when he expressed his condolences after Charles died and said how grateful he was to Charles for being such a wonderful surrogate dad. And when my parents died.

We met at a bar near the University of Kentucky. I was an undergrad, and he was in graduate school. He’d been to Viet Nam—a Marine. As an aerial observer in a Birddog plane, he ordered napalm strikes. Summers, he returned to active duty to finance the next academic year.

We’d been dating almost a month when the envelope arrived–Twentynine Palms, California. “Let’s marry,” he said. I traveled part of the way by train to Needles, wedding dress in a suitcase. When the military chaplain heard “wedding gown,” he insisted on an event, not in his study but instead, in the chapel. Presto! He was wedding planner extraordinaire, securing an organist, soloist, best man, and maid of honor within minutes. I called home to inform my eager and anxious parents that it was official. When I mentioned the unexpected accessories, Mother wanted names—for the newspaper announcement.

Hell, I didn’t know. So she and my sister Laura created them. Someone was Basil. The soloist, I think. His middle and surname were pretentious, a perfect union with Basil. Mother and Laura had a grand time. Couldn’t wait for me to see this.

Weekends, we took road trips. Went to Mexico. On our return, the border guard looked at me (black hair, hazel eyes, and dark complexion) and said, “I’d like to hear the little lady say something.”

“Pardon me?” I said, Kentucky twanging.

“Never mind.”

Confession: When he picked me up at the Amtrak station, I was shocked—the military haircut. And the chaplain, well, first time we talked with him, I didn’t mention the dress. We scheduled his study for the wedding. My stomach churned its apprehensions. I’m sure my pre-ex had trepidations too, because the next morning just hours before the wedding, we called it off. He went to the gym. I packed. Decided I’d visit an uncle I’d never met in Los Angeles. I walked to a drugstore and was standing near the front when two Marines pulled up and asked if I needed a ride. As we left the curb, I turned and saw his car. “Oh, no,” I said. One of the Marines wanted to know his rank. “Captain,” I said. They looked at each other. Told me they were enlisted men. One of them got out at the light. Didn’t want trouble. The driver floored the gas pedal, speeding to lose the captain who was a few vehicles back. Soon, we were off-road. Seriously, we bounced and careened, tires hitting cacti. I finally said, “Okay, stop, before someone gets hurt.”

The chaplain said, “I’ve never tied a slipped knot.” It was during this meeting with him that I mentioned the gown.

When I had that urge to call my ex, I thought his number was in my cellphone. It wasn’t. And maybe that’s good. After our divorce was final and I’d met Charles, my ex called to talk about our son and said, “You know, you’ll never date anyone as good looking as I am.”

I’ve thought about him lately.

Especially since reading that Lyndon Johnson’s telephone tapes have been declassified. That Johnson knew of Nixon’s treason in prolonging the Viet Nam war to gain political advantage, resulting in additional US, Vietnamese, and Cambodian deaths. And this information from a Gallup Poll: “Young adults are the only age group in which a majority says the Vietnam War was not a mistake (51%) — perhaps because they have no personal memory of the conflict.”

And yesterday, when I ran my sister’s road, I saw a deer in a ditch. Its dead eyes pierced my soul. I felt as if it were staring at me. I thought of war’s dead eyes, the devastation, the obscenity of US imperial carnage. For those who live in the countries we destroy, all whose lives have been changed forever by insatiable greed. Troops who kill, troops who stare into dead eyes, or return with eyes that are dead because of what they’ve seen, what they’re required to do.

Plus, I thought about a young woman, the person I was when I met that handsome man six years older than I. Barefoot, on campus in May of 1970, I was protesting the Kent State massacre. Yet, just a couple of days later, I saw him. At the intersection of WOW and WOW. Said yes to a date. We were inseparable for a little over a month. He drove away. I took that train to California in mid-June.

Five years and six months after that, with a one-year-old child, I was decisive. We signed a truce called divorce.

I have no regrets about the marriage. Because of our son. A simply extraordinary human being—who would never choose the military.

Missy Beattie (missybeat@gmail.com) is asking people in Chapel Hill if they know who Bradley Manning is and if they know about Fallujah.  

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

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