Several editors have worked on this story which was sitting in my file, but Demirath did the last and most extensive work. This is a long story broken into four short parts. The first and second parts could stand alone, but they just felt so incomplete even for me.
I apologize to all who were offended by my last story. Sometimes, I just go very dark. There is no BTB here, and the sexual attitudes of the characters are closer to my own for those who are interested.
You couldn’t hear the roar of the Boeing 737 Turbofan jet engines from the airport observation deck, but you could see the tremble of the large plane as the twenty thousand pounds of thrust kicked in. A jet engine is a marvelous creation. It is as beautiful as any work of art and has the deceptive simplicity of a flower, each delicate part intricately dependent on the others. I have spent the greater portion of my life in the pursuit of my passion for these beautiful and powerful creations. They are the first of my great passions, the second being my wife, Karen. My two great loves: my wife and jet engines.
You may find it odd that I hate planes and airports. Part of this is no doubt that the worst moments of my life have taken place at airports. Leaving home for the first time to enter the Navy, I said goodbye to my parents at the airport. I returned home to the same airport four years later to no one. My parents both died while I was in the service. I am an only child, and lonely does not describe how I felt coming home. But eight years later came the worst time in my life. I left my wife and children to fly off to war, knowing they would be alone with no family to depend on while I would be half a world away fighting Arabs. That was more than twenty years ago, but the pain and the guilt still burn.
Today I brought Karen to the airport at five forty-five a.m. on a rainy fall morning. It was depressing, parting for two weeks. We have been married for twenty-six years. She was leaving to embark on a cross-country trip visiting our adult children. My wife was suffering an exceptionally bad case of empty nest syndrome ... or so I believed. I buried my feelings and sent her off with a smile and a plea to come home, “soon as you can.”
We have two boys; the youngest left home at eighteen to attend UCLA, and I have seen him all of four times since then. Twice he came home and twice we traveled to California, but none of the four visits lasted more than two days. All four visits were strangely uncomfortable and awkward. The older boy was a bit more of a home body. Make that exceptionally hard to get rid of. He had gone to the university up the hill from out Victorian row house home, and but for his first semester freshman year, he had resided on the uppermost floor of our four story house. He had gone through grad school never leaving home, and only six months ago did he move out to take a job in Chicago.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my sons. When they were little, I enjoyed their company and loved them more than life itself. Now, though, the children I loved are two adult males with whom I have nothing in common. In each other’s company, we are bored, awkward, and in my opinion better off with our memories of each other. With my wife, it’s different. She has some inner need for more than I can give her. My oldest son moved to Chicago. For the first several months after his move, Karen seemed alright, but after that, it was as if one day I came home to find her in mourning. She was grieving, and there was little I could do about it.
Having worked for the State of New York Department of Health for twenty-eight years, Karen has an extensive amount of leave time that she earns each year and accumulates year to year. Since we had taken no vacation time this year, she planned a visit to see the kids as she referred to my two tall, well-built sons. I was not able to get the time off from my current research work at the University. My current government contract is behind schedule, and my work provided an excuse for my not schlepping cross-country to see children who would rather keep their interaction with me to brief conversations on the phone.
I will miss Karen. We have, as I have said, been together twenty-six years—more if you count our courtship. We met when I transitioned out of the Navy after four years of active duty. I am a mechanical engineer with a specialty in jet engines. I spent my Navy service aboard a carrier where I made my reputation as a man who could fix anything. I guess it’s a talent, almost a feeling, for what is wrong with an engine. I seem to have an uncanny knack for spotting the problem before it happens and brings down the plane. Four years of fixing engines were more than enough. Naval work was grueling. A carrier can be a pressure cooker for those who are in charge and, therefore, responsible. Every time a plane took off you said a silent prayer it would come back safe, and more to the point that you had not missed something.
I met Karen one day at a health fair at the Empire State Plaza, which the locals call the South Mall, about two weeks after I had returned from the Navy. It is a massive complex. Seen from the outside, from the street or better yet from across the river, it is an impressive set of monolithic structures. The most distinctive is a flying saucer shaped building which lends a futuristic presence to the Mall. The saucer is referred to as the Egg and is a theater complex. Inside the mall is a long sterile set of corridors running between the State Capitol, the State Museum, and the State office buildings. The sterility is broken by the modern art collection that is on display in this very public space. There is shielding in place due to the attacks the art has suffered from deranged individuals in the past.
After I had visited the Civil Service Office seeking employment, I wandered through the South Mall because I had no actual job other than the naval reserves. I remained in the reserves for years after my active duty. In the corridor of the Mall, I passed a set of tables set up to do health screening.
Karen was working the tables doing the screening. She is a nurse but had become a health administrator with the State. Her employer had a new commissioner back then, and he was big on outreach. With her seductive smile and a blink of her golden brown eyes, she talked me into a blood pressure check that I failed. I could see the concern come over her lovely oval face as she flipped back her shoulder length hair. She is what they call a strawberry blonde that’s a red head with that temper that sometimes comes out. However, her the color is more golden and blond than red. The brown eyes with the hair were an unexpected combination, but they looked fantastic together.
“What do you do for a living?” she said.
“Nothing right now, just got out of the Navy,” I replied.
“Oh, and did they check your blood pressure there?” she said.
“Yes, it was a bit high but not to worry. I had a high-pressure job,” I said.
“And what did you do?”
I explained, and then she told me that my pressure was 170 over 120 which is way too high. I needed to get it checked again by my family physician. One thing led to another since I did not have a doctor, and she ended up taking it for me the following day. My blood pressure was high normal then, and we proceeded to take it for a week getting high, low, and normal readings. She made me an appointment at the VA where a very experienced doctor explained that I needed to monitor the pressure and get into a relaxation or lowering stress program.
“This is not uncommon; for a while, your body will be trying to adjust to the lack of the incredible stress you were under. You can help this by learning how to control your stress,” he said.
I followed the doctor’s recommendation and went back to Karen giving her the line that I needed her to help me control my stress. I am sure she did not buy this, but she apparently wanted to date me as much as I wanted her.
Our first date was at a neighborhood Italian restaurant that Karen knew. It was a great little place with homemade food called Citone’s, sadly it is gone many years now. At dinner, Karen showed her bubbly extroverted personality and wanted to know all about me and what it was like to be in the Navy. I must have talked for hours, which is rare for me. She has that effect on people, you want to talk to Karen.
“A carrier is the top of the line as ships go. It’s really a floating city. The pilots are the princes of the city, but the place is run by the chief petty officers and a handful of officers,” I said.
“Were you one of the officers?” she asked.
“Not really, I ran the planes. Once they know you can do the job, they leave you to it. I guess my problem was, I took it to heart. Too much responsibility can be difficult,” I said.
“Your blood pressure sure shows that,” she said.
I laughed although it was not very funny.
“People don’t realize that we lose as many crewmen as pilots. It is a very dangerous environment full of fire, fuel, and explosives. Accidents happen; you just keep praying, not on my watch. You know all too often you have no option but to place someone at risk,” I said, and she must have seen I was getting melancholy.
“Well, visiting all those exotic places must have been fun. Did you have a girl in every port?” she said.
Now I did laugh.
“No, I am afraid that I have no luck when it comes to the ladies,” I said.
“Now you are putting me on, a handsome man like you, and I bet you are to die for in your uniform,” she said.
.... There is more of this story ...