“All I can say Jack is that I won’t wait for you. If you do it don’t count on me being here when you come home.”
I sat across the table from Betty and made a life changing decision. “Your choice Betty. So be it” I said and then I got up from the table and walked away leaving her sitting at the table. Twenty-four hours later I signed the papers and two days after that I was on a Greyhound and on my way to Fort Knox, Kentucky.
I remembered that I hadn’t told my mom where I had left my car keys so when the bus stopped at Marysville to pick up passengers I called home to tell mom where to find them. While I had her on the phone she asked:
“Why did you leave without saying goodbye to Betty? The poor girl was over here bawling her eyes out because you just up and left.”
“I didn’t need to say goodbye to her. She’d already said goodbye to me. The look on her face and her tone of voice when she looked me right in the eye and said she wouldn’t wait for me was as clear a goodbye as you could get.”
“I’m sure you misunderstood her Jack.”
“Don’t think so mom. Got to go. The bus is getting ready to leave.”
On the ride to Fort Knox I thought back on what had put my butt on that gray dog seat. I was an indifferent student in school. I wasn’t dumb; I just didn’t care for school. I saw no sense in some of what they were trying to pound into my head so I pretty much ignored it. I did just enough to hold a grade point average that allowed me to play football, baseball and basketball. I wasn’t all that great at any of them, just average or maybe just a touch above average. I was good enough to be a starter on varsity and I did have my moments, but I was never at the level where I could even remotely think of the pros. Hell, I was never at the level that I could envision getting a sports scholarship. I played because I loved to play and not because I expected to get anything out of it except the pure joy of playing.
Betty Gifford and I hooked up in the tenth grade. I’d known her since the fifth, but all we had ever been was classmates who knew each other. She was a sexy looking honey and she had fueled more than one instance of self-abuse if you get my meaning, but the truth was that I figured that she was so far out of my league that I never worked up the nerve to approach her.
She was the daughter of the wealthiest man in town and I was the son of a factory foreman. Nothing wrong with being a factory foreman, it was just a case of being in wildly different social circles. Things like she did her swimming in the pool at the country club and I did my laps in the pool at the YMCA. She went out to eat with her folks at the Algonquin Club or The Empire Dinner Club. When I went out with my folks it was to the Village Inn on Wilcox or the Denny’s on Perry Street. Her parents gave her a new Audi and a couple of gasoline credit cards when she got her driver’s license. My parents and grandparents got together and gave me a ten year old Chevy pickup and told me I needed to get a part time job to pay for insurance, plates and gas. Socially we were the equivalent of oil and water and everyone knows that those two don’t mix. I very much doubt that I ever would have approached her. We ended up together because she approached me.
It was a Thursday and I was in the school cafeteria at lunch time when Betty walked up to my table and asked me if she could join me. I of course said yes and she sat down. She cut right to the chase.
“Who are you taking to the dance tomorrow night?”
“I hadn’t planned on going.”
“But you were planning to go before you and Judy broke up right?”
Judy was my ex-girlfriend. We had been going together for a little over nine months. She had broken a date with me because some out of town relatives had come to visit and she needed to stay home and visit with them. I found out that she broke our date to go out with another guy and on the previous day-Wednesday-I had rather publicly called her a cheat and broke up with her and as Betty had surmised Judy was to have been my date for the dance. With Judy gone I had intended to skip the dance. I told Betty that and then she said:
“I really wanted to go to that dance, but I need a date and you are the only guy I know who isn’t already spoken for.”
“You need a date? What about your boyfriend? Why aren’t you going with Roger?”
“I thought you knew.”
“The guy who caused your breakup with Judy was Roger. I treated him the same way you treated Judy.”
“You really want to go to the dance with me?”
“I’m here asking aren’t I?”
There is an old saying – “Never look a gift horse in the mouth” – so I just smiled and said, “I’d love to be your escort.”
We had a great time even though Roger and Judy both came to the dance stag and spent the evening shooting nasty glances at Betty and me. They didn’t dance together; not even once and they seemed to stay as far away from each other as possible. It amused the hell out of Betty and me. When I walked Betty to her door she thanked me for taking her, told me that she’d had a great time and then kissed me on the cheek. I was on cloud nine as I walked back to my car.
I considered the night a gift from the Gods, but I still felt that Betty was way out of my league so when I woke up Saturday morning I got on with my life.
A week went by and then on Friday I was again in the cafeteria when Betty walked up to my table and sat down. Once again she cut right to the chase.
“Why haven’t you called me?”
“Why would I call you?”
“Are you saying that you didn’t enjoy our date the night of the dance?”
“Of course not. I had a wonderful time.”
“The why haven’t you called me for a follow up date?”
If she could be blunt and to the point so could I. “I didn’t realize that you expected me to. I figured that the only reason that we got together for that night was because you needed someone to take you to the dance and I was the only one available. In fact, as I remember it. Your exact words were “I need a date and you are the only guy I know who isn’t already spoken for.” I figured that all I was was a means to an end. It never occurred to me that you might expect more out of it.”
“When a girl gives a guy a goodnight kiss after thanking him for a good time she expects to be asked out again. What are you doing tonight?”
“Pick me up at six.”
I picked her up that night at six and began a relationship that lasted through graduation and up to the night she said that she wouldn’t wait for me.
As in any relationship there are ups and downs, but the ups more than outweighed the downs. Betty was three months older than I was and her birthday gift to me on my eighteenth birthday was her virginity and less that twenty-four hours later she was talking marriage as soon as she graduated from college. Hey! I was all for it, but I knew it wouldn’t work.
For one thing instead of going to the small college in our home town she was going to college out of state and the college was nine hundred miles away. It was far enough away that coming home for weekends was pretty much out of the question. Likely we would see each other on holidays and other breaks. Add in the fact that there was no way on God’s green Earth that a girl like Betty wasn’t going to be constantly hit on and it was inevitable that she would date and quite possibly meet someone more to her liking than Jack Baily.
And certainly more to the liking of her parents. I shouldn’t have put it that way. I think her mother liked me, but her father on our first meeting left no doubt that he considered me totally unsuitable for his daughter. And to be honest with myself, I sometimes thought that was my biggest draw where Betty was concerned. That she was with me to spite him. Frankly, even though I would have loved to have one, I saw no future for Betty and me.
Graduation came and it meant summer vacation for Betty before leaving for college, but for me it meant find a full-time job and start my life as an adult. I found out that there were a ton of jobs available for a recent high school graduate. Unfortunately they were all low paying dead-end jobs. McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s and at least fifteen gasoline station/convenience store clerk jobs.
After three weeks of looking and finding nothing of substance I was having lunch with my Uncle Bob and bemoaning my lack of being able to find anything with even a remote future when he said:
“Why don’t you join the Army? You could learn a trade and take advantage of their educational benefits. Who knows? You might even like it enough to make it a career.”
That very afternoon I talked to an Army recruiter and he explained to me what the Army could do or me and what my choices were. I thanked him for his time and then left his office to think about it. I talked it over with my dad (he was a veteran) and after talking to him and thinking long and hard on it I decided to do it.
I had a date with Betty the next day and after the movie we went to the Village Inn for pie and coffee. I laid it all out for her. “My job prospects suck and I don’t see how I can make enough to support us when we get married.” I explained what the Army could do for me.
“You are basically going to be gone for the next four years anyway. By the time you graduate my enlistment will be over and I’ll come home hopefully in shape to find a decent job that can support us.”
“But we won’t see each other for three years.”
.... There is more of this story ...