I stood hiding in the shadow of the hangar as I watched the big plane touchdown. I was just out of the sight of the crowd that had gathered and was now enthusiastically cheering the plane's succesful landing and the return of those inside it. Only 3 days ago, I'd been on a similar plane and someof those same people had been cheering for me. It was early evening already dark, and the rain wasn't helping any. I pulled my coat closer around me and tucked my head under the hood as I turned and started to leave. I really didn't know why I'd come in the first place. This wasn't the time or the place for what I needed to do. I'd been avoiding this for a little over three weeks, a day or two more wouldn't hurt.
Despite the darkness and the rain, the high-school band played their asses off. Their music, proud, and patriotic only served to remind us all why we'd come here tonight. We were here to welcome the boys and girls home. Not just any boys and girls though. They were the best and bravest among us. They were the ones who put themselves and their own conditions away for a while, to go off to foreign lands during wartime, to defend us and our values.
If the world made any fucking sense, a sacrifice like theirs would get them the kind of accolades, and financial rewards that would make the rest of their lives easy and secure. But instead we reserve that kind of payment for another group of young men, the ones who can jump up and drop a ball in a hoop, or run down a field carrying one, go figure.
A crusty old man tried and succeeded in forcing me inside the hangar, where he swore I'd be able to get a much better view of the heroes, or "hee ruz" as he pronounced it. I told him that I really didn't need to see the ceremony, since I'd been through it myself only three days before. I took off my hood so he could see my face.
"God Damn it, Rob," he snapped. "Why didn't you tell me it was you? I'll bet you can't wait to see Julie, can you?"
He stepped back and snapped his feet together, in a drunken homage to the attention position, and gave me a mock salute. "The whole God Damned town is gonna shit to see the two of you back together," he said. "This is going to be great."
He toddled off to get a better view of the proceedings. He probably wanted to get near the front where he'd be able to get a seat on the hastily erected bleachers that had been provided for all of the servicemen's families.
People rapidly funneled into the hangar, and as I watched, nearly all of the seats were taken up in under five minutes. People always wanted to see everything, whether it was an awards ceremony for their loved ones, or a car wreck on the side of a lonely highway. I guess curiosity is the nature of the human condition. In this case one of the biggest draws was seeing the return of the town's fairy tale romance. They wanted to see Rob and Julie again. I really didn't want to be the one to tell them that the war had changed us, or how.
They'd stood outside in the rain, just so they could watch the plane land. And now that it had touched down safely they all wanted to dash inside, so they could rush over and knock their loved one's down when their names were called, as they stepped off the plane.
I'd dreaded this day for weeks now, and it was finally here. Although to be honest less than a month ago, today was all I had dreamed about. It's funny how 10 seconds of vision and a few words can change the entire path of a life, or actually two lives.
In a moment of clarity, I realized that I didn't belong here, although if you'd asked most of the people assembled, they'd have said just the opposite. "Rob, out of all of us you have the most right to be there," most would have said. They'd have been wrong though because they had no fucking idea of what I'd intended.
Again I turned to go, and was pulled back by the smiling face of Jack Anderson. I'd known the man all my life; he was like a second father to me. "Hey Rob, you're going the wrong way. It must be weird to be back here so soon and seeing this from the other side." he laughed.
I think he saw something in my face because he quieted down, and started talking in a softer tone. Maybe, like all the rest of them, he got it wrong. He thought I was having a flashback or something. But he had the wrong war. He moved closer to the front fighting the crowds all the way and threw a last piece of advice at me before disappearing, "Take all the time you need son. God knows you've earned it."
Maybe he was right about the whole flashback thing because as they announced her name and she stepped off the plane I had one.
8 years ago I was 16 years old. I was going to a party in Connie Hollister's Barn. My date Jill Monroe had just introduced me to a girl. "Rob, this is my cousin Julie," Jill said. "She's not only my cousin, she's my best friend. So I wanted you to meet her."
My world as I knew it ended with that one sentence. Julie was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I think in those first few seconds, I knew that I was going to marry her. My heart was beating so loudly I was sure that Jill could hear it as well. I'd been raised to have manners and morals above all else, so my behavior was in some ways unforgiveable.
The correct thing to do in that situation would have been to smile and say "Pleased to meet you." Maybe I should have made small talk. What I actually did was nothing, I just stood there and stared at her. Her date, Curtis French, was a friend of mine, and he finally saved me. He slapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hey Rob can you help me change the plugs on my Camaro tomorrow?"
That snapped me back into the moment, and I told him I could. Then I went and got a glass of punch for Jill and myself. I danced with Jill a couple of times, but my heart truly wasn't in it. I kept looking around for Julie, but didn't see her anywhere.
That party was my first and last date with Jill. All of my friends thought that I was an idiot. Jill was beautiful. She had long blonde hair, and a great figure already at 16. She was one of the sweetest girls I knew, and also one of the smartest. Everyone in our class told me that she really liked me. I didn't go out with anyone period anymore because in that brief moment at Connie's I'd been smitten by Julie and no one else would do.
It was nearly 2 months before I saw her again. She had only been visiting, on the night of the party. Her family moved into town permanently at the beginning of the summer. As if fate had a hand in it, they even moved onto my street.
Jill was underwhelmed when I talked to her. Those manners and morals again showing their face. When I'd run into her at the store she told me about all of the fun things she'd be doing now that her cousin lived here in town. My face went totally blank, and her eyes narrowed dangerously.
"You've got it too, don't you?" she asked. "It all makes sense now."
"I've got what?" I asked.
"Do you remember Connie's party? Which was the last time you've been seen socially in any capacity that doesn't involve cars or sports?" she asked. "Well right after meeting you, my cousin asked Curtis to take her home. I thought at first that she'd gotten sick. Then I remembered the way that you reacted. You're one of the nicest boys I know, but you didn't say a word to her. I was worried that you didn't like her or something. When I got home later she asked me a lot of questions about you. Every time I've spoken to her since then our conversations always seem to include you."
"Rob, what do you think the first thing she asked me about when she moved into her house the other day was?" asked Jill.
"How should I know?" I asked. "I have no idea what girls talk about."
"She asked me about you," snapped Jill. "I told her that you don't hang out a lot or date much, but I can see by the look in your eyes that's about to change. Come on let's get this over with."
Jill dragged me out of the store down the street, to Julie's family's new house. I'd known the previous occupants, but somehow the house just seemed better now.
"Julie are your parent's home?" screamed Jill.
"No," screamed Julie, equally loud.
"Then get your ass down here, now," screamed Jill, even louder.
Julie came down the stairs and it was like the sky opened up and an angel descended from the heavens. I guess what they say about love goggles making you see things in an altered state of reality is true. Because that's what I saw. She was the most beautiful thing I'd seen, since the first time I saw her.
In actuality she'd been unpacking, and she had smudges of dirt on her face and her dark brown hair was all over the place. She was wearing some baggy old sweat pants and a T-shirt that had seen better days but it didn't matter.
As soon as she came through the door and we saw each other time stopped moving. I'm sure that Jill was talking but neither of us heard it. I tried to memorize each and every pore and line on her face. I stared at every contour of each feature. I swear to you that I could probably see and count the rods and cones in her eyes, I stared at her so hard.
Jill finally left, and we were able to talk for the first time. It gave me the chance to aske her the questions that had been going through my mind for 2 months. "Why didn't you stay at the party?"I asked.
.... There is more of this story ...