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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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Unsanded Edges

Selling his house to retire in the sunny South, Mike could not delay cleaning the garage any longer. A large dumpster stood half-filled with the debris of his home for the past thirty-five years.

After working for a couple of hours, Mike found a dirty old whiskey carton, unlabeled like the other boxes. Surprised to see his old army uniform, still folded neatly, he tried it on. ‘No way is this going to still fit,’ he thought. The jacket slipped on easily, but when he tried to button it up, it strained against his seventy-year-old belly.

Folding the jacket, Mike sat and ruminated, going back nearly fifty years ago. Mike had a lot of unsanded edges that year he went to war. Eighteen, soon-to-be-married and a baby on the way, joining the military seemed like a solution to all his problems. It would bring self-discipline, honor, and a sense of belonging to something bigger than himself.

Pop had served in WWII, answering the call after Pearl Harbor. He knew the benefits of army discipline would serve his son well. Joe loved Mike but felt his son was unfocused on his future.

“Enlisting now is not a good idea, what with all the protesting about the war,” Mom had said, worried about his safety. Younger brother, Ted, exclaiming “It would be so cool if you can bring home a machete that you take from the Viet Cong, Mike.”

His girlfriend, Sam, felt differently. Finding herself pregnant, she expected Mike to marry her, crying, “How can you enlist now and abandoned me with a baby?” If they did not wed, Sam would go to a home for wayward girls. “Adoption will solve that problem,” her mother had snarled.

Mike was not sure what he thought about himself at that time. Things had happened so fast. Sometimes, he wanted to be that goofy, lovable kid. Sometimes, he just wanted to run away. In the end, Mike did what was expected and married Sam. They had a three-day honeymoon before he headed to basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia. Sam would stay at her parents’ house until he was assigned a permanent location.

Mike had written daily and tried to phone Sam whenever possible. She was seldom there to take his calls. Finally, a letter came on the last day of basic. Sam wrote him a ‘Dear John’ letter. After losing the baby, her parents had convinced her to seek an annulment of their marriage. “It just didn’t make sense to be married at eighteen,” she wrote, “Now I can go to college like I planned.” She still loved him, but she hoped he would understand her decision.

Hurt and angry when he got that letter, his buddy, Frank, said, “You don’t need her. You’ll feel better with a couple of beers.” He didn’t. Waking up with a hangover, Mike was heartbroken, but he wondered if a part of him wasn’t also relieved.

Within a week, Mike had received his orders. He was going to Nam, landing in the most sweltering heat and humidity he’s ever experienced. Assigned as a quartermaster clerk, he was responsible for accepting and verifying shipments of supplies. On his second day on the job, a forklift dropped its load on Mike’s ankle, shattering it. He was air-evacuated to Japan for immediate surgery. Despite physical therapy for eight weeks, the ankle was never the same. Shipped stateside to Fort Dix in New Jersey, he was discharged with a medical separation.

Mike had returned home to find that Sam had indeed gone off to college. One of her girlfriends had given him her dorm phone number. After much soul-searching, he called Sam. Initially awkward, it was soon as if they were back in high school. Arrangements were made to meet when she returned for the summer, but things had changed. Her plans no longer included him.

Mike remained in his hometown and built a successful life. He met a wonderful woman who he adored. Married forty years ago, he had two sons and two precious granddaughters.

He looked around at his empty garage and stretched his back. He would be aching tomorrow, but at least the job was finished. Mike was happy with his life. An eighteen-year-old’s dreams are often made before we really know what we want or who we are. Guess we just need time to help sort that all out to sand those rough edges. For Mike, that seemed to have worked out for the best.

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