It was decades ago, and I was about to acquire yet another new husband. He was fit for Holywood. Tall, green eyes, tousled blond hair, the body of an Olympian. He had an animal charisma – a one-time Green Beret in Vietnam with a gold tooth that shot off sparks of sunlight when he smiled – which was often. Jake was a medic in some of the hottest war zones of that era and, indeed, arrived in my life with full-on PTSD, though it hadn’t yet been officially identified.
Like all the men I’d gathered in my life that didn’t work out as intended, Jake regularly shot out cues that something was amiss, and I quickly dismissed them for the very basic, shallow reasons outlined above. An early hint at abnormality happened on our first date – which was no more than a drive in his old blue-green sedan in which we laughed a lot and flirted our way to next steps. We arrived at my house well before dark and sat talking in the car, me thinking ‘should I invite him in or is it too soon?’
I checked out his profile – strong jaw, perfect nose, smile quick to flash like fireworks. He was impish, mischievous – just enough trouble to interest me, a reporter attracted to the edgy, potentially dangerous opportunities in life. He routinely wore Army greens that matched his eyes. Who was I to resist temptation?
Just as that wholly unjustified thought skidded through my brain, Jake said, “Can you give me a minute baby,” (Baby? Wow, Swoon). “I need to rest my eyes.” Like slow-motion animation, he lowered his curly head to my lap and fell soundly asleep. I sat dazed for a minute, wondering what to do and how to feel. Then the love-brain kicked in and I decided he was exhausted after his day nursing vets at a hospital 90 minutes away. Nothing unusual about that. I wrapped an arm around his shoulder and sat there, trapped by his upper body and my most basic instincts. I felt the constant rhythm of his breathing and watched tiny movements in his left eye as dreams paid him a visit. The moment grew to a half-hour and he showed no sign of waking, and boredom took overtook my fascination. I coughed a few times and nudged him awake.
Throughout the months of our whirlwind relationship, this narcoleptic behavior continued. He could fall asleep nearly anywhere, anytime. Routinely, we’d be driving somewhere, and he’d pull to the side of the road for a 15-minute nap. I spent that downtime remembering waking romantic moments like this one:
We were on the peak of the roof of an old barn on his piece of property in the delta. The sky was swirling with clouds that promised to hold off rain until we’d finished shingling. Wind blew hard at our hair and clothes but we joyfully worked. Me on the north side of the peak and Jake at the opposite end. He looked at me and shouted through the weather – “Baby, this is life!” and the gold tooth sparked light. I felt like a pioneer woman, staking out the homestead on untamed acres in the company of a battlefield hero building back his life after the horrors of war, with me straddling the roof and wielding a hammer as if I’d be born with it gripped in my pink little fist. This land (would be) our land.
Just for a moment, my eyes fell to the ground. There, a gutted deteriorating farmhouse awaited my touch, as well as a roof and plumbing. A garden was dreaming of sprouting from earth suffocated by weeds and sheltering snakes. At least a quarter of Jake's five acres was littered with cars in various stages of decay – sports cars without doors or hoods, a couple of station wagons sans wheels or windows. The interiors of many sheltered a variety of chickens and a noisy red rooster occupied the back half of an old, rusted-out fire truck. Other vehicles (collectibles, Jake told me) laid flat on the dirt with doors dangling hopefully from frames. An old military-style Jeep sat tilted on a mound of car parts and held two buckskin goats sitting on the wire coils of seats that had once held soldiers. Jake said they were investments in his future (the cars, not the goats and chickens).
The reality of the evidence surrounding me almost permeated the warm glow of the moment. But then the wind kicked up and a light rain started to fall. Jake stood tall on the roof, hammer in one hand he opened his arms wide in an encompassing embrace of it all. His farm so full of potential, the churning sky, the woman with starry eyes hugging the roof between her knees.
With the wind beating against his body, he walked the peak to me, his khaki shirt flying open, a smile broad as the valley below. He stretched an arm down to me and pulled me up in an embrace. There we stood, frozen and warm. MGM could have been filming, with an orchestra dancing on the wind.
Of course, reality was bound to kick in, even in a delusional, love-struck brain like mine. I came to realize the truth of my mythological man – along with the funny and adventurous there was damage done by what life had handed him. A trigger-temper, hints of abuse in former relationships, battlefield trauma from America’s shameful war.
But it was an affair of the heart to remember and, one time at least, I artfully dodged Cupid’s sharpest arrow. Among the benefits of this brief affair was a character I included in my mystery novel, The Song of Jackass Creek – in it Jake works at the local dump, drives the mountain town’s ambulance, and occasionally saves lives. Not so far from the truth to make it a lie.
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