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  • It was the absolute longest and coldest winter of my life. Saratoga Springs, New York. Moved there in November, ’74, and stayed until May, of ’75. There was one stretch in January where the warmest it got for 3 weeks was 10 below zero, and it got as cold as 25 below at times. Bitterly cold.

    I was living there while I went through Naval Nuclear Prototype Training in nearby Ballston Spa. It was intense training, to say the least. We worked 7 day weeks, 12 hours shifts, where you worked 7 on a day shift, got a day off, then worked 7 on a swing shift, got 2 days off, then you worked 7 on a graveyard shift, and got 4 days off. We cycled through that schedule for 6 months. It was where we learned to apply all the reactor theory and principles we’d learned at Nuclear Power School the previous 6 months in Bainbridge, Maryland, to an actual nuclear proplulsion plant.

    I worked in the mock-up submarine there – others worked in the mock-up cruiser plant. They were actual nuclear power plants, just the boats were the mocked up part. We basically had to demonstrate the ability to take the entire plant apart and put it back together again, system by system, component by component, and be ready to handle any emergency or accident that could possibly occur in a nuclear power plant. But, that was the easy part of that long winter.

    I lived in a large house at the top of a hill with 3 other sailors, and one sailor’s wife. You had to go in with others to afford the rent on a sailor’s salary. I don’t know what George was thinking bringing Debbie into a situation like that, but the marriage would not survive that winter. I had all my albums and my stereo with me, and there was a great living room with a fireplace in the big, old house we rented. We took to spending many a late night over that long, cold winter mesmerized by the burning logs in the fireplace, sitting around getting high and drinking Molson’s Ale, listening to Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jonathon Edwards, Matthews’ Southern Comfort, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Yes albums spin on the turntable. George would always be the first to crawl off to bed upstairs, thinking nothing of leaving his wispy, nubile young wife alone with us three horny sailors downstairs. He trusted us, and he trusted his young wife. He was a fool.
  • Debbie was a very sweet, spare blonde, who seemed just like a puppy dog. She seemed to really take to me, and we would often be the last ones awake down there, the others falling out around us on the sofa and bean bag chairs. Sometimes we’d slow-dance in the kitchen, and we made out some, but I would always draw the line, there. She revealed to me that she felt like a sister to George – they’d known each other since they were kids, and had married because it was always expected that they would. I found myself falling for her, but I lived by a code, and could not violate that code. She was my “shipmate’s” wife, and I would not go past a certain line with her (unbeknownst to me, I had long since crossed that line, just wouldn’t admit it to myself or her). I could not express my feelings, beyond being a good ear for her, and a shoulder to cry on, some worldly advice, and the occasional necking. That said, she had my heart in her hands, and I could not help but fall deeply in love with her. It was a real mess, as I was fairly certain that she felt the same way, but we both kind of danced around it, as we did not want to blow the whole household up. At least, that’s what I thought.

    Unfortunately, Dennis did not live by the same code, and after giving us some distance for awhile, he had sized up the situation, knew me well enough to know I wasn’t going to go for it, so he awaited his chance and moved in on that action. It was on one of our “4-days-off” times between the graveyard and day shift cycles. I’d thumbed it down to UConn to party with some of my friends down there. When I got back, everything seemed different in the house. Debbie seemed a little more distant, and Dennis was avoiding me like the plague. George was just completely clueless, as usual, living in his own “la-la” land, somewhere in his Ohio-Midwest-Life-Is-Hunky-Dory mindset. But, the joint just seemed spooked or something ever since I got back from Connecticut. Something really weird was going down.

    I just left it all alone for the next month, as I had to focus on our final written and oral exams at the prototype training facility, so I just buried my head in the books and spent extra time, after our 12 hours shifts, at the plant, memorizing the sytems and emergency procedures, staying in the bunkhouse they had over there some nights, avoiding the house altogether.
  • Debbie finally cornered me alone in the kitchen one evening, and spilled it all out to me. She broke down sobbing and told me that she and Dennis had hooked up while I was gone, now she was pregnant! She didn’t love him, but he also didn’t feel like a brother, and she’d just needed a man to be with. She’d wanted me, but I wouldn’t go past “friends” with her, which she respected, but she’d let Dennis put the moves on her. She was so, so sorry. She wanted to know what to do. This, I just couldn’t handle. I was devestated! I couldn’t say a thing, couldn’t even react, beyond a “Sorry, Debbie, I just can’t handle this. I need some frickin’ air!” I couldn’t continue talking to her. I turned around and left out the front door, hauled ass down the hill, found the nearest bar, and proceeded to pound back as many “Depth Charges” as I could, just getting hammered until my old buddy from Boot Camp, Dave, found me falling off my stool mumbling unintelligibly. He took me to an all night diner to sober me up a bit with some coffee and eggs. I was just completely ripped up by the whole frickin’ affair.

    That’s when Dave suggested the trip. We just had a week or so to go to complete our training, then we’d be assigned to our next duty stations, our nuclear-powered ships. We’d be able to take 30 days leave before we reported. Dave said, “I’ve always wanted to travel around in Canada – whaddya think?” It took me about two seconds to say, “I’m in – let’s do it!” Thus would begin one of the most memorable, and enlightening, journies of my life, a real healing experience that would stay with me for the next 30 years or so.
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