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  • The last few weeks of my time on Treasure Island were filled with planning. What would I do with my newfound freedom? I knew I wanted to go back to school on the G.I. Bill. That was one of my reasons for joining the Navy in the first place, to get the education benefit, where they would help pay my tuition expenses. I knew I no longer desired a career in Nuclear Power, so that acquired skill was not going to help me in the civilian world. College was the key. California colleges were dirt cheap for California residents, but you had to live there for a year to establish residency. So, I figured I would stay in California to live and work for a year, then go enroll in a college.

    The chaplains were very helpful with all of this. They knew a lot about how the colleges worked, and they helped me figure out what I would do for work while I was establishing residency. I would join the Merchant Marines, which didn’t require an “enlistment”, per se – you just signed on to a ship for a cruise, or for six months at a time, and worked for that period, then you could either stay with that ship, or you could go to another. You had the freedom to come and go, contract by contract. I liked that idea. I found that there were a number of ships looking for workers, so that would be no problem. My plan was to head back east when I got my discharge, spend some time with my friends in Connecticut – that was my first priority. My friend Reed was dealing with Hodgkin’s disease, and I hadn’t had a chance to talk to him since he was diagnosed, and I just knew I needed to be there for him and my friends there. It had been a couple months since I found out, but I’d had to do my time at Treasure Island before I could get back there.

    I would, of course, visit my family in New Jersey, and try to show them that I really wasn’t crazy – I’d done what I had to do, and now had a plan for life after the Navy. I also planned to spend some time back in Norfolk, to see my old shipmates and friends there. I also sort of hoped that Jean (remember her?), my angel that I had begun my journey to freedom with, had eventually made her way back to Norfolk, and that I could see if there was anything there for us, if she had. I knew that if she did make it back there, she would have looked up my friend Harry, so I would find Harry and see if she ever made it back.

    After that “Freedom Tour”, I would make my way back to California, and begin my post-Navy life in earnest.

    While I waited for my discharge papers to come through, I wrote a lot. I had a lot of “downtime” – once I’d gotten them organized and everything running smoothly in the Chaplains’ office, and figured out what I was going to do when I got out, there wasn’t enough there to really keep me busy, more than a couple of hours a day, so I had a lot of free time on my hands. I wrote a lot of letters to people. I was on an honesty kick, so I was very honest in all of them. I held nothing back, emotionally. I expressed how I really felt. This was the “new me” – none of the old “holding back”, holding onto false dreams and hopes. I wanted to live my life laying it all out on the line, and keep my creativity flowing freely.
  • One of the people I wrote to, in this vein, was my old flame from Connecticut, Martha. She was the first girl I ever fell fully in love with – I was just starting college, and she was a junior in high school at the time, and I’d gotten struck by the “thunderbolt” with her, and was sure she’d felt the same. We’d had a lovely weekend together at a retreat in Rhode Island, and then when I had told her how I felt, she’d quickly run the other way, wanting nothing to do with a committed relationship. It had crushed me at the time, and actually was the impetus for my becoming a writer. But, I’d never really gotten over her.

    Two years before, we had renewed our friendship, again at a retreat we were both at, and I had sensed that she still liked me, and might be open to some sort of a relationship with me, since she was still not in any type of a committed relationship. I’d played it very cool this time, visiting her regularly at her college for about a year and a half, until my drinking and drug use on my ship had so consumed me, I couldn’t let her see me in that condition anymore. Then, on the long cruise, I had despaired of ever being worthy of her, and fallen out of touch, completely.

    Now, I wrote to tell her everything – I laid it all out on the line. How I’d felt about her years before, how her rejection of me had led me to writing, which I still loved to do, and all about how my drinking and drug use had taken over my life, but now I was past all that, and was starting out fresh, and just wanted to see if there was ever any hope of something happening between us? It was a “fish or cut bait” type of letter. I wanted to either spark a flame, or snuff it out, once and for all. If she would still have me, I would give the world to be hers. I would go wherever she was, and give up the whole California dream, if it meant being with her. I still had that much love for her. I didn’t say all of that in the letter – I just asked her if she had any feelings for me, and if there was ever going to be a chance we could get together. I’d never been that honest with her before.

    Her reply was pretty devastating. She was very honest with me in it, but it was not what I wanted to hear. She told me that, back when we’d first gotten together, I had really messed her up. She admitted that she had fallen in love with me then (I KNEW it!), but she was determined not to get involved with anyone, until she had achieved her dream. Her dream was to become a female commercial pilot, and she knew it was going to take everything in her power to achieve it, and she did not want to be distracted by an emotional relationship with anyone. She had enjoyed our renewed friendship a couple years before, as I no longer seemed to be threatening to get her into a relationship, and she really enjoyed my company, she loved talking to me, and thought that I was a good friend. But, now that I had laid my true feelings out on the line, she didn’t want to have anything more to do with me. She asked that I never contact her again. She had gone through too much getting over having fallen in love with me way back in high school – it had really messed her up, and she just wasn’t willing to go through that ever again.
  • Wow! That certainly took a lot of the air out of my “freedom balloon”. Really?!? Here, all those years, I’d thought it was something I’d said, that I had come on too strong or something, I didn’t know – I’d never fallen in love before that, I didn’t know the rules about such things. I’d just been honest with her, and seen her look at me like I was a monster or something. I had always chaulked it up to my approach. This explained it all. But, just like that, she would be forever cut out of my life. It looked like I would be “cutting bait”. I sat down and wrote this poem:

    If you should look for me
    Amongst the debris that I've scattered
    You might try looking towards the sea
    As if it really mattered

    I tried to make it here on land
    I just couldn't do it!
    These ones whose lives fear commands
    They really blew it
    For you, for me, for us
    You flew - but I'm free
    Love's just a word
    It's so absurd!

    I thought I'd heard it calling me
    I was mistaken, and now forsaken
    To find someone else to take your place...
    What a waste....

    There'll be many other girls
    The fish are aplenty in this vast, sweeping, reckless sea
    See you in a future dream,
    Maybe in a different kind of world
    Swim by you in a flowing stream
    My "Freedom Flag" unfurled...

    Later...I loved you!
  • Another poem that pretty much summed up how I felt about my family and the girl I had loved:

    A Day in the Blue

    “Who’ll be there to congratulate me
    When I receive my Diploma of Freedom
    From the chains of a piece of paper
    Which kept my arms, legs and my mind
    From being that which is me?”
    My Soul asked one day…

    And to my soul, my loving mother said
    “You are sick…you have no right!’
    My soul said, “No, you’re wrong, I must always have my fight
    “For my freedom, not their machine!”
    …and my soul searched around...

    And to my soul, my father said
    “Son, you are reaching too high,
    “You’re moving too fast to last very long – my son, can’t you see?
    “I’m not as strong anymore – please don’t be my chore
    “Let me rest, for I am tired…”
    And my soul bled for some time,
    Growing old, hearing these weary rhymes
    From the ones to whom my soul has tried to be defined

    And I cried, “Please let me be!
    “Let me be who I really am – but don’t turn you’re back on me now!”
    “We can’t hear your, son, you’re young and we’re old
    “The days they grow so cold – leave us to the warmth of our fine home
    “Our fireplace, our garden…please leave us alone.”

    Mother and Father, they teach me, but will not reach me
    Halfway…on their own side they stay

    At 22, I feel like 42, getting so old and blue
    This wall I’ve been coming to for years
    It won’t let me through
    My friends grow so few, and spread about
    Some untrue to their lines and their hues…

    And when I look unto you, my only true love
    You do not look back
    From your place in the sky, on your security ride you fly
    From my side, to hide from the fact
    That it’s me that your life lacks….

    After that, I went over to the city and got good and loaded, then the next day, another sailor turned me onto some acid, and I tripped my ass off. I just wanted to forget love, and anything resembling it.
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