Here's an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Always Faithful
Chapter 1 - Detour
As the car sped south, the industrial wasteland advertisers call “Chicagoland” gave way to the green farmland of rural Indiana. Connie Rydell felt herself begin to relax for the first time in several days. She felt emotionally bruised, not to mention physically sore from lugging boxes up the stairs to her daughter's new apartment in Chicago. It occurred to her that launching an adult child was a lot like giving birth in the first place. It left her with a jumble of contradictory feelings: exhausted, joyful, and afraid. She suspected that something like postpartum blues would follow shortly.
Connie was certain that her daughter would be happy in Chicago. Jessica had worked for the most prestigious law firm in Indianapolis, but Connie knew Jessie had always dreamed of moving away from her home town and practicing law in with a national firm in a major city. When the Chicago firm, Pickering & Hart, came calling, Jessica seized the opportunity. Connie was very proud of and happy for her daughter, but she was sorry to see her move so far away.
Connie smiled to herself. She knew it was selfish, but she hoped Jessie would visit Indy often, so Connie would not have to make the trek to Chicago with any frequency. Connie did not care for big cities or long car trips, for that matter. Right now, she wanted to go home, take a bath and stretch out on the couch with the dog and a book. It was no wonder Jessie and Rick both thought she was a boring old poop!
“A penny for your thoughts.”
The sound of his voice brought Connie out of her reverie. Even after thirty years of marriage, when he spoke her heart still skipped a beat. She turned to look at him and smiled, “I was thinking about how happy Jess will be in Chicago and how terrified and miserable I would be if I were in her shoes.”
He laughed out loud. There it was! That face- splitting smile and the laugh that came from the bottom of his soul. When she heard him laugh , Connie usually found herself verging on happily weepy. This time, she joined in the laughter, “Well, I'm just being honest.”
He nodded, “I know. The problem is, I have a hard time getting my mind around the thought of you being terrified of anything.”
Connie noticed that he was concentrating on the road, much more than was strictly necessary, given that it was ruler-straight, perfectly dry and there was not another car in sight. Connie could tell there was something on his mind that he didn't think she was going to like. She started to make a smart remark in response to his comment, but decided to respond to what he didn't say instead, “Spill it.”
He looked startled, “Huh?”
“I said 'spill it.' Something's on your mind. Something I'm probably going to hate. Go ahead and lay it on me.”
He laughed again, and retorted, “I wish you wouldn't read my mind like that.”
She pursed her lips and shook her head, “I can't read your mind or I'd know what you have to tell me. I read your face, which is so transparent you might as well carry a sign. It's a good thing you don't play poker. You'd suck at it.
“Don't try to change the subject on me. What's up?”
He grinned, and cleared his throat a couple of times. Finally, he said, “Okay. Here's the deal. Now that Jess is gone, I'm afraid that I am going to have a bad case of Empty Nest syndrome. You're still working – harder than ever, I might add. I'm retired. I'm afraid I'll be lost.
“I know Jess has had her own place for the last two years, but I managed to come up with a reason to go over to her apartment almost every day, either to fix something, deliver something or otherwise just make a pest of myself. I can't tell you how grateful I am that the kid humored me with such patience. Now that she isn't there anymore, I'm afraid I might get depressed and become one of those miserable, bitter old men I've always loathed. ”
Connie shared her husband's feelings. She certainly shared his heavy heart at Jessie's departure , but she knew that the loss was worse for him. She and Jessie would probably continue to talk on the phone every day and they would certainly continue to e-mail each other several times a day. They would continue to share both girl-talk and lawyer-talk. Connie would still have both her Darling Daughter and her Legal Colleague. He, on the other hand, was losing his irreplaceable Little Girl. Connie's heart ached for him.
Connie knew her husband well enough to know that he would not take his fears lying down. She knew he had a plan. She suspected that plan included her (they were a team in every possible way), and she could tell that he was pretty sure she wouldn't like it.
“So what do you have planned to combat the onset of Old Codger-dom?”
He pulled a face. “Long-term, I don't know. I guess we'll have to work together on that. Short-term, I have a request, but, I don't think you're going to like it.”
“I've already figured that out. Spit it out and get it over with. I want to know exactly how bad it's going to be.”
“First of all, instead of going straight back to Indianapolis, I'd like to take a detour. Maybe I've already become an Old Codger, as you so kindly and delicately put it, but I want to go to a reunion of my Marine unit in Columbus, Ohio, this weekend. The WWII and some of the Korean vets at the VFW positively live for their reunions. I've never been to one.”
He was animated and excited, and the words tumbled out, one on top of the other, “I recently learned that several of my old Buddies are going to attend this one. In fact, I've been emailing and catching up with a couple of them, in particular Pete Raudebush who was my radio operator for almost one whole tour....”
“You're babbling.” She smiled at him.
He stopped talking and concentrated on his driving for a minute, then he went on, “Well, anyway. The reunion is this weekend in Columbus. I made reservations but I haven't paid anything yet. We've got plenty of clothes with us. Instead of going home, I propose we go to Ohio. What do you say?” He looked at her with a combination of nervousness, pleading and expectation that made her almost laugh. He was a very young 64, but at that moment he reminded her of a little kid begging his mom for a huge favor. She stifled the laugh that threatened to bubbled up, in order to avoid hurting his feelings.
Connie leaned back against the headrest, closed her eyes and considered his proposal. She couldn't decide whether she wanted to laugh or to cry. For one thing, his idea wasn't as bad as she had feared, but the prospect of going to a Vietnam Veterans reunion was about on a par with root canal work as far as she was concerned. Rick was an active member of the VVA and the VFW. She attended their functions as infrequently as possible.
Connie would have preferred to put Vietnam in the past. She didn't understand why her husband and his friends had such an obsessive need to dredge it up. But, then, she hadn't been in combat for 36 months under conditions so appalling he still couldn't discuss them nor had she spent months in a hospital recovering from physical wounds that left horrible scars on both his body and soul. The invisible emotional wounds still festered and occasionally still gave him nightmares, that caused him to wake screaming and crying.
Perhaps the most important reason she wanted to put his Vietnam experience in the past was that she had not been his wife at the time. That probably had more to do with her aversion to dealing with his Vietnam years than everything else.
She imagined for a moment what the coming weekend would be like. She would be thrown together with a bunch of women she didn't know while their husbands swapped stories, got drunk, and laughed until they all ended up hanging all over each other and crying in their beer. She looked at his profile as he stared at the road. She recalled how close her dad had been with his Buddies from WWII and Korea and how much he had enjoyed his unit reunions over the years. The bond of soldiers was something that wives and daughters could never understand. For the most part, soldiers did not talk about their combat experiences with their wives. Connie believed that was a blessing for the wives. She believed that the soldiers needed to talk about their experiences with the only people who could truly understand: other soldiers.
Even though she personally did not look forward to it, she thought this weekend could be a very healing experience for her husband. She believed wives should encourage and support their veteran-husbands' healing process whenever possible. She smiled inwardly because she knew she got that attitude from her mother, whom she always thought of as the 'Ultimate Officer's Wife'. She knew in her heart that this was an opportunity which was long overdue for Rick. It seemed a small enough sacrifice for her to make, but she knew she wasn't going to enjoy it.
She reached out and patted his leg. “OK. Let's go.”