I’ve got a surprise for you. The last of the three that got away was an American sailor! The son of some friends of my parents, he spent the summer with us one year. I got married at the end of that summer.
He was tall, thin, devilishly handsome and oh so polite. Funny. Lots of fun. We clicked instantly and spent most of his time out here together. So easy and close was our friendship so quickly, we even gave each other the same book for Christmas!
I remember flying from our country town to Sydney in one of those tiny planes, engines roaring so you had to yell at each other. Him yelling the story of his marriage breakup at me. He had come home on surprise leave to find his wife in bed with his best friend. The best friend he slept next to on board! Only time he’d ever punched anyone. Lost his marriage. Back on board the boat and he passed out on parade only to be diagnosed with epilepsy and discharged. Lost his career. He’d only ever wanted to be in the navy.
It was all intense with him from hysterical laughter in a cafe when he revealed his tattoo. Mandatory for a US sailor to have – he chose the smallest he could get away with, tiny ship on his shoulder. Kept flapping his tshirt up and down to test my reaction. To the day I sat on the edge of the bed trying to soothe him when he felt a ‘fit’ coming on. He didn’t have one but he shook, and fear came out through his eyes. ‘What can I do?’ ‘Just stay with me, just be here.’ I held his hand and he went to sleep.
He went back to the states just a fortnight before my wedding. I remember telling my mum I was disappointed he wouldn’t stay and her telling me..on the phone, his mother told her he couldn’t stand to watch me marry someone else. Now why the heck didn’t he say something to me?! I think she told me that AFTER I got married or surely I’d have acted? But my memory is faded, perhaps I like to think that to excuse the fact I went ahead with the wedding. I have to wonder if she told me hoping I’d see sense, see a better option.
I do remember, the last day I saw him..a friend had come to pick me up and I had to say my goodbye in front of her, a kiss on the cheek. I wanted to go back in and really kiss him but what to say to her? I think I’d been planning to have that talk with him and she arrived early. Two weeks before my wedding I should not have let that sliding door slam..
Let’s just imagine though.. From country town NSW to the big smoke via a brief stint in the South Pacific and Asia – instead would I have lived happily ever after in New Hampshire? Chances are..
I’ve never had any contact with him again. I’ve heard over the years, he’s married, has children, been back in the navy forever, deliriously happy. That’s nice.
Maybe the best thing for him to come out of his Australian summer holiday thirty years ago was that my dad sent him home with quite a different diagnosis. Said ‘I don’t believe you’re epileptic son, I think you’re having panic attacks.’ Interesting? He was right it turned out.