Lonny walked out of the hospital to be greeted by a humid and sweltering July evening. Pausing to let his eyes adjust to the darkness, he aimed himself toward the lot where he had parked his 1964 Ford Galaxie.
It had been a long, tormenting day. Today had been a day when you knew you were closing a door upon a chapter of your life, knowing things would never quite be the same again. His hopes were vanquished and he was in a highly foul mood. Being tired amplified his sourness, as did the one-hour drive home he was dreading.
Nearing the Galaxie, Lonny fiddled around in his pocket for his keys. As he started his nearly new Galaxie and turned on the air conditioning, listening to the eagerness of the 352 awaiting input, he realized he had a little treat in the glove compartment that would help keep him alert for the drive back. Reaching over into the glove box, he pulled out his cherished chewing tobacco.
Lonny’s wife Caroline was appalled about his tobacco habit. She said it was uncouth and urged him to quit. It had been the only real source of disagreement in their nearly twenty-year relationship.
As Lonny was stuffing his lower lip, he realized next month would be the twenty year mark since he and Caroline had met. Two decades? Lonny was trying to comprehend where the time had gone.
Letting the rush of nicotine enter his system and soothe his nerves, Lonny’s thoughts migrated back to that fateful rainy, August day in 1944. He had been stationed at a U.S. air base in England; he had heard the crashing of the B-24 over the thunderstorm and was one of the first responders.
Lonny had received some moderate burns in the midst of trying to save those in the school. Caroline was working in the aid station and dressed his wounds. While his original efforts had been horrifyingly futile, Lonny and Caroline were likely the only two people among the throng in the small English village that day to have found a ray of sunshine. They married soon thereafter and as her family had perished in bombings during the Battle of Britain, she went to live with Lonny’s parents near Kansas City.
Entranced by the sounds of the 352, Lonny continued to sit in his idling Galaxie. He realized he was flirting with becoming bitter about a number of the injustices contained in life; while not a bitter person by nature, Lonny felt himself wanting to succumb to the alluring propositions bitterness contained. Lonny tried to rationalize this urge for bitterness, almost convincing himself in how it was justified.
Lonny figured harboring bitterness was a perverse privilege. With Caroline having lost everyone, their goal was to have a large, vibrant family. Nearly twenty years into their marriage, they had been unable to begin fulfilling that goal. Life had always been centered around that goal, always preparing for “that special day” that never arrived.
Even the 352 murmuring in the background was part of their ongoing exercise in futility. They had always owned sedans in a perpetual effort to be prepared for when there would be more passengers to ferry. Now it was official; it wasn’t going to happen.
Thinking further, Lonny was teetering on the brink of fully committing to this bitterness. He knew there were no promises in life, no guarantees of milk and honey. Yet here he was, having spent nearly two decades watching all of his fellow veterans having copious numbers of children, some even beginning to become grandfathers, and he and Caroline had nothing. All he could do was return the favor she originally bestowed upon him, a cyclical return that always had Caroline doubled over in pain, crying for relief that Lonny could not provide.
Sinking into the bench seat of his Galaxie, Lonny kept having thoughts swirl through his head; despite the immigration chaos early on in their marriage, along with the monthly hell she experienced, Lonny wouldn’t have done a thing differently when it came to Caroline. Despite the years, the laugh lines, and the indescribable angst, Lonny wouldn’t have traded her for the world. The sharp sense of humor, the melodious lilt of her voice, her generous and kind-hearted personality – how could he not be captivated by her?
Even upon their first meeting, the convergence of two astoundingly different people, Lonny knew he would never be the same. That day was another time when a new chapter of life opened, a chapter he was still enjoying.
It was then the realization hit. That rainy August day in that English village had been a day of new chapters in life for many other people, also. With a tremendous startle intermingled with a sharply selfish guilt, Lonny realized he had been blessed with a happy, new chapter on that fateful day. Many, many others had been inducted into a very dark chapter.
Rolling down the window to spit out his tobacco juice, Lonny rebounded from his self-pity, becoming cognizant of how tremendously worse he could have it. Smiling with a sense of relief, Lonny put the Galaxie in gear, knowing he would see Caroline tomorrow, and headed for home.