Just My Luck – Chapter 12-2
Our first year as an engaged couple was a real test for Carol and me. We were fairly young to be betrothed, she was 20 and I was all of 18. We were among the Baby Boomers spawned after the soldiers came home from fighting World War II. Our parents’ generation tended to marry young and so we saw nothing particularly unusual in our decision.
But there were different forces in play in their generation. Armed forces. Our parents generally had to grow up young because there was a World War impacting them all. Many boys of my father’s generation came to know military discipline and pride, learned how to be self-reliant and resourceful, valued the camaraderie and brotherhood of their units, and were battle tested before the war ended. They truly did leave home as boys and return as men. Their experience in the ultimate life and death theatre matured the soldiers and those awaiting their return in ways we could never know.
Carol and I were sad beyond belief that we were going to be separated at the end of our summer together. In September she was going to the main campus of UCONN for her last two years of college. I was going to Virginia Tech for my first – a choice I’d made before Carol and I had “found” each other.
We wrote letters to each other just about every day, we spoke on the phone (unlike today long-distance calls were expensive) at least once a week and ultimately found ways to be able to spend at least a few days a month together. We thought we had it rough, but we had nowhere near the hard times survived by our parents.
A Different War
When I graduated high school in 1969 the United States was deeply embroiled in a skirmish in Southeast Asia called The Vietnam War. If a healthy young man graduated from high school and couldn’t or didn’t choose to go to college, he would be available to be conscripted into the Army to fight in the jungles and rice paddies of that divided agrarian country. Those who enrolled in college fell under the protection of a “2-S Deferment.”
I needed to get and keep one of those.
That deferment became especially important when the Selective Service Department created a lottery to determine the order in which young men would be drafted. If and when I’d be called upon to serve when my college days were over depended on my birthday and Lady Luck.
On draft lottery day for those born in 1951 (me), 365 capsules, one for each day of the year, were spun-in-a-drum and randomly pulled one at a time. If my birthday was pulled as the 126th capsule or later, I’d be free of the draft. If it was among the first 125 pulled, eventually I’d be in line for a free haircut from Uncle Sam.
My birthday was the 46th drawn. I was prime meat. Curse my luck.
My 2-S deferment was the sole barrier between me and the jungles and flying bullets of Vietnam. I could not jeopardize it in any way at any time.
Feeling very unlucky over both the circumstances that were going to separate Carol and me and the uncertain jeopardy posed by my miniscule draft number, I didn’t realize the oblique dividend I’d received from a previous misfortune. I my father had still been alive in 1969 he would have opposed my engagement to Carol and, worse, he and I would likely have strongly disagreed about his plan for me to “become a man” in the Army before going to college. He would have held the purse strings on the tuition funds he and my mother were saving for me and could very well have denied them to me, as would be his right. Absent tuition I couldn’t have gone to college. Absent college, I was #46 in a line of 125 at the Army induction center. After that I’d likely have won an all expenses paid 18 month sojourn to sunny Southeast Asia.
I can’t be certain this would have happened, but not many of Dad’s VFW contemporaries opposed the Vietnam War at that time. It’s not hard to imagine he might have shared their point of view. Unquestionably and categorically, I’d have given my right arm to have my father alive, but I am thankful that he and I were spared what might have been a shattering disagreement. Maybe when we are reunited one day I’ll find out what he might have done. (Come to think about it, if I did give my right arm I’d flunk the Army physical, wouldn’t I.)
Also little did I know that ultimately my bad luck in the draft lottery would turn out to be meaningless. By the time I graduated from college in 1973, the Selective Service draft had ended. It turned out that my luck was bestowed on every draft-eligible body born in 1951 who had and kept a 2-S Deferment.
Hi. Nice to Meet You. I’m Engaged.
Whenever Carol and I were apart those three years, I was vigilant not to allow myself to get in any situation where I might be tempted to be unfaithful – and in that I’m not only including sexual faithfulness, but everything faithfulness (well, maybe I’d smile at a pretty girl, but that was it). Not that I was in any serious danger of being seduced, but in any coed social situation I might fall into I made it a point early on to announce that I was engaged.
I found out fairly quickly at Virginia Tech that I did not want to be an engineer.
I wasn’t excited about the work and had difficulty in my Calculus and Drafting classes. I only excelled at English Composition, which was the Achilles Heel of most engineering students. My first semester grades were tepid at best, and I couldn’t run the risk of flunking out of college and into uniform. So I changed my major to Philosophy (making me one of maybe four Philosophy majors on campus) and made plans to transfer to UCONN the following year.
As prudent insurance for a successful transfer, I applied to Central Connecticut State College as my safety transfer school.
Ultimately, the year on the same campus Carol and I were anticipating was not to be. Although UCONN responded favorably to my application, on-campus housing considerations prohibited second-year transfer students from attending the main campus in Storrs until their third year. I would have to go to the branch campus in Stamford for my sophomore year.
This would mean moving back home after having already made the “break.” That regression was simply unacceptable. I would go back to Virginia Tech before returning to live under the overprotective roof of my very loving, demure and well-meaning mother. I loved her dearly, but her mothering could be smothering.
“Thank goodness for my safety school,” I thought. Then I got the letter from Central Connecticut State College flatly rejecting my transfer application.
I now had three choices:
- living at home again,
- returning to Virginia Tech, or
- losing my 2-S Deferment.
The first and last of these were complete non-starters, so I resigned myself to another year of 800 miles of separation from Carol at Virginia Tech
Then the fickle Lady Luck smiled at me again.
Hi. Nice to Meet You. I’m Engaged
Two weeks after their rejection letter arrived, another envelope from Central Connecticut State College was in my mailbox. Its message opened with, “Congratulations.” They
reconsidered my transfer application; I was welcome to attend CCSC.
I was thrilled, amazed, ecstatic, but had to wonder, how’d that happen? I learned the answer later that day.
After graduating high school in 1917, my maternal grandmother went to New Britain Normal School to learn to be a teacher. She graduated in 1919. (I have a beautiful 1919 photo of her looking out a large sun lit window and holding her degree scroll wrapped in a bow. She was stunningly beautiful in that image.) Luckily for me, New Britain Normal eventually changed its name to Central Connecticut State College. My grandmother, a 50-year annual alumnus donor to the school, penned a letter to the Alumni Office on my behalf.
God bless her.
Thanks to her I was in, Carol and I would be less than 50 miles apart, and my deferment was safe.
Just My Luck.
Hi. Nice to Meet You. I’m Engaged
My good fortune continued to warm my days as CCSC turned out to be a great place for me. In short order I was involved in campus politics, the campus newspaper, a “humanist education support group,” and I created and presided over the Philosophy Club. I carried a double major of English Secondary Education and Philosophy and earned good grades. Because I was a transfer student, the calculation of my cumulative grade point average began anew; my not-so-stellar grades from Virginia Tech were not factored into my cumulative grade average, but they did count as credits toward graduation.
When my undergraduate days ended, I’d earned a cum laude designation, but truth be told, there should have been an asterisk next to that in the graduation ceremony’s program.
Hi. Nice to Meet You. I’m Engaged
Throughout my three years of classes, activities, and general life on campus, I continued informing people that I was engaged to be married soon. I had a bunch of new friends and I was with Carol just about every weekend.
When Carol graduated from UCONN at end of my sophomore year at CCSC, she started looking for gainful employment in our hometown to save money for our pending married life. Her degree was in Child Development & Family Relations, a specialty field in the world of social work, but her first job after college was in a newly formed company, ADP, that provided computerized payroll services to small businesses. Neither of us knew it, but she had landed on the ground floor of a high tech company that was destined to dominate its field.
Carol also took a weekend job as a housemother at a group home for troubled teen-aged girls. The position added some funds to the coffers, but she primarily took the job to gain professional experience in her chosen field. The weekend job also cut deeply into our together time.
Anxious to be married, we decided to be wed during the Christmas break before my last semester at CCSC. That period would be mostly comprised of my off-campus student teaching.
Meanwhile, I was at CCSC in New Britain weekdays and with Carol in Stamford on weekends. Wedding plans began, invitations were ordered, the dress was purchased, etc. etc.
All was great.
Hi. Nice to Meet You. I’m Engaged
On a September day just a few months before I was to be married, I walked through the door of the campus newspaper office and saw at the other end of the room an especially attractive woman I’d never seen before. I literally couldn’t keep from staring at her as she worked on whatever was in front of her, oblivious to my presence.
Len, our Arts Editor, was nearby at my end of the office so I sidled over to him and asked who she was.
“That’s Doris Plourde,” he said. “You don’t know her?”
“I’ve never seen her before,” I replied, “but I know the name. Hers is the only poetry you publish in our little paper that is better than mine, which you hardly ever publish.”
Len chuckled. ““You got that right. Her’s is worthy of publication; yours isn’t. You want me to introduce you?”
“Yeah, why not?” I asked.
Doris was certainly not the first very attractive woman who had caught my eye after my proposal to Carol. Never strongly tempted to venture into uncharted waters before though, somehow this was different.
Hi. Nice to Meet You.
Len, my “self,” and the rest of me walked to the other end of the room.
“Hi Doris, this is Jim.”
By the end of the day, I knew that at the very least, my wedding would need to be postponed.
Oh Lord, What Have I Done?
After more than three years of vigilant behavior, I shattered my commitment to Carol. I created a situation that I never thought was possible. I was deeply in love with two wonderful women at the same time.
God help us.
For months thereafter life was a chaotic three-ring circus filled with confusion, tears, joy, agony, happiness, disappointment, discovery, and misery for Carol, Doris and me. But the guilt and schizophrenia was 100% mine.
Having created this mess, I knew I didn’t deserve the love of either of them. I didn’t like who I’d become or how I was living. They were unsure of me and with good reason. I was the culprit. I knew that ultimately I would lose one, or both of them. Yet still I was unable to sort out what to do.
It was Carol who finally called it all to a halt and told me she couldn’t take it anymore. She removed the engagement ring from her finger, held it out and said, “Here, take it. I don’t want to see you again. I need you out of my life.”
She was crying. So was I. She turned and left.
I had now either to chase after Carol or pledge my life to Doris. It was only when I had no choice but to make a choice, that I did. I’m not proud of leaving myself in that position.
Hi. Nice to Meet You. I’m Doris’s Husband
As of this writing Doris and I have been in love and married over 41 years, had two children who are now both happily married to wonderful spouses, and we have become grandparents. Our marriage, like most, has had its peaks and valleys. But over time the peaks have become taller and the valleys mostly have been dammed up to form lakes suitable for swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, water skiing, and skinny dipping.
Doris has taken care of me throughout my many maladies and I have similarly cared for her. The direction of my life – my experiences, the family we created, many of the people I met and the friends I’ve made, the careers I’ve had, the places I’ve been, the good times and the not-so-good all hinged on our marriage. I love and am proud of Doris and all that she has accomplished and all that our marriage has done and will continue to create. I have loved, honored, cherished and even (at times) obeyed Doris every day since then.
Carol’s aunt was the school librarian at our alma mater, Stamford High School, when I returned there to teach. Years later she told me that Carol had returned to school and earned her Ph.D. She was also married, had a child and lived in New Jersey. I was and am glad, she deserved that and more.
True Commitment – A Core Value
By now, I imagine you know why Commitment became one of my unshakeable core values. In my home, in my friendships, in my career, in my faith, I am loyal to my commitments and expect the same from others. I cannot think of one friend who I can’t trust implicitly and who doesn’t know that s/he can trust me as well. Many of these friends were part of my career, and many were lost to a horrible act of terrorism. Any loss of people of integrity is a tragedy.
I have found that unreliable, duplicitous people generally make themselves known early, (see: “Trump, Donald”) and I have learned to avoid them if possible and to not trust them if they can’t be avoided. My being honest and reliable when they are not can be disadvantageous early on. But liars and connivers typically expose themselves quickly.
Knowing who to trust, who not to trust, and why, I can swim in waters with the sharks safely if I have to.
But like an open sewer, I prefer not to deal with them at all, if it can be avoided.
©2016 James Ash
©2016 James Ash