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Creative Nonfiction Drama Contemporary

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s only a well-made plan that can change your future for the better. But in this story, I’m about to tell you, it couldn’t be further from the truth. It all began in January 1974, just after my eighteenth birthday. I was six feet one inch tall, one-hundred-sixty-five pounds, and had the body of an athlete.

Externally, I was physically fit, but internally, I bore an invisible flaw, which eventually changed my future. To put it simply, I was half- blind. An ophthalmologist determined it wasn’t from any fault of my own, but that the retina in my right eye was scarred from an infection during my childhood years. Needless to say, the damage was permanent, and having experienced it most of my life, I learned to adapt and move on.

Now, having the body of Superman, the looks of Brad Pitt, and the intelligence of Einstein (Maybe I’m getting little carried away), you’d think I had the world at my feet, but you’d be wrong. You see, when it came to schoolwork, I was no one lazier than me. All the way through high school, I did everything I could to avoid doing homework. In eleventh grade, I developed my first well-made plan. During study hall, I organized homework groups where each member would do one or two problems and share the solutions with each other. Within ten to fifteen minutes, our homework assignments were completed. After two years of cheating, I didn’t graduate at the top of my class, but I did graduate.

After the Summer break, I started college, with the idea I would become an automobile mechanic. It didn’t take long for boredom to overwhelm me and ended up dropping out. It wasn’t long after that I decided to move to South Carolina. I was planning to spend the rest of my life there, but as it turned out, it wasn’t meant to be. Something was still missing in my life, but I couldn’t place my finger on exactually what it was. Eventually, I found myself back in New York and from there, I continued to ponder on what I wanted to do with my life. So, there I was, unemployed, and unsure of my future. It was then I decided I needed a new plan, a better plan.

As fortune would have it, I wasn’t alone in my boat. Norman, who was my best friend since middle school, was paddling with me.

It was a mid-January afternoon. We were at a local bar drinking beers and shooting pool, when Norman said off the top of his head, “I have an idea, Howard. Why don’t we join the Coast Guard? That way, we can make get out of this God forsaken town and move on with our lives. I also heard they have a "buddy" plan where friends can go to boot camp together. What do you think?

I knew we were fresh out of the Vietnam war and the draft had become part of history, but still the possibility of returning to war was a dark thought in the back of my mind. But the Coast Guard should be different, I thought. They have nothing to do with foreign affairs. Their sole job is to protect U.S. coastal waters. Not seeing a downside to it, I whole-hardily agreed with his plan and later that week, we found ourselves driving to Syracuse to visit the recruiter.

As you can imagine, the recruiter was overjoyed to see us walk through his front door. After a few quick questions, he had us take an entrance exam and scheduled us for a physical later that week. It wasn’t long after that, we were back in his office. “Gentlemen,” he began. “I have good news and bad news. The good news is Norman qualifies to join the Coast Guard. The bad news, Howard, you don’t. Though you had the highest score I’ve seen on an entrance exam, we’re unable to let you sign up. You see, the vision in your right eye doesn’t meet the standards required for you to enlist in the Coast Guard. I went to my commander and begged him to see if we could get you in under a waiver, but I’m afraid that wasn’t possible. I’m sorry.”

Sorry, he said. Can you believe it? For my whole life, I dealt with my disability and never once found it debilitating. Now, some regulation buried in a pile of other regulations says I’m incapable of doing something, without even letting me get a chance to prove them wrong. Even so, I knew my chances of convincing the Coast Guard to change its mind was zero. It was time for me to let it go.

Just as we were about to walk out the door, the recruiter spoke out. “You know, Howard, the Army’s physical standards are less than ours. If you wish to join up with them, you should have no problem getting in.”

        So, a new plan began to develop in my mind. Norman was going to join the Coast Guard and I was going to join the Army. In fact, the Army recruiter guaranteed I would be a tank driver stationed at Fort Carson Colorado. It’s a job and a chance to do something with my life. At that moment, my fate was sealed, or so I thought.

A few days later, Norman, of couple of friends of ours, and I were driving back home after a day of drinking and shooting pool. As we were cruising down the snow-covered road, I leaned my head back against the head rest and closed my eyes. I laid there in comfort, thinking about the future, when I heard Norman shout out, “Look out!”

Yeah, right, I mumbled to myself. The next thing I remembered, I was waking up in the hospital, stark naked. When I twisted my head, a bolt of pain shot down my back informing me I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

For the next three days I laid there, unable to leave my bed, and during that time, I learned what had happened. As Norman was driving down the road, he hit a patch of ice and lost control of his car. As he slid across the road, he nearly missed colliding head on with an oncoming vehicle. Unfortunately, he couldn’t avoid the tree on the other side of the road. Considering he struck the tree at fifty miles per hour, I was lucky I wasn’t hurt worse. Norman only suffered a few cuts and bruises, but as for me, I had a slight concussion, a mild compressed fracture in my back and a severe black eye to top it all off. Though my injuries turned out to be minor, they were about to change the direction in my life.

Not long after I was released from the hospital, I had to return to Syracuse for my final physical, before I could join the Army, and when it was completed, I was informed my results were not pleasing. The doctors took one look at my black eye, remembered I was blind in it, told me I was not fit to drive a tank. And just like that, all my plans of going to Colorado and to a better life, were eradicated.

When the recruiter heard this, he gave me some words of encouragement. “You may not be able to drive a tank, but you can do something else for your country. How does being a generator mechanic sound to you?”

Generator mechanic, I thought. Does that mean the Army does more than shoot guns and drive tanks?

I heard myself asking, “What the catch?”

The recruiter’s tone was flat. “There’s no guarantee where you’ll be assigned.”

Having no control, or no plan, I would be leaving everything up to destiny. So, I was left with two choices. Either join the Army and be a generator mechanic or go home jobless, with no future. Turning to the recruiter, I asked, “Where do I sign?”

And that was it. I headed to Fort Jackson for Basic Training and later to Fort Belvoir to learn how to fix a generator. September rolled around when I completed my training and was waiting to receive my PCS orders. The entire company was standing in formation when our First Sergeant came out and read our names off the list. When the tally came in, all those who were not guaranteed an assignment, were ordered to go to Germany. Everyone, that is, except for me. I alone was ordered to go to South Korea. The whirlwinds of destiny and fate threw me halfway around the world.

The morning I arrived in Yong San, I was taken to the reception station and waited for further orders as to where I was being stationed. At least fifty of us were mulling around in a conference room. As we waited like sheep for the slaughter, I had a chance to observe unit insignias hanging on the walls.

I heard one of my fellow sheep bleating, “Those insignias are the emblems of all the units stationed here.”

As I looked at the insignias, one caught my eye. The patch was shaped like a bullet facing downwards and inside it was an image of a missile with a lightning bolt passing through it. Above the patch was a tab, and in it was the words, 4th Missile.

Before long, in-processing began, and I quickly dismissed the insignia from my mind, but by the end of the day, it had become a part of my life. While most of the wandering sheep were assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Casey, I, alone, was assigned to the 4th Missile Command at Camp Page. I thought the odds of this happening to me were incredible, but I was soon to learn fate wasn’t done with me yet.

About a month after arriving in Camp Page, I decided I needed to further my education. So, I went to visit the education center to see what they had to offer. Unexpectedly, as soon as I walked through the door, the Director of Education rushed up to me and introduced himself. After we had a brief discussion about my education, he suddenly changed subjects. “It’s a strange coincidence you came in just now. A few minutes ago, an employee of mine quit. You see, I run a class, just outside the gate, teaching English conversation. Who would you like to teach that class for me?”

It was something I would never have planned and the last thing I expected to hear from him. If I had been a bar hopping, girl chasing type person, I would have said no. But I wasn’t. Most of my time was spent staying on the base and had little to do during my time off, so I agreed to teach. If you think fate was finished with me, think again.

The next night was the first time I went to the classroom. As I climbed the stairs, I began to wonder. What will it be like, trying to teach anything to anyone? I’ve never done anything like this before. What will they think of me? Before I could answer my own questions, I found myself opening the classroom door.

As I did, I was greeted by a class of six people, waiting patiently for me to arrive. Most of them were a little older than me, both male and female. But there was one young woman that caught my eye. I had to force myself not to stare at her. If was as if I was gazing at an angel. She was about my age, slender and incredibly attractive. To me, perfect.

My heart began to race, for I never felt such an attraction before. Yes, there were other women in my life, but none of those relationships felt as powerful as this one. She looked at me with her beautiful almond eyes and smiled. From that moment on, I was hooked.

Today, I laugh at those who say they can plan out their lives and love at first sight doesn’t exist. As for me, I know better. It’s been over forty-six years since we first met and as of today, we are happily married. Somedays, I look at the past and try to count how many coincidences and acts of fate intervened, taking me halfway around the world to meet my true love and every day I count, the number is never the same. I figure the odds for my life to turn out as it did are close, if not beyond the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot and the way I see it, I’ve won more than the greatest payout it’s ever given. 

November 02, 2022 17:59

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1 comment

Howard Seeley
20:53 Nov 02, 2022

Truth is stranger than fiction. Enjoy!


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