Randy Ford Author- running from the war

      Ted and Susan took a bus to Olangapo.   What was to have been a quick trip for Ted to Subic turned into a short vacation for both them, with an over-night stay in a parked bus in middle of nowhere.   Straight and hard-back seats, cracked from the sun, didn’t make for a comfortable night.   The single two-lane highways kept the driver on his toes; the driver and the conductor alternated turns at the wheel, as they laid on the horn every time a rooster or some other critter got in the way.   The countryside was lush and green.   The towns were gritty.   Some of that grit had blown in off the volcano; the bigger towns, of course, had paved streets.   There was the fresh smell of the sea, as they left the mountains and entered the flood plain that meant they were approaching Olangapo; and when they got there Ted kept his window open to let the sights and sounds of the city in.  He had brought all of his paperwork from his draft board with him.   He would need it to get on Subic, and without it he would be out of luck.

      The long bus ride had been tense.   Susan’s tenseness matched Ted’s own.   So much depended on this trip…not just thinking in terms of the next few weeks, but about the awful decision that had to be made either way, and time was running out, and if Ted passed his physical; was there anyway he wouldn’t pass it; he surely would pass it, and then…what then…and poor Susan, and Susan hated to think about it, think about how she would endure the absence of her Ted, the waiting and not knowing, the apprehension and the strain.   During the long bus ride all this came crashing in, and she asked herself ‘where will we be?’ come…   And Ted was thinking how easily it could make her a widow.

      They heard rock-and-roll.   At first Susan wasn’t sure what she thought about it, but then she generally liked rock-and-roll, particularly Buddy Holly.   They got off the bus and look down the main drag of Olangapo with all the bars on both sides of the street.   Ha!   It was more than Susan could stand; one of the moments of her life that she would always remember, as she watched ladies with drinks come out the bars with men.   When she then looked at Ted, he gave her wink.   That confirmed what she feared: it stunk.

      They found the bus station, without finding their way to Subic.   They went through the rather large waiting room, with individual chairs lined up in neat rows, and nervously approached the ticket counter.   They were finished with Olangapo and wouldn’t go back.   As they stood in line, Ted said to Susan, “Let’s go to Baguio.”   Susan didn’t know how the courage came to her to tell her husband that she didn’t appreciate his wink; but that wink and seeing Olangapo settled the matter for her.   She said, “Yes, why not skip the physical.   Baguio should be nice.”   Ted loved her for supporting him.   He put his arm around her, as they stood there, and he thought with sadness…and perhaps some fear…of his dad, who would’ve been against him dodging the draft.

      They began then to rearrange their lives around flying to Singapore, and they ignored the implications.   Susan was amazed at herself, amazed at how brave she had been.   The memory of them standing there in the middle of Main Street Olangapo would mark for her a turning point.   Thank goodness she had gone with Ted.   The wink became less of a deal as time went on.   He winked in jest and she knew that, but she had been nervous for Ted because she could imagine what the stresses of war might do to him.   She didn’t know what would happen now but together she felt sure that they could survive most anything; it helped that they had survived a hurricane.   (Before they got out of the Philippines, they would add an earthquake to a growing list of calamities, a list that gave them strength.)   This particular crisis was the first big one of their marriage, but she had been more nervous for Ted than she had been for herself because he was the one who was set to go to war.   After they were back on the bus and well on their way to Baguio, Susan said, “Honey, I have a confession to make.”   She paused; Ted waited.   “Honey, I don’t trust you.”   Trust was sacred to her; she was admitting to herself that she had let herself down, as she pictured Ted sleeping with a girl from a bar.   She frowned, glad she had said what she had, glad Ted didn’t respond given that he had his head hanging out the bus window; but she was not pleased with herself.   She said in a sardonic way, “Aren’t the mountains just beautiful.”   Ted should’ve been listening, but he continued to hang his head out the window, and said, “Perhaps, at this rate, we’ll get to Baguio before dark.”   They had never been to Baguio before.   Yet he had an idea of what they would do even if they got there late.   Maybe two or three ideas.   And that, people, was how he planned to spend the rest of his life.   That was it.   And he didn’t need to explain it.   He would say to Susan, “How dare you complain.   I came close to being shipped off.   Thank goodness you were with me and not against me.   You’ve stood by me.   You willingly gave up so much.   How lucky we are and compared to most people…most people?   That’s going a bit far.   If I were like my dad, I would’ve whip some ass in Vietnam.”   The episode strengthened their relationship, but it could’ve gone totally wrong.   Hindi aco patay! “I’m not dead yet,” he yelled it out the bus window.   To be alive was everything.   If he had gone, he could’ve been killed.   What then?   But in his father’s opinion, it stunk; to him it was if his son had given the finger to all those men and women who went over and came back tired of all the crap back home.

      On their return to Manila, that was how it looked to Ted.   Yet he felt better, and whenever he met someone he had to deal with during those last few weeks people were greeted with a smile, and the smiling helped him.

      They soon discovered that they couldn’t get plane reservations on the day they wanted due to the planned arrival of the Pope, so they delayed their departure for a week.   The delay suited Susan; it gave her more time to say goodbye to everyone.   Ted slowed down, took small steps, at times imperceptible steps, often turning up where he was least expected, at a cast party maybe, with a bottle of wine and well wishes for everyone.   In fact he spent more time at the fort than he ever had before.   All Nick had to do to find him was to go to the fort.   Ted went from place to place, friend to friend, telling everyone that he was one of those people who never looked back.

      Susan blamed Ted for packing too soon.   Anything they couldn’t get into their two trunks they had to give away.   They did that with their puppy, and Susan felt sad about that.   Ted was more hard nosed, of course; his father was that way too, born with the same genes: who would’ve guessed?   A party for Susan’s godchild had to be attended; and it seemed all too apparent that the child’s parents were looking for a return.   Linda was just as shy as she always had been; she had always been a conscientious maid, taking care of all the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, and the washing.   She never said what she would do with her future; at that point she probably didn’t know.   For months they had tried to be extra kind to her.   They took her with them on a vacation.   They went to Boac together.   They said, “Linda, you can do more with your life than be a maid.   You have the world going for you.   You could go back to school.”   Only then did she tell them that she planned to get married, and when they got back from Baguio…forgetting the fact that they were heading for Olangapo…she announced that she had a new husband and had gotten married while they were away.   She seemed very happy.

Randy Ford

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