Her family had a wind-swept, cactus-covered piece of dirt, a little under an acre outside the west-Texas, oil-boom town of Midland. She hated the desolation, the isolation of the place. They were things she couldn’t do anything about. She loved seeing girl friends, at school, and before and after school on the bus, talking, being silly, all of the giggles on the surface and all the tears inside that clearly indicated that her life was far from perfect. She loved collecting wildflowers and the whole process of pressing them and preserving them and found great joy in learning the names of them. The thought of someday capitalizing on this joy never occurred to her; even thinking about the future was something she avoided. That was why her decision to go away to college when she could’ve stayed in the area surprised everyone. Her parents were caught off guard and panicked.
She had been after a man for sometime and had told her mother she would find herself a tall, dark, and handsome oil-man, without realizing her hometown was the best place in the world for that. She obviously wasn’t paying attention; she wasn’t sure about anything. Her father was an oil geologist, an oil-man. She felt more at ease around him than anyone else, mostly because he adored her. She looked for someone like him, when she went looking on campus, and she found someone the opposite of him. Ted said he adored her; but at this stage flattery had become part of his game.
After their marriage they moved into a small apartment near the theater where Ted worked. She found herself with nothing to do most of the time; she didn’t know how to do something on her own; Ted had the theater and didn’t have much time left over for her. For a while she read all the time. She would read and would wait up for Ted; and when he came home exhausted, he would promptly turn in. It was a small one-bed-room apartment, located near a city park. It was about a block away. It frequently filled up with strange men; it attracted every day its share of homeless people or people who looked down and out. It was summer, hot most of the time; the heat got on Susan’s nerves. They had only a small fan. Just after they moved in, no more than a month or two, something happened that scared her to death, and she insisted that they move immediately. On one of those nights that she found herself alone, reading a book and waiting for Ted, she smelled cigarette smoke coming from just outside her window. She had kept the window cracked to catch what little breeze there was. That was when she started wishing that she still lived at home where she knew her father would protect her. Ted still had to be at the theater every night, and there were times when he did worried about her. He still had his career to think of. He quickly moved her to another apartment and that helped. He was like that, always willing and able to pick up and go. And almost every time, Susan resisted; in some situations, however, as in her choosing the college she chose she surprised everyone.
Living with Ted forced her to become more flexible; almost from their first date, he influenced her greatly. He had broadened her interests. But she got tired of staying at home; that alone made a difference. One night he came home after a long technical rehearsal and found her sitting up in a chair with printed information about the Peace Corps, something he wouldn’t have come up with. The idea was frightening to Susan; she overcame her fear enough to act on it anyway. Now she had to face something equally daunting and knew it wouldn’t be easy. It had been over two years since she had seen her family; time wouldn’t wait for her; and it didn’t look as if she would get to see them anytime soon. But then she didn’t want Ted to end up in Vietnam. His receiving his draft notice shook her up. That was why, in spite of not wanting to make the trip to Olangapo, she went with him anyway.
For years she had told people that she hated the ranchette she knew as a child, where wide-open spaces allowed the wind to blow all the time. She wanted to go home now, except she was going to go on a plane with her husband to Singapore and, from there, who knew where? It was a bum deal; things were now more uncertain than they had ever been. And the strange thing was that it seemed to her as if she had asked for it.
This was what Susan was thinking as she finished packing the two trucks that held all of their possessions. Yes, she had asked for it, in a way. Indeed, she had come a long way. It all seemed to be part of someone else’s life, so to speak, as though her time in the Peace Corps belonged to someone else. And by so distancing herself she could face the prospect of not going home immediately, and once she got over that hurdle, with a few tears, she coped pretty well. She kept herself busy, as busy as Ted. She had never exhausted herself as much. And thinking of all the people she still had to say goodbye to, and being pressed into a lunch here and party there, she didn’t have much time to think, much less think about Midland, and for the first time found herself a little excited about a move.
Ted had put on his explorer cap by then. Exciting pictures of him and Susan traipsing across Borneo played in his head. With him leading, since she always let him lead, he charted their future travels and imagined going places he had never thought they would go. It all worried Susan, while it delighted Ted. He would tell her, “We’ll be okay.” And she would say, “Sure. Sure Ted, we’ve made it so for.” Or she would say, “I suppose you’re right.” Or, “It’s better than the alternative.” And it was hard for her, hard for her to overcome having been squashed as a child, hard for her to bring herself up, and it wasn’t easy for her to replace her pessimism and exchange it for her husband’s optimism; most of all she wished her father hadn’t been so overly protective.
The time flew. Even after living more than three years with him, Susan felt uncomfortable with her husband’s eagerness. At the same time she resisted less, and with their departure date quickly approaching, she felt more and more like a stateless gypsy hippie.
Susan said to Ted one day when she got his attention, “You know you’ve given up your country. You know that, don’t you.”
He said, “It feels like shit, shit really. That’s what it feels like.”
She said, “You can’t talk yourself out of it, Ted?”
He said, “I wish I had more wiggle room. That I was a bit older.”
“We shouldn’t do this, Ted. I thought we’d be safe in the Peace Corps.”
He said, “You don’t have to go with me, Susan.”
“Oh, yes I do. Get that thought out of your head.”
And later he thought that perhaps he should give in. He did owe his country “everything.”
The next day she said, “You know Nixon is a son-of-a-bitch, don’t you?”
He didn’t believe she would say that. Did she really blame Nixon for the war, or did she mean Nixon really was a son-of-a-bitch?”
She said, “You can be so detached. You know what I mean. It scares me.”
And later, she said, “My father wouldn’t allow me to leave the property. Have I told you that.”
“No, I’ve not heard that.”
“A part of me would like for you to take care of me like he did. If you agree, you’d have to change. But I know that wouldn’t be you. You’re not likely to change, and I know it. I just would like for you to have some idea of where we’re going, and where we’ll end up. I keep hoping I’ll see Midland again, though I hated the place.”
After she said that, he felt drawn to her; and it made him question his judgement. Was his judgement faulty? No, he didn’t think so. And for once they had made a joint decision. She had not only agreed but had fully participated in the process, which amazed her.
They had served in the Peace Corp because they wanted to do something for their country.
Susan said, “We mustn’t forget our country and that we’re Americans. I know normally that you wouldn’t express this. You’re not a flag waver. But you would try, try your damnedest, and keep on trying to make it right when you thought your country was wrong. I know that much about you. Maybe you don’t want to die for an unjust cause, but that doesn’t mean you won’t fight for your country in your own way. Now you didn’t hear me say all this”