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Randy Ford Author- Flight

      She looked after their bags as he ran to the restroom.   It was her old role, playing nurse with their luggage, hovering over the various pieces so that they wouldn’t run off.   If they weren’t in such a busy terminal it wouldn’t have been so critical.   Not all the people lounging around were catching a flight, leaving Manila as they were; the terminal was full; that airport would soon prove to be a very dangerous place, and Susan and Ted with their heads filled with worries about getting into Singapore didn’t exactly blend in.

      Many of the passengers in the waiting areas were going great distances.   Susan and Ted were in for a relatively short flight, a relatively simple hop; other passengers on their plane would fly on to Bombay.   Other planes began to load.   Ted came out of the restroom; it seemed to Susan that he had been in there forever, as if he had endured a line for a urinal, the kind of line she anticipated when she took her turn.   And after some weeks of anticipation they now had only a half an hour or more left and they’d be on their way, starting a new phrase of their life, new adventures to write home about.   Some people seemed more in a hurry than they were; but their flight hadn’t been called yet; and they seemed to have plenty of time since they had already cleared customs.   Clearing customs was always like playing a game; and it would always amaze Susan how thoroughly customs went through the luggage of nationals returning to their country while they generally had no problems at all.   It was as though their American passports gave them an automatic pass, with some exceptions; and this time would prove to be one of those, though they got through the first huddle, customs, without a problem.

      For while, especially after they cleared customs, it looked as if no one would show up to see them off; and it seemed probable at that point that it would be the case, that no one cared enough to come, and Ted felt disappointed.   But then, when they least expected him, Don showed up.   He couldn’t come into the area where they were; there was a clear-plastic barrier that prevented that; and Ted didn’t think they had enough time to go back through customs.   They could still communicate and wave.   Very quickly they exchanged greetings, a short while later good-byes, a scene that Ted would always remember and seemed so unnatural; and then their flight was called; and Don said that they probably would never see each again.   They had hoped that going through immigration would be routine.   Now they felt their confidence rise.   All they were looking for was a perfunctory glance at their passports; and their passports stamped, and they would be on their way (with a few regrets but by and large great satisfaction; at least they hoped that would be the way the Peace Corps viewed their service).   Nerves began to mount up, while they tried to look as unemotional as possible, which seemed the best way to get through immigration; standing in line you’d hope everything would go smoothly.   In front of them for most of the passengers it only took a minute or two.   For some it took a look a little longer; it depended on the nationality of the person; and it began to look as if they were picking on certain people.

      This led to a lot of uncertainty.   The immigration official, when it became Susan and Ted’s turn, had to ask them for their passports twice.   Ted was that nervous.   They each had their own passport; Ted could see one of them being held up for some idiotic reason; especially so considering his draft situation.   Maybe they could see that they were running from something.   So seconds turned into long minutes; after which a second official stepped up and pulled them aside.   It didn’t take long for things to get out of hand; and Ted could clearly see that because of this “baloney” they could end up missing their flight; who knew if they would hold the plane for them or not.   It didn’t look good.

       In a small office off to one side Ted and Susan managed to stay reasonably calm.   Before, the Peace Corps would’ve run interference for them; how different it was compared when they arrived in Manila and were whisked through immigration and customs and were given a welcome speech, a warm welcome when everything seemed so foreign.   Ted was readier than Susan was to accept whatever.

      Ted asked him what the problem was, sir…like everything else there had to be a remedy, but first he had to find out the problem.   He asked him what, precisely.

      “Hum!”   This was all that initially came out of the official’s mouth.   Clearly the official had within his power to make or ruin their day.   “Hum!”   The silence that followed seemed interminable.   He was dressed in a smart uniform and, with pomp and a badge, wore an official hat.   Ted, at that moment, imagined that he was going to be sent to jail for some unnamed crime connected, or unconnected with his activities at the university.   Somehow they knew and set a trap for him.   He felt like blurting out, “I’ve been a Peace Corps volunteer for almost two years; and I’ve done what I could for your country.”   Yeah, right, if you called joining the Communist useful…and maybe it was a good thing that he didn’t have an in-depth conversation what that official.

      He asked them about a stamp they didn’t have in their passports.   It would cost them a hundred pesos each.   And then could they board their plane?   “Of course,” the official said.   So they paid it and got their passports stamped.   And stamped again, when they went through immigration a second time.

      Susan later said, “They want us to go away with a good impression.   That’s why DeRoy Valencia was such a stickler over his bathrooms in the Luneta.   You see Alfred was right all along.   The time came for him to pee.   He was then a Mormon missionary in Hawaii.   Everyone has to pee.   That’s right, everyone, even a Mormon missionary on a mission.   And if he were in Manila instead of Hawaii, he could’ve peed almost anywhere: behind a building, on a tire, a tree, anywhere.   But in Hawaii, he would have to hold it, but sometimes he thought he couldn’t, and one of those times he got in big trouble.   What was he going to do?   He would do what he always did: he would find a building, a tire, a tree, or whatever and pee.   And low and behold, in Hawaii he got arrested for it.   Now was that fair?   I mean, he was in foreign country for Pete sake.”

      Her parents had never been out of the United States, unless you count the few times they crossed into Juarez on foot, and Susan thought that shouldn’t count.   Here they were about to get off a plane in Singapore.

      She said to Ted, “I’ve been angry at you.   Back in the States I was blind-sighted by the prospect of marrying you.   How could that be?   How could that be with someone like me?   I thought one day you’d be famous.   Before I met you I knew nothing about the theater, except…all the people I knew about in the theater were all very famous, so it stood to reason…I guess I was fooling myself.   My dreams were buried back there in the theater building I hated.   It took so much of you away from me.   I was lonely.   I could’ve died when I smelled the cigarette smoke.   My husband was among the living dead.   And I knew that if I didn’t do something quick that I’d drive myself crazy.   So I suggested the Peace Corps.   I didn’t really think you’d really want to go.   I felt good when you did.   I thought, oh boy, now I can get my husband back.   Of course, I was scared to death.   Scared and pissed, and that accounted for my pissiness.   Of course, I didn’t tell anyone.   Now half the people on the plane know.”

      He leaned over to be close to her and said, “So I drove you crazy.   So now what’s up with you?”

      “I don’t know.   I would hope that I’m stronger now.”   She went on to say, “You didn’t drive me crazy.   Even when you were at your craziest, you didn’t.   I was feeding off my own frenzy.   I could say I was waiting for you to become a famous such and such.   But I’m more realistic than that.   I saw my mother; how she was stuck on that piece of dirt near Midland.   And look at us now: on an airplane flying into Singapore.   Why not Singapore?   We could stay in Singapore.   Singapore sounds so exotic.”

“I have news for you. They won’t let us stay in Singapore.”

      “Shucks!  Or rats!   Is Singapore a country?”

      By the time Singapore broke away from Malaysia it was already becoming the financial hub of Southeast Asia.   It didn’t take Susan and Ted long to learn how to get around in this super-clean, super-organized city-state.   There were sights to see.   And a great amount of pressure was off them.   By and large Ted thought they had succeeded in disappearing.   And this realization came on the heels of an attempted assassination of the Pope.   Nick returned to his home in Central Luzon.   The guerrillas there learned from past mistakes and became more successful, as politics in Manila turned more deadly.   In many ways, it was a good thing that Ted got out of there when he did.   They raided Angeles City and ambushed some American airmen and raised the stakes for everyone everywhere in the Philippines.

      Then the question arose: what would they do if Susan became pregnant?   Susan had said that she didn’t know how many times she could move, and Ted had said a good time to settle down might be when they had a kid.   Then there for a while in Singapore they thought Susan might’ve been pregnant.   For several days they lived with that unknown and until they discovered the wonders of socialized medicine.   They didn’t have to pay a thing; and the results set them free.

       Life then presented them with questions.   Seeing Singapore meant, among other things, eating on a junk in the harbor; and this place was own by American expatriate; and you could catch a water-shuttle to it for lunch and dinner.

      While they were eating the owner appeared, and Ted asked him how he managed to acquire a junk and turn it into a restaurant.

      “It wasn’t easy,” he said.

      When he came back later with the bill Ted said to him, “We just came from Manila.   We grew tired of Manila.   Any advice?”

     “None whatsoever.”

      And Ted said, “I’m lucky to have this woman here.   I couldn’t live without her.   I have another question.   If you had nowhere, where would you go?   And don’t say Singapore and that you would live and work on a junk.”

      Randy Ford

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Randy Ford Author- running amok on those last days

      Sonja came to the lunch Alfred planned for them.   She considered bringing them a small gift, something very small that would fit in their luggage, as a token of appreciation, and but that idea got lost as she rushed about.   She wanted to see Ted off not because he had worked for her for over a year and half, not because of his contributions to the theater, not even because she had counted on him and he had always come through, but for cultural reasons she had to make sure that his departure went smoothly.   She said, “We really thought Ted would be with us for a much longer time.”   Here she succeeded in making him feel good and this without relying on anyone else.   She also knew what else to say, when she said, “like you, I’ve found what I really want to do.  Like you, I love theater; and I was hoping that that love could be translated into convincing you to stay.”   At that point Susan didn’t want to hear that, and said, “Oh, no you don’t.”

      Alfred said, “Um! Ted, I think you better listen to her.   And why not, she’s your wife.   And Ted, when do you think we’ll hear from you again?”

      Within a few seconds, Alfred had saved the day.   Neither negotiator nor a judge, he took over the conversation by bringing Ted up to speed on the progress of the play in the dungeon.   To Alfred HINDI ACO PATAY was the perfect play for down there.   He wanted to thank Ted for the Katipunan flag, which on the nights of performance he planned to fly under the Filipino flag at Fort Santiago.   Ted agreed that that could be considered seditious and said he was glad he would be out of the country.   But he felt at home, and they had to laugh.

      Ted made one last trip to Diliman and caught Nick between classes.   Nick asked him if he would like to sit down.   He no longer had a Chinese flag hanging on his wall and tried to explain why, “Once upon a time I was more radical than I am now, and then one day they came and arrested me.   And it seemed ridiculous for me to be in solitary confinement, when I could’ve been more useful on the outside.   It seemed so ridiculous that I signed a pact with myself, which means I’m smarter now.   I should go home at the end of the semester.   It’s heating up up there.   It’s getting hotter all the time; and I suspect it won’t be long before it’s adios Uncle Sam.   I guess we’re both learning.   So, you and the Mrs. are going home.”

      “Not exactly,” Ted said, and they had to laugh.

      “You know, it’s beautiful in Mindanao right now,” Don said.   “With the dense forest and that blue sky and the blue sea, it’s heaven.   Don went on to explain why he left Mindanao this time, a heaven to him, and how his heaven had turned into hell.   The Moros held Marawi, and the college there probably had as many Muslim students attending it as any other college in the Philippines.   Very colorful people and Don had always felt safe there and enjoyed the lake.

     “What happened?”

      “Give me an opportunity to explain.   I’ve got to get this out of my system. ”

      Ted asked him again what happened.

      “I am easy, generally.   And I’d been to Marawi many times and knew the town.   I had no sense of fear, but I know when my gut tells me something’s wrong.   I know it’s a warning I need to heed.   Neither the students nor I were looking for trouble; rather I thought one of them was showing off with a Kris.   He had it in his hand.   High above his head.   Yelling.   I don’t play around with someone with a knife, or running amok.   As far as I was concerned, my life was in danger, period, no ands or buts.   By the time he was stopped by a bullet, he had decapitated someone.   In fact, soon after my arrival in idyllic Marawi, I caught a glimpse of him running and yelling, somewhat like a kamikaze.   Marawi, where there are all of those intellectuals.   My stomach, which is very weak, and was upset from a bumpy bus ride anyway, couldn’t take all the gore; but since I was only temporarily there, I fled; and I won’t go back.

      The last thing they did was to check the Peace Corps office for mail.   From home they sent them a care package.   Susan swooned over the chocolate chip cookies.   The few people watching her said she wept, or did she die and go to heaven?

      They almost didn’t make their flight.

Randy Ford

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Randy Ford Author- emotional vomit

      Don found them.   They hadn’t expected to see him again.   He explained in his quirky way that he found heaven in Mindanoa.   Then he said, “But heaven wasn’t enough for me.   At age twenty-one, twenty-two, getting a degree, Chase Western, no, none of it was enough, not for me.   In Mindanoa, I was reading about Venezuela, and down there in heaven it had become required reading.   Until then I hadn’t thought of Venezuela, and then finally I was able to see where I wanted to go.   Indeed before coming up here, I hadn’t thought it through; but now, seeing how you two are ready to go, I’m ready too.   I’ve had enough Peace Corps.   So I’m off to Venezuela.   Why Venezuela?   I haven’t a clue.”   And they all three laughed.

       Late one night, right before they were scheduled to leave, Susan woke Ted up.   She couldn’t sleep.  She was in the lightweight summer pajamas she always wore to bed.

      She said, “Ted, I’ve got to get out of this room.   It’s too quiet.   This is not Manila.”   Until then she had thought she was some place else, or had she been dreaming?   In deed, as she lay there next to Ted, she laid out all their plans for the week, including all they had to do when they got to Singapore in a day or two.   But she was so completely in charge that she could hardly believe it, so full of energy that she could no longer lie there next to her husband.   She had to wake him up.   For some time she realized she no longer heard the clamor and the chaos of Manila, that she had grown accustomed to it and had concluded that Manila had become her home.   She had tried to sleep.   She was reminded of all of the kids she taught in school and felt sure that one of them would one day become president of the Philippines.   To hell with Marcos!   Who never showed up!   The bastard!   What had her all fired up?   Now what?   A flight to Singapore.

      She recalled how daunting those first flights were: first to San Francisco, then Hawaii.   How when she landed there in Hawaii she was expected to be someone else, to have changed on the flight.   She was constantly tempted to quit.   There was always more training, more reflection, so on.   She found she first had to do what? She first had to decide what.   Just as she now needed to decide.   “Ted get up!”

      “What!”

      “Let’s go for a walk.   Something’s missing.”

      “At this hour?”

     “Yes!”   She wanted to say, “You’ve dragged me half way around the world and now you want me to” and of course she couldn’t/wouldn’t say it right.   Forget all those bad memories.   “Ted get up!”

      They went to the elevator and there was no elevator operator at that time of night.   They looked for the fire escape when Susan insisted that she needed air.   She had lived through an earthquake.   So she could live through this.

       She had never confided her doubts to Ted in any comprehensible way, and he started talking about how he wished they could afford to buy a jeepney, an untouched jeepney with all the color, pomp and circumstance, and tour the world in it.   She told him that since age four she had been scared to death.   Yes, age four.   Did he hear her?   All he did all the time was talk about Borneo, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand; and in so doing, he once again left her behind.   Stand your ground girl.

      “Ah, he said, “But we’d have find a way of shipping the darn thing.”

       When he said that, she didn’t know what he was talking about.

      It was a typical night.   She asked to be held.   She was learning.   He held her tight.   Ted felt how she relaxed in his arms.   She returned to the same things out of her past over and over again: masturbating by definition.   She was learning to forget to edit.   Many might’ve found the exercise passe and even useless, but it wasn’t to her.   She was doing well and mostly by herself.   How often had she remembered her father doing everything for her and not allowing her to do things for herself?   But what if that wasn’t true?   What difference would it make?

      Susan said, “I don’t know if I can adjust to another place.”

      He said, “I think you can.”

      Walking the streets of Manila.   That was it.   That was all they did for a week.   And without direction.   Perhaps it was because they didn’t need direction.   Manila had become their home.

      She said, “I want you to promise me something, that you won’t die on me.   Just think if something were to happen to you in a place where they didn’t speak English.”

      Randy Ford

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Randy Ford Author- Until the government forgave him

      It hadn’t sunk in.   She didn’t want to think about it.   She had been very good and had gone along with it and had even taken part ownership of the decision.   A first: it was a first for her; it could’ve even been the first time in her life, but she knew that that wasn’t true, or even a half-truth.   They no longer slept in a bed; but they planned to take it easy for a whole week in a hotel before they took off, the two of them alone, and she had many more things she wanted to share with him.   He hadn’t chewed her head off yet.   Sometimes when she thought about it she would shake her head in amazement and say to herself, “I really got away with something.”   And a little later she would nod.   Concerning such matters she knew it was about time.

      And she wasn’t totally surprised.   Susan had always thought she needed to confront him.   A big part of her problem was that in spite of all of their talk about the importance of equality in a marriage, she never insisted that he treat her equally.   Up until then Ted had made major decisions, and all she ever did was make suggestions.   The issue, which had been in the back of her mind for a very long time, had become important, in a major way, when Ted’s draft notice arrived.

      So Susan and Ted were going to take a very long trip.   Her parents wanted to know about that (a tour, apparently a long tour, a tour of the world, and she didn’t tell them about Ted’s draft situation).   But they didn’t need to know about everything.   They wanted to know how they could keep in touch with them.   They were going to have use poste restante; and after a few letters they asked how long they were gone for.   Until the government forgave Ted they would continue to live and travel overseas.   But they couldn’t be that direct with Susan’s parents.   Part of the deal Susan made was that they remain vague with her parents.   So Susan’s parents worried, but they didn’t say anything.   Ted had (in an indirect way) told his father, and his father told his mother, but his father wouldn’t accept the truth.   He wasn’t a very happy camper.   But since Ted had been on his own his parents hadn’t interfered.   It was their belief that since he was an adult, on his own, and with a wife, they couldn’t say anything.   Both sets of parents had begun thinking that Susan and Ted would never come home; at least that was how it seemed.

      Very soon after his draft board hadn’t heard from him and he hadn’t reported for his physical, he would cross a point of no return.   He could scarcely believe it.   On the run!   And he had a wife, and she was going with him.   They would first fly to Singapore.   They knew nothing about Singapore.   They were free and young and maybe stupid; but what could happen to them?   He began to suffer from paranoia.   He would carry their passports and their papers in a leather pouch and their travelers’ checks and money (except for “shoe money”) in a money belt, both items he purchased on Mabini Street for a song.   Before too long he would’ve been too old for the draft, and he figured that was why they were after him.   He assumed his draft board would come after him with a vengeance and already had him on some list at all airports.   What made him think that he could run away?   But then he didn’t really care.   He talked big about going to prison before fighting in Vietnam; it would be a fight, a fight he thought he could win in the long run.   He decided that he had been all along an expatriate.   It was an image he claimed for himself, an independent individual who thought independently.

      Eventually word got around that Susan and Ted were dropping out of the Peace Corps.   And when they all heard that they weren’t going straight home all kinds of stories started circulating.   One story had Ted being pressured out of the university and booted out of the Peace Corps.   Other stories involved scandals.   These stories could’ve been true or made up; they easily could’ve made a case that Ted had crossed the line and compromised his position with the Peace Corps, and as far as scandals, let’s not touch that one.   And then Don came back to Manila to say goodbye, and that led to more speculation.   Ted felt perfectly calm through all of this speculation; as far as he was concern he had already faced the guillotine.   After a while he made up a story about Susan becoming pregnant and that they wanted see as much of the world as they could before they were saddled with a baby.   (That one he kind of liked.)   The idea of becoming a father kind of seemed okay.   It would give him another reason for avoiding Vietnam.   He thought that it might go easier for him if they had a child.

      That last week in Manila, Susan and Ted stayed in a hotel.   She said, “Why don’t we stay where we first stayed.”   And they did.   And rode around the city in jeapneys and on buses, avoiding all the familiar places.   But other people wanted to see them off at the airport.   One day, tracking them down through the Peace Corps, Mr. Araya located them at the hotel.   Mr. Araya said, “I want your address.”   And they exchanged addresses.

Randy Ford

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Randy Ford Author- Manila and an earthquake

     Manila hadn’t changed a lot since Susan and Ted arrived.   It was just as chaotic, with masses of people and traffic or jammed traffic circles taking the place of order and reason.   From afar it had the appearance of any other large Asian city.   The same wide disparity between the rich and the poor; with the very rich occupying their compounds and the poor overpopulating their shanties, the middle class was outnumbered by both.   This was from where discontent grew.   It festered while Ted and Susan were there.   The open rebellion Ted saw flared up more and more frequently, and there was always a demonstration somewhere.   In the rainy season, in some places, the streets would flood waist-high; and that typhoon had blown in and blown out like crazy.   Huge fires (often caused by humans) left whole sections of the city in ruins; and, as with forest fires, the recovery always began immediately.   Sometimes walls were left standing, only to be blown over later, killing people sometimes.   Everywhere there was rebuilding, with hod carriers mixing and carrying cement and block layers laying block.   Some people were in the repair business, marketing patch it and don’t pitch it, and Susan and Ted lived across the street from a gas station.   It looked busy, with cars, buses, and jeepnies pulling out of there all the time.   The chaos was something they had to get used to.

      Their apartment was better than most in Manila.   It had running water, having a pump made it possible.   It was the low water pressure or having no water at all that created the extreme fire danger; fires that would displace thousands of people.   Their one entrance was in the front.   A very long, narrow walkway from the front to the street was what increased the risk of them getting trapped in their place, if heaven forbid there was ever a fire.   On both sides of the walkway there were separate apartment buildings, with kids and more kids and with parents who were pulling their hair out.   All the buildings seemed linked because there was no space between the walls (which with no firewall increased the danger).   Ted and Susan never worked out a contingency plan for what to do in case of a fire, but man, it wouldn’t have been easy to come up with one.

      It was hot for November.   They had already gotten rid of all of their furniture.   They were sleeping on the floor.   Ted wore a T-shirt and boxer shorts.   Without looking at Susan he could see her in the lightweight summer pajamas she always wore to bed, which was silly considering how hot it sometimes got.   He had rigged the mosquito netting, similar to a tent, from the ceiling.   Casually, enjoying a rare moment, they talked for most of the night, chitchating mostly.   Linda was already gone; Don was back in Mindanao, or somewhere.   The window was open, and they heard their neighbors fight with each other.   They always fought.   Would you believe they didn’t have air-conditioning?   Susan, without knowing why, started talking about her feelings.   The empty room suddenly felt full of things that Ted wanted to chuck (these were hard things), and the story about an early date when he forced himself on her (they were making out in a parking lot and went too far for her).   There really wasn’t time enough to talk about everything, every time he had forced her to do something.   For a long time she talked, telling Ted that at some point it had to stop, and, as she went on, she began to cry.   That was when the floor began to shake; oh God, the floor went one way; the ceiling, the other way, and before the shaking stopped, they thought they saw a fire in their neighbor’s apartment.

      “Fire!” he shouted, and in less than a minute they were running out the door.   She had a pale, white face; she stumbled as she ran.   He had grabbed her hand, his wife, as she was all he had, and pulled; and they almost fell down the stairs.   The scared couple ran…and she was scared indeed, really scared, couldn’t have been more scared (with it being her first major earthquake), and against which she had no defenses…ran out the front door, down the walkway, all the way to the street.   Immediately hundreds of people joined them.   Some of them sat down on the curb; none of them had taken the time to grab anything, except maybe grab someone’s hand.   Some held babies.   Others counted heads and looked for missing children.   All of that time with people in the street, in the neighborhood, and all over the city, they waited for the next shock; but Ted didn’t see a fire, while he waited.   He saw now that there hadn’t been a fire, figured it had to have been a candle, lit by their neighbor, just as the shaking began and the electricity went off.   He tugged at his nose, hard, as though he was getting rid of snot.   He hadn’t been prepared for an evening like this; even without the earthquake it would’ve been hard.   Lately, she had been hammering him; so far he hadn’t hammered back.   Hearing her say, “You know you’ve given up your country” really bugged him.

      “You know you’ve given up your country” you know was a cheap shot.   When a man is tormented by a decision like Ted was, boxed-in by it, he has to find someway to break out.   Ted wanted to lash out and blame his government, rage against it, which he’d been doing, and it hadn’t helped.   Ted was shaking his head.   He began to talk gibberish and pop his bottom lip.   “Am I going crazy?” he wondered.  For the first time Susan looked at him.   She said, “We’re not dead yet.”   Ted repeated, “Hindi aco patay.”   She said, “What’s that?”   He replied, “‘It means I’m not dead yet.’   It’s the name of the play Alfred is doing in the dungeon.”   And then she said, “We’re standing out in the middle of the street like this, a busy street, Taft Boulevard, and this happens.   Our apartment could’ve burned down.   The whole the neighbor with it.   There will be deaths or I’m imagining all of this.   They chase us out of our apartment and you’re in your boxers.   He’s in his boxers, oh God, we’re in for trouble.   And you’re talking about a play, go figure”

      On their way back inside Susan said to Ted, “I’ve never been through anything like this.   I was glad you were with me.   I’m glad you grabbed my hand.  By the way I forgave you a long time ago.   But Borneo…I don’t know if I would want to walk across Borneo.”

      He said, “This has been something, some night, holy shit, hasn’t it been?   Not the earthquake part so much.   That was kind of exciting.   My first thought was that you were shaking the bed, stop that shaking! but we weren’t making love.”

        Randy Ford

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Randy Ford Author- from “they had served in the Peace Corp because they wanted to do something for their country” to stateless gypsy hippies

      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”

      Randy Ford

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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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