What would you do with three extra years?
From the third month of our marriage we had known Dee would have three years of active duty in the army. We had incorporated that reality into our plans, and even talked ourselves into looking forward to it. Maybe, after Viet Nam, we'd get sent to Germany. His area of expertise was intelligence: maybe he'd become a spy! Looking for the positive in our circumstances, we imagined living in Europe, in one of the embassies, attending elegant balls and formal dinners.
Suddenly it was all gone!
I picked Dee up at the airport and he told me the story. Sleeping in the dirt had given him a near-fatal asthma attack. The medics rescued him from a fox hole and took him to the army hospital in Fort Lewis, Washington. Although he'd always had allergies, he'd never had an asthma attack, and assumed it was a terrible fluke. It took ten days of IV's and breathing treatments to get his system back in balance.
One afternoon a new doctor, who resembled Hawkeye, came in to look him over. He sat down by the bed and said, "I see you're going regular army." "Yes, Sir." "How would you like a discharge?"
Dee wasn't sure he'd heard the man correctly. The doctor said, "You've got a condition here that will let you go home." Dee asked, "Today?" "I'll sign the papers. You're out."
Certain someone would come after him with an AWOL charge, Dee hurriedly called a taxi, stuffed his duffel bag, and left the post. He called me from the airport, and, still afraid it was all a hoax, didn't explain a thing. The phone might have been tapped in case of ROTC escapees. (For years he dreamed someone from the army was coming after him.)
"So, what do you want to do?" he asked me as we drove home. "We can do whatever we want!" Well, not exactly. We had two little kids and a bunch of student loans. (The army doesn't pick up your tab if you don't actually serve.) We started rethinking the whole spy thing. Wouldn't there be an easier way to go to Germany? Like, just get a job and go there on vacation?
That summer Dee started studying for the LSAT. He later got accepted to Pepperdine Law School, but by that time he had a real job, and we were expecting kid #3. The three years we got back went by unnoticed, and it's only in hindsight that we even see them. Eventually we went to Germany on vacation many times. We lived abroad on our own terms. But we've never been to a formal ball.
Everybody says to set goals, map out your future, have a strategy. We have learned over and over again that life is what happens while you're making other plans.