"The heat waves shimmered in the distance, inexorably rising off the sand in an unmerciful display of mother nature's authority. Good cover was nowhere to be found. Off to the left, enemy snipers could be heard, the gunfire signaling the start of another day in Hell .”
It was the summer of '69. It was the summer of despair .
Joey wrote me that letter after his unit fought its way back to base camp. He wrote as often as he could. Sometimes, I'd find a stack of his letters in the mailbox when I got home from work, and then, I wouldn't hear from him for while. Whenever his family got any news, they would call me or visit to share the letter. I did the same for them. I always let my folks and Joey's read what we wrote, including the parts where Joey and I talked about getting married when he got home.
It was the summer of '59. It was the summer I met him.
Joey and I always liked each other. We were too young to think of each other as boyfriend and girlfriend at first. His family moved into a new house down the block the summer after third grade. I was a tomboy. I loved to ride my bike to the schoolyard to play on the swings, seesaws, and sliding board with the neighborhood boys. Sometimes, we'd play cowboys and Indians on the vacant lots in our development. Nobody thought anything of it a – me, a girl, playing with a bunch of boys. We were kids. I didn't care about the differences between a boy's body and mine. I knew they could stand up to pee, and I knew why. Big deal. That's the way it was. The boys knew I was different from them between the legs. They knew that made me a girl, but otherwise, I was one of them.
Until Joey moved in.
He was different, maybe a little quieter than the others, more serious, more grown up. He was horrified the first time one of the boys took a leak where I could see him. “Don't look, Sue! Harold, what do you think you're doing? There's a GIRL here!”
"Yeah?” Fat Dennis sneered. “So what?”
"So what? So what? You can't let her see that! That's what!”
Fat Dennis stood up. He always bullied new kids at first. He towered over everyone, even Joey, and Joey was big, in a strong-looking way. “Joey, you moved in two days ago, didn't you?”
“That means you don't get to tell us what to do. If I need to pee when I'm out here with Sue, I'll just walk to the nearest tree or wall or something and do it. We all do. So does she. She has to sit down or squat to pee, though.”
“No, she does.”
“Not that part! I meant doing it in front of a girl,” Joey stated.
“Because it is.”
“Says who? You?” Dennis taunted.
Joey stood up and looked at me. “It's also wrong to fight, and it would be real wrong to let Sue see if anything happens.”
“You gonna fight me, new kid?”
“I don't want to,” Joey said.
“You chicken to lose in front of a girl?” Fat Dennis strutted around, flapping his wings and clucking.
“You know I'd beat you up, don't you, new kid?”
“That's not how it would go,” Joey chuckled.
“Big talk,” Dennis threatened. “Come here and fight me.”
Dennis was pretty worked up by that point, so everyone knew he was going to lunge at Joey. Poor Fat Dennis. Joey side-stepped, ducked Dennis' punch, and flipped him over so he landed on his back. It knocked the wind out of him for a couple seconds.
Joey knelt next to him. “I didn't want to do that. Are you okay?”
Dennis wiped his eyes with his t-shirt. “What did you do?”
“Stopped the argument. I want to be your friend, Dennis. I know you're the leader here, so I'm telling you – no peeing in front of her, and if she needs to go, we walk away.”
Fat Dennis struggled to his feet, shaking off Joey's offer to help. “Fine, but why?”
“Do you pee in front of your mother?”
“No! Boys don't do that!”
“Right, but why not?”
“You just don't. Nobody pees in front of their mother. Heck, that stops when you're old enough to aim it. I mean, it's your mother!”
“You have a big sister, don't you, Dennis?”
“Do you pee in front of her?”
“NO!” Dennis sputtered. He looked like he was working himself up to a second round.
“Are you trying to start something, Joey? Boys don't pee in front of their sisters. That's wrong.”
“Exactly. We don't do it in front of our mothers and sisters, because it's wrong. You know why? They're girls.”
“Yeah,” Dennis said. Then, “Oh.”
They shook hands, and with the new rule in place, Dennis suggested a game of tackle-tag. It was his favorite game. To tag someone, you had to knock them down. Tripping or shoving often were enough, but we usually went home scuffed and dirty. Dennis approached the game with brute force, and the rest of us responded with agility and speed, so we were pretty fairly matched.
Joey tried to treat me like a girl, I guess, which made it easy to get away from him when he was “It.” He'd tackle the guys if he had to, just the way they taught him, but not me.
When it was my turn to be “It,” Joey was closest to me. He ran, dodging me, until I grabbed his arm and threw myself at him. He landed on his belly with me on his back.
“Holy cow, Sue, you hit hard.”
“Yup. You're “It.” I scampered away from him. A few turns later, he was “It” again and came after me. He caught my one leg as I was climbing a tree, and pulled me down, so I landed on top of him, breaking my fall.
“Tag. No tag-backs. You're 'It.'” he laughed, bouncing me.
“I'm not on the ground,” I said. “To tag someone, they have to land on the ground.”
He grabbed me and rolled us over, pinning me under his body. He pushed himself up and looked into my eyes. “Now you're tagged.” He stayed there for a moment on top of me, smiling. Then he stood up, helped me to my feet, and ran away.
Joey fit in well enough, but sometimes he'd wander off. I was curious about those times, so I watched him, to see where he went. I followed him after a while and found him sitting on a big rock in the shade, staring down the hillside at the surveyors figuring out where new streets would go. “Penny for your thoughts, Joey.”
“Oh!” He jumped like I had appeared by magic. “Hi, Sue.”
“What are you doing?”
“Sitting on this rock.”
“May I sit with you?”
That was how it started.
Joey and I became friends. We spent the whole afternoon sitting in the shade on that rock, swapping stories and getting to know each other. The whole gang of us “Daisy Drive Devils”, as our parents called us, were friends. We played together almost every day. The day after Joey and I talked, the Devils played as a group, and we were together every day until we woke up one morning to a steady, soaking rain. No one ever called each other on rainy days, since none of us was allowed outside because we would catch our death. None of our mothers understood that we would get wet walking to the bus stop this fall, too.
We sat alone in our living rooms and watched Looney Tunes, The Three Stooges, and game shows on TV. My parents had an older console television, a blond oak cabinet beast. It had four big wood and cloth doors on the front. One revealed a round black-and-white picture tube, a big one, as big as the plate Mommy put the turkey on at Thanksgiving. The really neat thing was the record changer behind the second door. It played 33-1/3's and 78's and could take as many as six records at a time. There was even a removable fat spindle for a stack of 45's. The base of the record player had an AM radio tuner. The door below that didn't open, but it hid a speaker as big as the picture tube, and under the TV was a storage cabinet for albums. It was top of the line, but after Joey moved in, I didn't spend much time in the living room, except when “Lassie” was on, Sunday nights.
I was helping Mommy with the breakfast dishes, watching the rain through the kitchen window, when the big black telephone on the table next to the refrigerator started to ring. Since I was drying, Mommy told me to answer. “Hello, Brown residence.”
“Is that you, Sue? This is Joey. Do you want to come play at my house? My mother says it's okay.”
“I can come over with a big umbrella to get you.”
“Do you want to watch television?”
“We could, or we could play in the basement or my room. Maybe we could trade baseball cards or something.”
“Let me ask Mommy.”
In ten minutes, Joey was at my door. I was waiting for him, my shoebox of baseball cards hidden under my yellow rain slicker.
That first day at Joey's house was an eye-opener. I had never been in a boy's room, but I thought all they did was play with toy trucks and soldiers and Lincoln Logs. Joey did stuff the other boys didn't do. He played the piano. He read books. He drew pictures. He was probably the toughest and strongest kid on the block, even though I did beat him arm wrestling once, but he had another side. Joey showed me different things in life.
He was a collector. He had baseball cards, coins, stamps, and models. I had my card collection and some dolls I took very good care of, since they were going to belong to my little boy and girl some day. I knew the value of things. Joey had some really neat stuff, and he liked things the other kids didn't.
Every time it rained, I went to Joey's house or he came to mine. Our parents had gotten to like each other, so our getting together was encouraged. We were close friends. We shared secrets, fears, and dreams. We were never bored or lonely like the other kids seemed to be when the Devils couldn't play outside.
Joey's parents joined our church, so we wound up in the same vacation Bible school class. By the time fourth grade started, the grown-ups saw us as a puppy-love couple, I guess, but we were just part of the gang to the rest of the Devils.
In seventh grade, Mom and Dad let me go to the Friday night dances with the rest of the kids. I always went with my girlfriends, and Joey went with the boys, old Daisy Drive Devils or teammates from the sports he played. At that age, boys stood on one side of the gym and girls stood on the other, both groups talking about members of the other group. Joey was the first boy I ever slow-danced with. I still remember all the lyrics to “Moon River.” Feeling his hand holding mine as we moved, I knew I wasn't a child any more, and that things between us would change.
Monday in school, it was obvious they had, at least in the eyes of our classmates. Girls I didn't even know told me they thought I had a cute boyfriend. Joey told me that all his buddies referred to me as his girlfriend. All that from one dance. We talked about it the rest of the school year. Our friends were right. We belonged together.
Joey and I started going steady in eighth grade. The locket he gave me for my fifteenth birthday is in its original box in my nightstand. He bought it with money he earned doing jobs around the neighborhood. It's still one of my most prized possessions. He turned sixteen before I did, so he drove us to the mall so I could pick out the dress he would buy me to take me out to dinner that night. When he kissed me goodnight on my front porch after our date, he gave me one last gift – picture of him to put in the locket I wore whenever I dressed up. It's still in there.
All through high school, Joey and I were inseparable. I became a cheerleader, co-captain of the squad senior year, mainly so I could be near him. Our parents were thrilled. My folks loved Joey, and the Ramsey's treated me like their daughter. They trusted us, knew that we had taken a vow in our church youth group to remain pure until marriage. On my eighteenth birthday he gave me a “sweetheart ring.” We were in love, the kind of love that lasts, one built on friendship rather than hormones.
Don't get me wrong about hormones. Joey grew from a cute boy the girls whispered about in seventh grade into one they drooled over in high school. Guys looked at me all the time, too, but everyone knew we were off-limits. I was his girl, and he was my man. Everyone understood. It was how the world was meant to be.
As seniors in high school, we knew we had the grades and the credits to get into college. I didn't need to to, since I was going to be a wife, homemaker, and mother. Joey and I had talked about it for years. He was going to follow in his father's footsteps by serving his country. When he was done, we would get married and he would continue his education.
Prom night was the night that a lot of couples had sex for the first time. Joey and I were king and queen of the prom. More than one of his buddies made comments about what we would be doing later that night, since we weren't going to the post-prom party. One of my girlfriends teased me in the rest-room at the prom, too.
“Are you and Joey going to do it tonight?” she asked from the next stall.
“Do what?” I asked. I had my lap full of prom gown skirt, trying to squat over the toilet to pee.
“IT! Are you two going to do IT tonight?”
“If you mean are we going to have sex, the answer is no.”
“Why not? You two have been going together for, like, forever.”
“Yes, and we promised we would wait. You and I talked about this.”
“I know, but it's Joey. He's like, your world, isn't he? You're going to marry him, aren't you? And he's so gorgeous.”
She was right. It was Joey, my gorgeous man, the man who made me feel like a woman. Yes, other couples were going to be having sex that night, couples who would never get married, who didn't love each other like my boyfriend and I did. They didn't understand that real love doesn't need sex. That two people can feel like they have one soul without being physically intimate. I thought about my parents and grandparents. Surely they didn't have sex anymore, but they still were deeply in love. That's how Joey and I were.
Being in love was natural, like getting out of bed in the morning and brushing my teeth. Marriage and family were a given. We knew what some of our friends did. We knew we should wait. Sex was for newlyweds, something we would be when he got out of the Army. He left for boot camp three days after graduation.
It was the summer of '69.
His letters during basic training were so full of love, I thought he might surprise me and ask me to marry him when he got home. I would have. The minister's study would be good enough for me. We were more in love than ever, having been apart, and we knew it, but Joey avoided any discussion about long-term plans. We lived in the moment.
The night before he shipped out, we were in the basement family room he and I helped Dad build, sitting together on the couch.
“Baby,” Joey said, “Do you think you should wait for me? You know there's a chance I'll never come home. I could die over there. Maybe we should break up so you can get started on finding another guy.”
“No! There won't be another guy, Joey. I'm yours. I've known that more than half my life.”
“I feel the same way,” he said, wiping my tears with his neatly folded pocket handkerchief. “I can't imagine feeling like this with anyone else. I thought about asking you to marry me before I ship out, but I decided that's not fair. You're young and beautiful. You're going to be here, and Lord knows where I'll be. Please, Sue, just write back to me when I can write to you.”
I wanted to give him my virginity that night. He deserved it. He was the only man I would ever sleep with, and he wasn't trying anything! “Joey, do you want to make love?”
“Please don't ask me that. I do, but I won't. We've waited this long, honey. If I come back, we'll see if we still love each other.”
“You're scaring me. I can't lose you.” We spent the night on the couch, kissing, cuddling, and finally sleeping in each others' arms, dressed except for our shoes.
I got a job at the diner. I didn't have any job skills, but I worked hard. I didn't need anything more. My job would keep me occupied and earn some money, a nest egg for when Joey and I got married. I wasn't the bra-burning type. I would be happy with a couple of babies and a nice kitchen. I didn't want a career other than wife and mother. Maybe, when the kids were grown, I would take some classes, but hopefully, being a grandmother would take up a lot of my time.
Joey had been gone for over two months. From the dates on his letters, it seemed like he wrote to me and his parents almost every night, but mail service from the jungle was sporadic. Often, we went for a week or more without any news. The letter about him being being pinned down by snipers was in the last bundle I had received, over two weeks earlier. As always, I was sick with worry, but I knew things would be okay. They always were.
One night, Joey's parents rang our bell. My dad opened the door.
“Joe, Marge, how are....” The smile crumpled off Dad's face.
Joey's dad shoved a paper into my father's hand, and ushered his crying wife onto the sofa.
“Hon, Joe and Marge are here. Come down here now,” my dad called up the steps.
Mom rushed into the room, and saw Dad reading a telegram. Joey's parents were holding each other. “Oh my God!” Mom wailed, and threw herself at Marge on the couch.
Dad finished reading. His hands were shaking. “He's M.I.A.? Missing in Action? Joe, Marge, that could be good. That just means he's separated from his unit, or he and some other guys are holed up somewhere with a busted radio, doesn't it?”
“It means they don't know whether he's dead but they haven't found his body, or if he's injured and dying in the jungle, or whether he's in some hospital, so damaged they don't know who he is. He could be a P.O.W.”
Marge and Mom started wailing in unison. I did nothing. I probably had the same expression on my face Dad did, since I'm so much like him – stunned silence, no tears, no anguish – nothing. Numbness.
Finally, Dad said, “Maybe not. At least they haven't found his body, so he must be alive.”
Joe, Sr. said, “Or blown to bits or burned beyond recognition or,...”
“Stop it!” Marge screamed. “Just stop it! This is my baby we're talking about! Mine! I carried him inside my body for nine months, pushed him out of me, and then fed him from my breasts! Mine! You're supposed to be making this easier for me! Dammit! You're not helping!”
“Sue, would you get Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey some iced tea?” Dad asked in his dead voice.
Joey's mom wailed, “I don't want any damned iced tea! I want my baby back!”
I'm strong, or maybe I'm slow, but it finally sank in. I might never see my Joey again. I was alone. I looked at Dad. I never saw such a look of pained love from him before. He helped me to the love seat and held me while I cried. For the first time in my life, I saw him cry too.
The Ramsey's went home when Marge ran out of tears. Joe helped her to her feet, kissed my mom on the cheek, shook Dad's hand, and then hugged me. “I'll call you or stop by every day, whether I hear anything or not. I know Joey wants me to do that.”
When the front door closed, Mom said, “I need to go to bed.” Dad followed her up to their room and closed the door. I sat on the loveseat blowing my nose, wondering whether I would ever feel Joey's arms around me again. When I went upstairs, I was exhausted from crying, but I couldn't sleep. I paced, looked at photo albums, read his poems, and stared at his self-portrait he had painted for me. I cried for two days, trying to decide whether I could ever be happy again.
On the third day, my boss called from the diner. “Sue, I'm trying to write next week's schedule. Will you be able to come in?”
“I'll be in tomorrow for my breakfast shift, if I still have a job.”
I was early for work the next morning, and I stayed for another shift because one of the evening counter girls called out sick. I worked as many hours as I could to keep from brooding at home, earning a lot in tips from people who knew Joey. After a year of burns from spilling hot soup and coming home smelling like fried onions, I knew I had to do something else. I went to the local campus of the state university to become a teacher. Maybe helping children discover themselves would help me wait.
College was hard, and I spent a lot of time on my schoolwork. That's always the way I was with school, especially after I met Joey. He was an all A student in elementary school, something only a few girls could do. I really didn't think of myself as a “girl” back then. I was one of the guys, and my grades showed it. Joey was the most masculine boy my age, and he got better grades than me. He inspired me. He taught me to love to learn.
We were competitive all through school. We loved studying together and partnered for projects whenever the teachers let us. We teased each other about our grades, the one with the fewest red marks on their paper lording it over the other. He never let me forget that he had the better grade point average, by one one-thousandth of a point at graduation. Now, I had no one I cared about to compare myself to.
Getting far enough in my studies that I actually dealt with little kids helped, whenever I was with them. At night, I grieved for the babies I might never give Joey.
Anguish, anger, and fear of being alone forever were my life. Love was something other people had. I had baseball cards, a stack of letters, some jewelry, and an oil painting. A woman at church helped me to cope. As bad as things were for me, she seemed to have it worse. Her husband left her pregnant when he was killed by a drunk driver. It was unfair. It made no sense. Her tragedy was more final than mine and left her a single mother. She was smart and strong. She managed to focus on the good memories she had of her man and tried to move on, and taught me to do the same. Nothing I could do would bring Joey home to me, alive or dead. I had to live for myself.
Classmates asked me out. There were some really cute guys, a few that could have been fun to date. But I didn't. I had lunch with them at the snack bar, or met with them in the library to study, but they were friends. I made them understand that. I already had a man.
I was in my senior year in college, starting my student teaching. Lesson plans were finished for the week. I was taking it easy, watching a new episode of “Sanford and Son” with Mom and Dad. The front door burst open.
“He's alive! Joey's alive!” Joe yelled, running into the living room. Marge was right behind him, crying and laughing like she had escaped from an asylum.
Dad grabbed the paper from Joe's hand. “Do you know when he'll come home?”
“He's being evaluated, whatever that means. He's in a hospital in the Philippines, but they're bringing him stateside soon. We don't know much about how he is, other than that he's alive,” Joe said.
“That's enough for me,” Dad laughed. “I was saving this for a special occasion. This sounds like it.” He went to his liquor cabinet and brought back a fifth of expensive Scotch.
When the bottle was empty, Mom and I made up the sofa-bed in the family room for Joe and Marge. Dad was in no shape to help, and Mom wasn't much better. I lay awake for hours after everyone else was snoring. My Joey was coming home. What had happened to him in the years he was away? Did he still love me?
The five of us flew to California to meet the ship that brought him home. We didn't get to see him at the dock. He was whisked into an ambulance that we tried to follow in our rental car.
At the hospital, his doctor took us to his office. Joey had been shot and captured. His injuries weren't life-threatening, and they stopped the bleeding at a Viet Cong field hospital. He was taken to a prison camp for debriefing.
“We're all adults here, and I believe in telling the truth, so I'll be blunt,” the army doc said. “To the Viet Cong 'debriefing' meant torture if they thought a prisoner knew something useful, followed by long periods of confinement. Joey was a rank-and-file infantryman, so he wasn't very useful to them, but they kept him alive as a bargaining chip.
“American soldiers tried to take the camp, and there was a fire-fight. Our guys were prepared, and the Cong ran out of ammo. They apparently tried to beat their captives to death when they knew the camp was going to be taken. Private Ramsey sustained a severe skull fracture. When he was found, he was in a coma, nearly dead of starvation and exposure. He's much better now. Recovering nicely. With hard work, he should make further improvements. We're keeping him sedated, but you may see him for a minute each.”
I was allowed to go first. A nurse led me to a window that looked into his room. I could hardly recognize him through the bandages on his head. Tubes, wire, bottles, and bags were everywhere. He had a cast on one leg, where surgeons had repaired the badly-healed fractures from his initial wound. His other leg had scars from long-healed sores. Skinny arms extended from his hospital gown, tubes in both of them between old cigarette burns. Always so big and strong, my darling was half his old size. He had a tube down his nose, and he was out cold.
We walked into his room. “Talk to him, honey,” the nurse said. “He's in deep sedation, but some patients say they remember things when they wake up.”
“Joey? Joey, it's Sue.”
His chest rose and fell slowly.
“Joey? You're home now. Well, not home. You're in a hospital in California. We came to visit, me, my folks and your parents.”
“Time's almost up, honey,” the nurse whispered.
“I love you, Joey,” I said as I backed out of room.
We stayed for a week, visiting him for a minute apiece each morning, afternoon, and evening. The day before our flight home, the doctor met us in the waiting room outside Intensive Care. “I have good news. Private Ramsey is showing excellent improvement. He's doing well enough that we've lowered his medication. He's in a “twilight” sleep right now. He hasn't opened his eyes or spoken, but I believe that's coming. We'll be able to make arrangements to transfer him to a Veterans Administration hospital near your home soon.”
That day, it was Marge's turn to go in first. She spent her full minute in his room holding his hand and crying. When Joe went in, he sat close to his son's head, telling him he would be home soon. Then it was my turn.
“He's asleep, Sue, but talk to him,” Joe said when I passed him in the doorway.
“Joey, it's me, Sue. I'll be able to be with you a lot more soon, when you're in a hospital near home. I've missed you so much, Joey.” I laid my hand on his outstretched one and held it, like I had every time we visited.
This time, he made a noise.
“Nurse, he's talking!” I exclaimed.
“He's been doing that ever since last night. He's probably feeling some discomfort from his latest surgery now, so there's a little moaning.”
“Oooh,” Joey whispered. “Oooh. Oooh.”
“What's that, honey? Are you in pain?” I asked.
“Ooooooh. Ooooooh. Sssssss.” He worked his tongue around in his mouth. “Sssssuuuuueeee.”
“Yes, Joey, it's me. It's Sue!”
His hand twitched, like he was trying to squeeze it the way I was squeezing his. He whispered “Sue” again. Then he slept.
By the time he made it to the local VA hospital two weeks later, Joey was awake a lot of the time. He didn't talk much, and when he did, he seemed confused. The staff said his rehabilitation would take a long time, and because of his head injuries and the deplorable conditions in which he had been imprisoned for so long, we should be prepared for only a partial recovery.
The first day I went to see him, he was propped up in bed, asleep, but facing the TV. I pulled up a chair and sat next to his head. “Joey? Joey, can you wake up?”
His eyes flickered for a moment, and when they opened, I saw fear.
“Joey, it's me, Sue. I came to see you.”
“Sue. Why am I here?”
“You were injured in the war. You were in a prison camp, but now you're in the VA hospital near home.”
“Oh. Why are you here?”
“I came to see you. Do you want me to go?”
“No. Stay. Don't leave me.”
Every day after I was done with student teaching, I went to the hospital to be with him. Every day, he was better, until one night about a week before before my birthday. He was agitated that evening.
“What's wrong, honey? You seem upset,” I said.
“Your birthday is next week. I can't go buy you a present,” he said.
“That's okay. Getting you back is the best present in the world.”
“You don't understand. I can't go get you a present because I can't walk. I haven't walked in years. That cage they kept me in was too small for me to stand upright, even if my leg had healed right. I went to physical therapy today. My legs are so weak I can't stand up on my own. How can I ever get a job and go to a store to buy things for you if I'm like that?”
“It doesn't matter. You're alive, and I'm with you again. I don't need anything else.”
“No. I'm no good to you now. I'm a broken-down wreck. You need a man.”
“I have a man.”
“I'm not a man. I'm an invalid.”
“You're a patient. You were shot. They tortured you and kept you in a tiny bamboo cage for years. You were near death from starvation. The bastards fractured your skull. It's going to take time for you to recover.”
“You shouldn't have waited for me. I don't know why you're here. Why aren't you married and having babies?”
“I don't want to be married to anyone but you. I don't want any babies but yours.”
When visiting hours were over, I kissed him, like always. Joey really kissed me back for the first time.
The next day, he was sitting in a chair. “I have to pee,” was the first thing he said.
“Do you want me to help you to the bathroom?”
“No, you can't do that.”
“Why not? They tell me you can bear some weight on your one leg. We can probably get you there.”
“No, Sue, I can't let you do that. Find an orderly.”
“Joey, I'm strong enough if you'll help me.”
“Don't you get it? I have to pee! I need someone to help me onto the toilet. I can't let you do that,” Joey protested. “Now please, go find a man to help me.”
I came back into the room with a burly orderly, but Joey was adamant that I wait in the hallway while they took care of things. “I can't hold onto him and the railing and still keep my gown closed. Please, Sue, respect my privacy.”
When the orderly left the room, I went back in. “I didn't mean to embarrass you,” I said.
“It's okay. It just wouldn't have been proper for you to see me with my skinny butt hanging out of this stupid gown.”
“I understand, Joey, but someday, I'll see that skinny butt in bed next to me.”
“When we're married, silly.” It was out of my mouth before I knew it.
“You don't want to marry me, Sue. I'm not the man you fell in love with.”
“I didn't fall in love with a man. I fell in love with a boy who once let me beat him arm-wrestling. I fell in love with the boy who danced with me to “Moon River.” I fell in love with the guy who gave me this,” I said, pulling my precious locket out from where it was hidden by my sweater. “I'm in love with a man now. You, Joey.”
“But I'm not the same man.”
“Yes you are. Whatever you can or can't do, I love you.” I leaned down and kissed him. Joey kissed me back pretty hard, the way he did a couple of times the night before he left for the war.
When we let go, tears rolled down his cheeks. “I'm going down to physical therapy tomorrow, and I'm going to work until I'm healthy enough to take care of you, if you still want me.”
On Easter Sunday morning, Mom, Dad, and I piled into the back of Joe and Marge's car to meet Joey for services at the hospital chapel. He was beaming, obviously very excited, but he wouldn't say a word as he led us back to his room on his crutches.
When we got to his room, he sat in his armchair. “They're sending me home next week,” he said.
“That's great news!” my dad exclaimed.
“They said if I could do something, I could go home, so I've been practicing a lot.” He stood up and hobbled over to where I was sitting. Trying to mask the pain on his face, he got down on his bad knee. His father handed him something. “Sue, I should have done this five years ago when it was easier. Will you marry me?” There was a diamond ring in the little box in his hand.
“Oh my God!” I started to cry, and leaned forward to kiss him, being careful not to knock him over. “Yes, Joey, my God yes, I'll marry you!”
“My therapist said he'll work with me until I can carry a nurse around. When I can do that, when I'm strong enough to carry you over the threshold, we'll get married.”
It was supposed to be a small ceremony. At least, that was what we wanted. Our families had different ideas. Joey's platoon leader, who had been in the prison camp with him, was the best man. Mike recovered from his injuries faster than Joey. He came to visit when he could, flying in from out of state, helping Joey keep his spirits up. The young widow from church who helped me through those lonely years when Joey was away was matron of honor, and her little boy was the ring bearer. Both our moms cried their way through the whole thing.
At the reception, Joey danced with me when the band played “Moon River,” but he sat most of the time. When it got late, his father gave him the keys to a new car for us to drive to the hotel where we would be spending the night. After the garter was retrieved and the bouquet tossed, we left.
“Mrs. Ramsey,” he said after the bellboy carried our bags into the room, “I never thought I'd see this day.” He picked me up, and I wrapped my arms around his neck to kiss him as he carried me to the bed, the first real bed we would ever share.
We kissed, hotter than we ever had, fumbling with zippers and catches. Soon, I was down to my bra and panties, and he was only wearing his shorts. I could see his hardness straining against them.
“This is it, Sue,” he said.
“I've waited a long time, honey,” I replied, reaching behind me to unclasp my bra.
“Wait, let me do that,” Joey said. He pulled my bra off me, and knelt on the bed next to me, looking at my breasts. “You're perfect.” His hand touched my bare flesh for the first time. “Perfect,” he repeated as my nipple hardened.
I pulled him down on top of me, feeling his chest hair against my breasts and his hardness against my panty-covered mound. We kissed, tongues intertwined, until we were fighting for air. “Roll over,” I said. I wanted a good look what was going to make me his wife physically. He raised his hips when I grabbed the waistband of his briefs.
Joey and I had made a pact that we would only go so far before we were married, so I had never seen his penis. I had an idea of its size and shape from feeling it against me, hard through clothing when we made out, but seeing it bared, ready, and anxious inches from me was different. I was almost as scared of it as I was thrilled by it.
“I don't know what to do,” I said.
“You got an A in health class in eleventh grade, Sue.”
“So did you.”
“We learned all about this there. I think we can figure it out,” my new husband said, his hand pushing into my panties. It didn't take long for him to have them off, and to give me my first orgasm by someone other than me. He did it again, kissing my breasts, teasing my nipples with his tongue.
“I love you, Joey. It's time.”
He got on top of me, kissing me as he fondled my breasts and then my pussy. He pushed himself up so he could see what he was doing, holding himself and taking aim.
“Do it, honey. I'm your wife now.” I tried to calm myself to relax my body, while bracing for the pain. Every woman I talked to said it hurt, including my mother and my mother-in-law. They said it got better over time. I prayed they were right.
I was terrified. I expected him to find his mark, push himself inside me, injure me (tearing tissue is an injury, after all), and then rut like an animal until he shot inside me.
That's not exactly what he did.
Joey and I discovered something about me that very first time. He could drive me crazy with his penis. He didn't enter me for a while. He stroked me with his manhood, up and down over my wet cleft, finding my clitoris with it, and bringing me to still another orgasm.
When I calmed down, I saw the happiness on his face. “I'm going to do it now. I'll try not to hurt you more than I have to, baby.”
His dick pried my lips apart just enough that they gripped it. I had never felt anything like this. Nothing so big. I was torn between my fear and my lust about it being where nothing had gone before.
“I didn't know it would feel like this,” he sighed. He shifted his weight, trying to keep from pinning me under him. That made him move inside me, change his angle, something. It felt good.
He saw it on my face, and he grinned, moving a little more, this time just a fraction of an inch further into me.
I pulled him down for a kiss, one I knew we would remember. He kept up with his slow, tiny thrusts, finally coming to a stop against my barrier.
“I love you, Sue. I have since the day we sat on that rock and talked. I've always loved, all through school, every moment I was conscious in Nam – it was what kept me sane. Now I'm home with you forever. Now I love you more.”
He moved again to kiss me, and sank through. As soon as he felt me give way, he stopped, holding himself from going deeper, waiting for me to kiss him back. He gave me time, until I nodded, kissed him, and said, “More.”
He was gentle, loving, caring, the way I needed him to be. Instinct, passion, and love guided us, but it hurt a little. I was very sensitive and tender. It felt wonderful, an odd mix of pleasure with pain. Our love was complete when he finally shot his essence inside me. He managed to keep his eyes open, the same as I did when I reached my first climax with him inside me a moment later. With everything we experienced, we loved more.
We wanted kids, prayed for them, but not yet. I went on the pill when we got engaged, and was quite satisfied with it. My breasts filled out a sweater better, and I had just a little wiggle when I walked, something I practiced when my parents weren't home to drive Joey crazy on our honeymoon. We cuddled after making love for the first time. “What if the pill doesn't work?” I asked.
“We start thinking about names.”
“Would you want a baby this soon, Joey?”
“I'd rather be finished with some kind of school and into a decent job before we have kids, but I'll go with the flow. Maybe it's supposed to happen.”
“I think I'd rather wait, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't practice for getting me pregnant.” I caressed his muscle, the skin sticky with our drying juices.
Losing my virginity hadn't hurt as much as I thought it might, although I didn't care, since it was Joey. We made love again that night before we fell asleep, and in the morning before we got ready for breakfast. When we went to bed that night I was still sore from stretching to accommodate him, as amazing as it had felt.
“Joey,” I said, touching his naked body in the bed next to me. “I don't know how to say this, but I'm pretty sore.”
“I'm sorry, honey.” He kissed me gently and caressed my breast. “I didn't mean to hurt you.”
“You didn't. Well, yeah, the first time it hurt a little, but it was you, Joey, my husband. We made love a lot, and I enjoyed every minute of it, but I think she needs a break,” I said, gesturing toward my crotch.
“Should I kiss it and make it all better?” he murmured into my ear.
“I'm not trying to be funny. Guys in the Army talked about it. I'd like to try it.” He kissed me again, and then leaned down and kissed my breasts. “I hope I do this okay.”
His fingers teased my curls as he licked and sucked on my nipples. We learned the night before how much I enjoyed that, but he kept moving lower until he kissed my belly-button. Then lower.
I knew people did this, touched their partner's intimate places with their mouths, but I hadn't thought about it much. My promise to God and Joey as a teenager, followed by those years of forced abstinence, meant that I was poorly prepared for this sex stuff. I let my body figure out what to do with conventional missionary intercourse, and I liked it. A lot. Now, my husband was between my legs, kissing the tops of my thighs.
“I love you, Sue,” he said, just before his tongue reached me.
That first jolt of sensation, his warm, wet tongue on my tender lips, was like nothing I imagined. My legs spread on their own, and my hands went down to caress his scalp, avoiding the ugly scars where hair would never grow. He was gentle, licking at me, kissing my clit, pressing his tongue into the bruised opening of my vagina. I couldn't believe the sensations.
He brought me to orgasm quickly the first time, faster than I've ever been able to do it myself, and more intensely that he did in our love-making earlier. I was still riding that high when I realized I was going to go again.
I was trying to make sense of the waves of sensation and emotion that had washed over me when I heard him say, “You like that, don't you?”
“Very much! Where did you learn to do that?”
“Listening to guys. They said chicks dig it. I also read some magazines my roommate's friends brought him in the VA hospital. That was kinda fun.”
“Didn't it taste funny?” His chin was wet, and I felt the moisture under me.
“No, in fact, you taste kind of good.”
“Really? People say that's nasty,” I said.
“I know, but I think they're wrong. Watching you was cool. I'll definitely do that again.”
I was so excited that I almost begged him to make love to me, but I knew that would only make me more sore. Poor Joey! If I was still that needy after what he did to me, how bad must it be for him? One glance at his manhood gave me the answer. It was only fair. We were married now. That changes the rules. “Joey, would you like me to do that to you?”
“Not if you don't want to,” he said. His rock-hard penis bounced with his words.
“I never thought about doing it before. Do you know what I should do?”
“I heard guys talk about it.”
I took him in my hand and stroked him, they way he seemed to like. “I'll try it.” I held his manhood and kissed it. A drop of clear fluid leaked out. It was the same thing I saw on him just before he entered me each time. I licked him, tasting it.
“Oh, Sue!” he moaned.
That was what I needed to hear. My husband liked what I was doing, so I did it again. Then I opened my mouth, held my lips over my teeth, and lowered my head.
Joey let me do it at my pace. He played with my hair, never holding on to it, never forcing me. He loved me, I loved him, he loved what I was doing, and pretty soon I realized I enjoyed it too. I sucked him for a while, listening to him moan, and then licked him, giving my jaw a break, hearing him tell me how much he loved me. When he started moving his hips, I promised myself to swallow. It tasted, well, I don't know.... Different. A little salty, a tiny bit sweet, an odd texture in my mouth. Warm. Nice.
Like most newlyweds, we couldn't keep our hands off each other. We were both in love and in lust. We learned how to please each other, both quickly and luxuriously. Joey was stronger every day. He claimed that it was my love that did it. He worked his way through school, and with my income as a teacher, we got by.
We decided it was time to start a family, talked how amazing it would be if we could have a child by our fourth anniversary, so I went off the pill. On our third anniversary, Joseph Ramsey III was conceived. We both swear it was that night. I had been looking forward to it, an evening of dinner, dancing, and love-making. It would be a special night where we were newlyweds again, celebrating our love like it was our very first time, just like we had the year before.
In the days before, lying in bed with a bucket on the floor, or sleeping in the bathroom, I wondered if it would happen. I was getting better, but I couldn't imagine having the stamina for a night out. We had sandwiches and canned soup at the kitchen counter. We skipped dancing entirely.
The next day, Joey had a fever worse than mine ever was. By the time we were both healthy enough to want to do something again, I had missed my period.
Joey and I learned to accommodate my growing size. We did everything we could to keep each other happy, and I believe we succeeded quite well. We were blessed with a full term, healthy baby boy exactly nine months later.
It was the summer of '79.
Now, it's the summer of 2012. The kids don't live with us anymore. Joseph the Third is married and living with his new wife in her native London. Suzanne (not Sue, Jr. – I put my foot down on that one!) is working on her Master's Degree, living with a man who reminds me a little of Joey when we were young.
We're alone together, the way we started. It's nice. We have each other. That's all we need.
Joey was happier than usual when he came home from work yesterday. “In a month, I'm a free man. Can you imagine?”
“I know. Thirty-one days before I have an old retired guy underfoot all the time. Are you going to expect me to entertain you?” I teased.
I did what he expected. I still need him as much as he needs me. I melted against him. “Should I entertain you like this?”
Joey picked me up to carry me to bed. I knew it would be good when he did that.
“Will you entertain me too?” I asked. He does something to my soul, to my heart and my mind, just being here. It's something about the love and the fire in his eyes. I kissed him so violently he almost dropped me.
“You say I haven't lost my touch, Mrs. Ramsey.”
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