A WWII Romance, Part III
Part I: http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=99576
Part II: http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=99860
Al and Wilma were caught off guard by the letter and the finality with which it made clear that, in spite of Al’s injuries which made him useless to the Army, it was the Army that still owned him and could and would tell him what was going to happen to his life until it said otherwise. Al was still in too much pain from his wounds, and was beginning to suffer from intermittent fevers for which they could find no cause, to really think about the reality of his being at the mercy of whatever the Army said he was to do.
He had accepted it for almost three years before he was wounded. But that was war and he was a soldier. At this point he thought of himself as a little less than a man and a potential cripple. Years later he would recite this incident as one in a litany of indictments that he had against the War, the Army and military service in general.
But the existential truth that the letter forced to light was now very clear. Neither Wilma nor Al had the slightest interest in falling in love when they took radically different roads to the Surgery Post Op ward at Stormont-Vail Hospital. For the longest time Wilma would not even admit to herself that she was falling in love. She saw herself first on a conquest of a young man who seemed indifferent to her substantial charms. It was a game she had played many times and had won them all, only to flit away when the boy became serious. And yet here the bond between them deepened day by day without either one consciously trying to hurry it along. There was no need to; time was not an issue.
Al was surely the least likely to have thought in terms of love or its implications. He was a shy and naive country boy who was still stammering around girls when he joined the Army. The Army may have taught him the language of the conquering Casanova and the ability to brag about nonexistent conquests, but in truth he was still a naif when it came to understanding what love was or how to define it.
What their meeting at the hospital had given to them that they would never have found anywhere else in their ordinary lives was a sense that time was irrelevant as they grew to understand each other, unfolding their most intimate thoughts and dreams to each other like the slow opening of a flower in the Spring sunlight. There was no pressure. There were no deadlines. There were no rules. At some point Wilma realized that this was no longer a game. It was a discovery in which the pace of the exploration was never at issue.
The few words in that letter threw all that they had come to expect out the window and faced them with issues that neither had ever dreamed they might face. This was, it turned out, a time for growing up, not just growing in understanding each other.
For the first couple of days they tried to ignore the letter as if it had never come at all. Then on the third day they were told by the nurse supervisor that Al would be leaving for Takoma five days hence. Whatever hope they had that it was all just a bad dream evaporated and they realized that this was all too real.
And so they did what all young lovers do when faced with imminent separation. Wilma gave him her address and phone number and the address and phone number of her parents in Burlingame. In the doing of that it finally occurred to both of them that in all the time they had spent together talking and discovering each other, the need for such simple facts about one another had never existed. They secured the name, address and phone number of the hospital in Tacoma and Al gave Wilma the names and phone numbers of his parents and brothers and sisters in Humbolt which he kept folded on a stained piece of paper in his billfold.
Wilma asked him why they had never come to visit him since he was so close to his home and it was then that Al admitted that he had not told them that he was even in the States because they would just worry too much. That made absolutely no sense to Wilma, nor would it have made any sense to anyone but Al who had his reasons but would not reveal them, and she vowed then and there to call them and tell them what had happened to him and what was going to happen next. Al got her to agree to wait until he left for Tacoma before she contacted them.
And, of course, with a sense of urgency that neither had expected they began to speak to one another in the language of love. This was not the language of passion that both may have fantasized that they would first speak to one another, but this was the language of something different, of soul mates about to be parted and the feeling of no longer being quite complete without one another. This love was spoken at a level of maturity that neither of them knew they possessed. And it had not been even sealed with a kiss. There was no privacy in a ward with fifty beds in it and none had been needed until now.
Wilma made quick work of solving that problem by talking to the night shift supervising nurse and getting the OK to visit him after hours when the lights were dimmed and there could be at least a hint of privacy, as private as something could be with occupied beds within six feet on both sides. But for a few evenings at least there was time for holding hands and not simply sneaking brief touches and for some sweet kisses which were not much more than one would expect kissing good night at the door after a movie. But it was more than they had ever had and it was enough.
And they vowed to write to one another every day and Wilma said she would call him as soon as he said he could have access to a phone. They talked about how long it might be before he was through with rehabilitation and how soon he might be discharged and could return to Kansas and to her. They bravely made estimates of a short time of separation all the while knowing that neither had the slightest idea how long they might be separated.
The very week that this was going on Germany surrendered on May 7 and May 8 and VE Day, Victory in Europe, was declared as May 8, 1945. Neither Wilma nor Al paid much attention to this monumental date in history for the entire Western world. All they knew was that the world which they were seeing take shape for the two of them was being torn apart by 2000 miles of separation. They vowed to each other that they would not let the miles keep them apart.
Wilma went to the hospital on that Monday morning expecting to say goodbye to Al, to hold his hand for just another moment before they placed him on the litter and carried him to the waiting ambulance which would take him back the Forbes Air Base and yet another plane to carry him to Tacoma, Washington. But once again the Army proved more than either of them could control and he had been taken at five in the morning, long before she arrived. When she got there around eight she walked over to his bed which was newly made up, sat in the chair beside it and laid her head on the scratchy blanket and wept.
To be continued……………