North Memorial Hospital 1971 - Day 11
It was day eleven and Jeff finally showed his face at the hospital. He kissed me on the cheek and then scowled at me. “You look terrible, Stacey. When are they going to let you out of here?”
I just wanted to punch him sometimes. “You know I can’t go home until I go to the bathroom.”
Jeff tossed back his head in laughter. “You’re trying to say you’re full of ----”
“Stop it!” I pulled on his arm and nodded my head toward Kelly. “I have a roommate now. Kelly, this is my husband Jeff.”
She waved her hand and tried to force a smile.
“What’s she in for?” Jeff whispered.
“They don’t know,” I mouthed back at him.
“Well, at least you have someone to pass the time with. I’m leaving this afternoon for a four day trip. Do you think they’ll know something by the time I get back?”
“What’s the difference? I don’t think I’ve seen you more than three times since I’ve been here,” I said, pouting. When Jeff scowled, I quickly changed the subject. “How are my babies doing?”
Jeff placed his hands on his hips. “You have a little boy and one baby. Jeffey is doing much better at my brother’s house, and of course Janna loves it there.”
I felt the tears filling my eyes. “I worry so about Jeffey. I wish he could talk to me on the phone, but he just threw it down when Mama tried. Little Janna doesn’t even know her own mother. I need to get home.”
“Come on, Stace. Where’s your faith? I stuck it out a year in Vietnam not knowing if I would die any day. You’ll make it out of here just fine.”
Some people say that faith is impossible because you can’t see it or touch it but it just has to be there. The Bible tells us in Hebrews that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. But what does it mean to a small, confused child when she hears for the first time about faith and love and Jesus? I was a little girl when Grandma Miller told me about Jesus, and how He loved me and died for my sins on the cross. I remember kneeling by my bedside that night and asking Jesus to come into my heart. I wasn’t sure if it had really happened, but I never forgot the experience. Then soon after we moved to Robbinsdale and began to attend the Baptist church, I heard the same message over and over. So with the faith of
a child, I walked the aisle in church, giving my life to Jesus. Eventually, I re-dedicated my life to God after a Billy Graham crusade.
Slowly, as I grew in the Lord and studied the scriptures I accepted my faith but took it rather for granted. It became a part of me so natural it became ordinary or expected. When I met Jeff I was convinced God had a special plan for me and a special person I was to marry. No one would ever convince me that I had made the wrong choice.
Marriage and sex was not all I thought it would be and our honeymoon was spent seeing the sights while Jeff had patience with the state of my sore bottom. We were married just two months when Jeff was drafted into the Army. I was devastated. After two months in boot camp, Jeff came home to announce he was to be stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington, a well known stopping ground for training for Vietnam. Jeff insisted I move with him to Tacoma, and I agreed that we should spend whatever time we could together before the inevitable happened.
Our rented bungalow was just outside Tacoma. I walked to work in the morning watching Mt. Rainier resemble a huge chocolate and mint ice cream cone slowing melting, entwining its colors.
I faced the everyday drudgery of being an army housewife without a whimper of resistance, on the surface, that is. Although Mama had never allowed me to wash clothes at home, I had watched her plenty of times and thought the task couldn’t be all that difficult. I’m embarrassed to recall the words that spewed from my mouth the first time I washed a pair of army fatigues. I knew they had to be properly starched so I figured an entire box must be necessary to get the job done right. When the pants were done agitating, I placed them between
the two metals ringers that reminded me of two sheared down rolling pins. Of course, the pants had a mind of their own and proceeded to wrap handily around the ringers without coming through to the other side. Furious, I snapped open the ringers and was appalled at the white streaks embedded in my prize clean pants. Rinsing them out, I began again, this time very carefully pulling them through the ringers by hand. They’d hung on the line for about an hour when hot tears welled up in my eyes. They were stiff as a board!
When Jeff arrived home, he laughed himself silly, and then put his arm around my shoulder. “That’s OK, honey; I’ll have the best-starched pants in the platoon; that is if you can find a way to iron them!”
It was the only time in our marriage that we were truly a part of one another. Although we had all the normal arguments of adjustment, we only had one another to rely on and that fact seemed to draw us closer.
On weekends when Jeff was off duty, we’d drive up the mountain and hike the trails. It was our special time together and the best part of my memory of him. I would never have believed it if someone had told me then that our time together in Washington was as good as our marriage was ever going to be.
Jeff, too, had proven his faith over and over. When we were in Tacoma, we became involved in the nearby Baptist church and began working with the youth. Many a Sunday morning, I would watch Jeff place our last ten dollars in the offering plate, knowing it was a full week until payday. I would cringe inside wondering what we would do for money until then. The next few days always brought a letter from home, with ample money inside to see us
through until payday. It was my first experience with real faith, trusting God to lead while walking through darkness. I understood then how Mama’s faith had been her resource through our most difficult years.
My six months of happiness ended when Jeff received his orders for Vietnam in June of 1966. He was to leave in July and had one month to put his affairs in order.
He had the most difficult time saying good-bye to his mother. She was confined to a wheelchair, stricken by Multiple Sclerosis even before Jeff was born. The doctors said she would die having him, but twenty years later, the world was still blessed with this vibrant Christian woman. She carried a cup that was always half full, never half-empty. She was the most positive person I would ever know in my lifetime. Jeff’s father was a God fearing man and loving husband. He would always try to turn bad into good, going out of his way to make everyone feel comfortable. He gave Jeff a passage of scripture from the 91st Psalm to carry with him over in Vietnam.
I saw the first change in Jeff in the days just before he left for Vietnam. He said he had to shut off his feelings if he were to make it back home. I accepted it as best I could, but it tore me up inside when we said goodbye. I wept bitter tears as I placed my head on his shoulder and his arms encircled me. I had no idea it would be the last true moment of caring that I would receive from Jeff.
I watched the mail for his letters and read each one with the hope of his safe return. After six months, I reluctantly traveled to Hawaii for Jeff’s R & R. Rest and Recuperation was what the army called it, but it yielded only horror stories about soldiers seeing their wives for a few
short days and then being hurled back to a senseless war, possibly to face eternity. Jeff had been sullen and withdrawn before he left for Nam, but when I saw him in Hawaii with only traces of his blond curls left on his head, and his six foot frame so gaunt, I could barely choke back my tears.
I wanted him to declare his feelings of love and tell me how much he missed me, but no words of tenderness were uttered. I was so young and selfish; I couldn’t understand why he didn’t whisper the words of love I needed to hear. I behaved like a spoiled child, demanding answers for his behavior and destroying whatever love we shared. When Jeff returned to Vietnam, the tears in his eyes only created in me a secret pity party. I had failed to be there for him.
Jeff accepted a transfer to General Westmoreland’s honor guard in Saigon only a few weeks after his R&R, and soon after I noticed the love letters he once had written were replaced by obligatory commentaries on the state of the war. I tried my best to pretend things hadn’t changed, but I had to face the truth. Jeff had been promoted to sergeant and squad leader just before Hawaii and claimed he accepted the transfer for my peace of mind. He never acknowledged his own fears about combat nor his agonizing decision to leave his men behind.
Jeff was discharged from the army early for staying in Nam an extra month. He came home with the Purple Heart but refused to speak about the battle that earned him the honor. In fact, he refused to speak about much of anything. He was sullen and aloof, a deliberate stranger. I prayed for patience, confident that God wouldn’t have sent this man into my life only to allow a brutal war to destroy our marriage. I felt like I was riding a bicycle built for two, clinging to Jeff
as we journeyed together, blissfully striving to enjoy the scenery yet blinded by the closeness I desperately sought.
Jeff was only home a few months, when I discovered he was having an affair. It didn’t surprise me when the deacon’s daughter refused to leave her husband. Our first child was conceived the night Jeff came home and asked me to forgive him. The words from my mouth said, “yes, I forgive”, but the pain in my heart would not let me forget. I wanted to trust him, but he was restless and eager to spend time away from home. He worked his way through sales training school by working nights as a janitor. We rarely saw one another. His weekends were spent playing sports or fixing a friend’s car. We were growing further and further apart, and I was slowly awakening from my dream. One day I found her picture in his billfold, and I knew then that the affair had never really ended. I kept quiet as by now I was several months pregnant and tied to Jeff forever. I could only hope that someday he would love me again.
I began to see Dr. Johnson, in whom I placed all my trust and would for more than thirty-three years. My due date was January 7th, but on New Year’s Eve 1968, my water began to leak, and Dr. Johnson sent me to the hospital. I couldn’t decide if Jeff was angry or nervous that night he drove me to Northwestern Hospital, but he spoke very little. My water broke shortly after I arrived in my room, and I was relegated to my bed until labor would begin. I was disappointed when Jeff left me alone to contemplate the birth of our child.
Unfortunately, my room was in earshot of the delivery room where a new mother was delivering by breech birth. For several hours that night, I listened to her screams while my imagination put me in a state of panic.
The next day with Jeff by my side, my whispered words of love were returned with silence. I finally accepted the truth I had avoided for years: the man I loved had died in Vietnam, and a stranger had returned in his place.
Jeff Jr. was born at 3:33 p.m. that New Year’s afternoon, January 1, 1969. For a brief few months Jeff seemed honestly happy, and it was obvious he loved his son. Looking back, I guess I wanted to believe my dream of a happy marriage still had a chance of happening. When a person has a fantasy, they dwell on that fantasy and can’t always see the reality around them. My fantasy world soon crumbled beneath my feet.
By the time our baby was a year old, Jeff made it perfectly clear he didn’t love me and had only stayed with me because his girlfriend had also conceived her first child by her own husband.
Jeff became more and more distant as he traveled extensively with his job. When I discovered there was yet another woman in Jeff’s life, he made no attempt to hide the affair. I decided then that it was time to stop avoiding the truth. Jeff’s behavior wasn’t just caused by war trauma. There was something so much more I had to face. Mama has been right all along. I had married a man who enjoyed the company of women far too much. I had married a man just like Daddy.