Before delving into the subjects I intend to discuss in this blog, I need to acknowledge two people whose support was essential in completing Always Faithful. The first person is my wife, Marissa Harlan.
Marissa and I met in 1997. She owned and operated a telephone answering service. I was working as the bar manager of American Legion Post 639. She lived with her boyfriend and their son. The boyfriend, who was a regular at the bar, and aware that I was looking for a part-time bartender, suggested I consider hiring Marissa, who tended bar when she was younger. That’s how we met.
That was in the late spring of ’97. By the summer we had become friends, and by the fall I was in love. When her boyfriend committed an indiscretion prompting her to leave their home and move in with a friend, I made my move–by way of sending her a love letter. We had our first date when she agreed to go for a ride on my Harley. That fall I proposed and she accepted. We set the date for Valentine’s Day 1998.
Like most people, Marissa had no clue as to the extent to which I engaged in the daily use of marijuana. I was not a recreational smoker. I was the guy who smoked a joint in the morning with his first cup of coffee. Now I was facing a dilemma. I was about to marry a woman who once had aspirations of becoming a cop, who had neither experience with, nor tolerance of, illegal drug use. So, four months before the wedding, I gave up the smoking habit. The amazing thing about that decision was how utterly inconsequential it was. Giving up Camels when I was 31 had been a challenge. Giving up pot at 53 was a non-event. Clearly, my system had long since adapted to and overcome the effects of THC.
One never really knows another until there is a crisis. In our case, it was a financial crisis. A year after we were married, Marissa invested our savings into a full-service wedding store. Marissa did most of the work–selling wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses, decorating the wedding cakes, preparing the floral arrangements, catering, and setting up the church with candelabra. I was responsible for the wedding photography and tuxedo rental.
When the business failed, we were faced with massive credit card debt. Nine out of ten people would have declared bankruptcy. I was married to that tenth person. Marissa got jobs as a bartender followed by an operator in the communications department at Mercy Hospital. I went to work at the Brown Derby International Wine Center. It had been twenty years since I held a job working for an employer. It took nearly 20 years, but we managed to fully recover.
In 2018 Marissa agreed to put our travel plans on hold while her husband wrote a book about his experiences in the combat zone, back when she was a toddler. Just as the book was finished, along came the Coronavirus, thus extending our two-year lockdown.
The second person to whom I am deeply grateful is author, poet, and retired MIT professor Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno, who agreed to be my editor.. In the Foreword, Chris recalls our first meeting, at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, California, when he learned I had served in Vietnam: “I remember telling him straight off that I totally opposed the war. His response was this: ‘So do I.’ And so began a friendship that has lasted a half-century.”
As I discussed in the book, my journey reuniting with men I had served with in combat began with a road trip which brought me to Boston for the Semper Fi Society’s annual Marine Corps birthday luncheon. My next stop was Turners Falls, Massachusetts where I visited Chris and his wife Patricia Pruitt, a poet and artist.
In 2014, Chris suffered a complete breakdown of his immune system which landed him in ICU for two weeks. “Everyone thought I’d be checking out,” he recalls. That is reflected in this drawing of Patricia’s during that time:
Though Chris recovered, something even more deadly was soon in store for Patricia. She was diagnosed with ALS. In 2017, after the Semper Fi Society’s Marine Corps birthday luncheon, I drove to their home in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. By that time, Patricia weighed 90 pounds and was unable to walk.
Patricia wrote poetry to the end. Here is a sample from her book, Insistence, published post-posthumously:
I hold you against me
in sorrow for who you are
rose petals new born,
a quail’s egg easily
broken yet fully formed.
You are strong and
need not weaken
when I’m gone.
My visit was preceded by an event celebrating the birthday of an organization famous for its history of courage and devotion. That was precisely what I witnessed at the home of my friends: Patricia’s courage and her husband’s complete devotion.
Had someone said to me, “You should have seen them at their best,” my answer would have been, “I just did.”