On February 8, 1983, Pete* graduated from USMC boot camp, and I was there in a pink velour dress my mother had made for me. It was a frigid, windy morning, but that wasn't the reason for the tears in my eyes. I just kept watch on the love of my life and was so terribly proud of him.
After the parade and ceremonies, he walked over to us all. He was slim but solid, his head shaved. He looked so different to me. We locked eyes and enjoyed the little secret we had together, that soon we would be man and wife.
His family wanted his full attention, of course, but we high-tailed it back to the hotel before dinner. His youngest brother, Doug* just kept coming to the hotel room door, knocking and saying, "You guys ready to go yet?" We were in a disarray of uniform violations and torn nylons. We stifled our giggles with kisses.
It took Pete longer than it should have to tell his folks we were getting married. By this point, we'd been in each others lives since 1978, so you would think this would be easy, right? No. We put 3400 miles on the LTD in the days between 2/8 and 2/18, going back and forth between the beach and my mother's house in Georgia that week. In one place we were acting normal (except for me digging Pete in the ribs, trying to get him to tell them already) and in the other we were preparing for a wedding. He ended up giving them two days notice to come to town for the wedding!
We married on 2/19/83 in my mother's living room with Pete's family, some of my family, and some of our neighbors. A justice of the peace, who was a friend of ours, presided. My cousin Joan* made the cake, and my mother made the rest of the food. I'll never forget those wonderful finger sandwiches, so perfect and tasty!
We spent our wedding night on the twin bed with the squeaky springs and got up early the next day to head back to the beach. I wanted to say to my mother, "See? He came back for me." But I didn't. Even then, I figured she had her reasons for all of those worries of hers. (That is for another story).
I have a photograph somewhere that shows the two of us the morning after all of the running about and getting married and all. We were propped up against the pillows in the sofa bed in the living room of the beach house, covered by a psychedelic sleeping bag/comforter I'd had for most of my youth. One of the dogs, a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, had jumped up between us to pose. We both had bags under our 20-yr-old eyes. My mascara was smeared. We looked dead tired but happy, like a couple.
Pete would be heading off to Camp Lejeune very soon for training. His MOS was 0311 (I think that was it) - infantry/rifleman. I silently thanked God we were in peace time. He was so proud of being a Marine, though. Boot camp had changed him, had matured him, in a way that surprised me. He was still Pete, but he was a man now, not a young boy. How significant that he turned 20, leaving the teens behind, on the day he graduated boot camp.
By the time my birthday rolled around in May, we realized we were pregnant! I moved down to Camp Lejeune for a time, to be close to him, and first stayed with his dad's mother, Margaret*. I won't refer to her as his grandmother, because she wasn't. She left her husband and son when Pete's dad was a toddler. She just walked away and married another man. She was local, though, and she offered us her guest room. It was an offer I wish I'd never taken.
You see, Margaret had something like 12 or 15 dogs, all white toy poodles in various stages of disease. I don't know if any of them had ever been to a vet. Her mobile home reeked of age, disease, and dog piss. The smell permeated everything. We only stayed there because we had no other option for being together. The waiting list for a home on base was over a year long. Apartments in town cost more than we could have managed on a PFC's pay. We wanted to be together enough that we put up with it.
Everything made me sick, though. The smell of meat cooking made me want to lose my cookies, so I ended up losing weight during those first couple of months of pregnancy. Margaret tried to be a good hostess, but there was nothing she could do about the smell. She didn't even notice it anymore. The night I heard her complaining to Pete about me sleeping too much was the last straw for me. I was pregnant and sick all the time. Of course I was tired! So I packed up the LTD and headed back to the beach. That beach remained my touchstone during those days. When the going got tough, I walked on those dunes and in the water's edge. My legs never seemed to grow tired of it.
While Pete's parents weren't thrilled to have me back, they put up with me because I was carrying their first grandchild. Lest I give you the idea that they fawned over me, let me also tell you that they would not go out of their way to make sure that I was comfortable, that I was fed, or that I had any human interaction. I was young, scared, and pregnant, away from the person I loved most in the world, and they let me know I was very much alone.
So I did what any lonely girl does. I went to work. Two jobs, to be exact.
Once the morning sickness passed, I took a job at a little snack shop on the beach road in Kitty Hawk called John's Drive-In (this is the real name, and it's still there). It was family-owned, but there were three of us girls working there to help out. We were all in various stages of pregnancy! Thankfully it didn't matter to the owners. They just wanted hard workers, and we were that. Through little sliding windows, we doled out hog dogs, burgers, ice cream, sodas, and fries to sand-covered tourists in bathing suits. They handed us their soggy cash that smelled of the sea.
Some of them sat on the picnic tables on the side of the low-slung white building to eat, and some tiptoed back across the hot asphalt strip to head back to where they came from.
Every time I opened the sliding window, the warm, salty breeze would wash over me. I couldn't help but smile.
The owner's son also worked as an assistant manager at the Burger King in Kill Devil Hills. He had an opening, he said, so I jumped at it, going from working at John's in the morning to working at BK in the evening. My pay from both jobs helped us put aside a few dollars to buy things for the baby, and Pete's pay took care of gas money for him to run up to the beach nearly every weekend, as well as taking care of his essentials and paying his parents a little for letting me stay.
By the time I was 8 months along, Pete's brother John* had graduated from USMC boot camp, as well. You see, Pete picked up his first stripe by recruiting two more Marines - John and Doug. Doug was due to leave the next spring. John ended up being a lifer. He retired a couple of years ago and is now a dad for the first time. One of my favorite pictures was taken outside John's Drive-In. I was sitting on one of the weathered picnic tables, and I was bracketed by John and Doug. My dark hair was windblown, but I was smiling and was fully pregnant, glowing.
Back then, there was no hospital on the beach, and there was no ob/gyn. We either had to travel to Elizabeth City or to Norfolk. I chose Norfolk, because of my earlier miscarriage. I saw a high-risk ob with a bad bedside manner. He saw me through the pregnancy, though Pete was unable to be with me at any of the visits or ultrasounds or anything. He was miles and miles away.
In early January, our baby still hadn't arrived. She was overdue. When we were nearing the two weeks overdue mark, the doctor scheduled me for induction. Pete arranged for the time off and drove up to Norfolk after working all day. His mother and a friend of hers drove me up to the hospital. At 5:30 a.m., I got my first IV ever. And so began a very long, very difficult birth.
By 6:30 p.m., I had narrowly escaped an emergency C-section because our daughter was ready to be born. Together we got through those last moments, and at 6:38, she came into the world shrieking. We were parents at age 20 and 21, and all we knew is that we all wanted to be together somehow.
Within two months, we had managed to find a place to live in Jacksonville, NC, the town that surrounds one side of Camp Lejeune. We had to say goodbye to our beach, though we go back whenever we can.
The times were simpler then, when our worries could be handled with a long walk in the moonlight, with a boombox blasting Robert Plant, with surf fishing in the lights of the pier. There weren't so many people around, so we could hear ourselves think. And in the wintertime, we could count on the might and power of the ocean to put us in our place, small in comparison to the majesty of God and nature.
This was my beach once. And I miss it.
Peace - D