Chapter 1: Michael
The year was 1941. I was stationed on the USS California in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and had just come back from leave. I wished I could go back home to my family and return to the laughter and all the good memories to be made, but I had made a commitment, and I had given my allegiance to my country. I unloaded my bags from the cab and smiled at the huge vessel in front of me, proud of the man I had become since making it my second home three years ago. When I was young, I knew I wanted to do something great with my life. I wasn't sure what I was going to do, or how great it was going to be, but I knew that it would happen. And from the moment I turned 18 and joined the armed forces, I realized what I was meant to do.
My father always told me that "a true man is great, not by the size of his strength, but because of the strength of his heart." And truth be told, I wasn't sure how to interpret that at first, but as I grew older and started to think about it more, I realized that I needed to devote myself to something that I truly felt passionate about, something that I was willing to put my life on the line for. For me, that was my country, the one place I knew would always stand strong, no matter what it was hit with, or who came against it. She was my rock and the least I could do was give my services to her.
As I walked onto the ship, the familiar scent of Bob's cooking filled my nose and a smile crept its way onto my lips. Oh how I had missed the greasy fries slopped with hot chili on top. Not that my mother's cooking wasn't good, I had just come to love and appreciate Bob's meals since they were the only ones I had been eating the past three years.
I walked through the narrow hallway, heading for my bunk, hearing my fellow mates shouting and laughing loudly, a few reuniting after coming back from leave. As I turned the corner I entered my bunk, beaming when I saw my roommate, James, lying on his bed. "Hey!! Mikey!!" He stood up and hugged me tightly, patting my back. "How was your trip home?"
I dumped my stuff on my bed and smiled, "Great! But as weird as it sounds I'm glad to be back!" I laughed a little and sat down on my bunk, looking around. "What's been going on here?"
"Eh, same old, same old," said James, lying back down on his bed, "Officers yelling at us, chowing down on Bob's greasy cooking then paying for it later." He laughed and clasped his hands behind his head, turning to look up at me. James and I had been inseparable ever since we first started the naval academy when we were 18. We were the best of friends. We knew almost everything about each other. And fortunately we had been lucky enough to bunk together for the previous three years. He was tall, about my height, which back then was around 5'10". He had blue eyes and light hair, definitely a ladies' man.
"Ah, nothing's changed," I chuckled, looking around the room. I stood up and pulled out a box from my bag, taking a few minutes to put up some pictures of my family.
"Where are all your pictures of Mary?" James asked me, sitting up on the edge of the bed.
"Um, we broke up." Mary had been my girlfriend for the past three years. She was the first girl I had ever really loved. But when I came home, expecting to surprise her with a visit I caught her in bed with another man. Needless to say we ended things pretty quickly after that. It was actually really hard to get over her. My heart had hurt so badly and I would wake up every morning and will it to not be true. But it was and I knew I had to get over her and move on.
"Oh," he said, "sorry, I didn't know."
I shook my head and turned around, putting my hands in my pockets, "It's no big deal. I just don't want to talk about it."
It was tough, going back home to go see my girlfriend, only to find her in bed with another man. I thought that she was going to be the one woman that I spent the rest of my life with. However, I was proven wrong. But the thing is, I wasn't as upset about it as I thought I would be. My family was there for me when I was at my worst, and that helped. But I just couldn't help but feel that everything would be okay, like… there was something out there that was waiting for me. Something better.
"No problem," he said, standing to his feet. "So shall we go chow down on some of Bob's greasy food?"
I instantly smiled, my stomach growling with excitement at the thought of some delicious pizza from the kitchen. The two of us walked down to the mess hall, preparing to sit down and eat with a bunch of our buddies.
"Hey Mike!" I smiled at one of my good friends, Roger, who was holding a tray of food, on his way over to sit at one of the long cafeteria-like tables in the mess hall. He pulled me into a giant bear hug when I neared him and slapped me on the back. "You actually came back, you crazy dog."
"It's not like I had much of a choice."
He ruffled my hair and laughed, "Go get some food and sit down with me so we can talk." James and I headed down the food line, grabbing some chili fries and a slice of pizza. You might think that it was terrible for us to be eating like this, but we needed to load up on carbs in order to get through the daily training. When James and I sat back down at the table, Roger was already ready to fire question after question to me.
Roger was like a second father to me. He had been in the navy for almost five years prior to me even being there. So at that time, he had been serving for almost eight years. He was a navigation officer for the USS California, so he wasn't always in combat. Something his wife was very happy about. His wife, Linda, was the sweetest thing you'd ever meet. She came to visit the ship and she always brought cookies and leftover food, saying that Bob's cooking was "no good for the men serving our country".
The older couple had actually bought a house here on the island of Oahu, so Linda could be closer to her husband and Roger could stay at home sometimes before coming to the harbor early in the morning. It was an unusual case, but they made an exception for the man who had never strayed.
"So, Michael Stone. How was your trip home, son?"
"It was great. I loved seeing the family and everyone." I decided not to bring up Mary because I hadn't really wanted to get into that then.
"Yeah? Have some good home-cooked meals?" He bit into a greasy piece of pizza, his eyes still on me. We both knew that Linda would kill him for eating that crap, but his defense would be that she wasn't there to stop him. And what she didn't know wouldn't hurt her.
"Oh yeah," I grinned, eating some fries, "mom's good old southern cooking."
I was born and raised in Oklahoma, where the best place to eat was in your Momma's kitchen, and everybody grew up knowing everybody else in the neighborhood. It was a bit of a culture shock when I came here to Hawaii. I realized that the islanders didn't take too kindly to other people from the "mainland" as they called it. But just like my Momma always says "A whistling woman and a crowing hen never comes to a very good end." This basically translates to "be who you are no matter what". So I did, and three years later I was still there.
"That's good. Say uh, how's that girl of yours? Martha?"
My mouth went dry and I suddenly had the urge to be anywhere but there at the moment. "Um, it's Mary. But we broke up so…" I shook my head and looked down, suddenly not very hungry.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Michael. Break-ups are always hard, but you'll get through it."
I knew I would eventually. But part of me still didn't want to. Part of me would always love Mary, even though I knew she had never really loved me back.
"I still remember my first girlfriend," mused Roger, "just like it was yesterday. Her name was Rhonda Hart. Oh boy, she was a beauty. She had had one hell of a body and a laugh that could just set my heart on fire. But, things just weren't meant to be."
"It was a funny story actually. Linda was her best friend. I met Linda when I ran into Rhonda at the grocery store about a week after our break-up."
"Wasn't Rhonda upset that you two got together?" asked James, chiming in for the first time.
He shrugged, "I don't know. Linda was worried about that at first. I went after her with everything I had, but she was constantly turning me down and telling me that she couldn't hurt Rhonda like that. Then I finally convinced her to just give me one date and if she didn't want to see me after that, then I would leave her alone. Turns out, one was all it took."
I smiled. I had always loved hearing Roger's stories. He was like a big book, constantly giving life advice and telling us the things he had gone through.
"What about you, Jamsey-boy?" Roger nodded over toward James, licking his lips free of tomato sauce. "You got a girl back at home?"
James chuckled and looked down at his food, shaking his head, "No sir. I'm still waiting for that right lady." Even though he didn't seem like it, James was a very religious person. He talked a big game and was always making jokes and getting himself into trouble, but he really did try his best to be a good man. And he was. One of the best men I knew.
James and I met three years ago when we both set foot in the training camp we had to go to before stepping foot onto a vessel. He was a short kid at the time with short light hair and bright blue eyes. We were bunkmates from the beginning and during training he always had my back. I am not ashamed to admit that he saved my butt every once in a while when I was lagging behind in the drills. But eventually I managed to get myself together and I repaid the act whenever possible.
We were best friends ever since.
"'Atta boy!" grinned Roger, winking at him. "Trust me though, when you do find that girl, you will know it right away."
"Like love at first sight?" he questioned.
Roger nodded, "Oh yeah. The second I saw Linda I felt like something had rammed into my chest. I lost my breath completely and I just couldn't stop staring at her. True story. Believe in love boys!" He stood up and picked up his tray, "It's a real thing. And when it finds you there will be no escaping it."
He winked at us, threw away his trash and then walked out, leaving us to ponder over what he said.