Old or New Flames
A three star general flew the T-39 up to Andrews.
Even though he could have had a Second Lieutenant pilot the plan if he had wanted, fighter jocks are like pro football players in that they never lose their love of the game no matter how old they get.
Once a man becomes used to flying over mountains, it’s pretty hard to climb them. Once he flies over water, it’s pretty hard for him to sail. And once he’s touched the face of an angel in a cloud, it’s pretty hard to let someone else do the driving.
So, as a second lieutenant I ended up being flown to Andrews AFB from Eglin AFB by a three star general. To lead is to serve, and the general was a fine example for that principal.
From DC I took The Southerner Metroliner to Philly.
Colleen was at the 30th Street Station to greet me, but at Gate 6 and I came out of Gate 7. I called my family to announce that I was home for a day (all the leave I was allowed by my commanding officer to prepare for my separation) and watched her pace back and forth anxiously awaiting my arrival.
I hung up the phone and snuck up behind her.
“Sugar melts in the heat so don’t get too close to me.”
Colleen turned, startled.
“Brian... Oh God, you scared he half to death! Where did you come from?”
“Some people say heaven and some people say hell. It all depends on your disposition.”
“Well I could crown you for scaring me like that.” She stood back, cautiously. I wasn’t sure if it was the fact that I’d scared her, but she seemed a little distant.
“Let’s take a ride to the Wissahickon. I’d like to feed the ducks at valley Green. It’ll be much cooler than here and we can be alone.”
“Great! After what I’ve been through these past weeks It’ll be good to kiss you under the shade of a big old oak tree.”
For some reason she hadn’t kissed me in the station.
An hour later I was to learn the reason.
We jumped into her “Fix-It-Again-Tony” FIAT and as usual the seatbelts were broken. When I told her to get them fixed before she had an accident, her answer was curt.
“Let me worry about it. Just keep driving.” She stared out the window at the statue of Joan of Arc on the Drive. I turned the radio up to ease the tension and looked over at her.
“Ah, Colleen ... I’m over here. I exist. How about letting me know I’m alive. By giving me a kiss for example.”
“Brian, my cuts haven’t completely healed from the accident yet. And I don’t think it would be appropriate.”
I looked over at her and, thanks to the miracles of modern science, I could barely see any scars.
In an attempt at humor, I said, “Well, as Peter Lorre said, “Hmmm...Hmmm.. I’d like to bite your tongue.”
“I’ll bite your head off if you don’t keep your eye on the road.”
There was color in her cheeks and she continued to stare straight ahead. Music continued to blast out of the radio.
“Hey Colleen, what’s up? You’ve been like the Ice Woman ever since I saw you at the station. This is Brian, the guy who loves you driving. He wants to be your best friends, so talk to him a little bit. As long as we keep the lines open we can handle whatever it is that’s bothering you.”
I looked over and she was staring straight ahead still.
“I don’t want to get into it while you’re driving. Wait until we get to Valley Green.”
That was the wrong thing to say to someone like me. The way to get me to continue to dig was to tell me I had to wait. I had the patience of Attila the Hun.
“I’m an adult and sober. Why don’t you tell me what it is. The only way we can settle it is if you let it surface. Don’t bind it all up. Silence is a form of lying sometimes, you know.”
I’d gotten to her.
“You just hit it. I’m afraid I may have been lying to you Brian. But we’re almost here. Let’s not get into it before we reach the bridal path.”
“Fine.” We continued on in silence and parked the car on Green Street in Mount Airy as we walked down to Green Valley.
As we walked down the bridal path my shiny black shoes became dusty and scuffed. “Hey, Colleen. This is great for my uniform. Of course, I don’t know if I really need to stay 35-10 anymore considering what’s about to happen.”
“Brian, that’s why I delayed this talk as long as I could. I knew you had enough difficulties in your life without me gumming up the works with a doubts talk.”
“Oh, terrific. This is going to be a doubts talk. Let me hear them all. Everything else in my life is on the fritz, why not my love life as well.”
“Brian ... don’t be so sensitive. You may even like what you’re about to hear. Wait until we get to where the ducks are by the pond and then we’ll talk.”
“Let me grab something at the valley Green Inn. I’m as thirsty as Rocky Balboa after a title match. Do you want anything.”
I walked over to the Inn and noticed an ad which promised to open up my “chi” and I ordered it and drank it down. It did sedate me out for a while, even with Colleen’s talk. The power of herbs.
“Brian ... how do you feel. Are you calm enough to hear what I’m about to say?”
“How can I answer that when I don’t know what you’re about to say?”
She sat down on a bench in clear view of the ducks.
“Before you answer, come sit by me and let me rub your back.”
“Why? What’s that going to do? Soften the blow’?”
“No. But it might help me say what I have to say.”
I sat down next to her on the bench and she began to rub the muscles in my upper shoulders. That, and the tea, put me in a relaxed mood.
Both definitely softened the blow of the hammer blows that were about to be delivered.
“Brian ... I don’t know how to say this except to say it. It’s hard because I love you so much and I don’t ever want to say anything that would hurt you to the point where you might stop talking to me. But it’s time we discussed it.”
I think you’ve known from the beginning that there are real differences between us. You’re outgoing, almost charismatic and I’m shy. We come from different backgrounds. We’ve had different experiences. We found each other and shared something very special. We’ve both added to each other’s life. At least, I know you’ve added to mine....
She looked out at the trees.
“God...this is so hard to say ... but that doesn’t mean that we’re meant to be married. Marriage is a forever and I’m not sure we were meant for forever.
We’d probably end up killing each other.
We’re alike in the areas where we need to be different and different in the areas where we need to be alike.
You’re going back to Washington soon and you’ll probably meet some nice girl there who will be everything to you I can’t be ... And I don’t want you to think that it’s you. It’s me.
I’m very uncertain about what I want out of life. Sometimes I think I have a religious vocation and sometimes I think that I’m meant to be single all my life.
You’re the only person I’ve really loved but that doesn’t mean that we’re meant to be married. We’ve only known each other seven months and that’s not nearly long enough to base a major decision like that on.”
“Does any of this make any sense to you?”
“It’s a lot to digest, but I can’t compete with God if you have a vocation. I owe you big time. You helped get me out of a cult and these months have been unreal. I’m also forever in your debt that you’re even alive.”
“That said, I don’t want to hear a month from now saying that you’ve reconsidered. Are you sure this is what you want?”
She looked at the ground and then stared out at the ducks.
“Yes. Let me feed the ducks for a second. That’s what we came here for.”
She ran over toward the ducks and they swam away from her.
“Damned ducks!” she said, flung the bread on the water and ran back.
“OH, Brian, I don’t know that I’m saying. I know that deep down we’re not meant to be married. I know that I love you but I’m not what you need in a wife.”
She nuzzled UP to my neck and began to stroke my back.
“How about a kiss.”
“Are you serious? You just told me that we’re through and then you want me to kiss you?” I began to stare at the people who were passing by on the path.
“Kiss them. They might return it. I won’t.”
“Brian...I didn’t say that we’re through.
I’ve learned so much from you I can’t tell you. I want us always to be friends. And I want us to be best friends. I just don’t think we’re meant to be together for life. But I still want you to be my best friend. I’ve told you things I haven’t told anyone ... you don’t even seem bothered by what I’ve said. You’re probably happy that you can finally start dating someone else you’ve been keeping in the background.”
“It makes a lot of sense.”
“So you’ve known all along that we weren’t right for each other too?”
“I didn’t say that. I just said that it makes a lot of sense. Every relationship goes through difficult times and we’re doing just that.”
“Brian...it’s more than just difficult times. I’m saying that we’re not right for each other. You need somebody’s who’s beautiful and calm and has an energy level to match yours. You need someone who’s ready to get married and have children and I’m not that person. Do you hear that?”
She looked at me plaintively.
“Yeah...I hear it. I hear that it’s time to Church Glorious and Victorious me loses and search out better prospects. I hear that I’ve just wasted seven months of my life believing in a fantasy. I hear that it’s time to look up some old flames or start some new ones because obviously you think this one’s a lost cause.”
“Brian...that’s not what I’m saying. I don’t know what I’m saying except that I think we need a breather from each other to get a sense of perspective. I also think it’s time for you to start gating other girls. If I’m not going to be the one for you then I’ve no right to demand that you be loyal to me.”
“Colleen...do you realize what you’re saying?”
“Yes. I’m saying that we can be good friends but that we’re not meant to be husband and wife?”
“OK. Fine. But I want to know one thing. If that’s the case, then I don’t want to get a call a week from now or a letter.
“Well...given the circumstances, I can tell you that Beth would like to date you.”
“I’d love to date her. Tell her we’re on the fritz and I’m open to any and all comers.”
“Brian...how can you walk away from this so easily? I feel like spaghetti inside. Don’t you even hurt from this?”
“Yeah. Horribly. But I’ve never been good at expressing anger.”
“I’m a silent patient. Come back in a year nurse and I’ll be able to tell you what’s wrong with me. All I know is that right now I’m numb. You just freed me up to pursue other interests. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
“Brian...oh God, I regret having said what I said already.”
“Colleen, you can’t have it both ways. Either we are an “item” or we aren’t. This in between stuff is bullshit. Be real with me for once.”
“I am being real. That’s why I didn’t want to lead you on when it wasn’t there. I know that I love you Brian and I care about you more than I’ve cared about anyone. I just don’t think we should be committed to each other exclusively this early in the relationship.”
“You’re not a kid, Colleen. You’re 27 years old. You’re biological clock is working against you. I always thought Prince Charles....well...I told you that one before. I can marry a 21 year old when I’m 30. It’s not that easy for women. Wake up to the reality that you’ve only got a few years left to...”
I’d made an impact with that last one.
I was so hurt and confused that I really didn’t care at that point what I said. I figured it was over anyway so why not just fire the double barrel. “One of these days you’ll regret this, Colleen. It’ll take a while though. And then it’ll be too late. You didn’t even give it a chance, and that’s what bothers me so much. We could have had something real special, and you wouldn’t even give it a chance.
“You can’t live at home with your parents forever. I love you Colleen, but I’m willing to do what’s best for you as you see it. Christ, I’m wasting my time...”
She started to cry quietly.
“Brian...1...1...already regret it. If you only knew what you meant to me. My family thinks the world of you. You’ve added so much to my life ... I don’t know what I’m saying ... ”
“Colleen...we could have made it. These differences you think are so major are inevitable. I don’t know if you’ve been in love before, but it’s not like they show it in movies. There’s a lot of pain involved along with the fun. Just opening yourself up to someone entails opening yourself up to hurt.
“What’s the old Cole Porter song, “You only hurt the one you love, the one you shouldn’t hurt at all.”
She got up to leave.
I couldn’t. The pain was too great.
“I can’t, Colleen. It hurts too much. Love’s like that. It’ll tear you up at the most inappropriate times. Like now.”
I turned to hide me tears. My whole world had just crumbled. The Air Force had just put me out to pasture, the girl I loved was about to walk away, and I faced an uncertain future. I always wondered how so many people got to live TV existences, complete with happiness, love, and material success when my daily existence was such a maelstrom of struggle, mostly inner. All those TV personalities seemed to be able to muster smiles and the right lines in situations like this and I never could.
They resolved every conflict by the final commercial and my conflicts seemed to continue well into the long; lonely nights that seemed to strung together as a record of my life. They never seemed to cry and even when they did it was all alright five minutes later in the script. I’d never cried in front of Colleen and for some reason I was determined that this was to be no different. If nothing else, I was going to leave this with my manhood intact.
“Brian... I...I...really do love you. You’ve got to believe that.”
She tried to kiss me and I recoiled.
“Yeah...sure...that’s why you cause me this kind of pain. I don’t know what I believe anymore. Once when I asked my father what life was about, he answered in one word: “Work.’
When I asked him to elaborate, he just kept saying,
“I guess he knew something I didn’t. Maybe it’s time to do what everybody else in our generation is doing and dive into a career. It’s an age when the kind of car you drive is more important than the kids you bring into the world, so maybe I should get working on a career that allows me to drive a Mercedes-Benz and the hell with a family.”
“Brian...don’t talk like that. I know that you’ll make a fine father with someone, just not with me. We’d end up fighting all the time. Look at how much we’ve fought all ready.”
She moved to hug me and I walked away from her. She looked at me puzzled and then said, “Oh, honey...”
“Wake up to the real world, Colleen. People fight with each other. Why do you think we have a multi-billion dollar defense budget? I mean, one of the reasons I went into the Air Force was that I knew that wars are one of the constants in history.”
“People fight. Any marriage counselor will tell you that if there’s no conflict there’s something wrong.”
“Yes...in the real world couples, even the most in love couples, fight. What’s the biggie?”
“The biggie is that we’d fight all the time. I know that people fight. I’m not living in as much as a fantasy world as you think I am. I’m not the one who joined a cult .•. ”
She put her hand over her mouth after she said it, but it was said and the damage was done. So that was it.
“Oh...I get it. I’m in a cult for a few months and that means that for the rest of my life you can’t trust me. Yeah...who knows what I’d join next. Corvette owne.rs are a cult. Amway salespeople are a cult.
“Who’s not in a cult in one way or another? Even atheists are cultists in their own way. I got out of it, right? What about the law of forgiveness?”
Colleen? Where’s that come in? And trust?” Since we’re airing all down here by the ducks, what other reservations about me do you have?”
She looked at the trees again.
“A number of them.”
“Say them. What’s it matter now? We’re on the fritz anyway, why not get it all out?”
“Brian...don’t you think this hurts? I love you! Hard as it is for you to believe that, I love you enough that I’m not going to ruin your life and mine by getting any more deeply involved.”
My anger was beginning to mount.
When she said she loved me, I exploded.
“Don’t hand me that line, Colleen. People who love each other see a future together. All you’re giving me is reasons why we’re not right for each other, not exactly the building stones for a future together. You know what your main problem with us is? And you don’t even know it! You’re scared of intimacy! Yeah, that’s right! You opened yourself up to somebody for once in your life and they get to know you a little bit and you recoil in fear!
And you’ll come up with a million reasons why we can’t work no matter what I say as long as you’re afraid to open up enough to become intimate with me. And I’m not talking about sexually...that’s the least of my concerns at this point. I’m talking about emotionally. You have to be able to accept love before you can give love, and you can’t accept love...”
“BRIAN! STOP! I don’t need to hear this!”
She began to walk away. I grabbed her arms and spun her around.
“No! You’re going to hear me out for once. The going gets a little rough once and you throw up your hands and call it quits! Every moment we’re together isn’t a honeymoon so it’s time to just throw it all away.”
“That’s great, Colleen! So don’t you understand that it’s the easiest thing in the world to love someone when they’re on top of the world? The true test is whether you stay with them when they’re down, when they’ve been kicked in the teeth and don’t have a prayers chance.”
“You walk away from me now, Sis, and you’ll wonder about it someday. Oh...It’s not that I don’t think you can’t meet somebody better. Christ, there must be ten million guys in the Northeast alone who can provide for you better and love you better than I can ... but they’ll never love you as much! And you’re going to walk away from that.
“Fine, Colleen. Thanks for giving it to me now rather than later when I would have had so much more invested. At least you let me down easy. I guess I should be grateful, huh? Great... some R&R this days been.
“Brian, you don’t need to get so upset! We can still be friends. We just can’t be married. That’s all I’m saying. It just wouldn’t work. Look at us now. We’d fight all the time if we were married. That’s just the way it is. Don’t ask me why it just is. We’re not meant for each other.”
“Let me ask you something, Colleen!” I walked over and stared her right in the eye. “And I want you to think about this for a while because your answer will have an impact on more people than just me.” She stared back at me through tear-filled eyes. “If you can’t be intimate with me ... then how are you going to be intimate with God in a vocation? Does that make sense to you?”
“Brian...I...I...Don’t you see that if you can’t see God in me and in that wino who sticks his hand in your stomach and smells like garbage asking for a dime for some cheap wine to waste his brain then you don’t know the first thing about God, because God is in us all. And I’m not talking about the heresy that the Church Glorious and Victorious teaches that we’re each little Christ’s waiting to flower. I mean that God is in both the sinner and the saints. That’s the idea, see.”
“We all have the choice. The worlds not perfect and you want it to be. It never can be so you’re going to flee to a convent. Don’t you understand that that’s the worst reason in the world to go be a nun?”
“You go into the convent to flee from me and you’ll be out in six months. You can’t possibly give your life to something like the sisterhood without total devotion to God for the proper reasons.”
I’d registered because she turned away wincing.
“I have made a choice and it doesn’t include you so you’re angry and trying to put questions about my vocation into my mind. Well ... it won’t work Brian Richard O’Brien.”
I put my hands on both her cheeks and pulled her face to within an inch of mine.
“No, Colleen. That’s not it. That’s not it at all. I may have a vested interest in keeping you but I don’t have any interest in keeping you if you have a real vocation in the sisterhood.
Because if you do have a real vocation, then I’m wasting my time. If I marry you, you’ll make my life miserable complaining that I forced you to marry me, and the rest of my life will be a living hell.
But if I’m right that you don’t have a vocation and you’re just coming up with this subterfuge then I still have a chance of getting you. And I think you’re worth fighting for or I wouldn’t be fighting with you now.
“Don’t kid yourself, Brian. Did it ever occur to you that you may be jealous of my relationship to God? Maybe you’re trying to talk me out of this for selfish reasons. Did that ever occur to you?”
She put her hands on her hips and tilted her chin up toward me defiantly.
“Yeah. It has. More than once. But the more I thought about it the more I was convinced that I’m right. I may not be right about much but I’m right about this. We may hot end up getting married in the end, but it’ll be because we’re not meant for each other and not your vocation. I’m going to say something
that you don’t want to hear but you’re going to hear it anyway. You’re not all that religious. You’re spiritual, but you’re not all that religious.”
Her eyes narrowed and she slapped me in the face.
Then she started to pound my chest. I grabbed her arms to hold back her fists and continued.
“How do I know that? Because I’ve seen you praying. I’ve sat next to you and said the rosary with you and it’s a chore for you. I’ve sat with you in church twice and you’ve fallen asleep both times. And I’ve been around you enough to know that you’re not a well-integrated personality because you don’t even acknowledge your darker side.”
“WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT TO PASS JUDGE1VIENT ON PEOPLE”S RELIGIOUS CONVICTIONS!? YOU WERE THE ONE WHO JOINED A CULT! WHO THE HELL APPOINTED YOU LORD OF THE EARTH?!”
“Yeah ... that’s right, Colleen. I’ve done all those things and more. Much more. But I’ve come to terms with them. I know I’m a frail, vulnerable, irrational, difficult person. I’ve had to. You grow up where I grew up and you’d learn real fast the worlds not a pretty place. I did all those things you mentioned.”
“With one difference, though. I had the courage to face them and come to terms with them. Somewhere along the way I learned that I was human and made mistakes bigger than most. But I learned from every one of them.”
“One of my heroes, General George Washington, made every mistake a military man could make from the very beginning. He just never made it twice.”
“And the only thing that separates the sinners and the saints is that the saints learn from they’re sins.”
She pointed her finder in my face sternly. “So now you’re George Washington and a saint! Pretty arrogant for a saint, aren’t you?”
“You just told me my record, Colleen. From what little reading of the Saint’s Lives I know that I’m not saint. But at least I know we’re I have to improve and grow. And I’m willing to do that on my own without maintaining the fiction that I have a vocation without doing anything about it.”
“Don’t you think I haven’t thought about becoming a priest? You can’t possibly come from a family as religious as mine without giving it some thought at some point. But I know what demands are placed on a priest and I just don’t have that much to give. Now being a ‘Daddy’ is a whole other thing.”
“I get it now. Just because you don’t have a vocation...or at least you’re not giving enough to have one...I don’t either. It’s not possible that we’re two different people, huh?”
“Colleen, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that you haven’t come to terms with your own humanity and until you can do that you can’t be a good nun or a good mother.
“How can you hope to communicate with the sinners, with all of us out t:.ere, if you don’t recognize your own sinfulness? One of’ the things that I tried to believe in when I was in that cult but could never really swallow is that we’re all “The Christ” or “The Christ Consciousness” or whatever mumbo jumbo they’re calling it these days.”
“We’re not. And we never can be. It’s Satan’s biggest lie and the reason why that cult’s so dangerous. Because they have people believing they can evolve to be Christ. Until you realize your own sinfulness you can’t become holy. Why do you think the Holy Rollers emphasize being saved so much?
“They’re right. We all need to be saved from our sinfulness. Where I disagree with them is that it’s not a one shot affair but a lifelong process. Colleen...please believe that I’m saying this for your own good. I don’t like saying it.”
She started to walk away from me.
“Let’s get back to the car. I told Katie we’d be back at my parents’ house at 7. She wants us to go see the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Mann Center. We’ll pack a picnic and sit on the grass. It should be fun.”
I stared at her in disbelief.
“I just laid all that on you and you’re telling me we’re going to an outdoor concert? What is this, a Walt Disney movie?”
“Brian...we’ll only get angry at one another if we discuss it any further. Let’s give it a cooling off period. We’ll go back to my place and shower and change and have fun tonight.”
“Now let’s get going.”
She started to walk away. It was clear that that was it. She took my hand and pulled me along.
“Brian...no matter what happens, I want you to know I love you. I’m sorry about getting angry with you back there. Many of the things you said are true and I guess that’s why they got me so unset. Just don’t ever stop loving me. Even if you hate me one day don’t stop loving me. I love you...I need you...and I care about you more than you’ll ever know.
I’m already regretting many of the things I said back there.”
She nuzzled up next to me and nut her arms around me. Two cardinals darted from a huge oak tree toward the water. A breeze blew through the trees and joggers ran by us unaware of what had just transpired, complete in the rhythm of they’re movement.
We were fast approaching the cabin where I’d once wanted to propose to her. That memory jogged me. It was too painful and too recent to forget.
“Colleen...this is important to me. I want you to tell me that you’re not going to take back what you said about us not being meant to be married. If that’s true, I want to hear it once more from you.”
She looked at me quizzically.
“Oh...Brian...I don’t know what I believe anymore. I think we’re good for each other as friends but we’re not meant to be married.”
“And you won’t change on that a month or two from now.”
“Then that helps me make a whole lot of decisions.”
We continued on in silence. As we got to the car she turned and held me and began to squeeze me tight.
“Oh, Brian...kiss me.”
I held her tightly and caressed her neck. Her hands began to rub my back and our lips met.
Her mouth was open and she took my tongue in fully. Our bodies became electric, high voltage conductors of love. She pressed herself against me and I felt the warmth of her skin against mine.
I took her hair in my hands and began to crumple it. My hands rested on her lower back and I gently pulled her rhythmically toward me. Her face became flushed and we locked lips more tightly. We embraced and kissed more passionately and I smelled her skin getting tight and moist.
Finally, she pulled back.
“Brian...we’ll be late. We said we’d meet them at 7 and as usual we’ll be late. We’ve got to be more responsible about this. Come on.”
She took my hand and we headed toward the car.