Sunday, November 13, 2005

Black Russians and memories

The end of our wedding party in Hawaii. Some of the ship's officers and wives are in the photo. Stan and Sharon, the subject of this post are standing, to far right, with Stan's head partly chopped off. Ken and Toby, also mentioned are left, on the sofa. Toby is wearing her maid of honor dress and Ken is the one with the tiny round glasses. Click to enlarge.

A good friend of mine and I are writing something together and, last night, we inserted a passage where two of the characters are drinking Black Russians. For those of you who've never had one, the drink is a deadly mixture of chocolate flavored brandy and vodka, made even more deceptively deadly since it tastes like a sweet chocolate soda.

The last time I had a Black Russian was years ago and the night was memorable. But first, some background.

My second year out of graduate school, I moved to Honolulu to work and live while I waited for the man I'd met that last summmer to return from his first tour of duty as a junior officer on a supply ship in Vietnam. Our wedding party, held at one of our navy friend's base apartment, also marked the first party since the ship's return. Four of us couples had become tight. One of those ideal situations where we four wives liked each other and also liked the husbands and vice-versa. All of us around the same age. All of us eager for war and danger to be over.

About a month after the wedding, Stan and Sharon were transferred to California to another ship. The crushing news came, not long after that, that Stan and Sharon had been in an accident following a party with too much drinking, much as the parties we had trying to live life while we could and forget everything else. It could have been any one of us, but it was Stan and Sharon. Stan was hurt, but Sharon was killed instantly. They were a couple who laughed a lot together and loved well. Letters were all we could do. There was no internet. No way to have immediate contact.

Ken and Toby were the next to be transferred. Newport. Before the ship went back to Nam. My husband had seven more months in Vietnam before he, too, was transferred to Newport and we renewed our closeness with Ken and Toby.

At some point, Stan's ship was docked in Newport for a time and so we arranged our first evening together. We all went out and ordered Black Russians. After a couple of drinks, Toby and I went with Stan out to the car where the three of us wrapped our arms around each other, Stan in the middle, and sobbed about Sharon. Stan was like a brother to us both and that time, though sad, was good, too.

Stan's ship left, though we'd seen quite a bit of him while it was there, and correspondence petered off. Howard and I eventually got a note that he was out of the service and working on his B.S. in business at the U. of Illinois, the place I'd received my own Ph.D. and met Howard who'd started grad school in Philosophy before the war days. Howard's parents also lived there, so the next visit out, we arranged to see Stan who'd remarried by then. Knowing the new wife would be possibly intimidated by old friends of Sharon's, we'd talked about ways to make her feel accepted. We wanted Stan to have happiness again.

We were met by a woman with a hostile look on her face. Instead of a hug, as was usual, Stan quickly thrust out his hand for a handshake. For the next half hour, time dragged, Stan looking to his wife for approval before he said anything, while she sat there glaring at us. We'd intended to invite them for dinner, but it was clear that this half hour would be all we would see of our friend. We said our goodbyes and left.

"That's how Stan is punishing himself," I told Howard as we left.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"He's made sure he can't be happy again by marrying this woman," I told him.

Yes, Stan had changed. The twinkle had gone from his eyes. The old Stan was no more. We'd seen the old Stan emerge during his time in Newport, so it wasn't just Sharon's death. It was how he had decided to let it take its toll.

He later sent a note that he had taken a job in New Jersey, just across from Manhattan. By this time I was working to put Howard through law school in Boston and Ken and Toby were living near Manhattan, Ken having found a lucrative job in advertising in the city.

Ken saw Stan once when Stan came into the city for lunch. He told us the same thing. He didn't really recognize the man he used to be friends with. No more laughter. No jokes. No lightening up. The lunch dragged and they never arranged any more of them.

So, when I think of Black Russians, I think of that night when Stan was still Stan, when we all held each other and cried, so full of love, so full of the belief our friendship would hold, no matter what.

I still wonder what happened to Stan sometimes. I still remember his laugh. It came from his heart and you couldn't help but laugh with him and adore him.

Note: We've scattered now. Ken and Toby later divorced. She lives in Sydney, Australia. I don't know where he is. I'm still in touch with the other close couple on the sofa. They live in Albany where he's a lawyer and their one child multiplied to four and they now have grandchildren. Nancy, mid-bottom, was the ship's captains' wife. Career. We lost touch, too, after transfers. The Hawaian woman to the right was killed shortly after this photo, too, by her nephew when she spent the night at her sister's home, sleeping in her bed. The son, who was mentally disturbed, thought he was killing his mother in the dark room. He got Gladys, instead. Howard and I divorced after law school. Something just went dead between us, too. We still exchange a sparse e-mail note occasionally and I saw him when I returned to New England three times in the eighties before I got CFIDS and couldn't travel. He remarried finally in around 1990 and has adopted a Chinese daughter. He's also done very well for himself as a lawyer, both monetarily and in his work. I'm glad about that. I like success stories.:-)


Coloratura said...

wow, the stories we all have to tell... and what happens to us all along the way...

Pris said...

So true!

Geoff Sanderson said...

That's a sad story about Stan - but you had some fun times with the Black Russians; talk about 'the days of wine and roses'! G.

Pris said...

Yes, Stan lost so much in the course of a minute's time. I still think about him and miss him.

Shane said...

It's strange to see a joyous moment captured and frozen in time and reflecting back on their future/your past. Ouch, I think I sprained my frontal lobe.

Pris said...

Hi Shane
Thanks...fix that frontal lobe!!:-)