Don Bauder 7:39 a.m., May 22
My daughter, Melody, is spending the holidays on the island of Oahu. This may seem like a dream to some people but Melody, who moved to Honolulu in September, says that the island is getting smaller by the day. She goes online, looking for things to do, and finds few churches, book clubs, or anything else of interest to residents. "It's a tourist trap," she says.
I could say, "I told you so," but I don't. I hated it when my mom said that to me. I have to admit that Mom was right when she warned me not to run off to Hollywood with a fifty-year-old sex addict; and, I am equally right for not wanting my daughter to run off to Hawaii to marry a sailor she met in a club downtown.
Melody was on her way to Magic Island when my mom called to give me the news--Melody and Ryan were getting married. My daughter had known about the wedding for a month, but didn't tell me for fear I'd go ape crazy. And I did. I'd heard horrific stories about the Navy--low pay and screwy regulations. A sailor once told me that he had eye surgery and the Navy doctor let his eyes burn. "Why?" I asked. "Because that's the way the military does things," he said.
I felt betrayed and vowed not to support this union in any way, until I realized that our relationship was at a crossroads. If I alienated her now, I could lose her forever. In bed that night, my stomach twisted as if I were a dog with bloat. I decided to buy a wedding gift and fake a smile. She belonged to someone else now. I was just a novelty.
"I don't know what's more shocking," I said when Melody called after the ceremony. "You're being married or Michael Jackson's death."
"Michael Jackson died?" she asked. "Hey Ryan! Michael Jackson died!"
"I told you that," he droned in the background. Welcome to married life, Ryan! This won't be the last time your wife doesn't listen to you...
Two days later, Melody was back in San Diego. She moved in with my parents, to get away from me. It would take three months to arrange base housing and the young couple didn't have enough money for Melody to stay in a motel.
"Why didn't you arrange housing first?" I asked.
"The Navy wouldn't let us," she replied. "We had to get married first."
A Catch 22, if I ever heard one.
Throughout the summer, Melody moped around, and I catered to her whims, for fear I'd lose her if I didn't. She rolled her eyes at me and sighed. Borrowed money she didn't pay back, bummed rides from me, and accused me of being an affront to her happiness, just as I had accused my mom of being an affront to mine. As I matured and got wiser, my mom had gotten smarter. I hoped the same thing would happen to Melody and me.
By the time she left in September, I was feeling better about letting her go. But I couldn't bear to attend the send-off with friends and family. Instead, I took her out to lunch and presented her with a gift bag of books and cooking magazines to read on the plane. She seemed touched, until we got to the parking lot and the car wouldn't start. Then she was mad at me all over again. Apparently, it was my responsibility to see that the world was fair, attuned and in harmony at all times.
I thought she'd like me again, once she was with Ryan, but this was not the case. For the first month after she left, she didn't call or send a postcard. I had my first baby at 19; I had always been somebody's mother. Now, I was no longer the center of my daughter's world, a part of her daily plans. I woke up each morning and asked myself, "What do I do now?"
I feared that Melody had abandoned me. Maybe I'd never hear from her again. Finally, I gave in and called her.
"Are you dumping me?" I asked.
"No," she said, in a snotty tone that really said, "Yes."
She stayed on the other end of the line without saying a word as I awkwardly tried to strike up a conversation. I had already lost my son to Leukemia. I didn't have anyone to fall back on.
When I tried calling a week later, her cell phone had been cut off.
In November, my mom called to say that Ryan's ship had come to San Diego. Did I want to meet him? Ryan was my ray of hope. The bright light in this marriage ordeal. When Melody had returned after the wedding, she brought a gift from my new son-in-law--a blue flower for my hair with a note that said, "From your sailor son." My eyes had locked on the word, "son." With this small gesture, Ryan had unknowingly, handed me the world.
I entered my mom's foyer and looked around. A tall, skinny kid with a buzz cut and ears like Obama's, peered at me from the end of the hallway. I recognized him from the many pictures Melody had scattered around her room.
"Hello Sailor Son!" I said, raising my arms. It was the first embrace I'd gotten from a brown-haired, blue-eyed boy since 1991, the year Adrian died. I stayed in his arms a bit too long, not wanting to ever let go.
When I went to my parent's fridge for a soda, there were several brown bottles on the top shelf. My parents don't drink--at all. I was relieved to learn that the beer belonged to Limon, Ryan's sawed-off Navy buddy. While the family ate Round Table pizza on the patio, Limon guzzled beer and told us he couldn't wait for his girlfriend to move in with him so he'd have a better bed.
"TMI," my mom said, fidgeting in her seat. She didn't approve of that kind of talk. After the third or fourth beer (I'd lost count and so had he) Limon was swaying and slurring his speech. He had difficulty making his mouth move. However, he did manage to tell us about his seven brothers and sisters who were all drug addicts. They went in and out of prison on a regular basis. His parents considered him to be the success story of the family.
I wished Limon would shut up, so I could hear what Ryan had to say. I stole glances of his pretty blue eyes and imagined what my grandkids would look like.
"What did you think of him?" Melody asked when she called that evening.
"I adore Ryan," I said. "Hugging him was like hugging..." I stifled a sob.
"I'm sorry, Mom."
"You have nothing to be sorry about," I said, tearfully. "You made me happy the day you married Ryan instead of a guy like Limon."
More phone calls were made and some letters arrived. Her husband worked long hours and couldn't get leave when he asked for it. Some soldiers got away with being lazy, but Ryan could never do enough, no matter how hard he worked. A guy two years younger had gotten Ryan's promotion, and a month's worth of leave. The Navy was unfair, screwy, not to be trusted.
"I didn't appreciate what I had, Mom," she said. "And one more thing--I love you and I miss you."
Three weeks ago, Ryan went out to sea with his shipmates, to keep an eye on North Korea. He won't be back until April. Melody is spending the holidays without him and without her family. I told her she'd hate Navy life. Now she believes me.