It still scares me to think what might have happened had the strange Marines not showed up when they did.
  • It still scares me to think what might have happened had the strange Marines not showed up when they did.
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Appearing in this issue are the remaining three winning entries in the 1983 Reader writing contest — the first award-winner and the last two honorable mentions. (The second-award winner and three additional mentions appeared in last week's issue.) Also included this week are several entries that did not win cash awards but which we are pleased to be able to publish. More noteworthy stories that did not receive cash awards will appear in subsequent issues, space permitting.

The contest announcements invited nonfiction accounts of "amazing" events that transpired in the San Diego area. A total of 439 stories were submitted, most of them written by women, and their length varied from quite long (6500 words) to quite short (79 words). The most popular subject was the adventure of moving to San Diego from elsewhere in the country.

FIRST AWARD WINNER: Claire Kelly

A couple of years ago I almost got married. Came as close as you can, with all the proper people and trappings in place and the mechanisms of ceremony greased and rolling forward. An engagement ring on my hand, a date set, invitations mailed. Parents and friends flying in from out of town. Maids of honor in matching dresses. Groom’s guys in tuxedos. Four-piece band. Caterer. Preacher. Me in the wedding gown my mother was married in. And in top hat and tails, the groom, the man of my dreams — a real jerk.

It was 1975 actually, and looking back on the time I realize I didn’t stand a chance. Fresh out of nursing school, I was new in San Diego, here to take my first big job as an RN at Scripps. I was young (twenty-four), impressionable (raised and schooled in rural Vermont), and suddenly and gloriously on my own with a car and a steady paycheck, ready for adventure in a brand-new city.

Plus it was springtime, and the birds and bees were doing the deed everywhere, and the squirrels and the skunks, and the dogs and cats, and even the flowers, for chrissake. What was a girl to do? The air was fogged with pheromones, invisible tentacles of sex stretching out on the breezes and touching us where we lived. And I but an innocent, ripe tomato looking for a good pluck.

I met Richard at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Officers Club, a Friday-night meat market that makes the bars in Mission Valley look like so many ice cream socials. He was tall, blondish, tight through the hips, with a sharp chin, strong shoulders, and long lean fingers that usually mean something else — and in his case did. He was a Marine pilot who flew F-somethings . . . thirteens, fifteens, twenties, I don’t know. Everything about his work seemed to be described in numbers and it was hard to keep it all straight. He was from Virginia, talked with a slight country drawl, and though he was nobody you’d mistake for a Phi Beta Kappa, he was so damn good-looking that his ability to speak English relatively well was enough of a meeting of the minds for me.

A tempestuous affair followed rather directly, days and nights of intimate aerobics of a kind you won’t find in Jane Fonda’s workout book. It was exquisite, my first seriously mad love affair, but it was brief, and therein rustles the rub. Three weeks after we met, Richard left on a five-month tour of duty in the western Pacific and I was left standing at the dock heartbroken, watching through teary eyes as the aircraft carrier pulled away, vowing to pine in chastity, and not realizing that in the flush of all that rushing blood over the past few weeks I’d hardly gotten to know the man — nor could I guess that it would cost me. Nope, I was a stonewall of love, a prisoner of passion, a love-struck duck with the sobering rainwater of common sense slipping unnoticed off my back.

Within a month Richard had mailed a marriage proposal and a ring. I’m not entirely sure why he did it. I’ve been told in the years since that the main cause of marriage among military people might be neither true love nor accidental pregnancy but the abrupt separation of lovers, particularly when men are removed to ships at sea. Something about the large, lonely ocean that gets these boys thinking about serious things, about filling up hollow places in their lives. That could have been part of it, but more likely it was that Richard was a man who seemed to like commitment for the security it brought him, without caring that he, too, was expected to contribute. Also, he liked the ceremony involved, the drama of saying, “I love you, I want to marry you” — though he wasn’t interested in whatever work would result from such proclamations, in the same way that he loved his uniform and the idea of being a Marine officer much more than he did the job itself.

I took the bait greedily and set about to make the arrangements. Richard wanted to be married as soon after he returned as possible, so we made it October 16, about two weeks after his late-September ETA. The whole show would happen at the house I shared on Lippman Avenue with another nurse, Ruth. She had friends who catered parties and her brother played in a band, so we would have both food and music at reasonable cost. There would be no churching, but a local pastor agreed to come to the house to seal the deal. Both sets of parents were to fly in, as would three of my best friends from Vermont, who would join Ruth as my bridesmaids. Richard’s best man and three other buddies would fly from Virginia to wear the ushers’ tuxedos. There were a hundred other maddening and expensive details, but I tended them gratefully, as labors of love for my beloved.

Richard flew into Miramar on the last day of September. Our reunion that night was everything I’d hoped it would be, but it also carried a foreshadowing of things to come: a tattoo high on his left arm that read “Suzie” over a scramble of blue flowers.

Other winners: Honorable mention | Noteworthy | Also Noteworthy

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