Tech school romances are notoriously unstable: mine held out for nearly four years, practically a record as they go, and as they go, so did he. He isn't real to me any more; the whole thing is something that happened to an earlier edition of myself, a long time ago. Emotion is limited to gratitude for helping me through broadcaster tech school, a high-pressure whirlpool of coursework in which it was possible to be sucked under and flunk out in double-quick time, ensuring an ignominious military career in the motor pool.
The Defense Information School used to be at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, outside of Indianapolis. All the services--- Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard--- trained their enlisted and officer public affairs and broadcaster types in one big facility; classrooms and working Radio and Television studios, a huge radio library, workshops to produce print materials and graphics, in the days before electronic character generators did the job and a cafeteria/coffee shop, which was always full of uniformed students.
The social whirl was conducted on nearly the same frenetic level as the academic: lately the male/female radio in military broadcasting is a little closer to 50-50, but in my tech school class picture, there are thirty guys.... And count 'em, four women. Even eliminating the older, faithfully married guys from the dating pool did not even out the ratio, when other classes and courses had even fewer women. Datewise, I set my personal best, with four dates and four guys over a weekend in March 1978. It wasn't that I was a particularly heartless flirt, just that we were there and rare, and under a lot of academic pressure.
He was on another course, and there were no females in his particular class, so he later confessed to having checked me out for several days, in the coffee shop or in the corridors. I was preoccupied with radio days, having never, ever set foot in a radio studio until I taped a voice audition for DINFOS, and never even noticed him among the blur of uniforms. Not until morning break in the coffee shop, and I walked by an Air Force and an Army guy at one of the tables, and the Air Force guy said,
"Airman Hayes, what did you get that ribbon for?"
"It's an Honor Grad ribbon, for being tops in my flight in Basic."
He turned to the Army guy and said
This time, I checked out the Air Force: a chunky Teddy-bear guy with sandy hair and bright blue eyes. Engaging smile. The top of my head barely made it up to his shoulder. A couple of days later, I saw him in the cafeteria again, and struck up a conversation so I could avoid having to talk to the guy in my class who thought himself a success with women but proved only successful at annoying them.
We hit it off, that second time. He was the first guy I had met in months who laughed when I tried to be amusing, instead of looking blank and saying "Huh?" On our first date, we walked across post for lunch at a hotdog stand; since we were in uniform we could not hold hands. Protocol permits a man to take the woman's elbow to assist her over hazards in the walkway, and apparently there were quite a few, mostly invisible to me, and he assisted me all the way there and back. (I am a sucker for that sort of unnecessary gallantry. The Gentleman With Whom I Keep Company impressed me the first time at a dinner dance, when he took me out onto the dance floor, his fingers very gently resting in the middle of my back.)
Teddy-bear guy became one of my regular dates, nothing special to set him aside... at first. When he finished his course a month or so later, he took me out to dinner, and rented a car for the evening, but when he had gone back to his regular assignment, I missed him terribly. Feeding five dollars worth of quarters into the pay phone on the barracks landing every few days was a poor substitute for him being actually there.
With a great deal of cliffhanging suspense I finished Tech school, and got orders for Japan, and went to see Teddy-bear guy, hoping that it was real and not just proximity.
Happily ever after? For a three years and a bit. We made all the usual plans, some of which worked out, but most did not. He did a tour in the Arctic, which I don't think worked out very well. He was pretty much off the military by that time, drinking too much and verging on the overweight program. There was no spectacular, messy breakup, just a slow cessation of letters and phone calls, until there was nothing left at all. He got out, and went to school; I re-enlisted and went overseas again ... and again and again. I developed a career, a life and a family and assume he did also, with no regrets.
I wouldn't know him now if I passed him on the street, or heard his voice on the phone.
I think of him now because he was fun, and I adored him and we were young and things were going to always be full of promise and wonder.