On Sunday, we hung out in his garage playing guitars with his brother John. I had no intentions of ever going to Lori's side of town ever again. I did get to swing by to Bonnie and the kids for a couple of hours. That was nice. Sunday night, Hrisko's mother drove us to the ship. We were pulling out in the morning. I left my car parked at Hrisko's house, covered up. There would be no dramatic send off this time around. I was fine with that.
I was also reassigned to the ship laundry. I was now in charge of the press decks. I had three people working under me. We were one kick ass team too. It was a skate job really. I was working the night shift, 8PM to 8AM. We had our work done in the first three to four hours. The rest of the shift was finding places to hide. Or helping out others in the laundry. Since Hrisko was working the wash deck, and Cannonball was still operating the dry cleaning area, I would often pitch in to help or otherwise, just hang out and chit chat.
By the next weekend, we once again hit port in Fort Lauderdale. The place wasn't jumping as much as it was the first time we hit, but it also wasn't as dead as the second time we hit it on our last cruise. It was a tweener of the two.
Also missing was the enthusiasm from the first time I was here. At this point, I just wanted to hang with my friends. Things were changing, and my mind was almost constantly on my reenlistment date. Stay or leave? That was the million dolllar question.
It could have been because Torok was no longer around. I never did learn his fate after his unexpected departure that morning in the apartment. There was still no word on Sanoki either. My first full day in port, I was accompanied by Shorty and Glen. We came to shore Friday night, got a hotel room and went to The Candy Store and got sloppy drunk. No chicks. On Saturday, we all three sat at the same table by the pool where Shorty and I sat the previous two times. We also sat there drinking those banana daiquiri's all day too, just like the previous times. Once again, it was Shorty that would break the silence with another one of his keen observations. "Remember that time you got your hat back?"
It was still funny. I started laughing. Glen looked at us both. "What?"
"Never mind." I said. "Inside joke."
Shorty turned his head to me. "You never did tell me how that fine young ass was."
I kept my eyes towards the strip and nodded my head. "It was a bit of okay." I smiled.
Glen was remained at a loss. "What? What fine young ass? You two are weird. I'll see you later." And off he went.
"Now look at what you did."Shorty mumbled. The waitress was walking by. Shorty finished the last off his drink and waved her down. "Two more.".
Heading to the Virgin Islands, it would be my last port before I would have to decide my fate. Either way I choose, I would be leaving the ship. I would be leaving S-3 Supply Division. I would be leaving my friends.
Much of my time was spent hiding in storage places with Hrisko and sometimes his brother, playing guitars and drinking what we snuck on board.My thoughts though, were almost always on Lori and the story Waylon told to me. I began to wonder if maybe I should have gone back to talk to her about it. Too many times I found it easier to just walk away rather than stand and face the fire, so to speak.
My heart was going out to her, but what Waylon told me was just too much for my mind to handle and deal with. It was a bad situation.
Virgin Islands came and went in a whisper. I was just biding my time. I had one week left after we pulled out. Well, one week before being flown back to Norfolk for either to be processed out of the military, or reporting to barber school as an instructor. The day after the pull out, Burke came to my rack in the berthing area as I was preparing to report to the laundry. "Hey Carroll, are you ready to sign the papers? Your orders to Norfolk is still waiting."
I turned to him as I buttoned up my shirt. "Yeah," I began, "about that, I'm going home."
Burke kept up his smile despite his eyes revealing disappointment. He reached over and patted me on the shoulder. "Is that what you really want?"
Hrisko was sitting in a chair and reading the bible. He looked up at me and I looked down at him. I nodded my head to Burke. "Yeah, that's what I want."
Just like that, I made my decision.
The ship laundry was shut down on Sunday. I was leaving at ten hundred hours Monday morning. Hrisko would be asleep at that time so we said our goodbyes in the laundry area, on the wash deck while we each did our own laundry on that day. It was a somber mood. We killed time playing guitars, but anyone could see that there was a painful atmosphere engulfing us. It was like two conjoined twins being separated. After one of our songs, Hrisko broke the ice. "Things aren't going to be the same without you." He spilled. "I'm going to miss you dude."
"I'm going to miss you too." I told him. Both of us fighting the tears. "You know," I continued, "I don't think I could have made it through all of this without your friendship. You're like a brother to me."
He grinned that grin of his and shook his head. "Hell man, you are my brother."
We set the guitars down and stood up. Instinctively, we came together for a hug. "I love you, man." I whispered in his ear. He whispered back. "I love you too."
We separated to regain our composure. I started to smile. He became curious. "What?" He asked me.
I nodded my head towards the back room. "Nobody is around." I told him. "Let's go back there and I'll rip you apart!" I now joked with him. I started to move in. "Come here you big lug, I'll ride you like a stallion, yeah!" I was giving him the crazy look.
He backed away before turning around and heading to the stairs. "Fuck that!" He laughed. "I'm grabbing some grub."
I nagged him along the way. "Come on, one kiss? Just one kiss? Lip lock me, baby."
What did you expect? I had to joke it up. It prevented me from crying about it. And trust me, I really wanted to cry too. My heart was breaking inside. I had no idea if I would ever see him again.
The next morning, I had my duffel bag packed. I stood next to my rack to take in the final view. It looked as it did the day I first arrived. Empty. I picked up my gear and started to make my way when Hrisko opened up his curtain. I caught this. We stared at each other for a moment. I winked and blew him a kiss. He smiled and started giggling.
Then I was gone.
I sat on the cargo plane all strapped in. There was a few others flying out with me that day from other departments and divisions. I was probably the only one who didn't really want to go. And the only one who really didn't want to stay.
That's lonely in a nutshell.
They flew us to Italy. We spent the night in some barracks on the base there. The next afternoon we were driven to an airport and boarded our flight back to the states. It took about 12 hours. Once we landed, we were shuttled to the base and dropped off at another building with barracks. It was a Wednesday night. I was told we could hang out there or whatever until that Monday, when our processing would begin. Just like on the ship, I would have to go through another debriefing, then take another quick physical and blah, blah, blah. At the end of that week, I would get my final pay and a plane ticket back to Ohio. Needless to say, I didn't hang around for long. On Thursday morning, I took a cab to Hrisko's house to reclaim my car. I left a note for his parents so they wouldn't think it was stolen. Then I drove around for a while. Bonnie was working but I didn't want to go to the bar. I knew Lori would be working too. I still didn't want to see her.
That evening, I showed up at Bonnie's house and stayed with her until Sunday night. I spent some more quality time with the kids. She and I talked everyday. I made her promise not to tell Lori I was back.
I returned to the base Sunday night and slept in the barracks. The next day, my processing began. I made the choice to stay on base for the remainder of the week. It was a boring process too. Time dragged forever. I took a few drives over to the dock where my ship was last spotted before we pulled out. I relived in my mind the first time we deployed and stood on the spot where Lori and I had hugged that morning. I was being very nostalgic about it all. I was caught in an inner struggle with myself to decide if I really did want to leave Norfolk at t he end of the week. Sure, I didn't want to stay in the Navy, but did I want to really leave this town after everything I have been through?
This is when my thoughts on Lori surfaced like a monsoon. A Tsunami of emotions swarmed my entire being. With so much of the past few months spent deciding my military fate, I now knew I had to decide my Norfolk fate. Stay or leave? Maybe a part of me did want to try and give Lori and I another shot. Maybe I did want to see her at least one more time. What the hell?
Then I started to reflect on our hot and cold relationship. Ever since Waylon's story, I began to see why Lori acted the way she did. I think her head was just messed up from all she had been through. Most of which I knew she couldn't help. I guess when you have gone through what she has as a child, maybe the girl just couldn't help it. But did I want to take that task on? You know what I'm talking about, the task of trying to repair the damage to her psyche. This was now the new million dollar question.
This was the bulk of my thoughts leading up to my last day as a US Navy serviceman.