Choices (part 1 of a 2 part series)

 

This story is a “Prequel” to both “Highway 61″ and “The Doors.”

Carl, the part-time amusement park mechanic decided to shut down the kiddy boat ride—several lengthy repairs were needed. He told the ride operator to “Beach-em” meaning drain the pool they floated in and remove the cars from the spider-arms. He had always been a bit uncomfortable around the kiddy boat ride and had been more so of late. The cars reminded him of Korea—when he was stationed there in ’51 and ’52—hard to believe it had been 16 years. Carl was proud of having served his country but ashamed of what had happened over there.

 It was darkening in the skies northwest of the park—distant, black rumbling—wind picking up. A powerful afternoon thundershower had been predicted—better shut everything down—don’t want any patrons or ride operators dead from a lightening strike.

 Carl whistled to his son Georgie, who he had spotted a moment before with a couple of his friends he rode bikes with, hanging around some of the teen-aged girl ride operators again and pointed at the sky. George knew what his dad was referring to and took off with his buddies. The snow cone girls had noticed the wind sending hot-dog wrappers swirling and Styrofoam cups clattering across the gray asphalt and began buttoning up the stand—taking in napkin dispensers from the picnic tables, lowering the big shade umbrellas.

 Carl helped the kiddy boat ride operator pull a tarp over the large breaker and control panel then picked up his tool box and headed for the maintenance barn where he had a 2 cycle engine torn down in need of cleaning and re-assembly. Georgie was waiting for him there watching the rabbit-ears TV that sat on the night watchman’s desk—as Carl came through the big side door Georgie said something about a friend coming in a bit.

 Settling onto a stool at the repair bench, Carl began work on the engine as the rain began to chatter against the corrugated metal barn roofing.

 And it started again—Pubwon-Ni in the Munsan Corridor and the last few times he saw 19 year old Sooni all those years ago. Carl’s was pretty common story back in those days—just another American GI knocking up a local girl. What wasn’t common about Carl’s story was he was an ordained minister, holding a Doctorate in Divinity and an Army Chaplain.

 And he had abandoned the girl—rotated back to a military base on the East Coast—did not marry her—never told her he was leaving—did not send for her. He knew full well what his family’s reaction would be if he brought home a “Gook” girl friend.

 For awhile Carl sent money to his commanding officer and friend, Col. Harvey, back at his old unit to give her. Though Sooni—a graduate of an American Jesuit missionary school—was well able to write in English she did not write to him. No outrage, no begging, no crushed dreams and devastation. She sent only a single photograph, in an otherwise empty envelope, of herself and Carl sitting in a small boat on Jinyangho Lake taken when he & Sooni visited Jinju. In the picture the girl held confidently onto Carl’s strong arm looking confidently at the viewer with utter devotion—to her man and to their unborn child. In the background behind the smiling couple, dark clouds were building on the horizon.

 A few months after receiving the picture he learned she and her family had been killed when the North Korean Army overran her village and the nearby American field base. There had been an intelligence blunder—hundreds of civilians had been slaughtered and an entire company of Marines had been massacred to the man before American forces could re-take the area.

 When he heard this news Carl was shattered. He learned for the first time in his life what self-loathing was. He spent weeks in prayer, meditation and self-examination endlessly scrutinizing his cowardice, crushed with the realization of what was lost—the loving relationship between him and Sooni and the sweeping, endless potential of the child. Gone—like so much dandelion fluff on the breeze.

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