A Life Interrupted

There are so many touching stories about military families and the sacrifices they make, but the bittersweet one I’d like to share is about my neighbor, Jack.

Jack is a Vietnam Vet who did three tours and, consequently, lived a life interrupted.  Jack’s high school sweetheart was Dianne. Shortly after they agreed to go steady, Jack got his draft orders. Already knowing she was the one, Jack proposed, gave her his high school ring and promised to be back.

Dianne waited three years for Jack to return before she sent him a “Dear John” letter.

Several years later, Jack finally did return. He accepted that Dianne had moved on and he just didn’t have enough fight left in him to win her back. Eventually, each of them married someone else and forty years went by.

It was during that fortieth year that we met Jack. When we moved into our house a few years earlier, Dianne (having been recently widowed) lived alone in the house next door. One day, during a walk with her, she asked me for a favor. She said she had a friend coming to town and asked if we could take the two of them for a boat ride. I said, “Sure, just let me know when she’s getting here.” Then she said, “It’s actually a he.” A few days later, we left the dock with Dianne and her special guest.

This was actually at a time before Facebook, but apparently, in all her idle time, Dianne had gotten savvy on the computer. She figured out how to google someone…a very special someone. Wanting to reach out and attempt to make things right, she sent a small box to Chicago.

The box was received and a call was made… “Uh dad, I didn’t tell mom, but a small box addressed to you from Florida arrived today. Any idea what it could be?” “No, but I’ll come pick it up and thanks for not alerting ‘the-X.”

When Jack opened that box, he found a Class of 1966 high school ring and a note. “Jack, just thought you might want your ring back. By the way, I’m in Cape Coral. You should come visit sometime.” Jack gave Dianne a call, arrangements were made, and he hopped on a plane!

Life had taught Jack to have a sense of humor. On the phone, he told Dianne, “I’ll be the bald fat guy coming through the terminal.” This helped Jack soothe Dianne’s nerves, making her laugh as soon as she saw him! And it was her laugh that brought him right back to 1966, June 6, 1966, to be exact. That’s the day she recorded his marriage proposal in her diary, which she kept and shared with him that day.

On that “welcome to town boat tour,” my husband, Hugh, played a Kenny Chesney song with a line that had Dianne blushing. “In my mind, she’s still young and she’s still pretty, even after all of this time.”

As Jack reached for Dianne’s hand, they began to dance on the bow of the boat, and magically picked up right where they left off. This time, Jack refused to let go. Instead, he asked for her hand in marriage. Soon after, his old military buddies officiated a beautiful waterside ceremony.

I wish I could tell you this is one of those happily ever after fairy talesUnfortunately, a few years later, Jack did lose Dianne again, this time to a battle with cancer. Right to the end, he did right by her. Jack became Dianne’s full time caregiver, carrying out yet another role as the hero of her life.

Jack still lives in that same house, filled with mementos of their brief time together, along with lots of military memorabilia. He says he believes in angels and still feels Dianne’s presence every day. He says she makes him laugh when the radio randomly switches to their favorite rock station. He also displays his pendant of St. Michael, whom he’s convinced was his guardian during his days in battle.

Toward the end of Dianne’s battle, the drugs caused swelling and her wedding ring wouldn’t fit. What did still fit, though, was that old high school ring. Like things have a way of doing, it made its way back to its rightful owner. Jack has requested to be buried with it so Dianne will recognize him upon their next reunion.

Godspeed to all who make such unspeakably selfless sacrifices so that we all are not living a life interrupted.