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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Donald Dempsey's Gutsy Story (Author of Betty's Child)

Before I share Donald's Gutsy Story, I first want to tell you about a man who has become my friend. I met Donald Dempsey when we worked together promoting his memoir: Betty's Child. He has a fabulous sense of humor and is one of those amazing people who handles life with grace and dignity. His bio doesn't really say enough, but then neither can I - he's just an amazing man and if you want to know more, please check out his memoir:
Betty's Child by Donald R Dempsey

Now for Donald's Gutsy Story...

A huge throng of friends and family were waiting when our C-130’s dumped us on the runways back at Cherry Point, NC.  The larger than normal crowd was probably due to the suicide barracks bombing.  We’d just returned from Beirut, Lebanon in 1983.  The deaths of so many Marines had affected us profoundly.  Some guy’s mother wrapped him in a bear hug, sobbing and shaking as she held him.  I could see we hadn’t been the only ones affected as I stepped around the relieved parents.      
By the time I was back in the barracks my depression was heavy.  I felt so alone.  I threw the bags I’d been lugging into my empty wall locker and contemplated my evening.  Sleep was out of the question.  Retrieving the rest of my gear meant crossing the tarmac and runway again, negotiating the laughter and smiles and happiness.  I rifled though some mail on my bunk and noticed a bill marked final notice before sale.  Two hours later I was driving a borrowed jeep well over the speed limit as I raced toward Columbus, Ohio.
As the sun broke I roused myself.  I watched an older man in overalls and a thick jacket roll back a gate as I stepped out of the jeep, my mouth full of chalk as I yawned.  Pulling my field jacket closed, I trotted across the street and followed him into the office as he unlocked the door.  Inside, he stepped behind a counter and tilted his frayed John Deere hat back as he eyed me.
“You in a hurry, young fella?” he asked frankly. 
“Yes, sir, I guess I am.”  I held out the most recent bill.  “I’m hoping you haven’t sold this yet.  I’d like to settle up and get my stuff out.”
“You Army or Marine?” he asked, taking my slip and pulling some reading glasses out of his pocket.
He nodded and handed it back.  “Sorry, son, I can’t help you.”  He shook his head.  “That lot’s been sold.  We had an auction week before last.”
I didn’t understand.  “What do you mean?  I was here in May.  I helped my mother store some stuff and paid eight months in advance.  There was a nice lady here with a Shepard.  She was surprised he let me pet him.  I think the Dog’s name was Zeus.”
He peered at me over his glasses as he pulled out a thick book.  “My wife,” he mumbled as he flipped pages.  “And my dog,” he added.  He finally found what he was looking for.  He jabbed a page accusingly and said, “I remember her.  Your mother came in last July.  Some fella with her hauled away some furniture and she wanted a smaller unit for what was left.  She also demanded all the extra deposit money.  Said she would make the payments instead.”
There was a plastic chair behind me.  I collapsed into it.  “She didn’t make any payments, did she?” I asked needlessly.
“Not a one,” he admitted.  “We’re allowed to auction after 90 days.  That’s right in the contract.  We actually waited over 120 this time.”
I put my head in my hands and rubbed at my eyes.  “I was overseas,” I mumbled.
After a long pause he finally said, “I’m sorry, son.  Her name was on the contract.  We had to give her the money.”
I looked up at him.  “Is there anything left?  Maybe we could check and I could pay the balance?”
“Son, the people who buy our stuff operate flea markets all over the Midwest.  They’ll buy old underwear and paint over the skid marks.  I remember this lot.  There were crates of baseball cards and a bunch of art work.”
I felt sick.  “Someone actually bought my art work?”  He nodded.  “You wouldn’t remember who?”
“No, but I remember it.”  He swallowed and removed his glasses.  “You’re real good.”
I tried to give him a smile as I rose, but there wasn’t one inside me.  All the old pain was roiling around, threatening to explode.  I had to get away.  He said something as I left but the deafening roar in my ears drowned out his words. 
Somehow I wound up on a track.  I ran cross country in high school.  I liked to go to the track late at night.  I would start in lane one, then switch to two.  I’d keep stepping up lanes all the way to six, run six again and work my way back down to one.  All I could think of were the hours I’d spent laboring over my pen and inks, charcoal works, and pad after pad of pencil sketches.    
Those cards and the players I’d idolized had always been there for me.  Complete sets of 1975 and 1976 Cincinnati Reds.  I’d even gotten many of them signed during YMCA trips to games they scheduled for us underprivileged kids.  While my idiot friends had ran the bases I’d wrangled signatures out of Bench, Morgan, and even Rose.  As I stumbled back to the jeep I shoved my face into my field jacket to stifle screams and growls.   
By the time I was back at Cherry Point I’d put myself back together, at least as together as I ever was back then.  I would never talk about the art work or the cards.  Marines can be a might insensitive when it comes to crying, or admitting pain. 
Now, so many years later, I’ve come to terms with most of those old emotions.  I’ve learned what I can dwell on and what I can’t.  I still think about those baseball cards.  I still wish I had all my old art work.  They’re pieces of myself I lost and can never get back, but they were only things.  Learning to cope with pain and loss made me who I am today.  It was necessary.
And you can find me at the track a few times a week, running one to six, and six back to one.        


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