I had spent half of Texas listening to the young marine’s story. I think we were the same age, but he seemed very immature. It was near Christmas time  and I was heading across the country to see my family. At that point my anxiety and panic precluded me from even attempting to fly. The last time I had been in an airplane we had lost a bit of altitude, probably no more than 30 feet in reality, but it felt like 10,000 feet and I’d gone crashing into the ceiling. It was an MD-80 and in my complete lack of aeronautical expertise,  I equated the strange 2-3 seating arrangement as the work of a person doing everything to offset the balance and make the plane crash somewhere unimportant, like Minnesota. I was flying Northwest and both legs from BWI to Ontario in California were on MD-80s. I cursed the plane, the pilot, the Wright brothers, and worse, I was too young to be served. This was before I was diagnosed with anxiety and panic, etc. I had no meds to placate me. The only thing I had was the seat back and I kept raising and lowering the tray trying to distract myself from my inevitable death. Even the business traveler next to me was sipping from a flask. This was back before I had the nerve to ask anybody for anything, even if he offered I would’ve turned him down. I had been drunk maybe twice in my 19 years and wasn’t really sure how much I would need to drink to feel more relaxed. The only times I had imbibed before I was disgusted by the taste to not drink nearly enough to feel it or else I had held my nose and downed two fifths of Absolut Vodka that was 16-year-old girlfriend had scored with a fake ID that said she was almost 30.

There were too many people trying to go home for Christmas and Greyhound had contracted a  large number of non-fleet buses and private drivers to handle the extra load. The bus I found myself on was full of marines. It had a VCR deck and when the driver asked  if anybody had a VHS they wanted to watch of course on of the guys had a copy of Full Metal Jacket. This kid next to me had been going on for so long that I promised myself next time I’d say to hell with it and just fly. He went on and on and it’s only conjecture, but I don’t think any of the other marines liked him. He talked as though he hadn’t talked, or hadn’t been ALLOWED to talk for months. His main story was about his girlfriend. He was going to get down on one knee and propose marriage to her as soon as he got home, which was somewhere in southern Virginia, which meant he was sitting next to me for the next two and a half days, at least. While the rest of Company C whooped and hollered every time somebody in the movie shot a gun, Eddie went on talking about his torrid love affair with Elizabeth, his one true love. Her parents didn’t like him was the only problem. Well, one of the only problems. She was in school and her parents thought if they let the relationship continue she would quit school to be closer to Eddie.

He talked about how sexy she was, her talents in the bedroom, and then he read the poems he had written her in his bunk. It was a horrible story that I’m sure had been told by countless other marines from the beginning of time.

Finally he said, “You want to see her picture?” He rummaged through his duffle bag. I was a bit curious. I wanted to see what kind of girl he would describe as a perfect 10. A knockout. Miss USS times fifty. That was a quote. Miss USA times 50. I’m not sure he knew any higher numbers.

Finally he found a picture of a very young looking girl wearing the kind of glasses you wear before you’re old enough to be able to pick out the kind of glasses you want to wear.

She looked like she was 12.

Maybe 12.

She has a kid? I said.

No. this is Elizabeth. She was small and shrunken behind a large turtleneck and the huge child glasses.

She’s going to get her ears pierced next year, he said. He sounded very excited.