I decided to interrupt and change the subject. “How’d you get into the Navy at such a senior level? Most of us get drafted or are on the Berry Plan to come in after residency training?”
“Actually I got deferred from military service by being a consultant to the training program at Bethesda Naval Hospital. One day I met someone from the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery from the Navy Department in Washington DC. He told me the Navy needed someone to help update the war surgery directives on thoracic surgery. Such a person would have to have combat surgery experience.”
“So you left everything you had at the Cornell Medical Center for Southeast Asia?” I couldn’t fathom why anyone would leave what they had worked a lifetime for to get their balls shot off in Vietnam.
“I reached the point where my oldest boy was giving me advice. He told me that his mom was talking about meeting new people at luncheons downtown. My daughter heard my wife mentioning new friends including one or two men’s names.”
I saw the look of grief on his face and felt I had to say something positive. “It doesn’t mean she was looking for someone else.”
“My whole point in reminiscing is to inform you it’s exactly what happens when everyone in the roost is leaving and she’s left all alone with no hope for change in the future.” He paused. “We went to a marriage counselor my wife said came highly recommended by one of her friends. To my astonishment he recommended we each try an extended separation. If we’re really apart we can both see how much we should be together. It would ultimately enhance our balance of time with each other.”
“That doesn’t make sense.” I was astonished and afraid for my future for some reason. Maybe it was the way he was telling it.
“She thought it was a fantastic idea. She claimed she had always wanted to be a pastry chef. It was the first time I ever heard of this. So off she went to Europe–Vienna–and I accepted the Navy’s appointment and accepted a commission. Her schooling would take a year-and-a-half and I took a year in Vietnam which I extended for another 6-months.” He ordered his third scotch when our meal was served.
“And now you’re back. So why aren’t you back in New York City with your wife?” I had to know.
“She’s cohabitating with a New York City Viennese pastry chef and restaurant owner.” He swilled down half the scotch and attacked his dinner.
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