Getting back on one’s feet after an open-heart operation takes
Patience. Jack Riddle was not a patient man. That’s probably why he was still single and without too many prospects for marriage. Sure, his five-foot eleven frame and chiseled features attracted more than several women. Jack’s competency in the classroom also drew the attention of a lot of curvaceous, comely young coeds. But, Jack avoided this group of young women as he would a claymore mine; treading on such territory did have lovers, women who, if asked, would have accepted his proposal of marriage in a heartbeat. But, right at the moment, it was Jack’s biological heart which took precedence, not the emotional one.
In the weeks after Jack’s release from the hospital, he had ample time for recuperation. Jack’s college had granted him a year’s sabbatical at three-quarter pay, and he wasted no time getting himself back into shape. In the first months after the operation, Jack went through a cardioversion, a process used to reset the rhythm of the heart. Shortly after that, Jack’s nightly coughing began. He didn’t know it then, but his lungs had been collapsed during the operation, and breathing exercises and coughing were necessary to rejuvenate the lungs to their normal inflated capacity. Weeks later, Jack jumpstarted his habit of daily visits to the health club and playing pickle ball five times a week. At the age of sixty, six months after open-heart operation, Jack began to feel normal. That’s when he renewed another old habit---having a beer with other former Marines at the Semper Fi Bistro in downtown Saratoga Springs, an upstate New York community known for its schools, racetrack and performing arts center.
Jack’s friends had missed him at their regular get togethers in the bistro. When he came into the bar, his fellow Marines would greet him with, “Hey, Doc. What’s up?” Most of the guys were his age, and they had grown up with the cartoon characters who used such greetings. But, today’s stop at the bistro was different. Most of Jack’s friends had paid him visits when he was in the hospital, but they hadn’t seen him in months. Jack’s recovery had kept him away, but now, he was ready. As he entered the bar, Jack saluted his buddies and said, “Sure, you expected to read about me in the obits. Tough luck. Semper Fi.” After a few “Hurrahs” and slaps on the back, everyone settled in for a few cold ones enhanced by verbal flashbacks to the Corps. Gunny Godomski, a twenty-year veteran of the Corps and owner of the SFB, was behind the bar. He held up a glass, filled it with some of Jack’s favorite beer and said, “This one’s on me, Jack. Welcome back.” Once everyone had become comfortable with their friend’s return, one of the men got Jack’s attention and said, “Hey, Jack, feel any different after the operation?”
Jack took his time, swallowed a little Negra Modelo, and said, “Let me tell you something. Better yet, sit back and let me try something. If this doesn’t work, don’t ask me any more questions about my new insides. OK?” Everyone seemed to sense a seriousness in Jack’s request, and they all nodded in recognition and respect. Godomski interrupted and said, “Guys, I have some restocking to do. I’ll be back in a few. Need anything before I go?” Everyone’s glass was full, and the men said nothing but gave the gunny a wave.
Jack called attention to his friends at the bar and told them the following: “Guys, I want to try something. Give me a second and let me ask you. What might be one of our country’s toughest battles?” One of the men responded immediately saying, “Iwo, no doubt.” A few others agreed. But, John, the oldest Marine in the group spoke up saying, “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I would not have wanted to be at the Little Bighorn in 1876.” Most nodded in agreement. Jack said, “Just a minute.”
Without saying more, Jack closed his eyes, put his hands up toward his face and began what seemed to be a meditating pose. In his mind, he conjured up what he knew about the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the tribes which had taken part in that battle against the 7th Cavalry---the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, Arapaho and the Sioux. At the end of the bar, now vacant of anyone else, something began to stir. A shimmering column of ghostly smoke began to rise, and all of a sudden, shots rang out, real honest-to-goodness shots. A whooping and a hollering could be heard, and a figure, a specter, an image of a man dressed in buckskin with fringe at the seams of his trousers and vest, his collar turned down, and wearing a whitish gray hat, its broad brim and low crown showing clearly through what looked like the smoke of battle was in full view of the men at the bar. The buckskin-clad personage in the middle of the smoke, fire and brimstone was kneeling and firing both of his Bulldog self cocking English, white-handled pistols. Arrows and spent shot seemed to be zipping by when the man firing his pistols stood up and yelled, “Where in the Sam Hell is Reno? Where is Bloody Knife?” Then, blood shot out from the top of his vest near his heart, and another bullet struck the soldier in the left temple, and he fell. Everything began to fade away as if a wind had come up and dispelled all the smoke, sound and fury of what was indeed a battle.
The men at the bar spilled their drinks. One of Jack’s friends said, “Holy shit, Jack. What the Hell was that? What in the world did you do?” Out of the back room of the bar, Gunny Godomski rushed out and yelled, “What the Hell are you guys doing? What’s all the god-damned noise? There’s a god-damned arrow sticking out of my wall. Get the Hell out of my bar. Call me before you ever come back here. God-damned leatherneck bastards. What kind of a joint do you think I’m running?”
Without a word, without a look at each other, every one of the men at the SFB left the bar, got into their cars and didn’t look back. None of Jack’s friends even waved goodbye to him. They were scared shitless, and they didn’t want any explanation of what had just taken place before their eyes. But one of Jack’s friends, one with whom he had joined the Corps, said before leaving, “Jack, I’m not sure about what just happened, but something tells me that I just witnessed Custer’s last stand.”