The Hippie Chick and the Soldier

I was a free-spirited girl who'd never sleep with someone who owned a gun and voted for Nixon, but life doesn't always turn out as we imagined

If someone had told me when I was a peace-loving, bead-wearing hippie chick that as a middle-aged woman I would be married to a Republican, watch not only CNN but Fox News and frequent a bar at a Disabled American Veterans facility, I would have called that person batshit crazy.

I was a free-spirited, liberal girl out to change the world. I could never sleep with someone who owned a gun and voted for Nixon. But life doesn't always turn out as we imagined.

Decades into the future, that hippie chick fell in love with a conservative Vietnam veteran. And, after subjecting him for years to poetry readings, self-actualization meetings and Woodstock wannabe festivals, agreed to accompany him one night to our local DAV for a drink or two.

Within minutes after arriving, my husband and the man sitting to my left were engaged in deep conversation. I sipped my martini and listened, seeing my husband in a whole new light.

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Of course, I knew he joined the army at a young age. I knew he flew in a chopper from Da Nang to Firebase T-Bone. I knew he had formed lasting friendships. But watching him engage in conversation with another vet brought that camaraderie into focus. I realized how much stronger he felt toward this man, a stranger up until a few hours ago, than I ever felt toward the friends I met in college, none of whom I see today.

Our lives were so different back in that era, we could have lived on distant planets. While I was taking hits off a bong, drinking from a keg and dancing with fraternity boys I thought were the best guys in the world, my husband was sleeping in a bunker with soldiers who really were the best in the world.

They watched each other's backs. All the time. Whereas at my part-time job working for a car dealership, the salesmen would just as soon stab each other in the back in order to make a sale.

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Riding in my car to the beach, I sang along with Country Joe and the Fish asking, "What are we fighting for?" Sitting on a sandbag, my husband listened to "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin, the band's psychedelic music carrying him away from his surroundings.

We did, however, share one thing in common. I didn't understand everything about the war I was protesting. And he knew very little about the war he was fighting.

The day he came home from Vietnam, he slipped quietly into the airport bathroom, changed into civilian clothes, dumping his uniform in the trash (all but jacket and medals) and walked away. He didn't want to deal with the protesters. It pains me to think what I might have been doing that day.

Not that I could have changed or would have wanted to change who I was. If we had led different lives, our paths would never have crossed. We are a strong couple today, giving each other the space needed to breathe, because of the particular roads we traveled in our youth.

As the night wore on, my husband and his new friend swapped war stories. They made plans to see each other again. This was different than bumping into an old friend who you promise to keep in touch with, but know you never will.

Once in the car, I smiled at myself in the overhead mirror. That hippie chick stared back at me. We can plan for our future, but it doesn't always turn out the way we think it will.

If we're lucky, it turns out even better.

Tags: marriage

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