Sensations in Centigrade gallops out of the chute like an enraged bull. Max gives us a journey through the dim love-darkness of contemporary romance. He pens a joyous bittersweet romp through the life of a modern day war widow, with all her romantic obsessions, deceptions, and pitfalls.
Seven months after the death of her husband Tracy Beckwith discovers the man of all her dreams and fantasies when he wades out of the ocean and into her life. Hunter Marshall is a magnificent body builder with a civilian existence sponsored by a little known top secret department of the federal government. His profession requires that he live undetected and unnoticed within the general population. Unfortunately, when you are six feet tall and built like a human log splitting wedge, living unnoticed proves difficult. We are granted entry into the life of a beautiful and very active widowís marvelous temptations and her late-in-life sexual awakening.
Mid-May of 1966 finds me sitting in the outer office of Dr. Ruth Simmons, a psychiatrist in Tucson, Arizona. This is the last place in the world I want to be. Iím dressed down in a scruffy two-piece athletic suit, because I donít feel like dressing up for anyone or anything. My eyes are red from lack of sleep and twelve hours of sobbing my heart out. I didnít put on any make up and there is none in my purse. My hair is almost untended; I merely turned the scraggly mess into a ratty looking ponytail before rushing out the door. Iím late again, which has become my most current mode of operation.
The twenty-six hundred square foot ranch style house John and I built in Tucson has become a prison. I rarely venture forth for anything, but the necessities of life. My best friend Carlotta Mason has become so worried about me she arranged an appointment with Dr. Simmons.
The Doctor enters the waiting room, and says, "Please come with me Tracey. How are you today?"
I make no comment, but I rise with dread barking at my heels and precede her through one door, and into a large office with comfortable looking white leather furniture grouped around a large coffee table. Total security, nothing I say will pass outside these walls. Dr. Simmons gestures toward one of the chairs and when I am seated, she takes the one opposite me with the table between us. I look around the room. Iíve never been to a psychiatrist before, so donít have any idea what to expect. The place is light and airy, fish float in a glass tank along the wall beyond Dr. Simmons.
"Good morning, Tracey. How are you today?" she asks again.
This time I answer. "Good morning, Doctor. Iím probably about medium today, angry at the world."
"I see from my secretaryís notes that you are thirty, and recently widowed. How long ago did your husband die?"
"November eleventh, nearly seven months ago.
"How did it happen?"
"I was told by his Summary Court Officer that he was killed in Vietnam, by friendly fire."
Dr. Simmons says, "How terrible. Iím truly sorry. What an awful thing." I feel my eyes fill with tears as I reflect on how close he came to coming home to me. "Can you tell me what happened?"
"His tour was half over when he went on a four day trip to Okinawa. The C-130 he was in was struck by naval gunfire. A cruiser the air-traffic controllers knew nothing about was lying off shore firing inland in support of ground troops. One of the shells struck the transport as it was climbing out. I was told the odds of that happening are approximately one in two million. What was left of the plane fell into the ocean. Johnís body and that of his back seater were recovered. We had the funeral November twentieth in Fort Logan National Cemetery, Denver."
"Where are you living now?"
"In our last home, here in Tucson."
I grab several tissues from a nearby box, press them to my eyes and bend forward from the waist while I sob hysterically. When the sobs reduce to an occasional spasm, she continues in a calm even voice.
"What are your plans now?"
"Plans? I donít have any. Iím afraid of the future without John."
"Do you have any relatives you could go visit for a while?"
"I have Johnís parents, but when I go there I feel like an outsider because I gave them no grandchildren. So for me, there are no relatives anymore, just me."
"What about your parents?"
"Both dead in a plane crash ten years ago."
"Would you care to elaborate on that circumstance?"
"It was a private plane crash. Dad flew them both into a twelve thousand foot mountain in eastern Utah. I am an only child, so there arenít any siblings, although I wish there were."
"Iím sorry you are alone. You have your friend Carlotta who thinks enough of you to arrange this appointment."
"Yeah, friends like Carlotta are rare. Iíve never met anyone like her."
"How long had you known John?"
"My entire life, we were childhood sweethearts and married after he graduated from pilot training in 1951."
"Why no children?"
"We had a baby when I was 22, a little boy, but he was stillborn and I couldnít become pregnant again. The only thing we accomplished with our effort was that the baby took the calcium out of my teeth and six months after the birth, they all had to be pulled. What I have now is the most perfect set of false teeth Iíve ever seen."
"They are not noticeably false, Tracy, I would never have guessed."
"How nice of you to say so."
"Have you heard any voices talking to you that other people donít hear?"
"Sometimes I seem to hear John calling me from a long way off."
"How do you feel about that?"
"Sometimes I feel like I want to go join him."
"Have you made any plans about that?"
"No, no plans at all, for anything."
"Why donít you tell me about John?"
"How much do you want to know?"
"Every thing you are willing to tell me. Be as detailed as possible, so I can have an insight into the both of you."
"Iíve known John from as far back as I can remember. He was two years older than me and first came into my life when I was in second grade. The school bully had a habit of picking on me during recess. His favorite thing seemed to be pulling my pigtails. Heíd pull them so hard, sometimes Iíd fall down. One day he entered a new phase and hit me. John came to my defense and a fight ensued right there on the school ground. The fight itself was rather remarkable. John was younger and smaller than the bully, but he whipped him so badly the bully couldnít get up. Finding someone who could whip him seemed to have a calming effect on the kid, and he stopped picking on everyone.
"Johnís family lived about a block from my parentís home, on the same street. After he became my hero, we walked to school every day together. We were a twosome right on through high school. In high school I was the perpetual homecoming queen and he was the enduring captain of whatever sport was in season. We were each otherís first sexual experience. We did it all, from petting, to oral sex and finally we gave our virginity to each other on his eighteenth birthday. Our entire lives were spent in a town of about twenty-four hundred people. We planned our first sexual experience as though it was a wedding, even to the place where we would consummate the rest of our lives. We selected a secluded site alongside the railroad tracks. The track leads to an oil refinery on the other side of town and the spot was behind a large stack of railroad ties. Trains only came to the refinery once a week, so when we parked there we were in no danger of discovery. The event was planed in advance so John could come up with a condom. Actually he bought a dozen in a little box from his buddy who worked as a soda jerk in the main street drug store. Funny how you remember incidental little things like that. I remember the box had a drawing of a peacock on the lid and cost him three dollars and ten cents.
"On the appointed night we went to a movie, then he drove in his dadís car to our hand picked site. We were both scared spitless, but we went ahead. We started and he could tell he was hurting me really bad, so he withdrew."
I sob uncontrollably for half a minute while the Doctor waits patiently.
"Please continue Tracy."
"John graduated from high school when he was seventeen. His first job was in our hometown with an out of state construction company from Tennessee. They were putting in REA lines to the outlying farms and ranches. John was a typical class ĎAí personality; he became a demolition man because everyone else was afraid to work with dynamite. When his induction notice arrived, he enlisted in the Air Force and went away from home for the first time. He took competitive exams during basic training and was accepted into pilot training. We married the day of his graduation from cadets. Our courtship had been very sexual and marriage only increased the process. Every time we visited the home town, when we drove across the tracks in the center of town, we would look north and see where we had been, a long time ago for our very first time."
I break down again and there is a long lapse before I can continue speaking.
"John was a twice a day man. He nicknamed my vagina ĎConnieí, and I named his penis ĎJohnsoní. As far as I know, he never had anyone else. One time he told me that when he was in cadets in Arizona, they would go to Nogales, Mexico every payday for a five-dollar oral delight. After that bit of information I made certain he never wanted to go anywhere else for something he could get better at home."
I stop for new tissues and sit there numbly until the Doc tells me to continue.
"Were you in love with him or just lustfully involved?"
"We were married twelve years and had been a couple for the previous sixteen prior to marriage; during all that time, our emotions never slackened. Some days he would call from the base and say, ĎIím bringing Johnson home for lunch.í That meant that I was to freshen up, get naked, and be kneeling on a big thick pillow inside the garage entrance to the dinning room. After a few minutes of lip service, we would either complete Johnsonís homecoming or adjourn to another favored place."
"Yeah, you know, like the living room floor, the ottoman that went with the over stuffed chair in the living room, our bed, or maybe the dinning room table. We even did it atop the washing machine with the spin cycle going; those were all favored places. The possibilities were limited only by our combined imaginations. One of our favorites was for me to go down on him while we were driving some place. Heíd move the seat as far back as it would go and Iíd do him while the car was on cruise control. Once we even made love in the front seat of our Buick Electra in the garage, just like we in his dadís car when we were teenagers. Another time after he was eighteen, we made out in my parentís bed while they were twenty miles away shopping. The thrill of possible discovery only added to the pleasure."
I notice that I have stopped sobbing, and am sitting upright clutching two sodden tissues in my right hand. I stare at the fish in the aquarium behind her desk.
"Even his return from a weekend cross country was cause for sexual jubilation. We could hardly wait to get back to each other. Afterward, we would lie in bed facing one another and talk. Our conversations mostly involved dreams and fantasies about our future. Sometimes we would act out the fantasies and that was always special. We were deeply in love with each other, but lust was a large part of that love. I canít imagine love with a spouse being any thing but lustful.
"When his orders came for Vietnam, I cried for a week. He looked at the assignment as his great adventure of a lifetime and the key for future promotion. I looked at it as the possible end to an ideal marriage. I had this deep, gut-wrenching feeling that he was never coming back.
"Although we couldnít seem to have anymore children, we enjoyed each other so much, nothing else mattered. Halfway through his tour he was allowed a two week Rest and Recuperation leave. He scheduled the R & R for Bellows AB, an old WWII fighter strip on Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands. The place was one of the more popular R & R sites that we could afford. I booked a flight with Pan Am, so as to arrive the same day he did. Providing the planes were on time, he would be there an hour ahead of me. True to the schedule, he got there first. He rented a Volkswagen for our transportation, and a motel room at the first place outside the base gate. He picked me up at the air terminal with three flower leiís encircling his left arm. Once the leiís were around my neck and I had been kissed practically to death, we raced to the room. He was wearing shorts, a white T-shirt, and zorries when he picked me up. The shorts worked wonderfully well for what I had in mind for the trip to the motel. By the time we got there, he could hardly walk because of his advanced state of arousal. I let him carry my overnight kit in front of himself until we got inside the room. We left everything else in the car. Once in the room, I gave a proper welcoming to Johnson as soon as the door was closed. He went back to Nam after our two weeks were up. The trip had been another honeymoon. Less than a month later he was dead. All I can think about is Ďnever again.í Never again to be in his arms, never again to experience what we did when we were alone together, never again to make love to him and Johnson."
I give a gagging cough, lean forward again, and sob my heart out. There is a long silence in the room after my last crying fit, and then she speaks.
"You are severely depressed, Tracy, so Iím going to give you something for depression and something else to help you sleep. We have to figure out a way for you to move on with your life. You need to accept the fact that John is never coming back. You need to acknowledge that to yourself, for your own good, whether you like it or not. Thereís someone else out there for you, all it will take is time. You are a beautiful woman; what a shame it will be if you turn into a recluse, afraid to venture forth or meet anyone else. Iíd like for you to sign a release so I can talk to your friend Carlotta. Perhaps together we can get you past this point in your life. You probably need to get out of that house for a while; take a vacation, go somewhere youíve always wanted to go."
Carlotta tells me later about her conversation with Dr. Simmons; much later after I am under some semblance of emotional control. She told me their conversation went something like this: "Iíve had my first three sessions with Tracy and we have to get her out of that house for a while. You need to talk her into gathering up Johnís clothing and if she will allow you, give them to some place like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Her best attempt at healing will come if we keep her from establishing some sort of shrine to him in the house. She needs to be thinking about something besides, Ďnever againí. The never agains can kill her, so we want to get her thinking of the future. Can you spend more than a normal amount of time with her?"
"Yeah, we do coffee every morning at her house. My hubbyís in Vietnam flying F-4ís in the same Squadron John was in and I dread every time the phone or doorbell rings."
"Do you think you can get her to let you bundle up his clothes and get them out of there?"