I’ve said that at some point I would start telling stories of my life with Won. And I think I’ll start with this story.
We had been married for 4 years, living in Okinawa. Mostly our life together was happy, but one big worry was about Won’s health. She’d been diagosed with high blood pressure and diabetes, and the meds that were forcing her body to behave just kept her knocked out during the adjustment period.
There was something else wrong too, but her doctors assured us that it was nothing. I soon came to realize that doctors were not gods, they made mistakes. It would be better if we got another opinion, with a non-military doctor. So I declined my right to transfer “in place”, and asked for an assignment stateside.
There is something in the Air Force called a “Dream Sheet”, you write down where you want your next assignment to be. I chose nice bases near Sacramento, the Bay Area, and San Diego. “Basically anywhere there is sun and surf and sand” I joked. The Air Force also has a sense of humor, so they sent us to the Fort Irwin National Training Center in the Mojave desert. Plenty of sun and sand!
During the final leg of our trip, through the Mojave desert, down the 37 mile long Ft. Irwin road that starts just off of I 15 somewhere between Barstow and Yermo, Won kept telling me that I was going the wrong way, that there was, “nothing out here”. That no one could possibly live here.
She started crying when she saw the front gate of Ft. Irwin.
Instead of living at the Army post, we instead opted to live in Marine Corps housing in Barstow. It wasn’t a metropolis, but it was better than Ft. Irwin.
Once we were settled in at Barstow, Won then told me one day that her old high school friend had moved to the States, and invited her to meet. Won had immediately agreed, and in excitement started talking to me about driving over to see her friend.
Her friend lived in New York state.
“We can go this weekend!” Won told me.
“No, I really don’t have any vacation time saved up. We used a lot of it during our transfer.” We had also used some of it getting Won’s doctor appointments. But we didn’t talk about that.
“You don’t have to use your vacation. We can come back late on Sunday!”
“But Won, I don’t have the money for an airplane ticket.”
“So? We can drive!”
Ah! Finally I understood the problem. South Korea is a country with 40 million people in it. It is a somewhat Florida-shaped peninsula just barely 300 miles long and about 200 miles wide. It would take 8 hours to drive its entire length.
I pulled out our American atlas that I used when driving around California and Neveda.
“Remember when we drove here from San Diego?” I asked her.
“Yea, that was a 3 hour drive. Very boring!” Of course it was boring, it was through the California desert. Unless you’re a desert rat like me, in which case it is very interesting. Won grew up in Seoul – she was a city girl through and through.
“Okay,” I said. I pulled out a ruler then I flipped to the American continent. “Here we are,” I said, pointing at Barstow. “Here is San Diego. And here,” moving my finger across two pages of the atlas, “is New York”.
I used the ruler to compare straight-line distances. In comparison New York City is about 15 times further than the distance to San Diego, in a straight line. Approximately a 45 hour drive, if we didn’t stop for a hotel or food or gas.
Won sat there a moment, stunned.
“We can’t get there by car today, Won. It would take a week of driving, one way.”
Won and I never got any further away from Barstow than to Texas and New Mexico during a trip with my sister. She never realized her wish to visit Times Square.
Years later, after we’d moved to Fresno, we had accepted an exchange student from Korea. One day, a week before Winter Break, this young lady and her friends came excitedly into our living room to explain that they had a car, and planned to drive across the United States seeing the sights. They wanted to see Mt. Rushmore, Times Square, New Orleans, Yellowstone, The Grand Canyon…
Won started laughing, helplessly – gasping for breath. I pulled out my atlas again.
After explaining the distances involved, and that their trip would take at least 3 weeks in good conditions, I then pointed at our TV where the news was currently explaining that much of the Midwest was locked under heavy snows.
“Any of you have experience driving with chains? Oh, you’ll be driving at 25mph through these parts, if the highway is even open.”
I would say that there was stunned silence in the room… but Won was still laughing.
I’ve known a wind so cold,
I’ve seen the darkest days,
but now the winds i feel,
are only winds of change.
I’ve been through the fire,
and I’ve been through the rain
but i’ll be fine.