Although this story contains things from the world in which we live, it should be read as a work of fiction. All characters are fictional and not based on any actual living person. The events that take place in this story are entirely the product of my imagination.
I should have known when Anne told me about her dream that it would turn out the way it did. She had the dream about two months before we moved from San Diego the second time. She awakened in the middle of the night and saw a figure standing at the foot of our bed. In her dream, the shadowy figure had only said, “It’s not going to be what you think it’s going to be.” When she told me about the dream, she was not frightened, but she was clearly affected by it. I didn’t think about it too much. Until months later. Had an angel appeared to her and given her a warning of things to come?
I grew up in south Texas, but I never wanted to live there permanently. Although I had a grudging love of the area, I had wrung it dry of anything that held my interest. Part of the double-edged sword of my emotions was the fact that I had lived there from birth to age twelve, and then moved with my family away and back no less than three times. By the tenth grade, I felt that if one sought a vast metropolis that exploded like an imprecation with concrete and asphalt road networks, Houston was for you. One could spend a third of his life sitting in some interstate parking lot getting to and from work. That future prospect did not entice me.
In later years I would realize that the part of me that loved Houston loved the memories of my first twelve years, my childhood. But at the end of high school, my world view was very narrow. I figured I had only two real choices of where to attend college; I could stay home or follow my parents’ footsteps to their alma mater in another southern state. I never even considered going anywhere else. So I made the early mistake of choosing to attend a university near downtown; it was a great school, but it placed me squarely in the middle of the concrete jungle and a scant fifteen miles from home. My “big drive” to school in August of my freshman year took all of thirty minutes.
I so disliked my first two years of college that I decided to transfer to my parents’ alma mater. Once I got over the culture shock of being in such an isolated and insular place — a town of about 40,000 at the time — a small love-affair blossomed between the town and me. It would last for several years. And like most love affairs where one party fails to meet the other’s needs, it would eventually end. The town I was so entranced with over time eventually became a shadowland I scarcely recognized any longer. Perhaps I had just been blind from the beginning. The signs were there; I just ignored them.
So three years after finishing law school, we embarked on a new family adventure as I joined the military as a judge advocate. I had never heard the term, and then in the middle of my second year I saw A Few Good Men. I thought being a uniformed military lawyer would be a very cool thing to do.
Since then, we had lived in Quantico, Virginia, San Diego twice, and Arlington, Virginia. Quantico almost didn’t count, because it wasn’t really a town, and we were only there for nine months as I endured and survived the earthly purgatory of entry-level Marine Corps officer training. The town of Quantico had grown inside the vast training base that sat on the west bank of the lower Potomac, about forty miles south of Washington. It actually wasn’t that bad of an area once you got used to it. It had everything we needed, and it was a half-hour drive from DC, a place we really enjoyed, at the time. One could lose himself in Quantico’s huge forests of hardwoods — something I enjoyed when working on land navigation — appreciating the stark beauty of the landscape’s hills, ravines, streams, and ridges.
By the time I finished basic officer training, however, we had had enough of Quantico. San Diego proved to be a jewel like I had never seen. Situated hard against the Pacific, about eighty miles south of Los Angeles and about fifteen miles north of Tijuana, Mexico, San Diego called itself “America’s Finest City,” and it was hard for me to disagree.
Arlington, Virginia, was yet again a new experience. People said Washington was a northern city with a southern feel. It certainly seemed like a northern city on the highways, but did possess a sort of southern charm in some areas, like the older parts downtown if you found yourself in a restaurant that served comfort food. You could close your eyes and you could just have easily been in Memphis on Beale Street. The classic Reeves restaurant, where Lady Bird Johnson had supposedly gotten the catering for her daughters’ wedding receptions was like some place in Memphis, Atlanta, or Jackson; motherly ladies served up southern fried fare with homemade strawberry pie, and they called you “honey,” no matter how old you were.
It was said that Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors, was first exposed to blues music in the ramshackle establishments of 1950's DC when his father — Admiral George Morrison — was stationed at the Pentagon. Legend had it the teenage Morrison would skip school, take the metro bus across the Potomac River and into the District, and watch the all-black bands play music that would inspire songs like “Back Door Man.”
DC and northern Virginia had changed a lot since young Jim Morrison had resided there back before anyone knew who he was. But it still retained that portion of southern heritage that made me love it, at least a little. One had to love a place that was so rich in history, where one could see everything from the Constitution itself to the theater where President Lincoln was killed and everything in between, and do it all for free.
The second time around in San Diego was even better than the first. We lived in the same neighborhood as we had before. We took up surfing off Tourmaline beach. We leveraged the dive bars and rustic establishments along Garnet; places like the venerable PB Bar & Grill, Moondoggies, Longboard Grill, Tokyo House, and perhaps my favorite of all, the Tiki House. We got involved in Mission Bay Little League and learned to love the San Diego lifestyle. But deep inside, we knew it wasn’t going to last forever.
Before Anne had the dream, I found out in early February I would be transferred to a large base on the east coast in a mid-Atlantic state. It was a state we had never lived in and only rarely traveled through. This excited us though. It would be something new, something different from Southern California, where we had spent two tours and northern Virginia, where we had lived for three years.
My new job would have me working at two different bases separated by about fifty miles. So we had two choices, or so it seemed: we could live on or near the base where I would have my office, a town called Jeffersonville, or up near the other, smaller base, which was inland and next to a smaller town called Benton. I really didn’t want to live in or near Jeffersonville; I had heard all the stories about what a trashy town it was, and I didn’t want our two boys, Daniel, aged twelve, and Hank aged nine, to go to school there. On the other hand, Benton wasn’t much better, at least on paper. Its schools had poor test scores and strange demographics.
So we literally opened the atlas (this was back in the days before reliable online maps and IPhones) and found we had a third option. Sitting right on the Atlantic, about midway between both places, was a small town called Cape Morris, population 7,700.
Cape Morris was much smaller than Jeffersonville and about the same size as Benton, but it looked promising. We researched the schools and learned the county schools were better there than the schools in the other towns. And although it seemed to be an apparent backwater until just a few years ago, industry seemed to be coming to Cape Morris in a hurry: a huge Wal-Mart Supercenter, Lowes, and Harris Teeter had just opened there. Two outdoor malls contained a Best Buy, a Belk department store, Bed, Bath and Beyond, and an Olive Garden restaurant. It even had a Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts. And the old down-town was undergoing a slow revitalization project, with seafood eateries and watering holes dotting the dock sides. All of our research was done sight unseen.
Anne decided to fly out and do some house-hunting to see if we could make it all work. Her search located a nice home in a gated-golf-course community. Within days of her returning to San Diego, we purchased the first home we had ever owned. We were elated. Anne was so excited she wanted to get to the house immediately, so as soon as the military moving vans pulled away from our house, we decided to take the unusual step of flying Hank and her out to the new house while Daniel and I drove all the way across country with our two cats. It would prove to be a memorable voyage for Daniel and me. It remains to this day one of father and son’s favorite memories.
While Anne and Hank set up the house, Daniel and I spent a week driving from southern California. We drove interstate highways until we had to exit onto a U.S. highway about 150 miles from Cape Morris. Through the trip’s first six days, we had not seen a single trooper in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, or Tennessee. We stopped over in Albuquerque and took in an Albuquerque Isotopes game, the triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins at that time. When we stopped in Jackson, Tennessee, a few days later, we watched a few future major leaguers play for the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx — the Double AA affiliate of the Seattle Mariners.
The following day, just east of Knoxville, we dropped south into the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina and experienced the descent into Asheville for the first time. And there we completed our little plan by seeing the Colorado Rockies’ Class A affiliate, the Asheville Tourists, win in extra innings at the hallowed McCormick Field.
The next morning, we took off east again toward our new home, which we hoped to reach by nightfall. East of Raleigh, Interstate 40 finally gave way to U.S. Highway 70 as we entered the final three hours of our trip. It was new territory, as it had been since we had left Knoxville.
As soon as I entered the first town along the new highway off the interstate, I noticed red lights in the rear view mirror. Was he following me? I pulled over to find, to my surprise, that I was indeed the culprit, but of what I didn’t yet know.
The officer looked at my military identification and still wrote me a ticket. He was kind enough, however, to give me unnecessary directions to my new base. The episode was strange; it was my first traffic ticket in a decade. It was a surreal introduction to the land east of the interstate.
We continued to drive for two more hours, wondering when we would get to Cape Morris. I had the distinct impression I was somehow leaving known civilization behind and entering a strange new land.
Farther east, things were not going so well either. Anne returned one evening from grocery shopping to find that our neighborhood gate openers would not work. She was locked out. Luckily, our next door neighbor came along and let her in. The next morning she called the old woman whose duty it was to control the gate openers. When Anne told her she was somehow locked out, the woman said, “We figured that would get your attention.” “What are you talking about,” Anne asked astonished. “You have not paid your dues yet,” the woman responded. “I just moved in here two days ago,” Anne said. This was met with silence. We found out the dues were not even due until the end of that month, but I guess someone wanted to get a head start. It would prove to be a portent of things to come in our neighborhood.
But later that same day when Daniel and I first pulled into the neighborhood I was struck by the way it seemed to flow perfectly, almost like a river of green trees and bushes. It was called Shady Oaks. The houses were all set back a comfortable distance from the streets. I liked the tall, stately loblolly pine trees that were almost everywhere in appropriate numbers. Pampas grass was in every yard and dotted the golf course that meandered back and forth through the development. It was almost as if I were floating along on a quiet river through a before unseen hinterland, drawn ever forward to my final destination on Oakwood Drive. I was lulled by the tranquil appearance of everything.
But I soon found out that appearances were deceiving.
To be continued.
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