Newport News, Virginia – October 31, 1944
“Whoever has trusted a woman has trusted deceivers.”
Hesiod (c. 800 BC – c. 720 BC)
Frightened, overwhelmed and encouraged by Nora Lee, Macie Vance reached out for Derek Edson in desperation and from fear of losing him also. When she received the delayed letters from Jake in one bundle, and noted the dates, she was shocked and horrified. A week later a telegram arrived from the Secretary of War, verifying Jake was not missing in action. It was all a cruel mistake but now she could not unravel the tryst she created.
A part of her was relieved and happy Jake was alive. Another part of her was extremely angry. She was furious with herself for having bailed out so quickly and for seamlessly moving into another relationship. That angry side of her had forgotten what it felt like to be terrified and to face the world alone. After coming so far in personal responsibility, independence and self-confidence, she crumbled and panicked when she believed she had lost Jake. She dealt with the sudden insecurity by grasping at the first available lifeline, Derek. Ever since then she had been at war with herself. Her hasty action had made a mess of her life and now she struggled to rebuild the torn and twisted remnants of what was left. She couldn’t tell Derek she no longer needed him. Not after he accepted her so openly and easily. It would be impossible to dial back their relationship to where it was before. If she tried she would lose him. Her other choice was to send Jake the dreaded “Dear John” letter. For days she agonized between the two alternatives.
Nora’s advice was influential on Macie. Nora had already suffered great personal loss with Butch being a prisoner and Jonah Cash being killed on Tarawa. Macie saw how those tragedies changed Nora, made her a fast and loose woman, and she didn’t want to follow that example. Macie was not judging Nora. She just didn’t want to emulate her.
Macie finally made a decision and it was based primarily on the heartbreak she had already suffered when she believed Jake was dead. The pain was unbearable and she knew she could never survive that torture and torment a second time. Jake was always in harms way and the reality was he was more likely to become a casualty than return home unscathed. Besides, she had a wonderful guy in Derek who adored her and was right here safely tucked away from the ravages and risks of war. She made the safe though agonizing choice to break up with Jake.
It was a simple letter without detailed explanation. She wrote it so there was no ambiguity and no hope for reconciliation or negotiation. The ink on the letter ran from her tears. It took four tries to create a dry V-mail whose space limitation lent itself well to the brevity she was trying to achieve. Her large, bold print strokes left no doubt their relationship was over. She mailed it that morning.
It was Halloween and the doorbell rang. It was probably the neighborhood kids. She grabbed the candy bucket and opened the door. It was Derek dressed up as a sailor.
“Well, Derek, that didn’t take much imagination.” She pointed to his sailor outfit. “I thought you’d be more bold, my pretty!”
She was dressed as the Wicked Witch of the West from the 1939 motion picture, The Wizard of Oz. Her face was covered in green grease paint and she wore the black robes and spindly black hat of the infamous witch. A large false nose and a few well-placed large black moles completed the masquerade.
“You slay me, Macie.” Derek laughed. “Your costume is swell! Watch out Margaret Hamilton!” He was referring to the actress who played the part in the popular movie. “We’re late. We have to go. Is Nora ready?”
“I’m coming. I’m coming.” Her voice came from the bedroom. “Where is this party, anyway?” Nora emerged dressed as Cleopatra and performed a quick twirl. “How about this?”
“You look great. We’re going to the Officer’s Club at the Naval Base,” Derek answered her question. “And Julius Caesar is in the car.” Nora giggled as she went down the steps.
“Ready to go?” he asked Macie.
She nodded and they headed toward the door.
Derek locked the door to the apartment and walked down the stairs. “What made you decide on that costume?” Among the many attributes he admired in Macie was her lack of vanity. She rarely wore makeup, was not preoccupied with her hair and had the nerve to dress up as the homeliest character in Hollywood. She had a humility rarely found in beautiful women.
“I just felt like a witch today, Derek.”
Derek knew Macie struggled with her decision. When he found out Jake was alive, he expected the worst. He was somewhat surprised but delighted when Macie chose him.
“Don’t punish yourself, Macie. If you’ve changed your mind…”
“I mailed the letter today, God forgive me,” she interrupted. She realized Derek might mistake her uncertainty for animosity toward him. “It’s not you, Derek. It’s me.”
He flashed his disarming smile and reached for her hand. She took it and forced a smile in return. He knew it would take some time for her to fully accept her own decision. He would give her all the time she needed.