I Think I Can

Author's note: I've never given up on these two characters in my head. John and Isabel have continued to live and breathe for me in beautiful new ways daily, for many years.  I'm about a hundred pages in now and it is my desire that their story will be complete by October of 2014. I'm taking some time this summer to really work on making that happen. Henry Ford said, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't... you're right."  Amen, brutha! Here is a short excerpt from All Who Wander, written from John's perspective. I do hope you enjoy it.   - Roni Delmonico

October 1985

Isabel had been slamming around for the better part of an hour and I was losing patience. She has always had a passionate streak and although it takes a lot to make her angry, when she was, I definitely knew it. I anticipated that she would be upset by the news, but I hadn't expected a reaction quite this volatile. I’ve underestimated her feelings about my absence more often than I care to admit. I’m not used to emotional connections that make me this important in the life of another human being. It isn’t unwelcome but it is entirely foreign. It is an unfortunate aspect of my job that I can be called away at a moment's notice and it cannot be avoided. She is well aware of this, but doesn't always accept it gracefully. My feelings about that and for her are what prompted my early retirement and the purchase of our small cottage out in the middle of nowhere. She felt this sleepy little town would be the ideal place for us to disappear into anonymity after my career as a Navy SEAL. I've never had the heart to tell her.. there is no such perfect place. Not in my world, and therefore.. not in hers.  We would both learn this the hard way... some time later.
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“Damn it all, John. You promised! You said we were done with this!”

Isabel marched into the bedroom and slammed the door with a rather well practiced hand. I stood on the other side of it with my forehead against the wood, taking deep breaths and forcing my own anger into submission.  For the life of me, I didn't understand why she was making such a big deal out of it. At most, I would only be gone for a week. I can still hear her words, clear as a bell.  She was a master at commanding them.

“It's the principle of it, John… I took you at your word! I never know exactly where you are or when you're coming back or IF you’ll even come back at all!  It isn’t safe! You don’t know what that’s like for me!” she shouted from the other side of the door. You. said. we. were. done. I knew she was mad. She was gritting her teeth and spitting out her words in clipped syllables. Never a good sign. Slamming doors was an act of defiance she wielded skillfully, knowing how much I hated it.

My growing frustration wasn't going to help matters and I was determined to keep a tight reign on my own emotions. I could hear her crying and entertained the idea briefly of pulling the door off its hinges, dismissing the thought as quickly as it had come. She is strong and she will fight her way through this, I thought in exasperation. We’ve been separated before and she came to terms with it eventually. 

“I hate doing it to you even one more time, but this will be the last, I swear, Bella!” I tried again. “Please come out of there.”  She sat leaning heavily against the other side of the door scowling in silence, stubbornly refusing to respond.

I waited without a word, and when she didn't come out, I ran a hand through my hair, grabbed the keys to the Harley and peeled out of the driveway in a desperate attempt to avoid saying something I would later regret. I made a quick stop at the local gas station to make a telephone call.  It wasn’t until much later, that she would learn I had called her brother.

There was only one bar within a 50 mile radius and I headed in that direction without hesitation. I was driving too fast but the speed of the bike somehow slowed my pulse and I exploded into the parking lot, gravel spraying. I found Drew's pickup truck already parked in the spot beneath the blinking tavern sign next to The Duck Inn. In spite of myself, I had to laugh. Isabel hated the quirky name and the sign was an even worse offense.  Her brother was hell on wheels, but we had known each other since high school and I was used to it. He was loyal to a fault and he was one of my best friends. He wasn't always an easy man to deal with but we understood each other in spite of our differences and, if there was one thing I was certain of, it was this: Drew loved Isabel and would be there to support her, and I really needed to talk to him about this.

I stood at the counter and ordered a beer, then pulled up a stool next to him. We sat in awkward silence, staring at the hockey game on the large screen tv at the back of the room for several minutes without really paying attention.

“You're leaving again, aren't you?” Drew said without looking at me. “Where to this time?”  The muscles in his jaw tensed and he clenched his fist tighter around the bottle right before giving in to the urge to slam it down on the counter where I was sitting. “You know, I will never understand why she bothers to put up with this!” he hissed.

The bartender threw his towel over his shoulder and moved to stand in front of us, with a warning look. I held up my hand and fixed my eyes on him briefly. My years of training had taught me well and I managed to keep from striking back, doing my best to diffuse the situation before it escalated out of control. I’d had plenty of experience keeping my cool in the midst of a crisis, and though I was growing rather tired of it… it had always served me well in dealing with my brother in law.

“Listen to me. I am going whether you like it or not and she does not need this from you so pull it together.” I spat through gritted teeth, recognizing in that instant, where Isabel got it from. I spent twenty minutes explaining how four men representing the Palestine Libertion Front had hijacked the Achille Lauro and taken control of the ocean liner off the coast of Egypt. The terrorists had killed a disabled passenger and thrown his body overboard. They were now attempting to negotiate. Tensions were mounting and I had been called back in, much to Isabel's dismay. But I was leaving in less than two days and everyone had better just get a handle on it.

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I was accustomed to the humming of jet engines but on this particular morning it was really grating on my nerves. I had left my headphones behind in my haste to get to the airport on time and it was a long trip to Italy. I got the flight attendant's attention on the way to my seat and ordered my coffee black, asking her with a grin to dump some whiskey in for good measure. She was not amused.  Making my way down the aisle, I glanced at the numbers and tossed my carry on bag into the overhead compartment before landing with an irritated flop in my seat. It never ceased to amaze me how easily I slid back into the old routine. I was born to this… it was in my blood. The woman in the seat next to me was already snoring and I rolled my eyes in exasperation. There was an empty row behind me and I grabbed my bag and dared anyone to challenge the move. The flight attendant raised an eyebrow but when she saw the expression on my face, she didn’t argue with me. I have always had that effect on people. Most of the time I appreciate it but there are times when it only magnifies how solitary my life has become. I’m not approachable and that has never really bothered me. I don’t need anyone but her anyway. Leaning back in the seat, I closed my eyes, thinking of her. She had smiled at me bravely as I boarded the plane; a tired, weak attempt at supporting me. I felt like a heel and I meant it this time. I would not do this to her again. Drew was really angry with me, but I understood that because the guy actually cared about Isabel. He would get over it, just as his sister had. I had finished my beer and my explanation in under an hour, admonished Drew to look out for her while I was gone, and then I went home,  praying she was in a better mood. There was nothing else I could do.  It tore me apart to see the shadows beneath Isabel's eyes when I left her. She had come around eventually, as I knew she would. I had slipped back into the house quietly and picked up the guitar, taking it out to the porch, singing our song. The rain had been falling for hours by then… it just seemed appropriate somehow. She had finally come out of the bedroom, her eyes swollen and red and she sat next to me in her rocking chair, looking silently up at the stars for some time. I kept playing until her soft voice mingled with mine and my heart broke all over again at the sound. Close to midnight, I took her hand and led her inside. It had been a long night and all I wanted on this wretched morning, was to be left alone to think about it. 

The room smelled of peppermint tea and roses.. remnants of her attempts at self comfort after I’d stormed out earlier in the evening.  I usually brought it to her at night before bed, and she loved the routine of it all, but she hadn’t known if I’d be back that night so she had eventually made it on her own.  There were candles glowing on her nightstand and on the windowsill along my side of the bed. I was glad for it when I pulled her into my arms and felt her resolve melt away.  Tipping her face up to meet mine, I knew that if I searched my whole life, I would never find another pair of eyes that answered the questions within my own, so completely.  Bending softly to her, I felt the moment she yielded to me and it was at the same instant in which I did.  She described how it felt to me once, early in our relationship and then enjoyed how I squirmed in embarrassment, not yet understanding her need to put words to every experience, even those for which I felt there were none that even began to approach the way that I felt.  I turned in my seat, looking out the window at the luggage being loaded into the belly of the plane, sinking further into the memory of last night.  I savored kissing her… I could feel her wanting begin at her eyes and work its way throughout her body as the night wore on.  She preferred to linger and I was inclined to let her, more than ever last night.  Her small hands ran gently up and down my back as I tugged my shirt over my head slowly, breaking her gaze only briefly before dropping it on the floor.  She did the same, pressing herself gently to me, her skin like a flower, petals soft as silk.  I picked her up and laid her down on the bed in one fluid movement, and smoothing the hair back from her forehead, I whispered past the lump in my throat, “I’m sorry, Bella.  I know this is hard for you.”  She lifted her arms up over her head in surrender, her eyes, never leaving mine and I grasped them both in one hand, as she opened herself to me completely.  I could feel her heart fluttering against mine, and wished for all the world, that I could unzip myself, pull her in to the depths of me, zip it back up and keep her safe there forever.  Knowing that wasn’t possible, I braced myself above her, leaning as close to her mouth as I could get without touching her lips and exhaled softly, as she inhaled.  “One breath at a time, Bella, ” I spoke to her softly, wiping away her tears with the back of my hand.  We eventually fell asleep, still entwined, and I woke up a few hours later to the sound of waves and the pink light of dawn.  I watched her sleep, willing time to stop.  “Wake up, Pretty Eyes… we have to go now.  It’s time.”  She shrugged into the same clothes she had on yesterday and stood in the doorway, achingly disheveled, wearing her heart on her sleeve as she always did, the tiny hairs on her arm awash in the morning light streaming in through the window. I held her look for some time, memorizing her features and branding them on my heart.  She laid her hand over the wolf tattoo on my chest and I covered it with mine, squeezing gently in assurance.  

I cannot explain to her this need to go when I am called upon, because I don’t always understand it myself. I can no more turn my back on it than I can stop breathing at will. This is my life, and accepting me, is accepting what I am called to do, no matter how painful it is for her. I had always been clear about that, and as I raced toward the Naval Air Station in Sicily, I hoped with everything in me that she would eventually come to make peace with it. Leaning back in my seat, I tried to focus on what was ahead, but all I could see was the woman I’d left behind, as she struggled to come to grips with all I had said to her. I played it over and over again in my mind, wondering if I could somehow have done it all differently. Fingering the small compass she had given me as she left the airport, I closed my eyes again in a useless attempt to erase the tears she tried to hide. "It's raining you," she sang into my tired thoughts. I found it rather ironic to hear the sound of it softly splatting against the window when we lifted off, into a murky gray sky, bound for Italy... as if in concert with my young wife.