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I’ve just moved into a four bedroom house in Raleigh. The guy who owns the house is a friend of a friend. The other house mates are all male and active duty Navy. Shortly after I move in, the owner moves out to his girlfriend’s house in Memphis. I rarely see my house mates. They work days on the Navy base and I work evenings and go out drinking every night after work.
At work things are changing. We leave 6 East and move to 10 Thomas taking over 13 Thomas’s Continuous Ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis Unit (CAPD).) The night before my training session I’m out all night drinking and go straight to the class. I’m fascinated by the procedure. (I like procedures.) The way CAPD works in place of hemodialysis is amazing. And, it’s so much easier on the patients. I decide to be very good at this.
One evening I see a man in a blue coat walking down the hall and I tell Ralph, the RN I’m working with, that I’d like to go out with him. I never date hospital people so it’s strange to feel that way. Then Ralph tells me who he is. He’s Earl, the new chaplain for our floor. I don't want anything to do with a "preacher." Religion has no place in my life so I change my mind right then. Ralph introduces us anyway. I am barely polite.
Earl and I get to know each other at work. He works days and I work evenings. He lives a block away from the hospital and starts calling to see when I can take my supper or breaks. So we eat together at the hospital cafeteria whenever we can. I tell him all about my wild nights and who I’m seeing. I’m terrible to him.
Earl is here without calling. "Can you come out to the lobby for a minute?" He tells me his chaplain internship is done and he’s going back to seminary in Atlanta, GA. I just listen. He’s already packed and ready to pull out. He only stopped by to say good bye. He’s from Memphis but hasn’t decided whether or not he’ll come back. We hug for the first time and I tear up but refuse to cry. I’m angry and hurt and after he leaves, I do cry. Then I decide I don't care and try to forget. I continue to drink and carouse around.
December 4, 1984, my divorce is final. I celebrate, though inside I’m still miserable.
The staff Chaplain is on my floor and referring to "Earl." I ask if it’s the same Earl and he says it is. I ask him how long Earl has been back? "About a month." I give him a very vulgar message to give Earl that basically says, "I want to see you NOW!"
Earl’s here. Without calling. I don’t know what to expect. He’s here. We sit and talk. First, about that message. He wasn't in the office when the chaplain got there so he wrote down what I said and put it on the message board for everyone to see. We didn't hug or even touch, but I was happy. We start taking our breaks together again and everyone refers to Earl as my chaplain. Including the biker I’m living with. (Oops! He’s gone.)
Bill’s married. I find out when I call on a Friday and "she" answers the phone. When I ask Bill if I can get Kari he says she’s, "at her Aunt's." Bill and I have no relative's in the area so I ask him who and he tells me he’s married.
At work I’ve had my fill of the head nurse. I quit! I even have my exit interview, in which I am brutally honest. Earl is upset. "What will you do?" I haven't thought that far ahead. He talks me into trying the Plus Team, PRN staffing and puts in a good word for me, too. I do and I like it and stay. I choose when I work and the Clinical Supervisor’s place me where they need help. And the money is better. It’s great! I still work evenings and choose to work weekends to keep me from drinking so much.
Earl just asked me out. I yell at him, "Are you crazy?" He knows me. I talk to him about my life. How can he like me?
Well, on July 17, 1985, Earl and I go on our first date. I won't tell him where I live and meet him at the hospital. We go to the 91st Bomber Squad restaurant for the best food I’ve eaten in a long time. We have drinks and watch the Memphis airport flights take off and land. When we return to my car, Earl asks if he can kiss me. "No!" I’m still afraid of a relationship with a preacher.
I called Ralph this morning to tell him Earl and I are dating and he says, "I know." "Did Earl tell you?" I ask. "No. I just knew you would."