When I left for Basic Training in South Carolina, I was dating a Dutch Reform minister.  I was the furthest thing from a minister’s wife, but marriage had come up, even though we’d only been together a few months.  I then went to Basic where I met a man from the Bronx who was headed into Air Defense Artillery. He supported me while I struggled.  By graduation, I was cheating for the first time.  I left South Carolina, celebrated Thanksgiving in Maryland, then headed to Camp McCall, North Carolina, for my job training.

At Camp McCall my class suffered waiting for the class ahead of us to graduate so we could have the barracks.  It was cold.  Soon, it would be the first time it would snow at Bragg in six years.  Not that I was surprised: There had always been some freak weather event on my birthday. And I was dying, sick with pneumonia, malaria, and cervical cancer but hadn’t yet been diagnosed with any of them.  Green pudding streamed steadily from my nose and projected from my mouth every time I coughed.

Then I met Patrick, the only other person from my Connecticut Reserve unit in my class. The drills had a barber brought out to camp so the guys’ hair would be in regs.  Everyone was miserable as he sat out in the cold waiting for his turn.  Patrick was sitting on a low fence with his towel (for the haircut) and his black watch cap (so he wouldn’t freeze).  He rolled up the cap and wore it like a beret, threw his towel around his neck, and started speaking fake French.  He made everyone laugh.  Even me.

We both headed home to New York for Christmas.  Patrick called me.  He wanted to hang out.  I told him I was tired. I’d been up all night with my boyfriend from Basic.  He asked if I was free the next day.  I told him I was busy. I had to go break up with my sort-of-fiance.  He called after Christmas and invited me out with his high school friend.  I told him how I’d been in touch with my on-again, off-again sweetie from high school, with whom I was hoping to end up when I got to California for language school.  He wanted to know exactly how many people I was dating.  Ouch.

But he was only half an hour away, and he was fun, so I went.  I don’t know why I matched his friend shot for shot on tequila, but on the ride back to his place, I was kissing Patrick in the back seat.  I remember the whole night.  I felt rather defensive about my promiscuity, so in the middle of our naughtiness, I asked him sweetly, “What’s in tequila?”

When Patrick called a few days later to ask if I wanted a ride back south, I thought, Sweet! He saved me some dough.

Back in North Carolina, his intentions were clear: he figured I was easy.  His idea of flirting was to write “Dirty, dirty, trashy, trashy, nasty, nasty…” on the cover of my text book, as if he hoped it were a self-fulfilling prophesy.  And, being me, I thought it was funny instead of offensive.

Patrick was good company.  He was a No Bull kind of guy. He made me laugh.  But I didn’t need someone else to juggle. I finally explained I had no interest, unless he thought he might be serious.

“So what if I were to say something like, maybe I might love you?  What would happen then?” he said.  We were outside with the whole company, hacking away at an inch of solid ice on the walkway in front of our building, using our entrenchment tools.

“I’m sorry, what was that?  Say that again a little louder. I didn’t quite hear you.”

“I said, I think I might love you.”  Our friends turned and laughed.  I assured him I would work to disentangle myself from my Basic fling, who was in Texas, and reach a proper decision after I’d seen my high school boyfriend in California.

I left North Carolina four days before graduation.  I was hospitalized when I finally collapsed from malaria-induced anemia and a 103.8 fever.  I was placed on convalescent leave and told I would have to repeat the course during the next class cycle.  Graduation was on a Thursday morning.  At two in the morning on Friday, Pat’s JEEP pulled up my parents’ driveway.  He was still in uniform.  No sooner had he arrived at his parents’ house from the airport, than he had gotten in his car and driven to my house. He said he missed me and needed to see that I was OK.

That was almost twelve years ago.

What is in tequila?