Salute to a Broken Bed
Linda Jo Heffner, author of Tainted Seas: My Sailor’s Story, reads the sample chapter, Salute to a Broken Bed.
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A Salute to a Broken Bed—an early chapter in Tainted Seas - My Sailor's Story—is a delightful blend of love, humor, and generosity. It illustrates both the strength in the relationship of two young college students just beginning their life together as a couple and the emerging bond with their new military family.
Please enjoy this sample chapter from Tainted Seas - My Sailor's Story.
Salute to a Broken Bed
State College, Pennsylvania, 1969
There it was in all its glory: a sagging mattress with busted wooden slats protruding out from all angles, as if wild animals had wrestled on it. Bud peered over my shoulder into the bedroom to survey his work once more, then swaggered John Wayne–style into the kitchen to grab a bagel. He thought it was hilarious.
“Some night, Doll!” he said, giving me a quick kiss and a pat on the butt. He was a legend in his own mind, and I could already hear the talk. From Navy buddy to Navy buddy, the story would grow with each relished retelling. Bud would be a stud. I’d be utterly embarrassed.
I pursed my lips. “Don’t tell anyone, promise?”
“I was thinking of buying a billboard to announce this event. A huge photo of the broken bed.” His quirked eyebrows signaled that he could tell this wasn’t going well for him, but he continued. “Hmmm, I gotta think of a catchy phrase to put on the billboard—”
“I have a catchy phrase for you,” I interrupted. “If this gets out anywhere, you are dead meat!”
Still smiling, he pushed his luck. “I bet I could sell that photo to a bedding store. They could use it for a mattress ad.”
I wasn’t finding any of this funny. Okay, it was pretty funny. Our first night in our first home together and the results were . . . well, not something you’d play whisper-down-the-lane with. We could laugh about it in private, sure, but if this got out to even one Navy person, it would spread like a virus. These were the people who would be at our wedding in a few weeks. I imagined the looks. I could hear their snickers. I imagined walking down the aisle past the Navy guys while they only half-heartedly tried to conceal their grins.
No answer. I repeated a little louder, “Bud!”
Still no answer. I yelled, “Hey, Stud!”
He turned toward me with the same shit-eating grin he’d been wearing all morning. I should have let him enjoy it, but I needed to get ready for class. More importantly, I wanted to set some expectations before Bud went to his ten-a.m. training class with all his Navy buddies.
“I want your promise that you won’t tell anyone about this,” I pleaded.
His face fell. “Ah, Doll, it’s too funny to not tell anyone. I’m bursting to tell someone. Please?”
He moved close to me and started kissing my neck. Just when I began to chafe at how unfair his ploy was, my resolve started to fade. He knew exactly what he was doing. He crooked a brow at me as if wondering, Has she changed her mind yet?
Without saying a single word, he won the battle. I conceded, “Okay, tell Dennis, but swear him to absolute secrecy. I’ll die of embarrassment if this gets out. Please promise me this doesn’t get any further than Dennis—I trust him not to spread the story, but please, Bud, promise me. Please.”
“Sure, Doll.” He made a victory punch in the air.
“Promise me,” I pleaded. “I need to hear you promise. Please.”
“I promise. Not a word to anyone else. I don’t kiss and tell.” He zipped up his mouth with two fingers and gathered his gear for class and training. “Come on, we’re running late today. Get a move on it!”
To Bud, “late” meant arriving less than twenty minutes before the start of any particular event and fifteen minutes before class started. That was late for him. But given my last-minute thrashing, I figured it wasn’t the worst habit he could have, so I hustled to get my book bag packed. Minutes later, we were out the door, bagels in hand.
As we drove to campus, I reminded Bud, “I have my dissecting lab this afternoon. They’re bringing the cadaver in this morning.”
He turned the Mustang into the student parking lot, found an empty spot, and glided to a stop between the adjacent cars. He cut the engine and shot me a serious expression. “Now you need to promise me something.” He paused for dramatic flair, then continued. “Please don’t touch me after your lab until you take a shower. The whole idea of cutting up a body grosses me out!”
“You got it! I promise.” I crossed my heart and got out of the car. “What should we do about the bed?”
“Let me measure the bedroom. We can go check out mattresses later today.” Then, holding back a smile, he teased, “It’ll have to be a strong bed.”
“Yes, a very strong bed!” I laughed.
We walked together and paused at the fork in the path where I kissed him goodbye, and then we took our opposite directions. After a while, I heard Bud yell from a distance behind me, “I sure do love you, Doll!” I turned to see the back of him, at a full tilt run to his class. Checking my watch, I noted that he had twenty-three minutes to get to class, which meant in three minutes, he’d be late. His timing made little sense to me, but I took it on faith that my little quirks were just as odd to him.
The morning ran its course quickly. My first class flew by, but I struggled to stay awake during the second. I lucked out, though. The prof must have made his outline for his lecture directly from the textbook. Taking notes would be a simple matter of checking off the points in my outline.
After two hours of studying in the library, my last class of the day was my dissection lab. My heart pounded with excitement as I pulled on my latex gloves, smock, and safety glasses and read the day’s lab instructions. The others’ faces were flushed with excitement too—the real-world culmination of so many years of bookwork.
On a metal table lay the dead body of a man about fifty years old. The instructor informed us that our goal was to remove the major organs, weigh them, and store them in formaldehyde-filled jars. She demonstrated a clean cut with a scalpel.
We knew the soft tissue would decay quickly, so we removed those first. I lifted out the liver, noting its sea sponge appearance. I had no doubt this man had died of cirrhosis of the liver. When all organs were removed, the instructor asked for the cause of death. I looked around at all the blank faces and blinked happy, moist eyes when I realized I was the only student with the correct answer. After the lab, we rolled the corpse into the refrigerated unit, washed up, disinfected ourselves, and removed our gear. I packed up my stuff and left the classroom.
Outside my lab building, Bud and Dennis were waiting for me. I attempted to hug Bud, but he winced and ducked. I chuckled and held up my arm for him to smell the disinfectant, and then he reluctantly hugged and kissed me. I thought, My new perfume, Eau de Dead.
On the other hand, Dennis wrapped me in a big bear hug, only to pull back panic-stricken as though I were made of porcelain. “Did I hurt you?” he shrieked. “How’s the baby?”
“I won’t break, Dennis. Relax, the baby’s fine.”
“Someone tells me this is a boy.” Dennis jerked a thumb at Bud.
“I think Bud determines the gender of this baby.” I winked at Dennis. “He’s sure he made a boy. We’ll see.”
“How’re you feeling?” Dennis asked.
“I get tired. There are times the baby doesn’t like what I eat. He rejects the food and I lose my cookies, but otherwise we’re doing great.”
Dennis turned to Bud. “You’re one lucky guy. Does she have a sister?”
“No, she’s one of a kind.” Bud smirked. “But be careful what you wish for, Dennis. I never know what to expect. She caught me.”
I squared my hands on my hips and fixed him with mock scorn. “You chased me like a tomcat!”
“Come on, Doll! You set a trap for me early on and I got caught!” he teased.
“Right, you chased me around campus. Every time I turned around, there you were! All those quote accidental meetings were done on purpose! You planned them all.”
“Could I help it if you were always where I was?”
I glared at Bud while turning to Dennis. “Don’t believe him, Dennis. He’s so full of shit!”
“You guys settle this. I better run,” Dennis said. “I have a class in fifteen minutes.”
As we watched Dennis leave, Bud’s jovial smile morphed into a scowl. Walking ahead on the path was Sam. “That man’s trying to steal my girl. You’re my Doll!”
“That’ll never happen. Once a man breaks a bed with me, I’m bonded to him for life.” I reached up and traced the curve of his ear. “You’re safe. Sam doesn’t want me—he wants what we have together.”
Bud circled my waist with one arm. “You’re right, but the bed . . . we need to fix that.” As he walked next to me, he sang off-key about falling asleep and, instead of counting sheep, counting the charms of Linda. I gave him a puzzled look. “It’s Buddy Clark,” he said. I shrugged and matched his stride while he continued to sing. As he opened the car door, he sang the last line of the song about “making Linda mine.”
Heading home, I marveled at the fact that we had our own home. Granted, it was only a little trailer, but it was a welcome upgrade from the confines of the Mustang, and it was ours. More than just avoiding the obvious limitations of having sex in the back of a car, the trailer gave us an escape. The campus was always crowded. Trying to find a quiet moment in the bustle of the dorms was impossible. Eating in a dining hall with a hundred fellow students was hardly intimate. We always had people around us. The trailer, though, was where we could be alone—together.
The trailer had a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom with a small shower, a guest bedroom with a twin bed, and a master bedroom. The disaster that waited for us in the master bedroom resurfaced in my mind. We’d have to use the twin bed until we replaced that mess.
I awoke from that thought to see our neighborhood through the windshield. Soon the trailer itself was just a few feet ahead. Bud parked the car, and we gathered our things and went in. Bud’s weights were aligned neatly along the wall in the narrow hallway. An old coffee table that came with the trailer was against the wall, and on it, Bud’s stereo. We didn’t have much else. Our kitchen cabinets were empty except for a cheap toaster and a few small kitchen items. Filling them would be fun but expensive.
I exited the bathroom to find a shirtless Bud sitting on the sofa. The sofa was too small for him. Everything in the place was small, but it was all we could afford. Rifling through title documents, he said, “Aha, I knew it.”
“A schematic drawing of the trailer.” He held up a paper. “No need to measure the bedroom, the dimensions are on the floor plan. Let’s buy a new bed!”
“Give me five minutes,” I said but second-guessed myself when Bud stood up from the sofa, his muscles flexing with the movement. What a body my man had! But we have to buy a bed, I reminded myself. “You, put your shirt on.”
Carefully I maneuvered around the bed disaster, grabbed a heavy sweater, and changed my shoes. No time for the promised shower—the stores would be closing soon.
Later, in the bedding department of Sears, Bud pulled out the trailer schematics. While comparing the mattress sizes to the size of our bedroom, his eyes twinkled. A huge smile lit up his face. “We have room for a queen-sized bed!”
We were tall, so we wanted the biggest bed that would fit. But that wasn’t the only reason. Bud grinned deviously, and I could almost see the wheels turning in his he-man mind. A queen-sized bed equaled an oversized playground.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “That looks like a big mattress. Will it fit in the bedroom?”
Bud once again compared the sizes and confirmed that it would fit. It still looked too big, I thought, but numbers don’t lie. Might be tight on the top and bottom, but there should be a foot of walking space on each side.
When the clerk explained the features of the mattress, I could tell he was on commission. Bud wasn’t listening. He analyzed the bed construction, read the write-up from the manufacturer, and inspected the mattress set thoroughly. Pulling a pen from his pocket, Bud folded the schematic in half and started a list. He examined the construction of the frame, then scribbled on his list. He continued like this until his list was long and detailed.
“Do you like this mattress set?” he asked me.
If I expressed the least amount of doubt, I knew he would explain all the positives and negatives on his list, which would take at least another forty-five minutes. If his negatives outnumbered the positives, he would start all over with a different mattress set. I saw this turning into an all-night marathon.
To me, all the mattress sets were the same. They differed in color or puffiness, but any set would be fine with me. Sleeping on a broken bed, on the other hand, was out of the question. I was hungry and tired. The twin bed in the trailer sounded like heaven. I didn’t care which mattress set we got. I trusted Bud to figure all that out.
“I like it!” I announced. Bud smiled broadly and stowed his pen and paper.
The salesman asked if we wanted it delivered for a fifty-dollar fee.
Bud turned to me. “Do we want to pay for a delivery?” He thought, and before I could answer, said, “I could haul out the old bed and pick up the new one. One of the guys has an old truck that I could borrow—and I don’t need to tell him anything, except that we’re moving.”
I considered our meager finances and nodded. “It’s probably foolish to pay fifty bucks for the delivery, when you can do it for free.” But I knew that doing it ourselves meant help from our friends, and I didn’t want strangers in our bedroom to see, well, the disaster of our bed. If Bud could manage this project discreetly, then I was all for it.
A queen bed. Of our own. It occurred to me we’d need sheets for Bud’s new playground, so I said, “You finish this and I’m going to go pick up queen sheets.” I wandered off in search of the linens.
“What do you think of our bed?” he asked on our way home.
“We own a bed! How domesticated we are! I think you picked out a great set, and queen-sized too. Do you have big plans?”
“You bet, Doll.” He shot me a side glance and a wink.
I thought of our new territory and got an idea. “You hungry?”
“There’s nothing in the refrigerator yet, Doll. We could stop somewhere.”
“I think we should have a picnic,” I announced.
“It’s too late for a picnic, don’t you think?”
I checked my watch. “Nope, not too late. Pull into the grocery store. We should make it before it closes.”
He shrugged. “Okay.”
The grocery store would close in fifteen minutes, so I rushed from aisle to aisle to get what we needed.
At home, we spread a blanket on the living room floor and lit candles. Bud put my favorite Petula Clark song, “I Know a Place,” on the stereo, while I arranged an assortment of deli salads and sandwiches on paper plates. Nothing but the best for this event—plastic utensils. On an old army blanket, we shared our first dinner. It was only a picnic on the living room floor, but we owned that floor. The most expensive restaurant couldn’t match that.
The next day, when I returned home from my Friday morning class, an old pickup truck was backed up in our driveway. I expected Bud to be playing racquetball with Dennis, but the two guys were carrying out pieces of our bed to the pickup truck. Propped against the trailer was our new mattress set. I counted the number of men working to carry out the old bed. There should’ve been only two—Bud and Dennis—but I counted four.
Bud gave me a sheepish half-smile and shrugged. “I kept my promise, Doll. Really, I did. I didn’t tell them about the broken bed. The guys kind of showed up.”
Bud’s backup guy, Dennis, leaned over and whispered, “I didn’t tell either.”
“Right,” I said, arms folded.
They were all sweaty from working, so I had a hard time remaining upset with either of them. Still, I’d decided to enjoy letting the guys sweat a little more while I listened to them try to recount the day’s events. Bud’s explanation matched his left-brained idea of practical—the Navy friend with the truck lived near Sears. He had volunteered to pick up the bed. His buddy came along to help. Very logical to him.
Behind me, two women called to their husbands. After a morning of shopping, they were stopping by our trailer to offer their help. The word was out. More Navy people showed up until we had what could only be described as a party—a bed-removal party. I watched the event unfold and shook my head. There was nothing I could do, so I decided to roll with it.
Wives arrived with bags of kitchen needs. They weren’t new, but rather the extras from their kitchens. They washed and arranged the various items into our cabinets. I grabbed a dish towel to help. I hadn’t ever owned a dish towel, but now I did. Women ironed and hung white curtains in the kitchen and living room. We didn’t own an iron or an ironing board. But when the commotion of generosity cleared, our cabinets were full of mismatched pots and dishes, the iron and ironing board sat in the closet, curtains hung on the windows, and our new bed sported a donated bedspread thrown neatly over our new sheets.
While I counted sets of dishes, Barbara made a surprise stop next to me. I remembered her—the Grand Inquisitor from my first Navy party to determine if I was good enough for Bud.
“You did all this, didn’t you!” It wasn’t a question because I knew it was true. I put down a kitchen gadget to hug her.
“The Sunoco station has dishes for ninety-nine cents when you fill up the gas tank,” Barbara said as she pulled out of my hug. “The guys got those for you. They overdid the number of sets, twenty-three. Except for the dishes, none of this is new. It’s just a start. You can replace things gradually.”
“Wow! Thank you!” I managed.
“It’s nothing. You’re Navy now. We have your back.” Barbara pointed her index finger at me sternly. “You better not hurt him!”
I recoiled slightly, but Barb laughed, and I sighed in relief.
“Nothing to worry about, Barbara. I promise I’ll never hurt him. I love that big guy,” I assured her. Her lips pursed for a moment while she reconsidered. Another test? I wondered. Maybe. Probably reading my mind, she wrapped me in a big hug.
When the work was done, a party spontaneously started up. Kids ran around our small yard. Someone went for beer, soda, and ice while someone else ordered pizza. Then couples began swinging to a Jerry Lee Lewis number.
Navy men stood around the old pickup truck drinking beer and teasing Bud. Heads turned periodically to inspect the bed’s mangled contents in the pickup truck—the monument to Bud’s virility. They toasted our demolished bed, then raised their glasses again to toast my Bud. I couldn’t hear the words, but Bud was blushing. I had never seen him blush.
“How bad are they teasing him?” I asked Dennis.
“He’s getting the full treatment. It’s all in good fun. They’re digging for details. Don’t worry. He’s not telling anything.”
“I know.” And I did know my Bud. Even he knew where to draw the line.
A large sedan pulled into the next driveway, making me worry we were making too much noise for our new neighbors. An elderly lady with a cane in one hand and grocery bags in the other ambled toward her trailer. She struggled and dropped her bags on the walkway, and there was my Bud, picking up all those groceries and rebagging them, then running them to her door. The music changed to a swinging Big Band piece by Glenn Miller, “In the Mood.” The elderly lady bounced up and down to the music. My sweetheart started to dance with her. I looked around me to find that I wasn’t the only one watching Bud. Always supporting her against falling, he did all the dancing, weaving back and forth around her. There in the middle of his dancing, she bounced and sang, her face glowing. When the music ended, he bowed to her and kissed her hand. She smiled up at him as he slowly escorted her into her trailer, then he returned to the party. Soon she opened her window and just sat watching us, enjoying our craziness. When she caught Bud’s eye, she blew him a kiss. Oh my, I have competition. I couldn’t help but giggle.
The impromptu party ended with hugs and well wishes. A mass of cars and trucks wove their way out of our trailer park. Except for a few paper plates or cups, our trailer was cleaned up. It was an amazing transition. Our trailer was a real home, our cozy home, and we had everything we needed.
I found Bud standing in the hallway outside the bedroom, admiring his day’s work. Bud needed to do this from the hallway because there was no space in the bedroom. The new bed took up the entire floor space, wall to wall.
“I don’t think this bed fits,” I said. “We won’t be able to use the closet or the drawers.”
“The bed fits in here, Doll,” he assured me. “Let me show you how this works.” He started by demonstrating our built-in drawers. I sat in the center of the bed to watch. He got on the bed, crawled on his hands and knees to the drawers, and sat cross-legged on the side of the bed. He opened a few drawers. “See how easy?”
He peeked inside one of the drawers and turned to me with a devilish grin. He pulled out one of my bras, wrapped the strap around his finger, then twirled the bra in a circle over his head. I lunged to stop him, but his long arms quickly yanked it out of my reach. I pushed him down on the bed to wrestle my bra from him. He laughed and let me have it, then continued his demonstration. He was on a mission.
He crawled on all fours to the closet again, then sat cross-legged on the bottom edge of the bed. He slid the door open. With no floor visible, Bud stepped directly into the closet.
“See, Doll, it’s easy to get anything from the closet,” he said. “Plenty of room. No problem.”
Bud closed the closet sliding door on himself, and I could hear him struggling to pull something from the floor of the closet. His head banged the closet bar, and he crawled back out, holding his head.
He repeated the process on the other side—a new approach. Something was blocking him from stepping inside the closet, but I couldn’t see what it was. From a seated position on the bed, he struggled to lift something from the floor. I hoped it was some sort of bed compressor to make the bed smaller.
Finally, he pulled out a large object tied with a big red bow. “I wrapped this, but the box made it too big to hide. I had to take it out of the box,” he said.
“Look!” he chimed, holding up a white cupola with a little black roof. With his index finger, he spun the rooster on the top. My bottom lip started to quiver, and tears filled my eyes.
“Oh, let me show you this,” he said. He tipped the cupola a little on its side. Under the eaves of the cupola’s roof was a brass plate. It read: I Sure Do Love My Doll.
He remembered. He hadn’t even known what a cupola was, but he promised I’d have one before we got married. I put my hand over my mouth and cried.
“You like it?” he asked.
Despite being a slobbering mess, I managed to say, “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!”
“Doll, I promise this cupola will be on every one of our homes,” he declared.
“I love you, Bud Hample!”
“Whew!” He wiped his brow and crawled across the bed to sit next to me. “Doll, now will you finally marry me?”