An old Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So we quickly dispensed with ours — a single mile — with just 1,090 left to Kansas City. Then, depending on our AAA Trip Tics™, we motored northwest on I-40, passed through Asheville and the scenic Pisgah National Forest, and toward Charlotte, listening to Cats In The Cradle on WAYS.

The little Gremlin looked for prey as The Streak played, and we drove toward Nashville. We rested overnight there in a Motel 6®. Then, we slowed a bit while enjoying the scenic southern tip of the Blue Grass State, entered the Land Of Lincoln, and headed due north while listening to I love you, I Honestly Love You. I sat on my “inflatable doughnut” for most of the trip, trying to ease some pain.

The twins were handling the long drive reasonably well but kept asking, not, “If we were there yet,” but “Why were we moving again?” You’re Having My Baby by Paul Anka played as we were leaving Illinois. Funny Face, I Love You by Donna Fargo, possibly the worst song of 1973, rang out as we headed due west into Missouri on I-70. We drove almost the width of the Show-Me State and, about 50 miles from our destination, tuned to WDAF, Kansas City, where The Streak by Ray Stevens resonated once more.

Soon, Arrowhead stadium appeared to our left, and the skyline was just ahead. Impressive, we had made it to big K. C. 

We rented a duplex in Independence, about 20 miles east of Kansas City, and bought a second car, a 1966 Ford Fairlane. Lisa and Laura wanted their own rooms, but when that didn’t happen, they were happy to learn, as were Marty and me, there were two bathrooms. It was a first for us. The twins had been uprooted twice in as many years, and I tried to explain why.  I was in the Army, and the Army moves me around a lot, which means we were all in the Army.

They were overactive and inattentive, said the teachers in the kindergarten nearby where we enrolled them. So maybe the twins were just ahead of their time — an anterior to ADHD?

Marty and I liked the Kansas City area, lots of friendly people, great barbecue, good radio stations, and among the best professional teams in football and baseball; the Chiefs and the Royals.  In downtown K.C. there were several war monuments, and it was home to the official WWI memorial. The cost of living was reasonable, and the gasoline embargo and subsequent shortage had little adverse effect in the Kansas City area, except for the price increase.

Congress declared the 217-foot-tall Liberty statue as the official WW 1 Memorial in 1926. Kansas City skyline in the background. (Wiki Commons)

My symptoms improved as the doctor I was seeing at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas (45 minutes northwest), had me on a regiment of Atropine and treated me with compassion. The doctor thought I had something called Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), then not commonly diagnosed, and had me experiment with different diets. He also suggested I see a gastroenterologist at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Denver.

I did well in my job as chief of statistics at the News Center, where we processed and sent news releases to a soldier’s hometown. The mainframe computer we used in processing the news releases was the size of a mini-van.

While stationed there, I took a few courses at the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC) night school, where I maintained a 4.0.

I desired to be well, not just for my comfort but for the benefit of my family too. I had another incentive to get healthy when the Commander of the Center prepared a special efficiency report recommending that I be promoted as soon as possible. The request needed to go through the “System”  at the personnel center in Ft. Myers, Virginia and could take up to a year.

Nevertheless, it would come with me having been in the Army for less than eight years, way below the zone for Sergeant First Class E-7. That’s the average rank one retires with after serving 20 years. But I would not remain in the Army long enough to see that promotion. After spending a few days at the nearby Richards-Gebaur AFB Hospital for another perianal surgery, rest, and a strict diet, I received orders for Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Denver to see a specialist. Another transfer within a year, but this one would not include the family.

Just as I was about to leave Kansas City for my medical treatment in Denver,  Marty wanted to talk and asked me to sit. She had been thinking and wanted to share her thoughts with me before I left. Maybe it wasn’t any of my past or present work that was causing my illness — but she and the twins. Perhaps we should just cut our ties after six years of marriage as a way of improving my health, she suggested. Was I hearing this correctly? So a divorce would be good; it’ll make me all better? That’s one I had never heard. 

Surprised, confused, and saddened, I tried to swallow the lump in my throat while holding the twins tightly. As I was preparing to leave, I pried their little fingers from my legs as they cried. Finally, I walked out the doorway with a flood of emotions and what I could carry in a single suitcase.

Fitzsimons could hopefully determine why I was having 6-8 stools a day and incontinence one or two times a week. The diarrhea was so acute; I’d already had three surgeries to repair fissures and fistula. Agent Orange exposure causing health problems like mine — the Army and VA said in 1974 — was far-fetched, but I wondered. (In 2021, the VA added Crohn’s/Ulcerative Colitis/IBS to its list of  diseases possibly caused by Agent Orange.)

I was processed into Fitzsimons, a huge medical center that treated President Eisenhower. A Suite was named after him, and within it hung a robe with stitching that read: “Much Better, Thanks.” He wore it when meandering about with the Secret Service, tired of answering people about his condition.

I was surprised when they put me up in his large and comfortable suite on the top floor, which included a balcony overlooking the Rocky Mountains.  (Not true, of course, I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.) He was treated for a heart attack here in 1955.  Later, at a different hospital, he would be diagnosed with the same malady from which I was suffering.

I, however, was given a nice two-person room that didn’t include a roommate. And the nurses, wow. One could think that, and even say that in 1974, as the “Thought Police” hadn’t been invented and complimenting a member of the opposite sex with, “You have pretty eyes,”  would not result in federal charges for sexual harassment. Granted, some of our evolving mores are good, like taking actual sexual harassment seriously, how we treat the disabled, and respect toward all people.

But I digress. The more I thought about Marty’s proposal, the better I felt. Not much was going on medical-wise except for experimenting with diets and so on. I was anxious to see the Aspen in the Colorado High Country in the fall and was granted a weekend pass from the hospital. A pretty girl was recruited for the trip strictly to show me around. We rented a car, and off we went into the Rockies.

Although Ted Bundy is believed to have been mingling in Colorado ski country by now, we don’t recall seeing him.

The scenery and the weekend were incredible, and I was looking only to the future.

Marty had other ideas. She saw the credit card receipts that came with the bill and wanted to know what was going on. Why had I rented a car? I told her. I also volunteered that I was doing better since arriving at Fitzsimons.

Maroon Bells recreation area, Colorado, with Aspen in the foreground. This photo was not a lucky shot, when conditions were just right. It actually looks like this. (Courtesy Atlas Obscura)

Although, she had come up with the idea that a divorce might be the best for both of us. Marty’s mercurial temperament began to show as she backtracked. She wanted to keep her options open and never expected that we would actually go through with a divorce. I, however, had already done my grieving and feeling sorry for myself. I would move on and concentrate on the future. 

The Twins under the care of Momma in front of Mississippi home, circa 1974. (Swan archives)

But I wasn’t supercilious about it. I worried about Marty becoming a single parent and the inevitable consequences of divorce on all involved, especially 5-year-old Lisa and Laura.  Don’t Cry Daddy by Elvis played in my head and in my heart too.

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