It was mid-July when Wynn stepped off the airplane after landing at, Kadena, AB, Okinawa, Japan. The familiar stench of JP-8 jet fuel flooded her nose and welcomed her to yet another home. Her fifth to be exact. The hot, humid air felt like a blowdryer blasting through a wet hot blanket—sucking the air from her lungs. Her shoulders slumped, weighted down by the muggy air. She grabbed up her thick hair which frizzed the instant she stepped through the door and lifted it off her neck. It didn’t bring much relief.
As she walked down the steps from the jet, she looked around and shrugged. Everything looked familiar. The same beige hangers and buildings she saw at every base surrounded the tarmac. A row of KC-135 Stratotankers—the kind her dad flew— were parked in a nearby row, gray and familiar.
Ma turned to Wynn. “Well, what ya think?”
Wynn pursed her lips and shrugged. “I think we watched The Karate Kid Part Two too many times. Looks exactly like Kansas.” The palm trees and lovely wooden houses with paper windows she’d anticipated seeing were non-existent.
“Welcome to Kadena, Major Thorne.” A freckle-faced major stepped forward in his sage green flight suit and shook her dad’s hand.
“Major Haskel, nice to finally meet you,” Dad said. “This is my wife, Keri, and my daughter, Wynn.”
The major shook Ma’s hand, smiled, and simply said “Ma’am.”
He held out his hand to her next. “Wynn, welcome. You’re gonna love it here. Lots of stuff for kids to do,” he said with that tone that whether sixteen or six—let her know he thought she may as well still be in diapers. The dude had a thin pervy mustache that he had obviously decided to keep after Mustache March had ended. Wynn wasn’t sure who hated it more when dad grew his out each March—her or Ma.
Ma would always tell him she was going to stop shaving her legs if he stopped shaving his lip. But he always did, and she never did. Dad always looked like such a creepy nerd with a mustache and Major Haskel’s was much worse—like a sickly red caterpillar that was too tired to move on. Maybe he thought growing the thing would distract from his receding ginger hairline.
After Major Haskel had turned away from Wynn, she raised one eyebrow at Dad and gave him her “What’s with this nerd?” look. Dad winked back and shrugged.
They took a short bus ride to the passenger terminal and collected their luggage, struggling to get to them from in between the moms with the toddlers and crying babies. One young mother —who didn’t look much older than Wynn—was complaining because the wheel had been broken off her stroller during the flight. She looked pretty close to tears.
Ma looked at Wynn and pointed to the tearful lady and the snot-nosed wiggly toddler on her hip. She gave Wynn that “there’s good birth control right there” look. Wynn shrugged and hid her warming cheeks. She wondered why her Ma felt the need to give her reminders like that? She’d never even had a boyfriend or anything even near it. As far as Wynn knew, no one had ever even liked her. It was as though girls with thick, frizzy brown hair, glasses, and flat chests were somehow super resistible to teenage boys. At least her face had cleared up a little. But leave it to a long plane ride to leave her feeling like she had a pulsating hot growth just under the surface of her chin dying to break free.
After they had gathered their bags, they rolled them outside. The first cool thing about Major Haskel appeared. His tiny silver Nissan Cube. Wynn instantly wanted one, but her heart pinched when she was reminded of the fact that although she had gotten her license, she wouldn’t be able to drive in Japan while she lived there. Her Dad promised he’d buy her a car when he took her back to the States for college in two years. She still wasn’t sure she’d want to go to college right after high school. Maybe she’d just travel and see more of this side of the world for a year while her parents remained.
Dad and Major Haskel somehow managed to fit all of their oversized luggage into the back space of the tiny car. Wynn and Ma climbed into the back seat. Dad walked around and got in.
“Oops,” he said when he automatically climbed into the right side of the car and found himself sitting behind the steering wheel.
“I still get in on the wrong side sometimes,” Major Haskel said while dad climbed out and went around to the passenger side.
Wynn smiled when the major pulled out and started driving on the left side of the road. This was the first experience in their host country that let her know she was on foreign ground and she liked it.
“You just have to remember to keep your hiney on the liney,” Major Haskel said.
“That’s a good way to remember it,” Ma said. “I’ll be concentrating so hard on turning onto the right side of the road; I’ll probably get lost easily. I’m doomed.” She laughed.
“I already picked up the keys to your room from the TLF office.” Major Haskel pulled into the parking lot of a beige three-story tower building displaying a sign which read “Shogun Inn.”
They carried their suitcases up the outdoor staircase. The concrete enclosure had diamond shaped cut outs. Wynn stopped to peek through one at the parking lot below when a cute airman in an olive flight suit came up behind her.
“Can I get that for you?” His smile revealed sparkling white teeth and deep dimples on either side of his tan cheeks.
Wynn smiled. Her body grew warm. She pulled some hair over her face with one hand as the airman’s finger brushed hers as he reached out to take her bag.
Dad snatched it from him. “Thanks, she’s got it. She’s strong for a sixteen-year-old girl!”
“Yes, sir,” the airman said as he buzzed passed on the stairs. Her dad kept a close watch on him the whole way.
“Geez, Dad. You’re so embarrassing. He just asked to help with my bag.”
“Yeah, well, here. I got it.” Dad hauled her bag the rest of the way along with her Ma’s.
“Oh geez, Eric. The boy’s probably just a few years older than her. Like you wouldn’t have offered to help a pretty girl when you were that age.”
Wynn’s cheeks burned. She hated when her parents called her pretty in front of other people when she knew she was anything but. She quickly glanced at Major Haskel through the hair that she let drop in front of her red face to see if he looked shocked at Ma’s suggestion that she was pretty. But he just continued to lug Dad’s bag up the stairs.
“You’re on the third floor.” The major trudged up the steps passed the second floor and up to the third. They walked down the open air hallway until he stopped in front of the door that was going to be their new temporary, temporary-home. “Here we are.”
And their new home was a little skanky. Faded blue floral wallpaper was peeling from the corner of a wall. The carpet was gold on blue floral-patterned grunginess. A small table sat in a tiny kitchenette that contained a teeny mini-fridge, a microwave, and a small stovetop. The living room sat in the center with a bedroom connecting to either side.
“Which one’s mine?” Wynn asked as she peeked into one of the rooms.
“Uh, this one,” Ma said pointing to the room that broke off to the left. It had two twin beds. Gross baby blue—heavy with a plastic lining—drapes covered the old sliding windows. Plastic-white caulk peeled away from the window ledge.
There was one small bathroom off the kitchenette/living room with floor to ceiling aquamarine tiles and a high tub with a very short shower head. “Dad, you’re gonna have to sit down to shower in here.” Wynn laughed.
On the table sat a big basket of muffins with oversized-mushrooming tops. Wynn’s mouth instantly watered at the sight of them. Drool actually spilled over her lip and onto her chin. She swiped it away. Her stomach growled, but no one seemed to notice. She could never tell if her stomach growled as loudly as she thought it did or if she only thought it was loud because she felt it so strongly.
“Okay, I got you some milk, bread, peanut butter, granola bars, and cereal. I hope you like this kind,” the major said picking up a box of a raisin bran-type cereal. “The 909th spouses’ group made Y’all some muffins. Uh, what else? Um…” He looked around the room and drummed his fingers on his hips. “You can both take your driver’s test on Thursday, and I can take you over to the lemon lot to look for a car. I’ll pick you up in the morning, and we’ll head to the squadron to check in with the commander and hit up some of your in-processing appointments. After that, you’ll have the rest of the day to catch up on rest or whatever. I’m sure you’re tired after the trip. You’ll probably need a week or two to adjust to the time change fully.”
“Thanks, Major Haskel,” Ma said.
“Not a problem, Ma’am. It’s my pleasure. Is there anything else Y’all need before I take off?”
“I was wondering if you know how long the wait is for base housing?” Ma asked.
He paused, pursed his lips together, and ran his hand through what was left of his ginger hair. “The wait for officer housing is about four to eleven months right now. Longer if you want a single unit.”
“That long?” Ma’s face drooped, and she looked around at the dodgy lodging room.
“You could get lucky and get into something sooner,” Major Haskel said, lifting the corners of his mouth into a smile.
“Okay, thanks, Major,” Ma said as she scratched her head, still scanning the room with distant eyes and a forced, toothy smile.
“Sure, see you tomorrow Major Thorne. Eight a.m.” Major Haskel turned and left the room.
The moment the door was closed, Wynn’s hand shot out. She grabbed the chocolate chip muffin she’d been eyeing. “Can I have a muffin?” she said before she shoved it into her mouth.
Ma smiled and pulled out a glass from the cabinet. “Milk?”
“Yes, please,” Wynn mumbled through a stuffed mouth. A chocolate chip flung from her lips.
They all ate muffins in silence. Too tired and hungry to bother with contrived conversation. The clock on the microwave said it was five p.m. when she finished stuffing her face. She could barely keep her eyes open. She’d never been good at sleeping on flights, neither was ma, so they talked and read books the whole way.
Wynn got up and went into her room and plopped down onto the bed. Rocking sensations rumbled through her body as though she were still in flight. She couldn’t fall asleep even though her eyelids felt like heavy metal sandpaper. She stared up at the cracks in the plaster ceiling until her scratchy eyelids didn’t open after a long, heavy blink.
When she woke up, she was confused. It took her a moment to remember where she was. The room was dark. She felt around for her glasses which she’d failed to take off but were no longer on her face. She fumbled around the bed and pillow before gliding her hand around the grimy carpet by the bed. She finally found them half hidden by the bedspread.
The red numbers on the radio alarm clock read 1:03. It was quiet. Even the roar of the jet engines was silent. She was used to them; she only ever noticed when they were silent. There was no way she could fall back asleep. She figured it was about ten a.m. in Kansas. She should have asked Dad to show her how to call back to the States before they all fell asleep. She could’ve called one of her friends.
She laid there a bit longer before getting up, stumbling into the kitchen, and grabbing a lemon poppyseed muffin. She peeked into her parents’ room, but they were both asleep—still in their clothes. She guessed they didn’t stay up much longer than she did.
She plopped down on the sofa. It was much harder than she’d expected and she bit her tongue while she chewed a bite of muffin. The metallic taste of blood leaked into her mouth and mixed with the lemon.
Pulling the curtain open a little way, she could see that there wasn’t too much going on under the dim orangish lights of the parking lot.
“Welcome home, Wynn—again.”
With nothing going on outside, she grabbed the remote and flipped on the tv. The sound blasted through the room. She quickly searched in the orange glow of the outside lights to find the volume button. Apparently, her parents hadn’t heard. Her heart was still pounding from the shock of the noise.
She sighed and flipped through the limited number of channels that played on the Armed Forces Network until she found an episode of King of Queens. Part of a marathon. Episode after episode came on, peppered with extremely odd and seemly home-made low budget commercials.
At some point in betwixt episodes, she’d fallen asleep. She didn’t even know when. She only knew that she woke up to the sound of her ma whispering and giggling. She pried her eyes open when her ma’s giggles turned into snorts. Ma was standing over Wynn, clutching her ribs, red-faced, and snapping a pic with her camera.
“What?” Wynn said groggily as she pushed herself up. Her glasses were crooked, and she noticed a small portion of her uneaten muffin smashed into the hair on the side of her head. The wrapper was tangled deep in her hair.
“Ah, come on.” Wynn glared at her mom as she untangled the wrapper from her hair. “Don’t post that, jerk.”
“I won’t.” Ma smiled before showing the pic to Dad who was sitting at the table with an enormous smile on his face. He was lacing his black boots.
“Major Haskel is going to be here soon, hon. Might want to rinse the food out of your hair,” Ma said.
Wynn got up. Ma followed behind her giggling. Wynn shut the door in her face. “Dork!”
She was a little shocked when she turned and looked in the mirror. Her head and she grinned a little at her reflection. She didn’t know when she’d ever looked like such a mess in her life. She had a big smudgy palm print across the right lens of her glasses, and her hair looked like it hadn’t been combed in a month. She pressed my ear to the door when she heard Ma and Dad talking. If they were still laughing at her, she wasn’t going to come out.
“Are you sure you don’t just wanna live off base? It’s probably a better way to get to know the locals,” Dad said.
“Yeah, I’m sure. I don’t want to deal with the traffic at the gate in the morning when I drive Wynn to school. The thought of driving makes me nervous enough here. And I’d really like to be able to walk as much as I can and burn off the extra weight I gained in Kansas.”
“I could drop her off on my way to work,” Dad said. “So you wouldn’t have to mess with the gate in the morning.”
“Or you could change your mind and decide I’m smart enough to drive here,” Wynn muttered into the door.
“What about the days you fly? I’d just rather be on base. It’s close to the commissary, and it’s just as easy to leave the base to get to know people. You know I’m not one to shut myself away and not experience the area, but living on base will be comforting to me, that’s all.”
“Yeah, I know. But it’s a long wait and a long time to live in this little dump.”
“Trust me, I know. Wynn and I are going to be the ones stuck in here anyway. You get to go to work, but I’d rather wait. K?”
“Whatever you want, babe.”
They got quiet, and Wynn knew they were kissing.