Confessions of a Drunken Coastie, Part 12
Editor’s Note: From 1988 until 1991, Crash Barry — then known as “Egg” — served as a sailor in the U.S. Coast Guard aboard a 210-foot-long ship that patrolled from the Gulf of Maine to the Caribbean. This is the twelfth of his true stories about fighting the War on Drugs and the War on Haitian Refugees.
“What the frig is this?” shouted Machinist Mate 3rd Class Timmy Poole, storming onto the messdeck and stopping at the table where his pal, MK2 John Kemp, was eating lunch. “You son-of-a-bitch!” Poole slapped the side of Kemp’s head. “Bastard!”
“Hey!” Kemp yelped, jumping up from his seat. “What the hell is the matter with you?”
“This!” Poole shook a pink envelope in his right hand. “This, you friggin’ asshole.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Kemp said. “You better chill out.”
“I know you haven’t seen it, Fatso, because you’ve been down here stuffin’ your fat friggin’ mouth, while I…” Poole paused. Fury filled his face. Seemed like he was about to cry. “While I find out you’ve been screwing my wife!”
All the sailors on the messdeck collectively gasped. This was a shocker. Everyone knew Poole’s and Kemp’s stories. The saga of their love lives was soap-operatic. Back in Kentucky, just before a 20-year-old Poole joined the Coast Guard, he’d been dating a 17-year-old virgin named Penny, but ended up impregnating the girl’s 41-year-old mother, Tina. The way Poole always told it, Penny wouldn’t have sex, but Tina loved getting dirty. Her pregnancy led to their marriage and his enlistment.
Once Poole was stationed aboard the Tumultuous, Tina and her brood — five kids, including Penny and the new baby boy — moved into government housing. Then Penny was introduced to Kemp, who was in his mid-20s, walrus-mustached and lonely. Soon Kemp and Penny became a couple and the foursome often double-dated. Now, for the second time, the mother had stolen her daughter’s beau.
“This!” Poole said, brandishing the envelope in Kemp’s face. “This is a Valentine from my wife to… to…” — shaking with betrayal, his face turned even redder — “… to you!”
Kemp snatched the envelope from Poole’s hand, but the cuckold took it right back.
“Where did you get that?” Kemp sputtered. “I never seen it.”
“Mail call just happened.” Poole took a couple steps backward. “I saw this on your rack and recognized her handwriting and wondered why Tina was writing you, especially when she,” he started to sob, “she didn’t write to me.”
That morning, when we pulled into Halifax for a two-day break, a heavy mail bag was waiting. For the past two weeks, we’d been patrolling the North Atlantic. We wouldn’t return to our home port for another month, which meant all the married guys were missing Valentine’s Day.
The two men squared off, staring fiercely at each other. The rest of the sailors watched, entranced by the spectacle unfolding in front of us. Finally, Kemp broke the silence. “What did she say?” he asked.
“Frig you! I ain’t gonna tell you nuthin’!”
“Gimme that letter,” Kemp said, reaching for the envelope and grabbing Poole’s arm. “It’s mine.”
“I don’t give a frig,” Poole said. “You ain’t gonna git it! I’ll toss it overboard before…” — with his free hand, Poole slapped Kemp’s cheek — “before I give it to you.”
Kemp shook his head, backed up and pointed at Poole. “You’re gonna regret that, asshole.” Kemp turned to a nearby table of sailors. “Y’all saw that, right? Striking his superior! I’m gonna get you written up.”
“I don’t give a goddamn.” Poole took a step closer. “You know how I feel about Tina.” He frowned sadly. “I friggin’ love that woman. How could you do this to me?” Poole pointed the envelope at Kemp. “How could you do this to Penny?” He sighed. “How could Tina do this to me?” Poole sagged like a man defeated. Embarrassed and hurt, he shrugged. “I should friggin’ kill you.”
“I dare you,” Kemp said, his attitude turning surly. “Try it and I’ll have you up on charges so quick your head will spin.” Then he plucked the envelope from Poole’s grasp and ran away.
The wounded sailor half-heartedly gave chase, but Staples and I stopped him.
“C’mon, brotha,” Staples drawled. “Just leave that son-of-bitch alone. He could make your life a god-dang living hell. And it ain’t worth it. Not over that woman. You dig?”
“No,” Poole cried. “I love her. And I love my little boy. What am I gonna do?” His sobs became wails. “What am I gonna do?”
Once the Skipper and the XO learned the details of the drama, Poole was granted emergency leave to go home and deal with his wrecked marriage. He and Tina divorced soon afterward, and Poole was transferred to a cutter out of Alabama.
Within six months, Kemp and Tina married. Penny moved out and returned to Kentucky.