IF MY HEART HAD WINGS – Book Excerpt #6 – “Plunging into a New Life”

Just three weeks after learning her husband was KIA in India, Nina pulled up stakes and moved across the country in search of a completely new life. Nadine relays what her mother told her about that time…

Life in Los Angeles turned out to be good. Mom got a job as a mathematician at North American Aviation, which turned out to be quite a genial workplace.

“The whole gang at the office socialized together,” she remembered, smiling. “We took horseback riding lessons and went on weekend fishing trips. We even took flying lessons! I learned how to do loop-de-loops in a plane—you know, turning up the nose of the plane until you’re flying upside down, then bringing the plane right side up again.”

Yikes! That seemed like a pretty crazy thing for anyone to do, let alone someone who’d just lost her husband in a plane crash.

She also threw herself wholeheartedly into the social whirl, going to concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, clubs like the Coconut Grove and the Hollywood Canteen, restaurants like the Brown Derby, and other glamorous places. Because her mathematician job paid very well, she always had plenty of money.

“You know,” she told me, giggling a little, “sometimes I’d find an old paycheck in my purse that I’d actually forgotten to cash. I had that much money!”

With a car, friends, and lots of cash, she was free to do just about whatever she wanted.

But listening to her stories sometimes gave me pause. After all, wasn’t she a war widow? Shouldn’t she have been holed up in a dark room and crying her eyes out? I didn’t ask, but it seemed to me that her reaction to Lyndon’s death was simply to shut her mind and forge ahead. When thoughts of Lyndon and dreams of their life together surfaced (and they must have, from time to time), she just stuffed them down and plunged headlong into another activity.

She confirmed this (at least somewhat) some years later when she told me that the whole idea of Lyndon’s death had seemed unreal to her for a very long time.

“It was like a hallucination or a strange bad dream,” she recalled. “The thinking part of my brain kept asking, ‘Did it really happen?’ And I think it’s because there wasn’t any proof; no rituals, no body to view, nothing visible that could help me get it into my head that he was really gone.”

Plus, her life hadn’t really changed. If they had been living together and he suddenly died in a car accident, the change would have been immediate and shocking. But at the time of Lyndon’s death, Mom was used to living alone. She hadn’t seen him in nine long months, during which she’d moved twice and begun a whole new life and career in a place that had nothing to do with him. Thus, when he died, her day-to-day life stayed exactly the same, except for the absence of his letters. So it was easy to block the horror of losing him; to just pretend it never happened—at least some of the time.

However, the past did come calling now and again…

Mom (left) and friends in Los Angeles, 1944