Or How To Lose Three Girlfriends in One Week
November 9th, 1981 was my sister’s 8th birthday. The next day, very early, the Navy recruiter from Old Saybrook picked me up and took me to New Haven to the entry processing center for my induction. I had been there on March 19th for swearing in and for the physical. They had signed me up for the Delayed Entry Program and November 10th had seemed far away. But now the life I had known was gone.
We got in a gray van and rode to La Guardia. From there we flew to Chicago. It was dark when we got to the van that would take us to Great Lakes (aka Great Mistakes) basic training command. They were already yelling at us.
It was fairly late when we were screamed off the van and into formation in front of our new home. They got us into the barracks and turned out the lights. It had been a long day, and I went to sleep despite my fear and homesickness.
Bootcamp was bootcamp. I did all I could to disappear. I must have succeeded because on my last day there my company commander couldn’t recall my name. While there I was friendly with a few guys, but we all knew we were unlikely to see each other ever again after eight weeks being as close as brothers. Especially me, since I was the only one bound for Data Processor school, and one of only a few headed to San Diego after boot.
The bright spots while there were a few calls home and the letters. The calls were to mom, as was my first letter home. But then I wrote to others to share my temporary address. And mostly, it was girls who wrote.
The girl who had left our school and moved to Oregon (I called her Flaxen) wrote. She was lonely and asked if I’d visit her while I was on the West Coast. Um… no. A nineteen-year-old sailor visiting a high school freshman? Not a good idea.
But the crush who would seldom give me the time of day at school also wrote. And that was confusing. Why were things different because I was in boot camp? Was she seeing me in a different light? Was she doing a good deed writing letters to the condemned man? Or was it just that I was at a safe distance and couldn’t bug her or follow her like a puppy at school?
My address change to San Diego in January caused a disruption in the mail, but within about ten days I was getting letters at school there, too. Flaxen from Oregon was still writing regularly. Some of her letters were quite passionate. No, definitely not visiting Oregon. And my crush was still writing. But now she was flirting and the return address had her name as “Kitten”. My entire class got wind of that.
Even though I had two girls flirting via letter from two coasts, I was still looking for a more real prospect in my immediate vicinity. Two roommates were trying to push their third roommate on me. She was a very sad, very southern girl who had recently lost her finance in a car crash. We had nothing in common and the girl would go on crying jags about her lost finance at the drop of a hat. That just wasn’t happening.
I had my eye on a petite, confident, and older girl who seemed to have no interest in me. She was one of the roommates trying to set me up with Miss Boohoo. She went by her initials, CJ, and she was 23 years old. I hadn’t yet turned nineteen. It seemed a lost cause. My specialty.
Chasing seemed a bad idea. I had chased Kitten, and she always ran away. So I just stayed in her circle and was always there when she turned around. Then one night a few of us took CJ with us on an outing off base. We took her because she was old enough to buy booze and we weren’t. She bought three bottles of wine and we were walking down a street when a cop stopped us and asked us what was with the wine. CJ was carrying it, but it did not look innocent. The cop suggested we might prefer a walk on the beach instead of a street, so we took his advice and grabbed a cab.
I don’t know where we were, but it was dark, there was lapping surf, and there was a jetty we walked on while we had our bottles of wine. It was the three roommates and me. The two were still trying to set up Miss Boohoo with me, but they saw that she was a lost cause.
We were tipsy and giggling and playing in the surf. We had on our uniforms, but we took off our shoes and splashed around. I was good at aiming splashes, even with my feet. The girls got a little wetter than they wanted and might have ganged up on me if they weren’t so uncoordinated with the wine. CJ must have been a little peeved. She grabbed a handful of sand and chucked it at me.
I’m not sure that I saw her pick up the sand, but I saw her release it. Her hand was very near my face, so I had an excellent view of it. The sand left her open hand and spread out. It was captivating in its pattern. In fact, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. And I didn’t. Until the sand hit my eyeballs.
And that is how CJ and I got together. The three of us in the ladies’ bathroom on the beach, her helping me rinse the sand out of my eyes. The other two laughing at me or crying about the dead finance. And me just soaking up the attention.
After that we were an item. It moved fast. When school was over, they had assigned her a post in Hawaii and I got a ship in Virginia. But by then she was smitten, and I was satisfied with myself for snagging an older, rich, educated woman. We spoke of marriage, which would force the Navy to station us within fifty miles of each other. We planned for her to fly home with me on leave.
But when graduation day came, there was a snag. She had lost her ID at some point and she had to get a replacement. When she was checking out of her room, she found the old ID. She neglected to turn in the duplicate and they discovered it. That meant an investigation. She couldn’t check out of the command until they cleared it up. I stayed the weekend, but flew home on Monday with hopes of her following later in the week.
So, I left CJ behind in San Diego. I never replied to Flaxen until I was safely back on the East Coast. And I flew home and into the clutches of the naughty Kitten. I was doomed. It quickly turned into a mini soap opera.
Kitten wanted to talk about CJ. She told me CJ was wrong for me. She was right, of course, but I didn’t realize that she was seeing through my shallow love for CJ and taking pity by pulling me out of that relationship. And she did. One demand from her and I called CJ and told her not to come to Connecticut. Then Kitten set up a date. We would meet at a restaurant for a drink. I was ecstatic.
But she was truly a Kitten, apt to play with a mouse she has no intention of keeping. We spoke at school. We went on our date for a drink. We talked about her and we talked about me. Then we went down by the water. It began to snow, that wet March snow. And we talked about “us”. A cop checked on us in our car with the fogged windows. He was a friend of hers. Of course. Every guy around seemed to know her.
She spread herself across my lap, put her hand behind my neck, and looked directly in my eyes as she spoke. She kissed me and told me about her plans and about how I scared her. I was too intense, too serious. She dated for fun and to pass the time. She had no intention of being serious in high school. She wanted to see the world and explore her own capabilities. But she could see how it might be with me. Deep. Consuming. Not what she wanted.
So I had ignored Flaxen, dropped poor CJ in a coast-to-coast phone call, and now the dream of finally being with my crush was crushed. Why did she ruin my time with CJ if she knew she didn’t want me? Was she just saving me from myself, or was she jealous? She made it clear she was done playing with this mouse, but she left me wounded.
It bewildered me. It shocked me. And I was almost heartbroken. And that was the week when my mother dropped the news on me: “JJ got married last month. Funny, I always thought you two would wind up together.” Of all the hits I took that week, it was this final blow that broke my heart. All I could answer was, “So did I.”