She was twenty-nine. Brown, shoulder-length hair. A little over five feet tall and a waist you could slip your arm around as easily as the kiss to follow. Not drop-dead beautiful, maybe not even what you would call beautiful, but cute, demure, lovable, a sweetheart. An almost pouty lower lip you guessed played to her smoky, seductive voice and eyes as irresistible as an aurora borealis, e da per li occhi una dolcezza al core…
I watched her move, sentendosi laudare, benignamente d’umilta vestudo, e par che si’a una cosa venuta da cielo…
I was (sospira) in love.
And I thought, if I could talk to God, I’d ask for her.
But I was ten, and she was Constance Bonacieux, in love with D’Artagnan (Gene Kelly), then Helen Burger, in love with Glen Miller (Jimmy Stewart). She was June Allyson.
One of those sometimes-meaningless things that only subtly become part of a mindset. Life is full of them, and they run through your thoughts like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that will one day be a portrait of your life, if you’re paying attention. Or not.
I hardly remember my first love. Kew Gardens, in the borough of Queens, New York. Of course, that was a different kind of love. She was a maid or housekeeper or nanny, I was just a toddler, but my mother let her go because I ran to her during my first experience with an electric storm. She left me a doll, but it was taken away. It’s the only toy I remember as mine of my first three years. Otherwise, I remember quite a lot.
Before that, there was antipathy. After that, there was Helen in kindergarten, Marylyn, Sandra, Gail, Joanne, and Natalie in the second through sixth grades, then Phyllis in the seventh and eighth grades. Hannah had a crush on me, but she was chubby. Phyllis is the only one I remember with affection. And she was the sexiest girl or woman I have ever known or seen – in movies, magazines, or anyplace else. She had the figure, but it was in her eyes. You can’t package that, and you definitely had to be there to see it. The sense she expressed between modesty and seduction could stop a heart or start a war.
Would I have wished Ophelia expressed that? No. That was for an age of pubescence or, at most, adolescence, a game children play to prepare for adulthood like the games of battle and cheering for the home team. But I have no doubt that the mature Phyllis was equally endearing to someone, just as Ophelia’s was to me.
The last time I saw Phyllis, the year after finishing high school, I was on my way to catch a train to New York City to join the army, to learn Russian, and become a spy. July 5, 1956. I met Ophelia in the late fall of 1971. The years in between were – as, indeed, all the years have been – totally unbelievable, would be appropriate, if they were fiction.
In 1959, Mission Control (the MC) sent me to the university in Berkeley, California. My contact there was Hestia, the daughter of an Army colonel based at Ford Ord in Monterey, California, born in Mississippi, but had spent all but the first and then current years of her twenty-seven years in Europe and Asia Minor.
We were introduced – This is almost like something out of Noel Coward or Graham Green – We were introduced, the weekend after classes began, by the son (I’ll call him David, though I didn’t see him often enough to have remembered his name after that week and I never saw him again) the son of a San Francisco psychiatrist. I had rented a room in an older house a few blocks from the university on Channing, just off Telegraph Avenue, and the MC arranged for David to rent an adjoining room, obviously for the purpose of casually (“Oh, hi. Say, my girlfriend and I are going to Santa Cruz this weekend, and she’s got a girl friend …”) meeting me and introducing me to Hestia, since he moved back to a frat house a week or two later.
Santa Cruz, just inside and north of the north point of Monterey Bay, 80 miles south of both San Francisco and Berkeley, has a marvelous, sandy beachfront on the Santa Cruz Anchorage opening to the bay and the Pacific Ocean,
Backed by a boardwalk with an amusement park and shops, it’s a popular summer resort, with a town behind it and motels for visitors. The beach is a couple hundred feet wide and about two miles long, divided by the narrow mouth of the San Lorenso River. From the north end of the beach, a wharf juts out a half mile into the Anchorage and houses restaurants and shops with parking, if your timing is right. It was a clear, beautiful day, temperature in the high eighties, water something over seventy degrees, but not much. The waves were nothing to excite a surfer, but enough to feel like ocean.
We swam for a while, an obvious ice-breaker, then Hestia and I walked along the beach and talked about life, our lives, and the way things were. I don’t know what kind of build-up I had been given, and, while our conversation flowed easily and happily, I couldn’t help feeling there was more to our meeting than I had anticipated.
Here’s the thing. There are a few things I can’t or won’t explain, here. Perhaps in what Ophelia and I came to call an Egress File, I will explain those things, but, for now, I’ll just say Hestia and I hit it off, and, from that time, we began dating.
Hestia was all her name implied, “keeper of the hearth and home,” and we became more involved than I was prepared for. Good looking, she was a few inches shorter than I, blonde, wavy hair to her shoulders, perhaps 120 pounds, a nice straight nose, small mouth, small waist and more than adequate hips and bosom. I suppose if I had been psychic or even a little paranoid, I would have figured out she was to be much more than a contact, and I might have lived happily ever after with the three or four or five children she was built for in some kind of government affiliated complex, with the constantly nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right. Maybe. Of course, she could have told me – she certainly hinted at it – but she didn’t, and I have no idea what the consequences would have been if she had. For starters. I wouldn’t have believed her; she would have had to have shown me, and, then, I don’t know what I would have done. I saw it, once, some years later, but the trauma precursing a later PTS had begun to take its toll, and by then I was repressing responses.
It was fun for a while. Hestia was a Psych Major in her fourth year, and I, an incoming freshman, in a last minute decision, wavering between English and Psychology, had signed up as a Psych major, a big mistake, as it turned out. I had just enough popular knowledge of the subject to think psychology a suitable course of academic pursuit for me and just enough familiarity with Freud (“Nietzsche is peachy, but Freud’s enjoyed”) and Sophocles (“I want a girl, just like the girl, that married dear old dad”) and phallic symbols to argue about Hamlet’s Oedipal complex and the significance of swords, guns, and smoking to the male psyche, all of which was all the rage in the fifties, as I recall. With that very naïve understanding of what the academic study would yield, I went for it.
We had just come from watching Olivier’s Hamlet at a university showing, recommended by my English professor who had made a big deal of Hamlet’s hesitance to confront the murderer of his father and his appeals to his mother, and, naturally, the psychological school of criticism fashionable at the time raised the issue of Oedipal associations.
“My professor,” Hestia said, “doesn’t really go along with a lot of Freud’s interpretations, and in class yesterday he joked about how many pipe stems he chews through every week. He said, ‘I must really have a problem,’ and we all laughed.”