“What makes a girl like you join the army?” I couldn’t believe I was talking to her. She was so cute with her big smile showing that sexy gap between her incisors through her voluptuous mouth, beneath her little button African nose and that frizzy hair, beaming a golden, freckled glow. And that dimple. Oh god, that dimple.
And that accent. She was a Puerto Rican from “Bwooklin”. And she was talking to me! “Where I came from, the buildings were all six stories tall and nice girls didn’t go out on th street after they came home from school. I joined the army to see what I been missing.”
“Yeah, me too,” said her dishwater blonde sidekick, “I grew up on a farm in South Dakota and there wasn’t any street when I came home from school. There wasn’t fuckin’ nothin We were at Fort Sam Houston in a balmy San Antonio, Texas getting medical training, hands on for her, just the vocabulary for my M.O. as a medical records clerk: names of diseases, body parts.
Her name was Eva. I took her for long walks by sidewalk cafes and through parks along the river. I took her to a Samuel Barber concert. We held each other, smooching, outside her barracks, swaying like two palm trees in a hot tropical fullmoon island night.
We were sitting in a movie once and some rowdy Spanish speaking guys were wising off behind us and she got all embarrassed. “What are they saying?” She covered her face and peeped out at me. “I don’t want to tell you.”
She was the perfect child of the peoples of her island, of the world. And then we were trained and were off to our duties. This was about the time Kennedy was assassinated. I never talked to her about that. I never got too serious. We were just sort of watching a movie together ‘til we took our places in what had up ‘til then been a relatively cold war since Korea.
I didn’t come home a war hero. No, I broke my leg in Germany, running across the street at night in front of a speeding car, trying to catch the last bus back to the base. That’s how I got to Letterman Army Hospital in the luscious, park-like Presidio in San Francisco. After getting my cast off, I was put to work in the ortho ward treating some of the first of the casualties from Vietnam. Hands on at last. The world had changed since I left, but that’s another story.
One day I walked into the hospital mess hall and there she was. “Eva!”I took her to the opera house. I told her about an opera I had watched there once. “Every one in old fashioned costume, dancing around and singing. It was all very silly. But I liked the music, whatever it was about.” She had on a really nice dress and I may have even had a tweedy suit on that I bought after seeing a cool looking guy in one, reading the paper at a sidewalk café in Cow Hollow by the Presidio. The opera house was closed, but there was a nice little Italian restaurant behind it, next to a bay window with a world war two poster showing a battleship and the slogan “America: Love it or Leave it!”
It was love all over again, but things had changed. I was getting out and she was staying in. Was this going to be serious? She was so nice and I had waited so long. We had nothing in common. I never told her about Hatsie or any of the others. I was sitting with her in the hospital mess. Sitting with us were a trashy looking guy and his girlfriend, another dishwater blonde sidekick. I was thinking about Hatsie.
I had met her at a U.S.O. dance. She was a platinum blonde airline stewardess for the Flying Tigers. We went to the vista point on the Marin side of the Golden Gate bridge and made out. I had just discovered marijuana from a fellow patient who brought some back from Korea and I introduced it to Hatsie in her apartment.
“It won’t make me lose control will it?” “Let’s see.” I said, lighting the joint and passing it to her, running my hand up her leg. It was the outbreak of women’s lib: the pill and the miniskirt.
And then, as I sat listening to the buzz of the conversation, the miniskirt was filled out in my imagination by the willowy figure of Carmina Burana Banana Foofana, the beyond beatnik love of my life, who had just walked back into it with a random Yule greeting.
And speaking of greetings, I had just gotten a letter from my girlfriend in Germany, which set me to thinking about holding hands while walking through castles, watching fireflies at night, staying up ‘til dawn talking on the steps of a church.
And on a weekend trip to my mother’s house in San Jose, I had met one of her college friends, a farm girl from the low desert around Palm Springs, a few years younger than me, a California girl, blonde, tan and built, but shy and demure, named Mary Jane Simpleton. She gave me a look that said “Show me what’s going on.” I did not realize then the awesome significance of this meeting, but I was intrigued.
Into this swarm of visions came the thought of dear sweet Eva sitting next to me at the mess table. Eva was a nice girl, a good girl, the kind you save for last after making the rounds of the harem. I imagined myself married to her. She was looking at me, smiling her beautiful, bigwide, full-lipped, toothgap flashing, sunbronze beaming, heartsoul melting, ohso dimpled smile. And around her head, like a madonna’s halo, rang a clothesline full of diapers.
Watching T.V. that night, I was amazed to see the young couple who had been sitting with us in the hospital mess. Their pictures were on a wanted poster. They had kidnapped some woman for ransom. There were riots in Watts.