I’m a lover, not a fighter

Life as a kid transiting from pre-teen to mid-teenhood was definitely not a bowl of fruit.  Nasty ‘appointments’ with larger kids so that they could sharpen their fighting skills were the normal routine.  I tried to counter these semi-monthly beatings by offering friendship, but, for the most part, it was rebuffed with a taunt something like “come on you little shit, afraid to fight?”  This is doubly embarrassing when the whole interchange is almost always being viewed by your girlfriend since the two of you just got off the bus.  I figured out that there was just no answer to this type of tactic except to try and get in the first blow.  I’ll call him Mr. Galoot (but his real name was Dickie).  He was half a head taller than me and weighed more, but I had the reach on him for sure because, by then, I had grown out wiry.

I asked my dad if he could help me defend myself and got a lecture on how to ‘just walk away’.  Clearly, he had never been through this sort of thing back on his dad’s farm because this advice only caused more garbage to be dumped on my head.  Finally, he relented and signed me up for some boxing lessons at the base.  Now we’re talking, I thought.  Let him screw with me now.

While enduring several bloody noses and skinned knees (mostly from falling down after being hit), I graduated from the class.  During the time I was taking it, I never once let on that I was feeling a lot more confident that I could take out Mr. Galoot.

One fine day, I stepped off the bus and – WHAM – a book slammed into the side of my head.  Mr. Galoot had ridden home with his older brother and was waiting for me.  Turning to Kathleen, I handed her my books and turned to Mr. Galoot’s smirking face.  “Okay, let’s get this over with” I sighed, and moved to the side of the road.  His eyes tracked me as I walked towards him.  As I passed, I planted my foot, and crashed a fist into his side.  He woofed loudly, dropped to one knee, and then came up fighting.  I was totally familiar with his fighting ‘style’, which was, to say, nonexistent.  He aimed to overpower his opponent immediately, kick him on the way down and stomp on what was left.

He began to flail at my face and chest.  I parried almost every one of them but a windmill left that rocked me back a bit.  He saw that as an opportunity and waded in towards me.  That was his big mistake as I was waiting for it.  I lowered my head, drew my left arm way back (which I expected him to track) – and hit him squarely on the chin with my short right cross.  He dropped straight down and actually spit out a tooth.  I asked him if he wanted more and received a wave of his hand as he shook his head.  I offered him a hand to help him up but he just spat on it.  I shrugged and walked away.

Kathleen handed me my books, took my arm, kissed me on the cheek and we walked silently away.  Mr. Galoot never bothered me again, nor did any of his sidekicks; and, no she didn’t say “My Hero!”

One time, I invited Kathleen to a dance at the base Officers Club.  It was a spring dance that all the local teenage children of base personnel were invited to.  It took three or four tries for me to get up enough courage to ask her.  We had been going to the Saturday movies (by ourselves) for a long time, but this was a different thing entirely.  It was a dance where we got to hold each other out in public; tightly.

I was definitely no Fred Astaire, and she wasn’t Ginger Rogers but we managed to not step on each other’s feet while keeping time to the music.  I wasn’t brave enough to try a fast dance, and that was fine with her, so we sat them out at our table.  There were three other couples at our table that were just a bit older than Kathleen and I so they had plenty of dancing experience.  We exchanged small talk between periods on the dance floor and eventually found that one guy’s dad worked with mine.  This turned out to be a good thing because we were later reunited at another duty station.  Service life can make for a really small world at times.

Once, when the girls all took off for the powder room (does anyone know why this happens?), Benny asked if Kathleen was a ‘civilian’.  I told him that she was and that her dad was a pretty successful carpenter.  He told me she was very pretty, which made me feel great.  When the girls returned, a slow dance started and we all trouped to the floor.

When she put her head on my shoulder for the first time this evening and nuzzled my neck, my raging hormones reacted in a predictable manner and I (in the current vernacular) popped a boner.  I tried valiantly to keep from poking her in the tummy, but failed miserably.  No matter what I did, every time I moved I’d bump her with it.  I just knew she felt it.  This knowledge didn’t help me at all as I wondered if some erotic thoughts were controlling her thought processes like mine were.  My brain had turned to mush which put the rest of me on auto-pilot.  Casting chivalry to the winds I pulled her tightly to me which caused us to slow to a popular teen dance step called ‘barely moving’.  Perhaps we even stopped and just wiggled our toes, I don’t know for sure.  Mercifully, when the music ended, she saved me by handing her shawl to me as we walked off the floor.  I was able to drape it down over my arm in front and then on my lap as we sat down.  She was a pretty astute girl.  I decided that she knew fully what was going on.  It is said that girls mature earlier than guys and I really believe that.

Kathleen and I dated many more times throughout the years between 1953 and 1955.  We were young teens and full of life.  Whatever we did was notable only by its intensity and candor.  We would ask each other many questions that under other circumstances would embarrass the hell out of anyone but us.  We had grown up together, so to speak, and come from grade school kids playing together through that memorable moment in young love at the theatre when I first touched her breast.  Now, months later, we felt comfortable enough together to ask each other really personal things like: “do your breasts get sore being strapped down like that?” or “did it hurt when you bumped me at the dance that time?”

She and I never got to be total lovers in every sense of the word.  The main reason was that both her parents and mine began watching us like a flock of hawks hovering over a field of mice whenever we were together.  We had virtually no chance of ever being alone in private at all.   Kathleen told me one day, after a couple false starts, that she wanted to give me her virginity.  Internally, my mind snapped to visions of a naked Kathleen and I think I responded somewhat like “Ummm, whazzat, whuffo, eh” with a faraway look in my eye and my hair on end.  She repeated the simple declarative sentence and added that we just had to find some place we could go to be alone.  I thought to myself “Uh oh, what’ll I do, what’ll I do?” and mentally ran in ever-tightening circles while I tried to aim the conversation in another direction.  This succeeded, but I never forgave myself for just not going along with the hand dealt me.

It was not to happen though, ever, because one day our incipient love life was shattered as my dad announced that we were moving again – this time to Germany.  Kathleen and I had planned meticulously for our supremely definitive event for weeks.  I even managed to work up the nerve to buy a pack of condoms (‘rubbers’ as they were known back then).  Even this act took me several tries to complete.  I ended up with a lot of stuff from the drug store I didn’t need until I finally did it.  As it turned out, the guy at the counter never batted an eye.  They didn’t hang on shelf hooks back then, you had to ask for them at the counter – AND there was only one kind.  The sight of a wand glowing like a nighttime traffic cop’s flashlight would have sent the girls of the fifties into catatonic states, running from the room screaming or laughing hysterically – depending on their upbringing and sense of humour.

We had an extremely tearful farewell date and clung to each other too emotionally mixed up to try anything more than just to hold tight.  My heart broke to see the tears in her eyes as we said our final goodbyes. The movers had come, we had packed the car for our trip to New Jersey to catch the liner for Bremerhaven, and the time to part was on us.  Too soon, our time together had come to an end.  The chapter on my ‘first (read: intense) love’ had come to a close.

T.O.M

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