The Girl

Not having any other place to be, and given that I recently bombed out of my first semester in college, I joined the Navy and went to Boot camp on April 8, 1968.

Boot camp was interesting, as were the times. Those who are old enough will remember the raw emotion of Vietnam and how volatile and alive the 60’s were. My company was comprised of 100 or so of us, with 80 being from New York. This assured a healthy dose of attitude, humor, and drama. As part of that New York mix, I was comfortable and amused, but also singled out by the company commander as someone with attitude. He would take me aside to tell me so but never actually punished me. As those kinds of guys go, he was actually soft and I believe he secretly respected me.

The weeks crawled by and mostly we marched for hours and hours. As it grew hotter outside with very high humidity (Great Lakes, Illinois), all that marching became real work and my body was growing fit and trim. We would also attend classes that were very boring. The only one I remember was about how to guard against venereal disease. That involved washing repeatedly from your knees to your belly button. By now all of us were dreaming of the chance to wash between our knees and belly buttons and sometime in early June we were given day passes to finally get off base.

At 19 I was still shy and unsure of myself. Some of this was covered up by bravado, and even though I almost always had a girlfriend, I was, and am, naturally introverted. On one of these passes late in Boot camp, I took a train alone into Chicago. On the way to wherever I was going to end up, I stopped into a small seedy sausage shop and bought a quick and delicious sausage I could eat while walking. Continuing my easy and long walk I eventually made my way into downtown Chicago and took a seat in a plaza surrounded by tall shiny buildings.

It was then that I saw a very pretty girl, about my age, sitting alone on a bench across from me. She had long curly blonde hair, a blue dress, and a real sweet face. She was so pretty that I anguished about getting up and approaching her. Somehow I mustered the courage and walked over to her. We sat together and talked for awhile and all too soon she said she had to get back to work, but enjoyed our conversation. I asked her if we could meet again next week and she quickly agreed so we set up a time to meet in this same place. I know I was happy and excited as I made my way back to the train station.

At 19, a week is still a long time. How long? Just long enough for a shy and uncertain sailor to begin to have doubts. I did not doubt that she would be there, but I did wonder if she would continue to find me interesting, what we would talk about, and what the point might be since Boot camp would be ending in a few weeks. So I did what shy boys do….I did nothing. I didn’t go, and instead went with some friends to Milwaukee.

While it is true that I am happily married for 44 years, it is also true that it is the things never done that haunt us as we get older. Perhaps I am at an age when these lost opportunities grow larger, while the time I have left grows shorter. And maybe, just maybe, there is a fine looking woman, about my age, who wonders why that nice boy never showed up the following week.

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60 thoughts on “The Girl

  1. Enjoyed the story, Mike. Wonderful that your long and happy marriage has been part of your path in life! I have regret about some of my choices, but try not to judge myself too harshly. I now try to tune into my intuition. Those loud and clear messages are no longer ignored!

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  2. So many short and not-so-short friendships we have in life, and as we age, we wonder what ever happened to this or that person. I make up the endings and it’s always happy, because why not. So perhaps that next wk the pretty young woman’s boyfriend was there to confront you, and it was just as well that you didn’t show. Great story and post, Mike.

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    • She was there alone and waiting. I expect she thought about our brief encounter all week, and had positive anticipation as she waited, eventually disappointed.
      Thanks for the read and comment, Jet.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. ‘….Footfalls echo in the memory
    Down the passage which we did not take
    Towards the door we never opened…’ (TS Eliot, Burnt Norton)

    But that poor girl, Mike….

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  4. Wow …. talk about flashback … I went in the navy in 65′ and from the flightdeck of a aircraft carrier before a launch i would often remember a young lady from home … and yeah, the one who wore light cotton print summer dresses … thanks for the memories! Great post!

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  5. I did basic at RTC Orlando, with college degree in hand. The Navy had ideas of me being in nuclear propulsion. My DI asked what was I doing in the Navy. I need a job, this is good as any. I said I have friend who did NROTC, she said give the Navy a try. I ended up becoming an instructor at the Naval Weapons School before they said the NSW Center needed an instructor.

    About the girl, don’t worry about her. Your name has become who? The memory of you, typical sailor. 🙂

    Sent via secured network.

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  6. Nice memory, Mike. If I were the girl, I would have just thought something came up… and I would have kept an eye out for a week or two. People come and go… and we accept what is.

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    • Yeah, it was just that small, and really insignificant in the scheme of things. But somehow it has taken on added significance. The boy in me wants another shot.

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  7. I loved your story Mike! Your destinies were not meant to be! It is so natural to reflect on the might have beens in our lives! Thank you for your service to our country! Hugz Lisa and Bear

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  8. I like it when you write Mike. You should post your writing more often. I try not to dwell on what ifs – too many of them and no answers forthcoming but still, sometimes, just sometimes, it’s nice to remember and wonder about how things might have been.. 🙂

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    • Thanks Adrian. I actually don’t have many what ifs, which is why this one has become larger than it should.
      When I have a story in my head it lives there for a bit and then spills out. If my wife and son like it, I post it. Have a good evening, mate.

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  9. What a great story, Mike. I think we can all relate to the feeling of “what if?” and muse over those scenarios that we could have played very differently. It’s just as well we’ll never know how it could have turned out.

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    • So nice of you to comment Joanne. Will this be one of the things that flash through my head like an old time movie as I am leaving this life……not sure. It was momentary, yet somehow has taken on significance.

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  10. This story brings me back to a few awkward memories. In the end I think I’d rather grow from out of bashfulness than believe I had it all together from the start.

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      • It did for me. I guess I was just forced into some situations were bashfulness had to take a back seat. My confidence grew after seeing what I was actually capable of.

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      • And for me as well, but to a lesser extent than you. I think there are some personality attributes that stay constant, although modified when necessary to be successful in the adult world.

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  11. This one has been sitting in my in-box for quite a while now…I’ve read it at least four or five times and have enjoyed it on each occasion. I’m just a little behind you in age and have my own nice collection of “what-ifs” to ponder….so I thank you for sharing this one with the rest of us. Nicely done, Mike.

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