Some things strike a chord in us (or should I say just me?) sometimes, perhaps a memory of something we did, or time we might have spent with someone else, or several someone else’s…. One thing I certainly admit to is being melancholic. Sideways that looks like I wrote “alcoholic.”
It was the summer of 1977. I can’t really put my finger on what made that summer so special to me. I mean, – really, what are the triggers? What is it that makes a time in our lives, any single moment or day that was pretty much the exact same as all those other moments and days bordering it – that can make that one moment specifically come as memory 30 years later – so incredibly strong and special? I think it has something to do with happiness.
So there I was, in this memory of mine, standing under what we would consider a “city bus shelter” here in the United States. You know what I mean, they’re on the street and usually have benches for people to sit down and wait for their bus to come by. And some of them are covered, for inclement weather. Passengers don’t want to get wet in the rain. But I wasn’t in the United States. In fact I wasn’t even on the street. I was in the middle of a swimming pool park in Goepingen, West Germany. (Now just Germany) It was raining, and we group of friends had stopped there on our way out of the park to get shelter.
These swimplatz’s as they are called over there are simply beautiful parks with a big swimming pool right in the middle. I mean acres of beautiful green, grassy knolls and forested hills, thousands of people coming to spend their time on the weekends… Beach towels and blankets thrown all through out, most not even within sight of the pool. Of course as a 17 year old boy my impetus for going to the swimplatz was to find 17 year old girls….
Isn’t it a pity that the “of course” in that previous sentence makes sense? That’s another story I guess, about physical attraction and desire – and why its creepy if you call it that instead of calling it “love” and how fluffy it makes us feel…. That’s for another day I guess….
Anyway I spent a lot of weekends at that swimplatz with my friend Larry, another American soldier. Larry had pretty much the same goal as me. He did meet a girl one day. In fact he walked over to where she and her friends were sitting on blankets, about 100 yards from the pool, picked her up, carried her on his shoulder over to the pool and threw her into it. She popped back up to the surface with a wild, crazy look in her eye and said – in English, “Why did you do that?” “Because I like you,” Larry replied with every ounce of Larry he had in reserve. That was Elvira and 10 months later Mikey was born….
Back on her blankets was a gaggle of her girlfriends, each one more beautiful than the next. Germans graduate high school at 15, and all of these girls were either that or 16. Of course I fell in love with one of them that day, or more, I guess…. Yes, I’m creepy that way. I’m also honest.
Over that summer we developed friendships between all of us, I think probably stronger – and more beautiful friendships than I have ever known before. And I feel pretty confident in saying since, as well. At their age and without jobs they were available to meet at the pool whenever Larry and I played hookey or could find an excuse to get downtown and off base. A few times they would come on base to visit us. And most weeknights we would meet them in pubs (Gasthouses, they’re called over there) because there is no drinking age in Germany – something archaically ridiculous in our own puritanical society I think…
So at the end of one beautiful summer Saturday, after having spent all day on our blankets and towels in the swim park, a few dark clouds started moving in. I think we lingered around because we were having such wonderful fun together, and I don’t ever remember being happier. If what we had was not the truest, most wonderful love for one another, and just raw, pure enjoyment of our own company, then I don’t want to know about it. Even if it wasn’t true, then I want to go on continuing to be fooled into thinking that day, that summer, that group of us was just incredibly special. I always want to go on thinking that. I always want to believe that we made up more than just the sum of our parts.
You know, I can’t remember the things we talked about 35-40 years ago, or what color our bathing suits were, but I can sure remember the light blue tint of Larry’s sunglasses as we talked, and Elvira’s smile from ear to ear – she was so incredibly smart and a wonderfully good friend. And I remember those dark, incredibly beautiful eyes and just jet-black hair of that intensely lovely girl I’d had my own arm around all day… Oh God, she was beautiful. I still remember how her curves just melted my heart away… I was like a bee on a daisy. Looking back on that now makes me think how monstrous it must seem to others for me to think about her intense sexuality. In fact I wrote a song – posted here – not long ago title “We’re all Monsters Inside” – that actually reminded me of that day so long ago. Monstrous or not it’s the truth. Not just me either….
Anyway we got caught in that rain, had to get dressed on the run and scurried under that shelter I mentioned above. The air smelled so wonderful. Standing there and listening to the heavy, heavy rain fall – I mean it was so thick we couldn’t see 50 yards away. We all looked at each other in amazement, eyes wide, hardly able to believe the day went from this lovely thing to an incredible torrential downpour. Wow…. Right now the images of every face in us, those dear and so very young group of friends huddled together under that shelter – is just frozen in my mind. I don’t know why. I think maybe happiness, or what some people call becoming one with something larger than ourselves. There was no great tragedy or great joyous event that caused this memory to burn itself into my mind, like the birth of one of my children or the Kennedy assassinations. I think it was maybe just plain serenity, or chi, as my sister Sue might call it, at least she did when i caught her literally hugging a tree one day years after this memory.
I had written that little black haired beauty a love poem earlier that summer attempting to tell her exactly how beautiful I thought she was, how sweet, and how wonderful she made me feel… Although she spoke almost perfect English I spent considerable time translating it into German from a little handbook Larry had. I just wanted her to know that I was very serious about her, and I was. She said she was reading it at home one day and fell out of her bed because it made her laugh so hard…. Ok, that was like a blow to my ego a little bit… She said her father heard the commotion too, went into the bedroom where she just handed hm the poem because she couldn’t stop laughing. Apparently he doubled over in laughter too, and insisted she bring me home because he wanted to meet me…
Turns out that in the poem I had mistakenly translated a line in German to “I think you are a wonderful, sweet monster.” Her dad squeezed me in a hug so hard that I didn’t think that I would ever get away and he smiled and smiled the entire hour I sat in their house….
Turns out she and I weren’t really in the cards, I was moving too fast and she needed to go off to university, but we remained friends and kept in touch. When I got back to the states I had a box with a few letters from her, and also a huge stack of letters from my earlier high school girlfriend that I would have liked to keep forever.
Back in Richmond, Indiana I was living in an apartment with a new girlfriend. I came home from work one day and found her burning the last of those letters in the fireplace. I asked her if she knew the gravity of what she had just done. She told me it didn’t matter, that I belonged to her now and those other girls can go to hell. Of course we didn’t work out either, for many reasons but certainly that obvious fucking one.
And so I’ve spent the remainder of my life without those special keepsakes, hating the thought of their destruction ever since. Sadly, I can’t remember that little black haired girls name. But do you know what? I can still remember every little hair that fell out of place, brushing down so softly across her forehead. I can remember that sparkle in her eye that always made me feel like I was the most special man in the world. I remember her smile, her kiss, the feel of her skin against mine as she rested in my arms. I don’t have the letters but at least I have my memories.
After my Richmond girlfriend and I broke up I went to my fathers house to get some things of mine and found that my little black haired beauty had written me again. So I put that letter away and kept it for many, many years, though I never wrote her again. Years later I got married, had children, moved around a bit. I always kept that letter hidden because snakes don’t bite me twice. The last time we moved I went looking for it, and it was gone from my hiding space. Hmmmmm…… After all my years of learning and experience, and dozens of girlfriends, I’ve learned that we really are all monsters inside… I hope you’ll listen to my song and tell me what you think of it…
You can find it here: