What Is There to Do Around Here?

At fifteen, I allowed myself to be picked up by a sailor during Fleet Week. I was downtown with a friend when he approached in his white uniform with the rakish cap and shiny black shoes. Our giggles belied our disinterest and he fell in step with us, neither wearing, thank God, our Catholic school uniforms. My friend snubbed his attempts at conversation—“What are your names? What do you like to do? What is there to do around here?”—so, to establish my superior appeal, I chattered about this and that until, with no forethought, I agreed to meet him the following week. After we parted, I shrugged at my open-mouthed friend, downplaying my own alarm at my rash act.

Saturday arrived immediately, it seemed. My parents were meeting the marriage counselor they thought was a secret, cancelling my hope for a last-minute command to help with chores that would free me from my promise. Oblivious to the irony of applying my school’s honor-code to an illicit rendezvous, I suppressed a dry heave and left my house.

The nineteen-year old seaman bought Cokes at Woolworth’s that we sipped as we walked around aimlessly for two hours while he complained about the Navy and I complained about my mother. Before we parted, I wrote down my address.

His letter, written in blunt pencil, spelled Libby with one B and said I was pretty and he thought about me all the time. His next liberty was in two weeks and he hoped I would go to a movie with him. He signed his letter, Love, Chuck. Even to a romance-saturated adolescent it sounded dopey. My mother held the letter between her thumb and forefinger like a used tissue and demanded, “Who the hell is Chuck?” I said he was the cousin of a friend who set us up as pen pals and held my breath. I was amazed she didn’t challenge me given that everyone I knew used personal stationery or letterhead with boarding school insignia.

Halfway through the movie, Chuck put his arm along the back of my seat with his hand dangling over my collarbone above my left breast. The theatre contracted to an airless chamber, the screen was a muffled blur. Callously, the movies had taught me to flirt but not what follows.

In the late afternoon sun, I flinched from Chuck’s attempt to hold hands and declined his offer of a burger at McDonald’s. My anxiety and confusion were joined by disgust—with myself for sneaking out to a movie with a boy who couldn’t spell Libby—and with him for picking me. When the bus arrived, I told him I couldn’t see him again because of my schoolwork and not to write. I silently urged the bus driver to go faster toward the more predictable turbulence of home.