My own beau, Rupert, was stationed in the Philippines. He wrote to me almost every day, long letters of sadness and solitude, from a tin barracks in the sweltering sun where he slept when he wasn’t filling out paperwork for a two-star general.
I answered every letter.
But while the world waited for liberation, our own freedom here at home was unprecedented.
Even saying it now makes me feel nostalgic.
No men for the duration!
Of course, there were guys around. Our fathers, and uncles, and grandfathers, for example.
There were also plenty of teenage boys, who stood on street corners smoking cigarettes, trying to look suave.
There was even an occasional 4-Fer, too flat-footed or nearsighted to pass muster for the country — or for us.
What a wonderful time we had.
Suzanne and Joanie and I used to wear our bathing suits under our clothes, so we could ditch our work shirts and head for the beach the minute the whistle blew at 5.
We’d buy Coney dogs and Pepsis and soak up as much late-day sun as we could.
As summer folded into fall, and winter followed, we ditched the swimwear and simply packed LBDs for our after-work adventures. We’d take the subway into Manhattan and make our way into whatever dance hall seemed most scandalous: the Biltmore near Grand Central. The Palm Court. The Stork Club.
We could take our pick of sailors, if we wanted to … but for the most part, we danced with each other.
And we drank. We drank like nobody’s business. Sidecars. Gin Rickeys. Planters Punch.
We smoked, too.
While we smoked, sharing cigarettes stained Max-Factor Red, we also shared our dreams. Suzanne wanted two children, a boy and a girl, when her Martin came home. Joanie longed for a house with her guy, Theodore — a real house, not a duplex or a triplex, with a flower garden in front and a vegetable garden in the back. I mumbled something about a sun-filled patio where I could paint still lifes and black cats … but what I really wanted, more than anything, was for the war to go on forever.
Which it couldn’t, of course. It was wrong of me to even think such a thing. The pain it brought. The suffering. The black ribbons on the doors and the gold stars in the windows … no one wanted that. Not really.
But still. When Martin came home, he married Suzanne. She didn’t get the two children she dreamed of. Instead, she had triplets: two boys and a girl. I was their godmother.
Theodore and Joanie inherited her grandmother’s house, a three-story brownstone in New York.
And before the war even ended, Rupert came home, too. His mother gave me one of his dog tags.
I look at it now, when I sit alone in the Biltmore, smoking an entire pack by myself most afternoons, my lipstick faded to a dull brown.
I miss my girlfriends.
Story based on an image from Found Relatives Vintage Portraits by Tim Holtz.