Harem Girl

     In a time and place of rampant puberty, I wasn't invited to the party. Being the smartest kid in class and looking the part with thick glasses and a Mayo Clinic worthy case of acne left me locked out of most of the teenage high school rituals. Skipping third grade also meant I was younger and smaller than the others. In addition, there was the uncanny persistence of my teachers to address me as Theodore, no matter how many times I would correct them. It wasn’t until my senior year that I finally grew and filled out, but much too late. My reputation was established early on. I was never a hot item on anyone’s list.

     Despite all that, I did manage to date some, but friendship was only as far as the relationships went. Going steady was never considered. After all, I had my standards, as misguided as they were. I believed that someday l would know when I found the right girl. My mother told me so.  

     Then, in my second year in college, it happened. Astrid (pronounced Ah-strid) entered my life. She was an occasional customer at the supermarket where I had a part time job stocking shelves. Fred, the manager of the produce section, noticed my giddiness in her presence, described her as regal and convinced me to introduce myself, which I did. To my surprise, she accepted my offer for a date.


     Astrid was unlike any girl I had ever known. Her parents were German/Austrian intellectuals who got caught up in the aftermath of World War II as displaced persons. The family’s odyssey took them from country to country in Europe and finally landed them in my home town of Buffalo, NY. Along the way, Astrid learned five languages and her mother eight. She was smart and it didn’t hurt that she had beautiful eyes and most everything else too. I was sure she was the one.  

     We were compatible and soon became an item, exploring the world together. She told me about the Old World, the castles, people and cafes and I introduced her to the New World as I knew it, proms, baseball and drive-in movies.  

     Our idyllic affair lasted for some time until a series of events caused me to drop out of college. There is no need to explain, for that would be another story, but I was suddenly liable for the Cold War military draft. I had no desire to spend the next few years digging foxholes for the Army, so enlisted in the Air Force.

     Astrid and I promised to be faithful to each other when we kissed goodbye, but we were very naive. Leaving her behind, I boarded a plane for the first time in my life, met some other recruits and flew to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas for Basic Training, where a series of sergeants attempted to make soldiers of us.

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