Today’s Fandango’s Dog Days of August #4 “Lost Love”
He’d been so handsome in his Navy uniform. The crisp, white hat and tight-fitting outfit were in sharp contrast to his dark, tanned skin. Beneath a crewcut of thick, brown hair, his blue-green eyes captivated all who looked upon them. He was a stud, and he knew it. I’d first spotted him strutting along the boardwalk with another, taller man, though by their resemblance, I could tell they must be brothers. They’d been laughing at some joke the shorter brother had told, and neither of them had paid any attention to me. To be fair, I was walking onto the military base with my husband and had always been the shy sort, anyway.
Bernie and I had just recently gotten married. It’d been a whirlwind romance and, when he told me he was joining the Air Force and proposed, I felt as though a path had finally opened up to a better life than I’d been accustomed to. I’d grown up in poverty, surrounded by forms of abuse I didn’t even recognize until I was much older. The military promised a life of stability, both financial and emotional. Bernie was a good guy. I knew he loved me, even if he did have a bit of a drinking problem. I knew I’d be safe and even happy with him. And, I was.
But, at the time, I was also scared. We’d been forced to elope and now, there I was, nineteen years old and across the country with my new husband. As Bernie was preoccupied with military concerns, I felt very much alone, scared, and constantly second-guessing myself. Once we’d arrived on the base, we were shown to the martial barracks. After showing us our quarters, the Commanding Officer informed Bernie he’d be needed almost immediately. For most of the trip, Bernie was up before the sun, sometimes working late into the early morning hours.
I was left to fend for myself for the most part. I became very homesick and began taking walks along the boardwalk to fill my time. I found the salty, ocean air refreshing and reveled in the glorious seascape. It was on one of these excursions I met the handsome sailor. This time, he was alone and seemed lost in his thoughts. He glanced up and offered a pleasant smile, but I could tell he was deeply bothered by something. My heart pounding in my chest, I touched his arm and asked if everything was alright. His eyes searched mine for a moment and he seemed to make a decision.
Taking a deep breath, he launched into a miserable tale. He’d left behind a fiance, a young girl back in his hometown who was absolutely smitten with him. He was afraid, though, worried he wouldn’t be able to give her the kind of life she wanted. He was a simple man, he said, and she was someone who enjoyed the finer things in life. He hoped he’d be able to provide for her and the family they wanted to have but feared he didn’t have the ambition to make her dreams come true.
I felt bad for him. He obviously cared for this young woman very much. I wished Bernie cared a little more about the kind of life I wanted to live. I knew being a military wife meant moving around all the time, but to be left to my own devices in a strange land with no one to talk to… it takes a toll. I relayed as much to the handsome stranger, and we chatted for a while longer. I learned his name was Dell Williams, and he was from somewhere up north – Michigan or Wisconsin, I think. I told him I was from the midwest, and we talked about the difference in the sunny California weather versus our respective hometown climates.
When the sun began to set on the horizon, I realized we’d spent all day walking and chatting together. It’d been one of the best days I had since arriving on the base and part of me didn’t want it to end. I’d made a new friend and, handsome as he was and even though he made my heart flutter and my cheeks blush, he was a platonic friend… for a while.
We didn’t plan it. Our affair began quite by accident, but once it started, there was no stopping us. Of course, I felt guilty, as did he. Yet, we understood one another like no one else. Together, we were in a different reality. It was only when we were apart when we realized the depth of our deception. We’d vow to end it. We’d stay away from each other on base and, if we saw the other, we’d go out of our way to avoid contact. Still, the chemistry between us was palpable. My love for Bernie never changed. But, my love for Dell was of another breed entirely. We were completely consumed by each other and, inevitably, gave in to our desires, again and again.
The affair had been going, off and on, for about five months when Bernie received word he was to be stationed in Arizona. I was heartbroken, though I’d known this day would come at some point. I was reluctant to leave Dell, but I put on a brave face and set to packing. As the summer drew to a close, so did our passionate dalliance. Dell was crushed when I delivered the news, but we both knew there was nothing to be done. We were on two separate paths, each beholden to another. We agreed to take the secret of our affair to our graves and move on with our lives.
Bernie and I left for Arizona the next day. It was the middle of August and the sweltering heat was nothing like the warmth of the California sun. Here, it was humid and dry, though there was a certain charm and beauty to the red, rocky landscape. We settled in fairly quickly, as the base was much smaller than the one on the west coast, and it soon became evident our family would be growing. Yes, I was pregnant! Bernie was thrilled at the idea of becoming a father and hoped for a son. I was overjoyed, too, though the thought did cross my mind it might not be Bernie’s child. He’d been so busy in California, we’d barely had time for intimacy.
I chose to abide by the original agreement Dell and I had made. We deliberately left off without exchanging contact information, and I had no way of finding him – especially not without Bernie finding out. I swallowed the guilt and made my peace with what I’d done. Over the years, I’ve circled back to that decision and made myself sick with remorse. My life had turned out just fine, and I’d given Bernie eight other positively legitimate children, but I knew, as the years went on and our oldest son grew, he was indeed Dell’s child.
I’ve kept the secret all these years. Even as he became an adult, I never revealed the truth to my son. He was the spitting image of Dell, and I feared Bernie would someday question his paternity, but he’s always just accepted it without question. Now, as I near the end of my life, I look back with regret. I’ve loved Bernie well for all these years, but there will forever be a hole in my heart where Dell once was. It is filled a bit by the presence of our son, but it’s a bittersweet acceptance of the way things have to be with a lost love like mine.