Bettie Page is Dead
I don't think I believed in love at first sight in those days, but I was young. And don't read me wrong, I loved girls, the way they smelled, bounce of their laughter, the bounce of the rest of them... Maybe I was still too young was the problem, and the only girls were girls, then.
I joined the army to serve in Korea; mom was all upset, dad was prouder than he could admit- neither of them knew what to tell me when the war ended before I got there. But I went anyway- I was still in the army, and they still had planes in Korea needed tuning.
There was girls in Korea, too- lots of girls for a GI. Prostitution was technically illegal, which seemed only a technicality, caused nobody had an interest enforcing it. As for the GIs and their moral code, well, as my father said to my mother, "a man has his needs." And it's not that I didn't partake- I just wasn't as interested as some- maybe by then I'd had my fill of girls.
But then I saw her, tacked to the wall of a hangar, pretty as a girl but not, decked in white with frilly black, and a smile to set the world afire. I believed in once-sighted love, then; I stared for fifteen minutes before the sergeant rousted me back to the working world.
My contract of service was up, and I could have gone home, but didn’t. I made a lot of excuses, then, for why I stayed, ranging from how generous an Army retirement was, to the fact all my friends were Korean- but they were excuses. I stayed for her. I stayed until Vietnam pulled me in; Vietnam seemed like Korea, only faster (or perhaps Vietnam was just like Korea had been during the war). But I was a mechanic, kept far from the VC and the NVA- though once or twice we got shelled.
And one day, another sergeant came to me. I had my twenty, and the army figured to retire me. I wasn't sure I wanted to go; I hadn't touched combat, so I wasn't disturbed like some, and for more than half my days the Army and Asia had been my world- and that was where I met that beautiful woman, and there was a piece of me worried she'd lose her luster back in the States.
By then she’d stopped taking new pictures; in interviews she said she didn’t want the world to see her beauty fade. I knew what she meant; I stopped keeping mirrors around the house. I'd had the same hair since Korea (if it had thinned slightly), and I’d learned to cut it myself in the dark in Vietnam, when they were worried lights would help the North sight us in, and I still did a regimen of push-ups, so I figured I stayed presentable enough. But the worst part of growing old, aside from being old, is having to watch yourself go south, and having to watch everyone else watch it.
I married once for a stretch, mostly cause I had more time on my retired hands than I could figure for, but it didn’t take; my mind was always elsewhere, and I always felt guilty the wife knew it. But I never fell out of that first love. I'm not saying through the years I was celibate, and I'd feel a fraud to say I never strayed, but while my eye wandered, my heart never did. So it tears up my insides to say what I’ve got to, but bye bye, Betty.