by Ed Nichols
She had sad eyes. That’s what I remember when I think of her. I don’t know why, because otherwise, she was very pretty. She was tall, with short red hair. I remember everything else about her, too—even how her fingers looked. She always dressed very nice. Always laughed a lot, at times she would narrow her eyelids and then her eyes didn’t look so sad. I told her once they looked devious when she half closed them. She laughed it off. Sometimes when she laughed, she would throw her head back and look toward the sky, or the ceiling if we were inside. I also remember how she looked in her two piece bathing suit—especially her long legs. They were perfectly proportioned and when guys would walk by us on the beach she would draw their stares. I would cut my eyes to them behind my sunglasses to see how they reacted. She was something. I loved her.
We lived together my senior year at the university in a little apartment off Milledge Avenue. I was majoring in journalism, and she was studying art, abstract painting, and she took some sculpturing classes. I would kid her, saying things like, “Your art is just an escape from reality—it doesn’t make sense.” And she’d come back with, “You’ve got to look at the form, the lines, the color! You’ve got to open your mind, Charlie.” We’d kid awhile, and then we’d go to the bedroom and make love. I believe talking about her art sometimes brought her sexual desires to a heightened state. I never mentioned that to her, but it seemed like it to me. We talked about marriage, occasionally. Maybe we would after I graduated and got a job. She was a year behind me. I remember thinking that I would like to have children with her, and I visualized how our life together might come about.
That year was the height of the Vietnam War—1968. I had had to take a physical for the draft and was classified 4-F because my left knee was weak from playing high school football, and I had to have fluid drained out of it every couple of months. It didn’t particularly bother me, but I remember having a secret desire to be drafted. I figured I might be able to go to Vietnam as a journalist. I made some inquires, sent my resume to news bureaus, and some large newspapers. But I didn’t get any interviews or even a phone call. The idea, and desire, faded slowly.
I had a light schedule my last quarter, and I spent many afternoons at Allen’s Bar and Grill on Prince Avenue. At a corner table, with five or six of my journalism buddies. We would drink beer and talk about stuff like: who will win the Pulitzer first. But as it got closer to graduation, the talk revolved around who would get a job first! She would join us a couple of days each week when her class let out early. I think this is when the split began in our relationship. All of us in Allen’s were pro-army, or hawks, as they used to say. She was not. She was opposed to the war, and that spring she started meeting with a group of students who were protesting, very strongly, on campus and even renting buses and traveling to Atlanta to join with even more students and march with their anti-war signs. I told her she was becoming obsessed with Vietnam. She said I was wrong—the war was a huge mistake, and America needed to hear it from college students especially, because that was the age of most of the soldiers being killed over there. One afternoon at Allen’s I got a little upset, and told her—in front of my friends—the war was all JFK’s fault. That really ticked her off. She abruptly got up and left the bar. That night we sort of made up, but I know that day began the end of our time together.
Two weeks later, I came to the apartment late one rainy night from Allen’s, and she was gone. There was a note. She said she was leaving on a bus for Memphis. She was going to join a group protesting Martin Luther King’s assassination. And after that she had plans to join Robert Kennedy’s campaign for president. I never saw her again. I heard, from her mother, that she stayed in California after Robert Kennedy was assassinated. I suppose the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement and the assassinations all flowed together in her activist mind. I wondered if she became a full-blown hippie—like we used to see on TV—hanging out in San Francisco, or living in a commune.
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It’s been a long time now. Sometimes when I’m sitting at my desk trying to find the right words and commit them to paper, I will turn and stare out my window to the trees at the edge of my pasture. When I do this—it happens often, and hinders my writing schedule—I will see her walking in the woods and I will stare at this image, or vision, until I can see her up close. Then I can see very clearly her sad eyes. I wonder if she ever thinks of me. If she ever wonders, what could have been?
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Ed Nichols lives outside Clarkesville, Georgia. He is a journalism graduate from the University of Georgia, and is an award-winning writer from Southeastern Writer’s Association. He has had many short stories published, online and in print.