Please Let Me Go

Mom, Bobby and me, Bishop Museum, Oahu, Jan 1958

Mom, Bobby, me, Bishop Museum, Oahu, Jan 1958

1958, Honolulu, Hawaii ~ 
I had a crush on Bobby. He was blonde, tan, and handsome; a Georgia cracker with a slow Southern drawl and a boyish, white-toothed grin, a swabbie in navy blues or crisp white bell-bottoms. He was 19 and in his third year in the Navy, married to my sister, who was 15 and pregnant with their first child. When he was transferred to Oahu, Mom and I moved to paradise sometime in November of 1957 to be near Claudia. They lived in a small studio apartment on the second floor of the WWII barracks in Waikiki. Of course I had a crush on Bobby: he was cute, he was nice, and he was the only one who paid any attention to me.

In mid April I had another vomiting spell and had to be hospitalized again, the seven days of absence marked on my Manoa Elementary 4th grade report card. Mom told the doctor I had a history of throwing up. He thought it might be emotional, and suggested she have me see a psychiatrist. She also told him I was jumpy as a water bug. I was always tripping or falling down; my skinned knees and scraped elbows had scabs on scabs, my stubbed toes were forever covered with dirty Band-Aids hanging on for dear life. On top of that, she told him I was now having nightmares.

Cathy, Easter Sunday, Hawaii 1958

Cathy, Easter Sunday, April 6, 1958

It was on a Saturday afternoon in April, the day before Easter, that it happened. It came up in the psychiatrist’s office. Sitting in a leather chair next to him, not too close though, we looked at pictures. One by one, he handed me images of moths from a folder, asking me what they looked like. I carefully handed them back, one by one, saying they looked like moths. Then Dr. Whateverhisnamewas invited me to play with toys in a tabletop sandbox. I did, but didn’t see the fun of it. Miniature soldiers and plastic animals didn’t interest me. I no longer played with toys. He asked me to draw my family, which was complicated because Mom and I lived in the hills in Manoa and Claudia and Bobby lived near the beach, Daddy lived in San Francisco, and Carleen, Chuck, and Debbie lived in Whittier. Larry and Marian lived in Long Beach, and when Mom and I left, Betty stayed behind in San Jose. I didn’t count Ray or Irene because they weren’t really related to me, and how was I supposed to fit all this on one sheet of white paper?

The therapist asked me questions, but I don’t recollect telling him much. He met with Mom after my appointment. He told her that the absence of a stable, consistent home life might be the cause of my repeated vomiting spells. It would be better for me if I could stay in one place for a while. He also told her about my crush on Bobby, and about my nightmares of a man waiting for me at the top of the stairs with a gun in his hand, and that I couldn’t see the man’s face. Maybe the bad dreams did have something to do with Bobby, but I didn’t tell him about what happened that day in the apartment. I didn’t tell him because at 9 years old I didn’t know what had happened, didn’t know how to put it in words. Besides, Bobby made me promise. So I never told anyone—not for 35 years.

But I remember that Saturday afternoon with Bobby. I don’t know where Mom and Claudia were, probably at the commissary for groceries or cigarettes. He and I were alone in their one-room apartment. He was propped up with pillows at the head of the bed. I sat cross-legged on the corner of it, shuffling cards, hoping he’d be up for a few games. He was. I beat him three times at Go-fish and he beat me once at War. Then he said he was tired and wanted to take a nap and would I like to crawl under the sheet and snuggle?

I said, “Sure.”

He brushed my hair away from my face. We cuddled. He ran his hand up and down my back. But when his hands slipped around my waist and I felt the elastic stretch as he pulled at my pants, I tried swimming backwards off the mattress as he slid my pants down. He held on to me, his breath rolling over my hair.

“Please, Bobby no. Let go. I’m not tired.” He was whispering but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. “Let me go, please. I have to pee bad, Bobby, really bad. Please. Please. Let. Me. Go.”

“Jes be still a minit,” he said. “’Kay girl, ’kay? Jes for a minit.” And that’s about all it took.

He let me go. I cleaned myself up on the toilet, clammy and confused, then pulled up my blue peddle-pushers while he stood next to me and washed his hands at the sink.

“Y’all er fine, girl. Y’all ain’t hurt,” he said quietly, looking in the mirror. “Ain’t no need tell ‘bout this. Be our secret, alrite?”

I slipped out of the bathroom and tiptoed outside, leaving him there. Frozen midway on the metal staircase that bridged the yard to the apartment, my world shrank to one step, the red sun in the sky slowly sinking, neighbor kids laughing and playing with a puppy below, Bobby in the apartment above. I waited, suspended in bewilderment and worry. I was grateful for his attention, but something happened in there. Something divided me, something I didn’t understand, done by someone I loved.

With my head whirling, my stomach chewing, and my feet cemented to that grated step, I was unable to move in either direction. I tucked all my confusion and sadness into my stomach along with all my feelings about my mother, about Hawaii, about Bobby. I slipped in all my fear of pain and being sick, my homesickness for Betty and Carleen, my wanting to be with Daddy. I didn’t know where else to put it.

I waited there for Claudia and my mother to come, wishing I were anywhere but here. By the time they showed up, the sinking ball of fire had slid into the ocean and it was nearly dark.

It was not so much what happened with Bobby that dented me—it’s that he’d been my only friend. I no longer went near him. I no longer went in their upstairs #5 apartment with the Murphy bed when he was there alone in his white Hanes undershirt and jockeys. I still liked him; I just didn’t get near him. I didn’t get near other men after that either, especially ones that talked slow and quiet, in a sing-songy, Mr. Rogers kind of voice, like maybe you were dense or retarded or something.

I also remember sometime later, on a clear Friday afternoon, a girl and I were playing the cigarette game on our way home from school, racing and keeping score of who stomped first on the empty packs of Kents, Kools, and Lucky Strikes that littered the roadside. She was older, a fifth grader.

“I bet you don’t know what sex is,” she said.

Shaking my head, I told her I didn’t. From the look on her face, it didn’t sound like a good thing.

“Want me to tell you?”


“It means sticking his up hers.”

“What?” I had no idea what she was talking about. “Stick his what up her what?” She spelled it out for me. It stopped me dead on an empty flattened red and white pack of Winstons. I had her tell me again. I’d never heard such a thing, and was sure she was making it up. Until it sank in.

So that’s what happened. I still couldn’t make any sense of it, but at least now I had a word for it. I thought about it for the rest of the day, until the final scraps of light were gone, until it was the time when I no longer said my prayers, the time to climb into bed with the silent back of my mother before me.

And that’s just one of the things I remember about living in paradise.


Note: This is an unpublished excerpt from the full manuscript of Behind These Doors, A Family Memoir.

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  1. You told this archetypal tale so memorably, It’s engraved in my mind.
    The way you weave humor with pathos is fantastic! And I love your imagery.
    Many thanks…..

  2. Linda Troolin says:

    So glad you shared this Catherine. You are very brave and will give others the courage to tell their stories and free their souls of all the feelings they have kept bottled up for years. Thank you.

  3. Juliette says:

    Yes, I remember. It is true. It happened.

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