I didn’t go to Vietnam, but I had friends that did. One young man in particular I will never forget. He was drafted. His name was Benjamin. His friends knew him as Ben, Benji and sometimes aka “fudgie” because he loved Fudgecicles. (Do they even make those anymore?)
I met Benji while working as a flight attendant for PSA, an airline that prided itself in having the prettiest and sexiest flight attendants in the world. I’m sure many thought we were a shallow bunch, relying on our beauty to attract our mostly male commuter clientele, but there was more to us than that.
Some of my fellow “stews” may have fit that persona but several girls had degrees and one even held a doctorate degree. For the most part we were an educated, beautiful, insecure bunch of girls. I was no different, at least in the insecure category. It was the 60’s, before women’s lib and sexual liberation; before we found our voice.
Benji was an amazing guy a couple of years older than I was and for some reason he took an interest in me. As I was prone to do, I immediately told him I had a child and was not married. That fact alone, usually drove a guy away unless all he wanted was to get laid. I wanted him to know right off what he was in for, but that didn’t deter him. He looked like Tom Cruise,so yes, he was handsome with that same contagious grin and nose that would scrunch up just like Tom’s did when he smiled. I’m one of those unfortunates that gets hung up on stupid things like a nose scrunch and it was a stupid thing but it bugged me. Maybe I was shallow. I didn’t appreciate it then, but then “Tom” didn’t exist then, at least not in my world. He showed up a decade later and would brand that look. Crazy huh?
Benji had been a cheerleader in an all boys Catholic school in Torrance, CA or in that vicinity anyway. He wasn’t happy about the draft, but he was a good boy and didn’t fight it. In the meantime, we made the most of the time he had left before he would leave for boot camp. Our days off were spent together and he always included my daughter, who he nicknamed Stina. He was very good to both of us. At some point, he asked me to marry him, not to escape the draft as some were inclined to do, but because he meant it. I said “Yes”.
Later, he would ask me to come up for a couple of days to meet and get to know his parents. His dad was a dentist, a distinguished looking Hispanic; his mother on the other hand was fair skinned, bleach blonde, who spoke perfect English, Hispanic but looked anything but ethnic. She didn’t like me and I became very self conscious at not being liked. Her dislike for me perhaps was legitimate, but it might not have been. To this day I wonder if that’s not what lead to what happened later. In any case, it didn’t help.
Her dislike for me was rooted in two things… one, she already had his bride picked out and it wasn’t me. In her mind, it was his ex-girlfriend who I think she may have presumed was still a virgin. Two, obviously, I was not a virgin and “what kind of girl comes up to stay at a strangers house and well, she has a child!? ”
The following day, Ben took me to meet his grandmother. His mother’s mother. We fell in love instantly. She didn’t speak a word of English. She asked if I could speak Spanish. I said, “Yes”. She smiled and then started to cry. In Spanish, she tells me how her daughter was so ashamed of her heritage and how she would never teach Ben the language and would I teach him?” I said yes, of course. He was so proud of me and I of him. It was obvious he loved her very much. I interpreted for her and Ben for awhile and then we parted. I never saw her again, but I will never forget her and those few minutes the three of us shared.
While Benj was at boot camp I would fly up to San Jose, rent a car each weekend and head down to Monterrey. Sometimes I could see him and on occasion I would sneak into the barracks and sometimes, sneak in pizza’s for him and the guys. Lots of it! One time, they got caught and they were forced to eat their pizza in the shower!
I liked Ben, he was a good friend, but I had these hangups and even though he was cute… he didn’t wow me. I was looking for “WOW”. The last night I saw him, he got to get off base. We rented a room and stayed together one last time. No bells. I wanted to love him because he was the sweetest, nicest guy I’d ever known, but I didn’t tell him.
I didn’t tell him until later. After I did something stupid. I met another guy based out of the San Jose airport. He invited me to a party and I got stinking drunk and ended up in his bed one night. That did it. Ben’s mother was right. I wasn’t the girl for him. I was trash, trash, trash. I refused to answer Ben’s calls and then he finally found me home. I told him what happened and that I was no good for him. He said, he could forgive me, but I couldn’t forgive myself. He still wanted to marry me. I said, no. He finally gave up. A few days later he left for Vietnam. I found out later from one of our pilots who was also his brother in law, that Ben had gotten into drugs. He wasn’t the same and that I’d not recognize him. To this day, I cry thinking about him. Did I love Ben? I don’t know, but I cared very much for him and wonder how his life turned out in the end.
I don’t exactly know what did it. Was it his mom? Was it my past? Benj came from a very well to do family, two parents still together and I, well I’d been beaten and told for so long that I was a worthless nobody, that perhaps I’d sabotaged this relationship because of my own lack of self worth. Maybe it was a combination of the other abuses and my presupposed wanton nature that contributed to my feeling of unworthiness. I don’t know.
What I do know now is that none of those negative feelings were true, but it would be years later that I would discover that. I’m just glad I did.
Benj? I hope you’re having a very good life. – Jo