Bobby Gene Mann’s story tells of high school age young people faced with the reality of impending war while living out the typical rites of adolescent love, growth and change. Called away to war, the young men’s lives are turned upside down. They return from war to find the small town Texas world they left has been turned upside down as well.
Earlier that afternoon, I mailed my Aviation Cadet application to the US Army Air Corp. To celebrate, my fiancée Joy and I went to the drive-in movie—one of the first in the state—half-a-mile or so outside the city limits. The beautiful fall night was just cool enough to subdue the last of the mosquitoes. At dusk, a full moon soared into view—an auspicious sign for after the movie! I carefully chose our parking place—center screen and about two thirds of the way toward the back of the lot. We were early so we walked to the refreshment stand for cokes and popcorn. After returning to the car, I positioned the speaker in the car and we settled back to enjoy the show. Then Joe Dee and Amelia—his intended fiancée—pulled into the adjacent space.
They already were fighting but when they realized that we were in the neighboring space, they called a truce and said Hi. Joe Dee went for refreshments and the truce ended within minutes of his return. When the movie began, their voices got louder. If Joy hadn’t said Stay out of it, I would have told them to quiet down.
We should have given up on the movie and left before Amelia flounced out of Joe Dee’s car, slammed the door, walked over to our car and got into the back seat without so much as asking if it was alright. Whether or not we wanted in, we were in it. She was seething and said, “I just can’t take it anymore!”
We had wasted our money on the movie because their quarrel had obliterated the title, scenes and sounds. Occasionally uttering a sigh, Amelia pouted until the movie ended and then commanded, “Take me home, Bobby Gene!”
I stowed the speaker in its receptacle and went over to talk to Joe Dee. I couldn’t just drive off with his date without at least asking him what he wanted me to do. But he was ready for me. “She wants you to take her home, Bobby Gene. I’m sorry you’re mixed up in our spat. Maybe she’ll forget all about it tomorrow.”
So we drove off with Amelia in the back seat. An awkward silence hardly does justice to characterize the trip. My date with Joy was a total disaster. She just scrunched down on her side of the seat and said: “Stop at my house first, Bobby Gene. It’s on the way to Amelia’s. I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.”
I knew better than to argue. So I pulled into her driveway, walked her to the door and she gave me a peck on the cheek before going inside. By the time I got back to the car, I cheerfully could have wrung Amelia’s pretty neck. I was so angry that I even burned rubber taking off from Joy’s house. Before I got the car slowed down, I saw slim female legs shinnying over the seat back and Amelia settled into place beside me.
“Don’t be mad at me, Bobby Gene.”
“Why shouldn’t I be mad! You and Joe Dee ought to ashamed of yourselves—fighting like a couple of alley cats. Then you came running over to my car and spoiled our date.”
“Slow down a little before the sheriff gives you a ticket and asks why you are riding around with Joe Dee’s girl. I’d hate that. Everyone thinks that I belong to him.”
“Well, he sure wants you…to belong to him… that is….”
“What do you think, Bobby Gene? Do I belong to him?”
I seized on her question like a bigmouth bass swallowing a shiner! At last, here was the opportunity I had been waiting for: I would talk some sense into her head and, perhaps, she would decide that dumping Joe Dee would be an act of kindness.
I was wrong.
Sure, I launched into my speech and made a pretty good case for the futility of trying to join two wonderful people whose interests and ambitions were so radically different. I laid it on pretty thick:
“Nothing’s wrong with you or Joe Dee,” I argued, “but you don’t go together any better than oil and water. That’s why you’re always fighting. Joe Dee has his head set on what he calls his vocation and he honestly believes that God called him on the telephone and said Go preach. He won’t say No to God even if the whole world thinks he’s wrong.
Warming to the subject, I added what I thought would be the clincher: “Amelia, you are just the opposite. You’re the prettiest, smartest and most talented girl in our class. Already, our professors say you are a gifted writer, that you could have a great career in journalism, creative literature or both if you choose. You can’t give that up because it’s your vocation just like Joe Dee’s is his, only you don’t mix God in it!”
“Bobby Gene, maybe you ought to be a psychologist! Don’t take me home just yet. Let’s drive around for a while because I need to talk. I just didn’t know who to talk to, who would understand what I’m going through.”
At that point, I felt pretty good about intervening in their lives so I drove out to a parking spot on a little hill with a nice view of Lystra in the valley below. I had to keep a close eye on the odometer so Daddy wouldn’t get too angry at the excessive mileage racked up on one date! She did most of the talking as though she had been saving up all the things that were bothering her and was relieved to give them voice. They came pouring out: “I’m suffocating in this hick town and can’t wait to get out of here as soon as possible… Joe Dee is really nice but I don’t know whether or not I love him… You and he are religious circus freaks…God must be some kind of carney if He actually put Joe Dee up to it, although I don’t for a moment believe that God said anything to him…Do you think God talked to him, Bobby Gene?”
Mixed in with that spate of words were occasional tears and before I realized it, she had snuggled up against me, put her head on my shoulder and I sort of automatically put my arms around her and began to feel sorry for her and to make little comforting noises that may have been words but if they were, I don’t remember them.
My lips sort of brushed her hair and I smelled her perfume, not store-bought stuff but the perfume of her and I liked it. Joy’s and Joe Dee’s faces may have flashed by once or twice but they faded completely when Amelia sighed—it was more like a purr—and said, “You are a real good listener, Bobby Gene” and she put her arms around me and turned her face up to me and pulled my face down to hers and kissed me and her tongue darted into my mouth and we kept kissing for a long time and I really meant to say we ought not to be doing this but I couldn’t speak while we were kissing and it didn’t look like we were ever going to stopand the next thing I knewshe had turned crossways in the seat to face me more easily and I cradled her with my left arm and we kissed some more and my right hand sort of found its own wayonto her breastand she didn’t say Now stop that and omygod, she isn’t wearing a bra and I knew I ought to stop it but my hand said Not yet and the next thing I knew my hand sort of dropped down into her lap and sneaked its wayunder her skirt and omygod she isn’t wearing anything and I ought tostopbut she didn’t say Now stop that and my hand said Not yet and ohmygod if this is it how do you do it in the front seat of a car? I wish I could take a quick look at Maurice’s book I’m glad we don’t have bucket seats but getting into the back seat might put the kibosh on what may be about to happen but then it wouldn’t happen even though it would be a good idea to stop before anything happens but then she might think I’m just a tease and…
“What did you say, Amelia?” My voice sounds as scratchy as an old Victrola record but it’s the best I can do. I wish I had a drink of water I wonder if she’s thirsty too…
“Slide over this way, Bobby Gene.”
“OK.” Shouldn’t I… … “What did you say, Amelia?”
“Shh,” she murmured, “don’t you want to, Bobby Gene?”
“OK.” but I don’t have a con… “What did you say, Amelia?”
“Shh…Just slip your slacks down.”
Simple enough but I can’t find the top button or the zipper and even if I do I don’t think I can work it if it’s caught but there I’ve got it and I hope the sheriff don’t stop by and shine a light into the car and her daddy will kill me if my daddy leaves enough of me to make it worth his while and I don’t believe whoever wrote the Kama Sutra knew anything about automobiles with a steering wheel pinning you against the back of a platform seat and a gear shift shaft jutting up from the floor threatening to impale you and did she figure out what to do all by herself or learn it from somebody else and ohmygod she has slipped her skirt up around her waist and is facing me and… and…and…and…
At that point, I lost contact with reality—with daddy’s automobile and the hill where I had parked, with the earth, the air, the sky and the stars and even with Amelia herself. I had gone somewhere beyond pleasure, somewhere unreachable by one or all of my senses, somewhere from whence I had no wish to return. I felt as though I had been there for an eternity and my return to earth took eons instead of the few seconds that could have elapsed before some faint sounds turned out to be a voice. And I heard another voice that turned out to be mine, mumbling: “What did you say, Amelia?”
She leaned forward, gave me gentle kiss and said, “Better get dressed, Bobby Gene. It’s time for me to go home.”
Throughout the whole episode, my only audible words had been OK and What did you say, Amelia? Then, I drove her home in total silence. Oh, my mind was churning up words like a dictionary going berserk but none of them seemed to fit the situation. She snuggled up to me and I held her hand, wondering what would happen next. When we reached her house, she said, “I hope you don’t feel like you have to tell Joy or Joe Dee. It’s none of their business. So let’s just keep it our secret.”
I blurted out another OK that sounded like the croak of a waterlogged frog. Obviously, I was not at my articulate best. She gave me a nice long kiss and said, “You are really sweet, Bobby Gene.” Then she slipped out of the car, quietly closed the door and went into her house.
I don’t remember driving home or making sure there was no incriminating evidence left in the car. Throughout the remainder of the night, I tossed and turned, drifted into and out of sleep and almost convinced myself that I had had the most erotic dream of my life. Morning dawned, however, with the sober realization that I steadily was working my way through the entire catalog of the seven deadly sins and the Ten Commandments. Whereas one list could not charge me with adultery, the other convicted me of fornication and the Sermon on the Mount nailed it down once and for all by making thoughts equal to deeds! That didn’t leave enough wiggle room for me to stand a chance on judgment day. Although I had not seduced Amelia, I certainly had been an inarticulate and enthusiastic participant!
Did I intend to repent publicly in sackcloth and ashes? Would I at least tell Joy, Joe Dee and Amelia that I was sorry? Not on your life. I actually hoped that the future might feature another Saturday night. Yet I was terrified at the prospect of meeting her in broad daylight and discovering the true meaning of a one-night stand.
Never mind about BC, AD or CE calendar time. My life had been divided irreparably into before and after Saturday night, October 4, 1941: Less than an hour after saying good night to Joy and Joe Dee, I had gloriously indescribable sex with a gorgeous strawberry blonde, who just happened to be the intended fiancée of Joe Dee Johnson who had been my best friend for about fourteen years and who currently was my partner in a Christian ministry of scripture and sacred song!
I might as well have grabbed a sharp butcher knife and stabbed Joe Dee in the back. I was as guilty as though the Texas Penal Code had declared virtual killing to be capital murder. I deserved indictment, trial by a jury of my peers, conviction and a sentence of death by electrocution at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville. I was dead guilty. Dead! Dead! Dead! And bound for hell to boot!
I hate to admit that my remorse prompted no penitent action. It festered inside me like a boil that hurt so bad, I wanted it to burst and take me along with it. But it didn’t. So, I shifted into reverse, searching my past for extenuating circumstances, floundering like an exhausted swimmer far from shore, desperately hoping to find a piece of driftwood large enough to prevent drowning.
Odell Myers is a native Texan, born in Cleburne in 1920 and growing up in Tyler. The day after Pearl Harbor, he received orders to begin Cadet training as a pilot and on July 25, 1942, was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. in the USAAC. His WW II memoir was published in 2002. It describes his combat experience in North Africa that ended abruptly on December 4, 1942, three days before the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor when he was shot down and captured. For 900 days he was in and occasionally out of Italian and German POW camps.
After the war he became an executive in the aerospace industry, responsible for the creation and publication of reams of technical and marketing documents, retiring in 1987. He has since begun a success second career writing fiction and non-fiction.
Click here to buy: The Irreversible Life of Mann