I am not quite sure what I am going to do with this; whether it will be another one of my literary non-fiction pieces or part of a larger work. What I can say is that this came to me the other day while listening to the Who’s “Pictures of Lily” (if you haven’t already figured that out). And when the Writing Muse inspires you it’s best to listen to her not to mention The Who.
I fell for a woman named Lily and almost got arrested for it.
At least, that’s what I thought was going to happen when I heard her father yelling in Spanish to some police officers as I ran out of her apartment building in Panama City one December Saturday afternoon in 1976.
Busted for Love. Not quite looking for love in all the wrong places but that would have been one cool Country and Western song except I really wasn’t into Country and Western music at the time and I seriously doubt the Guardia Policia or whatever it was Spanish would have thought so either.
What I was into was sucking down Rum and Cokes and letting my hair down—what little I had to let down.
I had been at Howard AFB for three months and when December rolled around I got my first stripe. I was now an Airman. No more Airman Basic Miller. I was now Airman Jeffrey Alan Miller. Yeah, moving on up in the chain of command.
And speaking of things rolling around, every time the weekend rolled around you would find me at the base NCO Club—myself and practically every other single person on base as well as a bevy of Panamanian ladies lined up outside the club waiting for someone to sign them in. I swear they came in by the busloads—Canal Zone buses and these brightly colored and embellished chiva salsa-blaring buses—every Friday and Saturday night. That was before they stopped letting those buses stop on base (the buses had to go through base because of the Panamanian towns like Veracruz just outside Howard and the Canal Zone).
And that’s where I met Lily a few weeks before I sewed on that first stripe.
She was the friend of a friend who had been seeing one of my buddies and one night we were introduced. She was rather plain looking, not all painted and perfumed up like some of the women who came to the NCO club every weekend. Some were working girls looking to make a little extra money on the side; others were looking, as some older enlisted types would tell you, for that ticket back to the Land of the Big BX.
I didn’t think Lily fit the bill for either category. The first few times I saw her she was quiet and shy. With the little Spanish I had picked up and the English she knew we could have some small talk other that “phew, it was hot today.” This was Panama. It was hot every day.
We danced to the music of The Kiwis, a popular Filipino band (that if I am not mistaken was still playing every Friday and Saturday when I left Howard two years later in 1978), and she even let me slow dance a few times with her. At the end of the night I would walk her to the bus stop and that is where we would say our good nights.
“Be careful,” said an NCO who lived in my barracks, “if she gets your hooks into you you’re done for.”
Yeah, right Sarge, I thought. Good advice coming from a guy who had already been married three times.
“Not my Lily,” I said.
I was calling her “my” Lily and I still didn’t even know her real name.
“Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he said and then continued pleading with his current girlfriend to give him a second chance.
Another weekend rolled around but this time, instead of dancing to The Kiwis and drinking my Rum and Cokes we saw a movie at the base theater. Wow, a real date with popcorn, too. Well, kind of because her friend had tagged along. Good thing because there were no Spanish subtitles but it was a comedy and Lily laughed a few times and her friend translated the rest.
And then, while we waited for the bus to take Lily and her friend back home he friend asked me if I wanted to come and see Lily the next day—a Saturday, during the day.
“Meet us in front of Viva Department Store at 1:00,” her friend said.
I had just sewn on my first stripe and now I was going to be able to spend an afternoon with Lily. This was definitely something I could write home about.
That night, as I lay in my barracks’ room I thought about Lily. I wanted to bring her something special; something that she would remember me by. But what could I bring her?
And was Lily her real name?