Molly Speaks on Love and War

In Immigrant Soldier, the Story of a Ritchie Boy, Molly is Herman’s first love. She is based on a real young woman, though I have changed her name and added details too private for Herman to tell me.  I thought it would be interesting to look into Molly’s heart. How did she feel about her brief affair with a young refugee from Hitler’s Germany?

Molly Speaks on Love and War.

I can’t believe I’m so sad. I knew Herman for less than a year, but he burrowed his way into my heart and found that warm, soft, passionate spot I had forgotten was there.

The golden sun of the April afternoon and Betsy’s happy companionship had already made me quite giddy before I met him the first time at his uncle’s tennis court. He was earnest when he shook my hand after Father introduced us. I couldn’t help myself—I wanted to see him smile so I asked him to call me Molly, like my friends in London do. It was very forward of me. My father frowned and Betsy giggled behind her hand. But it was worth it because Herman’s smile was glorious. It lit up his eyes and made me feel weak.

From that day forward, whenever Betsy and I played tennis at the Wilderness courts, Herman would appear like a magic two-pence. He was absurdly helpful, running to gather up errant tennis balls and calling out the score. But, in little ways, he seemed unsure—a boy with a dream he didn’t know how to fulfill.

My father told me his story. He was in transit, on a temporary stay with his uncle, our neighbor. Carrying only a small valise and a few marks, he had fled Germany just steps ahead of the Nazi police. With no prospects in Britain and a restricted visa that did not allow him to work, he would not remain in England for long. For some reason, this heightened my interest. I imagined him as a safe flirtation with no strings—he had no guile, he was exceedingly handsome, and he wouldn’t be around long enough to hurt me the way Lloyd had done.   I asked Herman to sit for me so I could practice portrait drawing. Our friendship developed during those long summer afternoons when he sat patiently while I scribbled and chatted away about my life in London. I asked him about himself. What man can resist talking about himself? It relaxed him to speak of his dreams, and my drawing improved. Beneath the friendship, we both sensed the chemistry simmering. It thrilled me to feel my heart opening up again after the ache and hurt I had felt for almost a year.

Herman’s physical presence made me bold. I touched his shoulder to position him the way I wanted and let my fingers trail over his back. I set his fedora at a jaunty angle and pulled a dark, curling lock of his hair over his forehead. I nudged his strong chin and felt the stubble of his new beard under my fingertips. “Just so,” I murmured and stepped back to draw. Then one afternoon, we could stand it no longer. We set aside my drawing and ran laughing through rows of shrubs to the garden shed. So dark and cool—the perfect place to share a kiss.

Was it only days after that war was declared? The glorious summer was over. The beginning of the term at my art college kept me in London for the cold days of an English autumn. And war with Germany turned Herman into an enemy alien, restricted to his uncle’s estate. He wrote me letters and I lay in my bed at night and longed for one more kiss. We were separated by the weight of the world.

Finally the dreaded news arrived. His US visa had been issued. He tried to stay in Britain, but it was impossible now that our countries were at war. Somehow we managed one evening together the night before his ship sailed for America. I will remember its sweetness for the rest of my life. Too soon it was over. He left me standing on the porch under the pale moonlight. Shadows of the shifting clouds moved on the street and snowflakes drifted down to settle and melt on my cheeks like cold tears.

With every letter from California, I feel the distance between us grow, but I take solace in the fact that he is safe. War seems to be very good at separating lovers. I saw my friends reach out to touch their boyfriends in ways they wouldn’t in normal times. I saw the fear in their eyes when the soldiers were in France and the relief in the faces of the lucky girls whose boys came back from Dunkirk. And the tears running down the cheeks of my friend when her Eddie did not return.

As the bombs fall nightly on London, we all scurry about with our heads down. We watch for rubble and bomb holes in the streets, and we mash together in the subway tunnels each night. I really must find something to do. Waiting underground among the crowds of sweaty old people and crying children will drive me crazy. Air Raid Precautions groups are busy night and day. I will join up and be of some help instead of spending the war feeling lonely. The night-time activity will keep me from missing Herman and maybe it will also bring me a bit of adventure.


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