I was working as a computer operator in Stockholm, and had done so for a couple of years at this point. This, by the way, was at a time (1968) when 256K RAM took up pretty much the entire floor of a medium-sized office building (true statement) and when Bull and General Electric were co-marketing a mammoth mainframe called Bull/GE 301 where the operator’s console, instead of today’s keyboards and screens, comprised several rows of eight pushable, rectangular buttons, each row a byte, each button—which lit up when pressed—a bit.
By pressing the right buttons we’d write numbers (usually memory addresses) or letters in binary form and so talk directly with the computer’s memory a few numbers or letters at time to tell it what to do, say read a magnetic tape to boot a program, or begin reading the punch cards from the punch card reader. Once we got good at doing this, and after a couple of years I could do it in my sleep, watching us speak through these buttons, which as I said, lit up when pressed, was like watching wizards at play (another true statement).
That said (as an aside, really), by now I had grown a little weary of our fair capital city, so when the opportunity arose to move (still with the same company) to another computer center in a smaller town (Linköping) a few hours’ drive south of Stockholm, I jumped at the chance.
Why? though. It bears asking, and I’m certainly asking it now. After all, I had my own apartment in Stockholm, and Stockholm was the largest city in Sweden—if something worthwhile was happening in Sweden, it was happening there. Also, I was fairly well paid (though always broke).
Truth be told, one of Linköping’s truly attractive aspects (for me) was that the town boasted a considerable surplus of girls/women along with a commensurate (sizeable) shortage of boys/men. This, for an on-the-go, nineteen-year-old, testosterone-driven hippie boy, was more than just inviting: it was a no-brainer.
So, I said yup, sign me up, and sub-let my apartment to a friend named Joakim (amazing that I remembered that), and headed south for new, fresh, fecund waters.
As it happened, the first Saturday night in my new home town found me in Linköping’s pretty much one and only discotheque—which was what the music slash dance clubs in Sweden were called before disco music was even invented, this is still 1968 after all. And in that club, dancing with her friend Monica, was the lithe and very beautiful Marie.
I was not really too keen on dancing, to be honest, but a guy I had met just hours before nudged me and said he had a crush on Monica and would like to ask her to dance with him so I had to ask Marie (since they were dancing together); he pointed: Marie was the slightly shorter girl with darker hair. Did I have to? Yes, indeed, I had to, he said, and so I did.
A day, perhaps two later, I was convinced that I had met the girl of my dreams. Girl-rich Linköping had indeed come through and in a very big way.
She became my world. Yes, I know that’s a cliché if there ever was one, but nonetheless true. Thoughts of her took up, easily, ninety percent of my awareness-capacity. I wrote poems about and for her, talked about her (incessantly and much to their chagrin, actually) to my work pals, couldn’t wait to see her again, the whole nine yards (to press another worn-to-shreds cliché into service).
Looking back, though, with my a-little-stunned fifty-one years later perspective: what on earth happened there?
For in hindsight, we were not all that compatible, to be honest. I was a dreamer and a poet and a bit of a technological wiz—someone once quipped that I had both sides of my brain in full swing, very unusual, apparently; she was, if anything, a dancer. Loved, loved, loved to dance. She had the body for it, had the moves, and liked to display them both.
Still we fell very, very much in love—in temporary-insanity caliber love. We could, and would sit for minutes at a stretch gazing into one another’s eyes, just smiling and sighing and melting and loving, loving, loving.
Yes, the physical lovemaking was wonderful, too, of course, but not at all the main course so to speak. We lived in a magical castle. She was my princess and I was her prince. We really believed and lived that truth.
In that frame of mind nothing is wrong. Nothing she does seems wrong to me, on the contrary, she is perfection and proves it constantly, by breathing for example; and nothing I do could possibly strike her as wrong. This was cloud walking, pure and simple and magical.
Now, part of this story is that before I met Marie, I had already decided to move to France to become a poet; had already bought a one-way bus fare from Stockholm to Paris, all set to go come mid-June (as I recall).
She, on the other hand, had, also before we met, already decided to go to London with her friend Monica come early June. They were to work as cleaning maids during the day at some hotel or other (while dancing the nights away, literally).
My plan was to bus it to Paris and from there journey to Nice north of which was a little village called St. André where I could buy a cottage for a thousand dollars or so (so André, a French cook/friend in Stockholm had told me) and where I could settle in and be a poet.
Did I have the money (a) to travel to Nice, (b) to buy a cottage, and (c) to live on while I learned French (which I had pretty much flunked in school) and wrote my French poems? The answer to (a) through (c) above: categorically “no.” Did that bother me? Categorically not in the least. Things would work out, solve themselves, they always did.
My French plans and her London dittos did cast shadows on our bliss from time to time, more frequently as the spring moved along and June grew closer, so in May we decided—to cement our intentions to love each other forever—to marry once she returned from London and I from France. The exact when of this still up in the air. But we exchange rings, drank a little champagne, kissed and embraced in the sunlit, spring-fragrant grass as an engaged couple.
Marie left for London one early, brilliantly clear June morning; I was to leave for Paris a week or so later.
We were still (at least I was) in love beyond repair.
Then the 1968 Paris student revolts shook France to the point where my bus company cancelled the trip to Paris and refunded my ticket.
So now I’m stuck in Linköping while Marie is in London (no student riots there), having, I was sure, the time of her life.
The forlorn boy asks: What to do, what to do?
The forlorn boy has no real answer to that question.
As another aside, word had spread around town that Marie and I were engaged and I discovered that this feat—having landed the very pretty and much sought after Marie—had bought me some notoriety and I was even stopped by a few guys on the street who wanted to congratulate me, shake my hand and all that. Big price, my Marie. Well done, way to go, et cetera.
While this stroked and stoked my ego no end, it went not even the tiniest way toward answering my question: what now?
Poet dreams in jeopardy, Marie in London, jobless me alone with nothing to do and nowhere to go. Linköping was too depressing to remain in alone.
Time to move on then.