Girl From the North Country

My college in isolated northern New England belatedly became coeducational the year after I graduated. "They were waiting for you to leave," I have been kidded since. Hemingway's title Men Without Women fit too many of the 3200 forlorn undergraduates haunting a campus truly Siberian in its winter desolation. Sad sacks who'd left their high school sweeties home in Montana or West Virginia wandered about in a shellshocked daze, baffled as to how they'd been talked into signing on for a four-year monastic existence.

In my junior year at this outpost, I was a bit too old to have never had a serious girlfriend. Still, I had no expectations. But on a sunny spring day on Main Street, a diminutive beauty rode up to me on her bicycle, wearing a halter top and shorts and a warm, heartbreaking smile that couldn't be faked. Why was she intent on me? Was the sun in her eyes? I was totally without moves or guile or any reason to figure I had a better chance with her than 3199 other lads, but I decided nothing would stand in the way of making her mine.

Christl was a former Austrian national ski-team member with Gypsy blood and deep brown eyes, stranded in this college town where her stepdad was a chef. We were almost mutely smitten from the get-go, but the courtship was long before it was intimate. She had been burned romantically, and I had to patiently show my trustworthiness. One starry night, we wandered alone to a secluded swimming area called Secret Spot. As I held her perfect, 93-pound slalom superstar body in a naked embrace which for me was several years overdue, the seawall of unrequited lust broke, moving so swiftly to a localized area that I felt like I had a double hernia.

We consummated back at her apartment. Faintly on the radio, Steve Miller sang, "Leave your troubles behind, it's a brave new world." Bless you, Steve.

When I was out with Christl, people gazed at her and then glanced at me quizzically, wondering, "How did this guy get someone like her?" There was nothing about her I didn't treasure; the little indention below her breastbone was most adorable. I began to believe that German, into which she would lapse in unguarded passionate moments, was a Romance language. During lovemaking, sometimes, her eyes rolled back in her head and she lost consciousness. The first couple of times, I giggled at this imagined tribute to myself and gently woke her. The third and fourth times, I started to fret.

We were playful like puppies. That summer, we took up residence in a house on the left bank of the Connecticut River, on whose placid waters the U.S. Men's Olympic rowing team was training. Each morning at 7, Christl and I would wake to the coxswain's call—"Stroke! Stroke!"—approaching from downriver. Each morning, we obeyed that command.

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