Twilight Through Palm Tree Printed Curtains

I take a long drag of my clove cigarette and exhale. It’s 2003 here so it’s still easy to find these things. It’s more incense than tobacco. I miss these. I peer out through the closed palm tree printed curtains to the patio below. I mean, she looks alright from here, she’s not slumped over, her hair is fine, except frizzy from the humidity of the island, and she’s barely slurring her words, despite the many drinks and the empty stomach. Mostly she looks happy; and why not? She’s celebrating her birthday, her 24th, and she’s having a drink with friends on Guam, with the whole world stretched out before her, waiting. I can see, despite the distance in years and proximity, the twinkle of hope in her eyes. 

I watch her friend, Jack, call for another round, and I watch as he gives his friend, the buffer, the signal to take off. He had arranged it all in advance, only she didn’t know: the hotel room, and the drinks, and the friend who would disappear at just the right moment. It is a well laid trap, and she is walking right into it, but that can’t be helped, I know. Still, it’s hard to watch. The twinkle in her eyes is gone now. I sit down on the bed and light another cigarette just for something to do. Anyway, you can’t get these things anymore; it would be a shame to waste this opportunity.

The light coming in through the sliver of space between the palm tree printed curtains is getting close to the right shade of twilight. They’ll be coming up soon, I know. I angle the desk chair so that I will have the best view of what’s about to go down. I hear her too loud voice – the way it gets when her inhibitions are gone, when she’s unafraid and at her best – coming down the hallways like a train whistle. It’s hard to hear her that way. It’s one of the last times she was like that. Only the naïve can be so happy.

As soon as they come in the door he’s on top of her, her legs open, and clothes peel off. She is into it, moaning and pulling him into her the way women do when they want to be fucked. And she did want to be fucked, I know. She said, “Yes, yes, fuck, yeah,”, and “Fuck me, fuck me,” and “Come inside me,” but she wasn’t speaking to him, I know.

I know that down on the patio she and Jack were talking about Tom, the pilot who she is in love with. Jack is arranging for them to meet. Not tonight, but in a day or so, when there’s more time. She has to back on the ship by 11PMtonight. That’s not enough time for a proper affair, Jack assured. They were just going to have a few drinks and celebrate. I know that she flirted with Jack the way young women do, before they lose confidence in themselves, before their hearts are broken and they get all defensive about love. I know that the fact Jack was married made her trust him more, because she couldn’t understand deceit before today. I know she felt safe, being part of the most powerful Navy in the world, having nuclear missiles at her defense, being part of something bigger than just herself.

I can tell she’s sobered up now. She’s stopped talking. I know that it’s dawning on her that she’s not fucking Tom. I know she’s blaming herself for flirting with him, for drinking too much, for trusting. I know she hates herself for becoming a stereotype.

She’s crying now, but he doesn’t notice. I know she’s thinking about STD’s because she’s convinced every enlisted Sailor has them. I know that she’s certain she can feel genital warts on his penis as he thrusts in and out of her. I know she knows enough about STDs to know even if he stops now, she’ll still get them. I know that a fact springs to mind that when a male dog enters a female dog the end of his penis swells, locking the two together, and the female can’t escape until he’s done. I know she’s gone now, again. All too much for her, I guess.

He stops thrusting and asks what’s wrong.

“Just finish.”

And he does.

I know she won’t sober up again until they are on the bus, on their way back to the ship, when Jack tells her she’ll get in trouble if she’s too drunk to get pastthe quarterdeck. Her legs aren’t working so well and she stumbles more than once getting onto the bus. Once seated she can’t even keep her head up so she rests the burden on Jack’s shoulder. I watch the bus pull away from the sidewalk. It’s easy now to understand how she became so confused. From the sidewalk the whole scene looked like a too-drunk girl and a guy hooking up on liberty, but I know what it was, really. I know many years will pass before she’ll know, too. I light another cigarette, exhale, and admire the blue tendrils of smoke as they reach out toward the bus like an elegant hand trying to hold on to the past.

-Trish Graves


Trish Graves is a creative nonfiction writer and a US Navy veteran who lives on a grass fed cattle ranch with her husband and daughter, and dreams of becoming the salty Martha Stewart of the ranching world. She writes about her ranch and more on her blog, She is currently working on a memoir which provides perspective on military sexual assault, living with post-traumatic stress disorder, dealing with the Veterans Administration, and the impact these experiences have on every aspect of her life. To learn more about the issue, follow her on


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