Family Secrets

I didn’t know at the time, but my family was keeping secrets during my years at Kent. Would anything have been different otherwise? I don’t know. Family secrets seem to be a habit, for good or bad. I discovered years later that my sister was ill and my dad had a heart attack and later a stroke, but I never knew. Then, of course, I would soon have a secret only my sister knew. We think we are trying to protect one another, but are we?

What did my parents think of Bruce, of my switch to an art major?

I could tell by what wasn’t said. The few times I came home for a weekend, Dad was silent. Mom asked about Bruce, about what we did, but offered no opinions. She wouldn’t. I discussed my classes, the grant and a scholarship I had applied for so they would know there was no way I would abandon my goal of graduating with a teaching certificate. I expect they were relieved Bruce would be in the army and out of the picture.

In addition, my sister, Diann, was going through emotional and health problems at the time of which I had no idea. I was kept in the dark at the time as her situation might interfere with my studies.

Poor Maverick was chained to a doghouse in the backyard because he wouldn’t stick around otherwise.

I still feel guilty about leaving him for all those years I left for school. He wasn’t allowed inside as our family lived in a rented house. Sometimes in winter he slept outside under a pile of snow rather than in his house. Out from under he would pounce, sending snow flying every which way. Eventually I was told he was given to a farmer to live out his life on a farm. I wonder.

Bruce finished basic training in time to come home for Christmas.

He spent part of the holiday with me and my parents, and we spent Christmas Eve with his folks at a beautiful church service before he was shipped to Vietnam. I recall those thin airmail envelopes and the many newsy letters I mailed to him in return, including replacement copies of The Lord of the Rings, which he said were the most popular books with the guys in his company.

He sent me a photograph of himself proudly sporting his new mustache outside his bunker. But I never saw photos or heard of any pals, either then or afterward.

Having won a scholarship along with a grant, I was busy trying to keep my grades up. An art education major was given no leeway; you were considered an art major and expected to measure up the same. I loved it. I had been drawing since before grade school and felt in my element with other art students. It was as though something inside me was blossoming. 

One particular experience has stayed with me.

I worked part-time helping the secretary in the Psychology Department and, consequently, got to know the psych professors and the graduate students. One of the professors was experimenting on the brains of rhesus monkeys. I saw them in their cages, wires coming out of their heads.  

Later I stood looking at a glob of clay in my sculpture class in which we were to sculpt an animal or animals. I saw two rhesus monkeys in that glob—vulnerable, one looking up at me. All I need do was remove the clay from around them. I’ve never had an experience like that before or since.

That summer I worked full time in the Psychology Department helping the secretary prepare for the department head to leave and the new one get settled.

The secretary was retiring, which meant I was the only one left who knew how the office was run. Thank goodness, Dr. Page, the new department head, was easygoing and had a great sense of humor. In addition, preparations were being made for the first psychology doctoral students to graduate from Kent State, and this was a busy time for the department. I had fast, accurate typing skills as well as good grammar and excellent spelling, so I made extra money the next couple years by typing masters and doctoral theses on the department IBM Selectric typewriter. Nope. No computers in those days.

Dr. Page was a psychiatrist and made appointments to see students who needed help.

One of my regrets is that I didn’t have the sense to realize I needed therapy. I believed I was fine. I was functioning and attending school. No problems. Right?

On one side of my brain I told Bruce I had a problem with sex, on the other I told myself I was doing fine. Amazing how we can compartmentalize that way. But I did. I see that clearly now, but I didn’t then.

We can even keep secrets from ourselves . . . presumably for protection.

My junior year was the first time I heard Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. That was the Beatles? My sister, Diann, had always been crazy for them; I always thought, “They’re okay.”  I was never one of those screamers. That Sergeant Pepper record, though. I listened. The more I listened, the more I loved it. Wow. Bought it. I was hooked on every single song. So new and amazing. 

That fall Andy and I rented an apartment facing an open field on the east end of campus.

Not in a house, a real apartment this time with a living room, dining area and kitchen downstairs, and two bedrooms upstairs. We were seniors the fall of 1967. I brought my old bike from home and repainted it for a fast way to get around campus and to the store downtown at the opposite end of campus. I yet had no driver’s license or car. 

We decided to have a welcome party for the new psychology graduate students, and what a party it was! Dr. Page and a number of the professors came and the party and music spread out onto the lawn in front of our apartment. It was a great way to start the fall quarter.

My major adventure of the night was when the new grad students, nearly all guys, yelled for help, and I headed upstairs to take the top off the toilet cistern and unstuck the float so it would run properly once again. Yes, indeed, a woman does know how to fix a toilet!

I had a great fall quarter, too, but winter quarter was mixed. I took a swimming class in hopes of getting over my fear of water. Take that risk, again. I still recall standing at the edge of the pool when I was supposed to dive in head first, my knees literally quivering, telling myself, “jump, jump.” I did. I finally did, head first, and I can hardly tell you how it felt that first time, and the second time, and third. I swam underwater. I was so proud of myself. Everyone else in the class were high school swimmers; they all swam better than me and they all got A’s in the class. I got a C. But none of them went as far as I did.

My class after Swimming was Intro to Philosophy, and I had to practically run to get to it in time. But I was so awake, so ready to discuss anything and earned an A in that one.

I finished the quarter with a B average and kept my scholarship and grant.

Spring, glorious spring, was the most fun yet, all art except for tennis, as some sort of exercise was required each quarter.

Andy and my friends graduated that spring.

I would stay another year without them. That was the difficult part. 

I advertised for a new roommate. This is tricky when you don’t know the person and depend on them to tell you the truth. We worked fine, for a while. She was a theater major, like Bruce.

I enjoyed riding my bike to the one art class I took that summer, Studio Problems, which was open to interpretation and expression, another class I loved and pulled an A. The Psychology Department kept me busy, as well, including typing masters and doctoral theses to TK my income.

Not only would that fall be my final year, but Bruce would be home from Vietnam.

Though I had been tempted several times, I had remained true to our relationship and not become involved with anyone the entire time he was gone. I was not much of a drinker, but twice I had been so lonesome I had drunk too much and had a hangover. I did sleep with a fellow I liked very much but we did nothing but hold one another and make out a little. I needed to be held and to hold someone I cared for and he knew all about Bruce. Thank you, Terry, a good guy with whom I am still in touch. 

Then there was Larry, a terrific clarinet and sax player who was first chair at Coventry High School before me. Somehow we ran into one another at Kent and hit it off. To this day I wonder what might have been.

It can be darn difficult when you’re in your twenties, in college, and trying to be true to someone half a world away. Someone you only knew for a few months before they left.

But I was determined I was not going to be a girl who would write a “Dear John” letter to a guy in Vietnam. I could never do that.

So I told every guy I met about Bruce.

I had no idea how his return would affect my life and my feelings about him.

Leave a Reply