According to Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Robert Olen Butler, the process of writing is not intellectual, but emotional, and it is necessary to enter our dreamspace in order to write honest, inspired fiction.
I dream a lot; our dreams dive deep into our true selves—into our anxieties, fears . . . and joys.
The photo above? That’s me, eagerly looking out the window at the world. Many pounds and wrinkles later—still searching.
I like to know what other people are thinking. I hope you will let me know. You can disagree with me, of course, but please be nice about it.
My love for Colorado grew with every hike I took along the trails through her mountains. I took one flight back to Ohio for Christmas and afterward had nightmares about being stuck there, unable to return to the west, to the mountains I had learned to love. To that amazing cerulean blue sky, the clear air, the wind in the pines, the open spaces where nothing is heard but the call of a jay or hawk. One summer I spent every weekend hiking in the mountains, nearly every weekend backpacking.
In 1972 saw John Denver in concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater; these were Rocky Mountain High years. I felt that song in my bones and sang it with friends around a campfire high in the Rockies. It may sound corny now, but the words were true. I started smoking pot while in Colorado, and there is nothing like it a mile high, or higher in the mountains with good friends after a long day’s hike. Or in the desert.
I discovered Utah desert and canyon country these years, too, and was with dear friends on a backpack in Arches National Monument in August during the Perseids Meteor Shower. Not a one of us knew the meteor shower was happening that night. I don’t recall who first left the camp fire to look at the stars. We were all pretty high . . . and . . . Hey Chicken Little, the sky is falling! What a trip! That clear desert air, our camp fire lighting up Dark Angel monument and the falling meteors. What a memory.
Plus the magic of New Mexico. We tripped Utah and New Mexico for early spring and late fall when the mountains were socked in with snow. “We” included my husband at the time, who was game for all this hiking and backpacking, but I don’t think he loved it as I did. He had a bad back, a wound from Viet Nam, which made it difficult to sleep on the ground, but, as I said, he was game. Backpacks in those days were not as comfortable as they are now, and I had constant bruises around my hips from the belt.
Bandelier was our New Mexico haven. Think of a spread hand, pine-covered highlands the palm, canyons between the fingers, the Rio Grande River runs across the tips of the fingers, and you have Bandelier. I have hiked along the river and into the tips of the canyons as well as across the middle of the canyons and into the bottoms of three of them. I have also approached the canyons from the palm. In the last five years a good deal of Bandelier has been burned in fires. The beautiful southern-most canyon, Frijoles, has water and a waterfall year round.
The next canyon also had a spring and water if one knew where to find it. I camped there years ago with a good friend and listened to the echoing call of a mourning dove in the early evening across the head of the canyon.
In the third canyon over is Painted Cave with numerous pictographs. Hopefully, they are still there and haven’t been ruined like so many others.
To get to New Mexico, one must pass by southern Colorado, and that’s where my favorite Colorado mountains reside—the San Juans. Someone labeled them the Switzerland of America. They are younger, wetter, and steeper than the Rockies. This means these mountains are more difficult to hike, but the rewards are greater: more waterfalls, streams, wildflowers, steeper, closer peaks, grander vistas. Plus, more four-wheel drive trails because these mountains were full of silver and the miners left roads in the most unbelievable places. You can rent jeeps locally, and we also had good friends who loaned us their Toyota Land Cruiser that outdid the jeeps we met on the worst trails. Sorry, jeep lovers, but that’s the truth.
The problem with a four-wheel drive is often it will get you further than you should go. My hubby, Clem, being the passenger, kept at me, “Go, go, go,” and up, up, up, we went through the trees on this terrible rocky trail that got smaller and smaller and steeper and steeper till I couldn’t see past the front hood . . . “Go, go, go,” I finally had the sense to stop. Thank, God, because “go” had us perched on the edge of a ten-foot cliff!
I don’t care for going into nowhere, thank you.
So, the Cruiser would get us to trailheads even farther into the mountains. But so would the narrow gauge railway.
You could get a special ticket to Silverton, ride the boxcar, get off halfway and take a trail to one of the fourteeners. We did this with another couple and it rained the entire hike up the canyon. Most exciting, you could hear rock slides and boulders falling in the rain on the other, steeper side of the creek but couldn’t see them through the trees. We finally reached the upper canyon where it opened into a valley and pitched our tents (still raining). How fine and cozy to heat up hot ramen on our little stove and cuddle into a warm, dry sleeping bag with the sound of the rain popping on the rain fly above us. Later, after it stopped, a critter ran over the top of our tent. There’s nothing so cozy as sleeping out in the fresh air in a warm, fluffy, bag. We carried extra padding to sleep on—it’s worth the additional weight.
Our friends hiked out the next morning. They were younger than us but couldn’t handle the weather; though it had stopped raining. The sun came out and we hiked to the top of the pass and watched clouds pass by the peaks. Seemed like nobody in the world but the two of us and a few critters—whistling pikas and marmots mostly. Take deep breaths. Glorious.
The next day we hiked out and caught the train to Silverton where we stayed in the old hotel, had a shower and a cooked meal in a restaurant. Gee, life is hard. Another Colorado memory to savor.
These years gave me many opportunities for risk-taking, for facing my fears. I recall one in particular, a leap from one low boulder to another higher one, where—if I fell a broken leg would be the least I could expect. “Don’t think about it too long or you’ll lose your nerve; just do it.” I did, and the ensuing high was tremendous. The three fellows I was with seemed to think nothing of the rock climb, but the other woman with us was left behind at that point. This was typical for me—having to “keep up with the boys.” Also, never letting show how sometimes difficult it was doing so.
Climbing at Red Rocks Amphitheater was eventually closed, for too many people were injured doing so. It is a shame how people are allowed to sue for everything in this country. We need to be responsible for our own actions and not expect others to be responsible for us.
In the main, these were good, exploratory years, but getting married had been a mistake. Clem was a good guy, but he was not the man for me. I was depressed and the migraines were worse, but it was years before I admitted to myself why I was so unhappy.
We bought an old house in town to refurbish. I sewed clothes, grew a garden, canned tomatoes, cooked, painted, smoked more pot.
We moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, hoping a change of scenery might help. My folks visited us along with my Uncle George and Aunt Betty. I recall clearly when they were at our house and Dad, once again, made one of his usual cutting remarks to my mom. I stood in the doorway, heart beating furiously, and let it happen. In my house. How many times since I wish I would have said something. In my mind I’ve gone over and over what I would have said if I could. But I did not. He still had such a hold over me.
Some time later, months? I don’t recall. A phone call from him. His voice, low, soft. “Will you forgive me?” Nothing else, not about what. I could say nothing. But I felt pressure, pressure to forgive. Maybe I said, “Mmm,” but I don’t recall.
We were still in New Mexico when I received a call from Ohio telling me Dad had died from a heart attack.
I flew back to Ohio to help Mom bury him and face the relatives.
Life is a Merry-Go-Round. When you see that ring, do you reach out and grab it, or let it pass by? The answer depends on what you’ve been dreaming and planning, doesn’t it. Only you can answer that question.
In many ways I was yet pretty naive, but didn’t know it.
For example, I still thought we were in Vietnam to halt communism. I believed we could win that war. Then I met a couple veterans who were in one of my art classes, and we kept meeting for tea and coffee at the Hub to discuss the war or various art projects. They had been there, and I could not help but listen to what they had to say. They were nice guys, too, not full of anger or too much resentment. Each spoke clearly and concisely and backed up everything he said with personal experience. I began to wonder.
Other students were wondering, too. Eruptions and speeches against the war occurred all over campus.
When Bruce returned he wouldn’t speak of the war or his experiences. He had been a forward observer. He never said more than that. At the time I had no idea what that was.
Few parts of my life I wish I could have done differently, but one of them was about to occur. We were at Bruce’s folks’ house when I said I would “make love.” Now was the time. He had been off fighting in a war and I should show him how much I cared. We no longer knew one another, but what did that matter? Was this naivete or merely stupidity? I remind myself of this decision whenever I see some other young person doing the same, and attempt to not be judgmental. How do you warn someone when they believe they are doing the right thing?
I thought the time of month was right and assumed I was safe. Just this once. I was wrong.
There is nothing like missing your period, going to classes, pretending and hoping everything is fine. Then you start feeling nauseated and another period is late. In those days an appointment with a doctor was the only way to learn the truth, and I waited for the all-important phone call afterward. How well I remember picking up the phone on the kitchen wall when it rang, the way my heart dropped into my stomach when I heard the news. Then denial. This couldn’t be happening. How could I have let it happen? It was impossible. My parents couldn’t afford it and I couldn’t. Not the hospital, a baby or afterward. The first and only time in my entire life I had made love? So unfair. Life isn’t fair, is it. I was going to upchuck there in the kitchen. But I didn’t. I have never felt so trapped.
I told Bruce. I couldn’t have a baby, I couldn’t afford a baby. All my plans since childhood, all my efforts and saving to graduate would go down the tubes. No way. Bruce didn’t want to be a father. He was so unsettled. We didn’t even know one another any more.
Though abortion was against the law, he would help me find someone, but I said it would have to be a real doctor. And, just in case, I stopped drinking. If by some chance this baby had to be born, it would be born healthy.
Thankfully, a lady friend of his knew of a doctor in Detroit, Michigan, and Bruce paid half the $400 and I paid the other half. She drove me to Detroit to stay at her girlfriend’s apartment for the weekend and I would see the doctor early Saturday morning. She was like an older sister, and I don’t know what I would have done without her. When the doctor discovered I was nearly three months along, he nearly refused. I think the way I turned white and nearly passed out in his office caused him to go ahead. I was relieved how he wanted to impress upon me not to let such a thing happen again. It was clear he did not enjoy doing such a procedure. My two new girlfriends waited in the outer room while he proceeded, and to this day I wish I could forget the clanking of those instruments, one after the other into the steel pan. No anesthetic, nothing. The continuous pain of feeling my insides being ripped out was almost too much to bear, but I had no choice. Would it never end?
He handed me birth control pills as we left.
I was weak and sore but giddy with relief.
An unwanted child had not been born.
I never told my parents, though I did tell my sister, Diann, when I went home for a recuperative visit. As always, she stood by me.
I barely held my grade point average winter quarter, as a sort of depression set in after relief, and I recall nothing of the holidays that year.
I believe I was moving forward in a daze, ignoring any feelings, getting done what must be done.
I would not face the fact I was angry at Bruce for not accompanying me to Michigan; he had abandoned me. What hurt most was I had lost respect for him. I felt I had made the decision and gone through the after-effects alone, with little or no support from him. My parents could have been of no help, could not afford a baby, a child. I certainly could not. Bruce wanted nothing to do with it. Therefore, I needed to go on with my life, put the “incident” behind me. I did so in order to go on.
Spring quarter brought changes to me and to Kent.
Students for a Democratic Society were active on campus. I couldn’t help but listen to what their representatives said in gatherings outside the Hub and elsewhere, including what rumor said was the old house downtown that had been used for the movie, Psycho. I was particularly impressed one day when the SDS rep remained calm, substantiated everything he said with facts, and his adversaries in the crowd resorted to name-calling.
I had become an art student and now looked like one. I even overheard someone call me a hippie. On a visit to Strasburg with my family, my grandmother said, “What’s with all this black you’re wearing!” I loved that about Grandma Plotner. She was never one to hold back what she thought.
I was exploring who I was and what I believed, and the first of several peaceful marches I joined was for more art spaces on campus. Who could blame us for being sick of having to use basements and space heaters? We paid the same tuition as everyone else but were treated as second and third-class students.
Student unrest was everywhere. Black United Students organized for equality, people linked their arms during sit-ins, draft protests occurred around campus, and students heckled ROTC when they marched on the commons. Was anyone listening?
As usual, the media and everyone else believe trouble miraculously appeared on campus out of the blue in 1970. No one was paying attention in 1969. We never pay attention until it’s too late.
I would show photographs from the yearbook, but WordPress says it can’t for “security reasons.”
No classes for me that quarter.
I had to complete a “Practical Problem” in teaching, as well as student teaching in a local elementary and junior high school. Once again, Mary’s parents, not my dad, came to my aid. I had taken a driver’s course at Kent the previous quarter using her parents’ mammoth Buick while they were RVing around the states, and I would have the use of the same car and live at Mary’s house with her and another friend during spring quarter while I taught art at two local schools. My Practical Problem was teaching art at a summer program to kids from opposite communities: well-off and indigent. The kids could decide to play outside or come inside and “do” art. I was thrilled that my art program grew each time I held it and was soon overflowing. We had a grand time and held a show for kids and parents at the end of the program.
In the elementary school I was warned that the student before me had not been able to control the kids in her classes. I had to do something immediately to get control because they expected any student teacher would be a pushover. I was tested my first class, turned the lights out to get attention, told them they lost their art period, and declared a study period. Amazing how fast word got to the remaining classes. I had no problems after that. We had plenty fun, too.
The junior high art teacher (a man) told me that several of his students took art because it was the only class they could pass in order to graduate, so I should ignore them. They weren’t worth spending time on and had failed the prior year. These guys were worthless and all they cared about were cars. One of them even had a half interest in a garage. We were designing mobiles in groups of two or three. I challenged these fellows to see if they could use heavy car parts in such a way to balance them on a mobile. They accepted my challenge and created a beautifully creative piece, so amazing the principal set it in a special alcove outside. I’ll never forget the looks on those guys’ faces or how differently they walked around school. This was why I wanted to teach.
I had a small graduation party at our house at Portage Lakes.
I was so surprised that Dr. Page and a couple other psychology professors showed up. Since all my other friends had previously graduated and were gone, it was a little embarrassing that the only other people there were Mary, our friend and housemate, Joyce, Bruce, and my family. It was definitely different than that psych graduate student party the previous year. Still, we popped a bottle of champagne in the kitchen, and I was determined to have at least a light hangover when I graduated the following day.
Which I did.
Mere days passed when my chance came to grab that golden ring.
Mary and I were lying in the sun several days after when my folks and aunt and uncle came visiting to announce that Aunt Betty and Uncle George were going to visit my cousin Dave and his wife in Denver, Colorado a week later. They had heard I wanted to go to Colorado. Dave said I could stay with him until I found a place of my own. Did I want to go with them?
How many minutes did it take me to decide? I don’t recall.
The most difficult parts were turning down the teaching job I was offered at the elementary school where I had student taught, as the present teacher was pregnant, and telling Bruce. Though I think Bruce was half out the door anyway. He never asked me to stay. He was holding on to a lot he wasn’t saying and so was I. It was time for each of us to find who we were on our separate paths.
I madly packed boxes for shipping at some future date and put a few necessaries in two suitcases with my camera. It was happening. I was leaving the past behind and heading west to the mountains!
Someone told me later that Dad said, “I didn’t really think she’d do it.”
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.
Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you think and neither does WordPress and this blog.
I thought I hit the Publish button on this post weeks ago. This is what I get for trying to keep too many new “balls” in the air at the same time. Therefore, time wise, I am a little out of order here, so I hope my estimable, loyal readers will accept my humble apologies.
Despite what happened to me, in the next few years I learned I was fortunate in so many ways.
Whatever success I gained was due to Mom’s loving support and instruction, an open, inquiring mind from reading, and several excellent teachers. I cannot say enough about responsible parenting, good teachers and reading. By loving support I don’t mean letting children do whatever they please. Responsible parenting is teaching children to be responsible for their actions—that every action has a consequence—good and bad. I believe children need to learn the value in all things—from their toys to the money they earn to the family pet.
By having so much less, I valued what I had so much more, and I felt strong when later I earned what I had.
I must admit that the persistence I acquired, and not merely the willingness, but the motivation, to take risks was also partially due to the difficult circumstances in which I grew up, to having to deal with my dad.
Not only did we have little money, but Dad was anti-social concerning our family. The only socializing we did was with his relatives and a few times with the local volunteer fire department after he became chief. He was adept at presenting himself as a positive role model to others. Except for Mom’s job, we were entirely cut off. At nearly eighteen, I not only had no car, but had never learned to drive, and I needed a job.
Mary’s folks came through for me. Her father was a manager at Babcock & Wilcox in Barberton, a town nearby.
He recommended me for their secretarial pool and I could ride to work with him. I was grateful for the opportunity.
My excellent typing and decent shorthand skills quickly passed me through B&W’s secretarial pool and into a position as secretary to the Manager of Systems and Procedures. This was the first of a series of job situations that repeated throughout my working career: I enjoyed the challenge of learning something new, but once I knew the job well and it became routine, I became bored. Plus, the Systems and Procedures offices were in the basement. I rose in the dark, never saw the light of day and came home after dark. For a person who loved nature and being outside, this was a nightmare.
The most exciting day was when my boss tossed what he thought was his finished unlit cigar into his metal trash can and the trash caught on fire. Three men running around trying to find the nearest fire extinguisher! I calmly took my trash can and dropped it into the one on fire, smothering it. Silly little female secretary.
I paid Mom and Dad rent while I worked and life was better in the summer, especially weekends.
For the first time I had a little money for clothes and kept a tight budget for everything in a spiral-bound secretarial notebook. I used this method for years. Under budgeted “Entertainment” was music and movies. Sometimes I could get Dad to take me and Mary or me and Natalie to the bus stop and pick us up in Akron after lunch, shopping, or a movie, and we had better not be late. Ever since, I have been an anxious stickler for being on time. We went to the Palace or the Loews Theatre for movies. I dare say: They don’t make theaters like this any more—like entering a beautiful castle with fancy gold coving, ornamental moulding and heavy red curtains.
Mary and I often bought a few pieces of chocolate at the Fanny Farmer store nearby to take into the movie with us. We even tried chocolate-covered ants from the Polsky’s department store on Main. We saw Mary Poppins, 2001, and a terrible science fiction film. The last was so amateur I recall seeing the zippers on the back of the aliens’ costumes!
Our favorite lunch was the Tea House Inn, and a couple times the summer after I began college Mom joined us. We three loved Chinese food and the delicious oolong tea they made in a huge pot. That tea got us gabbing away like crazy.
“Shall I pour again?”
“When did you start smoking?”
“A few months ago, in school.”
“I wondered. I saw the hole in your sheet.”
“Smoking keeps me awake when I’m studying.”
“You shouldn’t smoke in bed.”
I was buying a pack at the store across the street from campus when I saw a newspaper headline that smoking caused cancer. I put the pack back and never bought another. No way was I going to chance something as unimportant as smoking even remotely end all my future plans and experiences, whatever they might be.
It was late summer before I went to Kent that the following happened.
I planned to go to a movie with Natalie. Dad was going to take me to Natalie’s place above her folks’ bar to pick her up, then on to the bus stop, or maybe all the way downtown, I can’t recall. I was late. I couldn’t help but wonder if I hadn’t been late, it might not have happened, but they say it would have been worse.
You may recall I mentioned it was a good thing that Dad wasn’t around when Natalie was at our house because she was so outspoken. It seems she was that way with her stepdad, as well.
I have written the following from the point of view of a character in one of my manuscripts. It was easier to write that way. This is the first time I have written from my point of view.
We pulled up in front of the bar, but there were already two police cars in the parking lot. Dad told me to stay in the car while he got out to talk to the policeman who came out of the bar. I held my hands together and watched him and the policeman. Something bad had happened, but I didn’t know how bad. My heart was pattering. You can actually feel your heart beat at such times.
Dad got in the car and we pulled away. He didn’t say anything right away, but told me as we drove home. Her mom was there and heard everything. Natalie had argued with her stepdad. He picked up a large knife and stabbed her repeatedly. She was gone.
When we got home I sat on my bed on the top bunk. Took deep breaths and let them out. I had not been as close to Natalie as to Mary, but still. I couldn’t imagine her being gone. I felt bad I hadn’t been closer to her. I was at a loss as to what to do. A few tears came but I didn’t sob. Shouldn’t I feel worse? I imagined how she must have felt when it happened and couldn’t stand that. I sort of went numb.
Nobody talked about it, except on the news. I didn’t want to discuss it. I went on with my life and my job at B&W.
I hung in for nearly a year until one night I broke down.
I couldn’t sleep. Mom found me up and sobbing in the middle of the night.
“I can’t stand it,” I said. “I have to go to college. I don’t care if I just start and go for one year. I”ll figure it out, somehow. But I can’t stand my life.” I don’t recall what else I said, but that was the gist of it. She talked to Dad and they would let me save what I earned for school instead of paying them rent as I had been. I applied for a National Defense Teacher’s Loan and got it. I would go to Kent State University because it was a good teacher’s college and it was close enough that Dad could drive me there; and I could afford the first year along with the loan.
I didn’t mind the job so much when I had a goal—Kent State University in the fall of 1964.
I was thrilled to be in a new environment with new and interesting people, learning new things, living my dream.
I was older than my two roommates in Korb Hall, the freshman dorm. No matter. No matter my English class was pedestrian and huge; I was merely grateful to be there. I was grateful for all of it.
I was fortunate to grow up in an area that was all white with all white schools. I say this because no one told me I should fear anyone who was different than me. No one said I should fear or dislike a black or brown or yellow or red person. Consequently, I made up my own mind. I wanted to meet, to get to know everyone and everything that was different from what I grew up with. I read constantly and ached to experience that outside world, including the people. Reading had saved me from becoming insulated—reading and escaping to Kent State.
Kent was an escape from my abusive dad and from the stifling life in which I grew up. The second or third time he brought me home from Kent for a visit we were driving down the highway when he said, “Well, did you get any yet?”
I wasn’t surprised, merely silent. That same old tight, black feeling—back to that little girl. No words. I could say nothing. Now that I’ve had therapy, there’s so much I would say. Lord, so much.
Here it is: “How can you say that to your daughter? You’re not a father. You’re supposed to protect me, you f*cker! You son-of-a-bitch! What is the matter with you? You sick, sick man!” Whew, I went on longer than that, but I got it out.
I have no photographs from high school or college. They were all in one album that disappeared in the last move in Tucson—a tough practice in letting go. Those years at Kent were the best years of my life up to that point and I recall those photos better than most taken much later.
I was nineteen years old and for the first time actually began meeting new young people, including boys.
I had my first kiss outside Korb Hall. I recall thinking, “What a disappointment.” I had probably read too much and the guy was a freshman, like me, and a year younger than me. I looked (and probably behaved) much younger than my age.
One roommate I liked, the other cared nothing for being in school except that her boyfriend attended Kent. She lasted one semester before dropping out.
I was ironing my sheets one night in what we called the “fishbowl” because it was in the middle of the floor and all glass on two sides, when it occurred me to wonder why. I was ironing sheets, pillowcases and underwear merely because my mom had. What was the point in wasting my time ironing such things? That was the last time.
I met Dennis through Ski Club, which I joined to learn how to ski and meet people. The first night while hanging onto the tow rope—going up, of all things—I crashed by hitting a rock hidden under the snow. Ending up in the health clinic for a week with a hematoma, my left knee has remained forever weak, which has kept me from downhill skiing, but not from cross-country.
I don’t know if I would have passed Chemistry without Dennis’s help. Everyone in my Chemistry class was aware the professor was long past retirement. He couldn’t hear and half the time couldn’t remember what he was writing on the board.
Dennis and I played chess in Korb Hall’s lounge a couple evenings a week. He was a great guy but began talking about love and dating no one else. Though I didn’t want to see him go, I had just begun my new life and wasn’t ready for being more than good kissing friends.
I look back now and wonder what might have happened, if not for Dad. I would never have become serious, but maybe Dennis and I would have gotten closer. On the other hand, I knew nothing about contraceptives and probably Dennis didn’t either, so maybe our breakup was for the best. Particularly considering what happened later.
In my quest to get to know all sorts of people I joined Internationals Club. Rather socially naive, I went on a date with an Iranian fellow who took me to an expensive restaurant and dance club in Akron, where I thought we were getting to know one another. Every couple was much older than us, and, wow, could he dance. I have a good sense of rhythm and could follow. People actually backed off to watch us. I expect only wealthy young Iranian men were able to attend college in the U.S. I felt like an uncomfortable Cinderella.
Upon return to campus, I had to be clear that at least this American coed wasn’t about to “put out” for one night on the town. Probably Iranian men were told stories about those wild American women. I never saw him again. To my regret I’ve never met a man who could dance like that again.
I had much better luck making friends with a wonderful young woman from India with whom I worked with part-time. I wish we had kept in touch.
I applied for off-campus housing for the next year, and the following summer I went back to B&W for a horrible summer job. But it paid decently and I knew I would be going back to Kent in the fall. I also applied for a grant. As long as I kept my grades up I would keep the loan.
Please excuse the cliché, but my sophomore year would be beyond my wildest dreams.
Once upon an era two mice were put in the most wonderful cage either could imagine.
The cage was so vast they could hardly see past all the various plants and toys to the metal bars at the far end. There were tiny fruits growing on the plants, balls to play with, a ferris wheel to run around on when tearing from one end of the cage wasn’t enough, and even a maze to learn for extra treats. They were both smart mice with great imaginations and learned the maze fast.
The trickiest play was the button push for water. It poured out into a little stream when you pressed your paw on the right one. That took many whisker twitches to figure out. But they got it.
Someone they called god came every other day to clean up after them, which was best of all. God put them here, didn’t he?
They built a nest in the best place beneath their favorite fruit tree near the water stream (there were so many fine places) and birthed six little mice. Oh, joy, six more mice running around and playing. It wasn’t long before six little mice became thirty mice and even more fun was had. Except when those mice turned into thirty mice and god came and not only cleaned, but removed some of the mice. They were missed, at first, but more mice were born to replace them.
Time passed, and one day god did not arrive to clean their mess.
Two darks later, and he didn’t arrive. Four darks later and their shit piled up, creating an interest to flies and other small critters the mice did not care for. There were no treats from the maze, either, no matter how often one ran it.
Also, it was getting a bit crowded in paradise.
One young mouse named Seed said, “Maybe we should do something.”
Another mouse said, “God will provide.”
So they did nothing.
The shit piled up and more mice were born, and many of them were hungry.
Seed tried. “Remember who did best in the maze?” she said. “What will happen if we don’t clean up this mess ourselves? Use your imaginations.”
But they did nothing.
One mouse named Wiley, bigger than the others, got his friends and stood guard over the water button. “Bring me your females or you get no water, clean space, or places to play.”
Soon mice were fighting over whose females went for water and who got the cleaner spaces. Dead mice as well as mouse shit lay everywhere, and paradise began to stink and attract ever more undesirable creatures.
By now Seed had little mice of her own and friends who were trying to clean up spaces by tossing shit and dead mice out of their cage, but they couldn’t keep up as so many other mice were shitting and killing others to get clean space, water, and food.
Their plants no longer provided and hungry mice killed one another for food.
They were so crowded and filthy many became ill and spread disease. Those who were once healthy became weak. Flies dove everywhere, feasting.
By now Seed was a great grandmother, and watched her grandchildren and great grandchildren fade with disease before her eyes, the once beautiful plants shrivel among the stinking piles of shit.
Say what you mean and mean what you say. Let a person know who you truly are. That is intimacy, real intimacy. That is a start in getting to know who they are. If they are not willing to let you in, maybe they are not worth your time.
I never wanted to play games in my relationships as that sort of game is a waste of time.
That is one area where I was, and still am, pretty judgmental. I was behind in getting on with my life—with so much catching up to do. Gee, I had been secluded until college and was a whole year older than everyone else in my peer group!
I found a copy of the 1966 Chestnut Burr online with the name of the play and photos of Bruce. He’s the one singing his heart out (with the girl) upper left.
Maybe I should have kept my Kent yearbooks, but I went through a cleaning frenzy at one time in my life when everything I owned needed to fit in my Toyota hatchback or it wasn’t truly necessary. That’s another story.
He called me the evening after we met at the “Take Me Along” strike party. He wasn’t about to play games either. I believe we were both excited about what we had found in one another—someone who wanted to discuss what they believed in, what they wanted out of life, what their dreams were.
I’ll never forget that night together. How eager he was for me to see downtown Kent’s wet train tracks reflecting the glow of colored overhead lights after the recent rain. Plus, his dad had a sailboat; I must go sailing; I would love it. And books we discussed, plays, writers. I can’t recall it all. So many years, so long ago.
He lived in Cleveland Heights and that summer I met his folks and his sisters and learned to sail Lake Erie and even raced a once or twice. Having nearly drowned once in Turkeyfoot Lake when I was little, I fought through my fear of the water and loved sailing, though my heart often shivered nearly as hard as my stomach muscles when I stretched far over the side as we raced with the wind. There is something glorious about flying along with nothing but silence, spray and wind power. You feel it through and through; you are part of it.
I got the same feeling when I went gliding for my sixtieth birthday above the Animas Valley in Colorado. Free.
As with most, if not all, relationships, ours wasn’t perfect.
Seams began to unravel. Bruce was not happy at Kent, cut classes, and flunked out spring quarter. He must have been aware what this meant in 1966 during the Vietnam War, and it wasn’t long before his family, friends and I were aware, as well, when he received his draft notice. As with many others, the government had been waiting to pounce.
Curious, how Bruce also had two close friends who appeared opposites on the outside. His oldest friend since childhood was Bill, president of Sigma Chi fraternity, with whom we sometimes double-dated. Bill was also a sailor, and I soon learned of Bruce’s strained relationship with his Dad by way of Bill. The first time the four of us cleaned the bottom of the boat it became obvious that Daddy T. wished Bruce were Bill, and it was probably obvious to Bruce, as well. How many years had this been going on? Did it have something to do with why Bruce had let his classes slip? With why he was letting his life lead him to the army and Vietnam? This wasn’t the only time I noticed remarks from Mr. T that were reminiscent of my own Dad’s emotional abuse.
Poor Bill. I could tell Mr. T’s attitude embarrassed him.
Maybe I should have said something to Bruce, but I didn’t. I didn’t feel strong enough in my own mind at the time. Merely intuition niggling at my brain, and who was I to say anything?
Bruce’s other good friend was a tall, gangly gay actor who I believe wanted more from Bruce than Bruce was willing to give. Yet they remained friends and he and I got along fine, as well. He was always in good spirits whenever I saw him, good company for Bruce, who I soon learned tended toward dramatic depression. It took me a while to learn that Bruce liked to create drama, which took its tole on me. He once accused my life as one of “hopping down the bunny trail,” probably because I saw my cup as being half full, where he saw his as half empty.
Curious how we both suffered the damage of having to grow up with a father’s constant emotional abuse, yet our basic approach to life was totally opposite. But I had the unfailing love of my Mom and a sister I was close to, plus those stories I shared with Mary. Was that the difference? Bruce and I never spoke of this. Yet, at the time, I was never aware of holding anything back.
A new friend from one of my classes, Andrea, or Andy, and I rented a small second-floor apartment in a house on Lincoln Street off Main across from campus beginning that summer, and two other girls shared the two bedrooms, kitchen, and attic with us. Most summer weekends I spent with Bruce in Kent or with him somewhere in or around Cleveland, often sailing. We saw Dr. Zhivago that summer, and I’ll never forget how we were equally mesmerized by the beauty of the scene with Zhivago in the frozen dacha with nothing but the distant sound of howling wolves.
One night, in particular, stands out—the night I worried I might get arrested for drugs.
I had never even smoked marijuana, but this evening Bruce took me to see a friend who lived in an abandoned store on the east side of Franklin Avenue, next to the railroad tracks west of downtown. The place was rather large, about twenty by twenty feet with a high ceiling and thrift-store type furniture scattered willy-nilly much as the four fellows lying about on it were. The place smelled musty, like old clothes and uneaten food. The only lights were a couple lamps and a candle or two. Bruce introduced me to Kurt, a talk, black-haired, rather imposing fellow who anyone would likely have run from if they had seen him on a dark night in an alley. Dressed in ratty jeans, old leathers, and tee-shirts, none of these guys looked like your typical Kent student. I sat on one of the sofas next to Bruce while he and Kurt conversed awhile, long enough that I eventually needed to use the bathroom, though I didn’t want to. What in the world had I gotten myself into this time?
That bathroom has stuck in my mind all these years. It was entirely painted black, including the inside of the toilet! But it was clean and didn’t smell.
My gosh, such excitement when I came out. Red and blue lights flashed through the picture windows in front of the apartment/store reflecting against the walls. A police car had stopped another car directly outside and Kurt was freaked. In an angry, half-whispering, anxious voice, “Anybody got any drugs on them? You better not. If you do you’re outa here.” He walked back and forth, back and forth, like a nervous leopard in a cage, and turned the lights out, leaving only the candles lit. Bruce told me Kurt had recently gotten out of prison and was on parole—he had warned everyone not to bring drugs into his place.
One fellow eventually gathered the nerve to shuffle to the door and slip outside to find out what was going on. Turned out young girls were out drinking, driving—and getting ticketed.
One fellow peeked in from a side door in the rear that I hadn’t realized was there and said, “You gotta see this.” We all followed him into the back of the next room which had even larger floor-to-ceiling front windows reflecting the blue and red flashing lights onto the ceiling and walls. A huge Harley motorcycle stood in the middle of the room facing the windows and on it, one long booted leg stretched to the floor, sat a skinny, black leather-and-chain-clad fellow silently watching the goings-on. Totally silent. But he didn’t appear to be anxious. Merely still.
When we returned, Kurt told me, “That was Turk, our resident Hell’s Angel. He never says much.” I was a little surprised at how softly Kurt spoke to me. He had a look in his eyes I hadn’t expected. Almost pleading.
The cops left and I was included more in the conversation afterward, about how Bruce and I met and school. It got pretty late and was obvious how tired we were. “I have something that will keep us awake,” Kurt said. Little white pills. Bruce didn’t hesitate. I did, for a few seconds. I had never taken anything, never even drunk coffee. Only tea. Why didn’t it occur to me that this was the guy who had been so insistent earlier about no one having any drugs? Maybe these were legal? Probably not. But I took one. Bruce went to sleep, but Kurt and I stayed awake all night. Talking.
It occurred to me that he had put Bruce to sleep on purpose. But we did just talk. I believe he needed someone to talk to, the same as Bruce and I had originally—about what he wanted from life. Maybe he never had before. Another lost soul. He was a scary-looking guy with a big heart deep inside like everyone else. He had made mistakes and needed help. I could be there for him for one night.
He took me to breakfast in the morning, then we found Bruce and said goodbye.
I saw him once more, frightening one of my roommates merely by showing up at our door. I had another long talk with him in our attic, but I had to be clear that I could be his friend and nothing more. I was Bruce’s girlfriend, and I think he respected that. It was one of the things he appreciated about me. That was the last time I saw him, and sometimes I wonder what became of Kurt.
Bruce became more undependable. We made plans he either showed up late for or didn’t show up at all. Then he had Bill bring me up to Cleveland one day when he was supposed to do so himself, and I waited at the sailing club for him to show for over an hour. Later I told him I didn’t want to be turned into a nag, I merely wanted to know what was going on.
It was time to have a long talk about where we were.
It was time to tell him everything, including what I had held back. If I let it all out, maybe he would, too.
We met in the attic of our apartment, the same place I had talked with Kurt. Narrow, steep steps led up under the pitched roof where a bed covered with pillows and an East Indian spread served as our sofa. During the day light came in the window at the far south end of the room, but at night we lit a drip candle set in a wine bottle on a little carved wooden Indian table I had found at a shop in Akron. If I recall correctly, I think we also had a round, paper hanging lamp we sometimes turned on for extra light.
Tonight, though, I wanted only the candle.
Bruce was the first person I told of Dad’s sexual abuse. I wanted him to understand why I wasn’t able to have sex with him, why I held back after so many months. I would reach a certain point and my mind went elsewhere, anywhere, furiously attempting to make sense of what was happening.
I told him I understood if he needed to find release elsewhere, or leave, but I needed him to be truthful.
After a long discussion, he wanted to work within our relationship. He didn’t think I was a bad person; he didn’t believe what happened was my fault. I recall feeling quivery and excited with relief. I felt closer to him than ever.
What did he think of going into the army? “It’ll be an adventure.” That was it. Maybe it was one place he would show his dad what he was made of.
At the end of summer he went off to basic training and I began my junior year at Kent.
Bruce had strongly supported me in my change to an art education major, and I began taking required art classes immediately. I looked forward to these more than any courses I had taken at Kent previously, even though I would have to stay in school a fifth year to complete my teaching certificate.
I remained rather politically conservative, having been raised that way, but I was soon to be exposed to liberal and radical ideas. Much would change within the next few years, both at Kent, which was basically a conservative teacher’s college, and with me personally.
A person’s entire life can change because of one decision. Because a good friend says the right thing to you at the right time, and gives you a little push when you need it. But it’s up to you to take the risk. To step forward and step into what life presents you “take the bull by the horns.” Live or not live.
I had sworn I would live, so when I was presented the choice I stepped through my fear. That fear is nothing compared to what so many face, when you think of young men and women going to war or those children and others in Syria and Africa and elsewhere. But it’s those little fears we all face nearly every day that are so easy to deny, to skip over, that bring us down, decision by decision.
My sophomore year I became good friends with my two roommates.
We rented the second floor room of a three-story grey house on Sherman Street across East Main from Hilltop Drive. They were opposites in many ways, but alike in their open friendliness and sincerity. Lovely, petite, dark-haired Susan was a wealthy sorority WASP from Pittsburgh; Sue was a hefty Jewish girl from New Jersey. Sue’s education depended on a loan and a grant like mine. We three got along famously. Though we were not in a dorm, we were guarded over by a “house mother,” half of a young married couple who lived downstairs and made sure all house dwellers followed house rules.
For a short while I dated a young friend of the couple, but he was very much a fraternity type, and we had little in common. I went out with another young man who was much the same. Being an education major and dressing rather conservatively in the typical A-line skirt of the times, I appeared different than I was—a hippie at heart—when few were known as such.
I worked part-time in the campus library and babysat for English Professor Leeds. Both children were pale blond, Phoebe ten and Coby nearly eight, if I recall correctly. Both were highly intelligent and precocious and we were reading and discussing Lord of the Rings. One night Professor Leeds came home late and let them stay up to meet his guest, the beat poet and author of Howl, Allen Ginsberg. I was thrilled to meet him, too.
When I returned to my room that night I thought, This is why I left home. This is why I am here.
Meeting someone like Ginsberg was why I ate baby food for nourishment because I couldn’t afford much else. Sometimes I fixed Mom’s recipe for slumgullion because it was protein and cheap. Or splurged on a fifty-cent Burger King from next door. I loved peanut butter on toast—even better with lettuce on top. We had a useful little kitchen on the first floor with cupboards and a couple refrigerators with our food labeled inside.
I don’t recall who came up with the idea first, but we three roomies decided to go to New York City for spring break.
Sue’s aunt had an apartment in Brooklyn we could stay in for free, and Sue had never actually seen the usual tourist sites in the city, even though she lived in New Jersey. Susan invited me to stay with her overnight in Pittsburgh on our way east. How I saved for this trip, and what a trip it was.
Imagine me, who had only been outside Ohio once with the high school band, on my way to New York City with a girlfriend. In Pittsburgh her dad took us to lunch at some fancy sports club containing huge windows, white tablecloths, and high ceilings of which I don’t recall the name. What remains in my mind is the couple with two children that sat across the enormous room from us speaking French and drinking wine, the two children with impeccable manners and also drinking what appeared to be wine.
In New York, we rode the subway into the city early every morning and home late every night. We had a grand time discovering different ethnic places to eat, and wore our feet out wandering the art museums. A young Chinese fellow sent us to a Chinese restaurant where we pointed to the menu for our food as no one spoke English—it was delicious! We attended a Broadway play one afternoon and that night ate at the Four Seasons, where the waiter was exceptionally nice to three young girls from the midwest. I have never experienced such impeccable service before or since.
We eventually made our way to the top of the Empire State Building. Those tiny cars and people far below; they weren’t real. Like ants scittering about. One could almost step out and squish them beneath your feet.
We sampled Nathan’s hot dogs and Carvel ice cream at Coney Island. I was so pleasantly exhausted at night not even the distant sirens kept me awake.
I loved New York.
I never thought of myself as a writer and never kept a journal. I was too full of the experience to write about it.
Then back to Ohio and studying for the final quarter before summer.
In order to see a play for free I volunteered to design and draw their posters. Wish I could recall the play’s name. Sue told me all about the student who played the lead. “You have to see him. He’s fantastic!” She and her best friend had seen him in the lead in several other plays. To her sorrow, he was never rehearsing the few times I showed up with posters, or vice versa. I don’t recall why, but I missed the show the night it played—a night biology lab, or I had to work.
Then came strike night—when everyone showed up to strike the set and party at someone’s house—three or four miles up the highway and I had no way to get there.
“This is your chance,” Sue said. “You’ve been complaining about not meeting anyone interesting.”
“But I have no ride, no way to get there.”
“You have two feet.”
“It’s all that way back late at night in the dark. By myself.”
“Get a ride with someone. If you don’t do this, I don’t want to hear any more complaining.”
She was right, and I knew it.
Lordy, I was scared, but I walked along the highway to the house address and walked in. Didn’t know a soul. It wasn’t as though I had worked with these folks on the show. I had done the posters, a sole job. They didn’t know me. I think I walked around with a ginger ale, or something. I’ve never been into beer. I listened in on a few conversations, but had no idea what they were talking about. I felt so out of place. I began to think maybe I should finish my drink and leave when someone came up behind me and said, “Hi,” and, “You look about as bored with this nonsense as I am.”
“It’s the same old, same old, every time. Everybody talks about something they aren’t and nobody talks about anything real. Or about what they really think or feel. What about you?”
I couldn’t believe it. Almost exactly what I had said to the last guy I had gone out with and he had thought I was crazy.
“I try to be. Like now. I don’t belong here. I’m sick of pretense and acting like everyone else wants me to be. I want to be how I really am, down inside.”
He held out his hand. “I’m Bruce and I’m so glad to meet you.”
That was the beginning. He made drinks for me of mixed something, which I surreptitiously poured into nearby plants (I hope they survived). We stayed up for hours talking, talking until we couldn’t stay awake talking any longer and fell asleep together on the living room floor.
Late morning he drove me back to the grey house where Sue practically jumped up and down in glee.
“That’s him, that’s him! That’s the guy, that’s Bruce T! Tell me everything!
Did this really happen to me? I’m somehow, maybe, involved with a Kent actor who is Sue’s heart throb? I needed a shower and decent sleep in my own bed before I could think straight, but I’m afraid I never did think awfully straight for some time concerning Bruce T.
He was my first love and I learned a lot with him. There is only one part of our relationship I truly regret.
Puberty began a search for meaning in my life. No one I knew talked about this issue, I didn’t, but I think most people around this age begin to examine the same questions. It’s a time when one discovers art, music, poetry and, yes, sometimes gets into trouble. It’s all part of the “Who am I” search: “What am I doing here,” and “What is really important.” I believe junior high or middle school education should have more focus on this existential quest, not merely on memorization of facts and figures.
I had recently gone through a search for God and read my little white bible from cover to cover.
Mom had been raised Episcopalian, and felt religion was a personal matter and didn’t need a church. Our family tried a local Presbyterian church for a while and Diann and I were baptized when we were small but, as Dad had no interest, we soon quit attending. The experience of church and Sunday School hadn’t felt real to me. It had been more social than spiritual. I needed to feel purpose—why had these things happened to me? How might I feel safe?
I believed in the Christian God wholeheartedly. But why hadn’t he answered my prayers? Was I truly a bad person? Did I need to do something to be good again?
Mary’s family belonged to an Episcopalian church, so I started going with her every Sunday. I liked the young minister. I liked what he said and I liked their style of worship. It felt real.
Then I joined Rainbow Girls, the young women’s Eastern Star. I cannot say what this group is about because one swears to never reveal a thing and, even though I don’t believe in it, I stand by what I swore. I will only say it was, once again, another attitude of privilege that turned me away. I run into this separation of those with and those without, us and them, again and again, and I refuse to be a part of it. I see it in churches, in schools, in so many organizations, and it makes me sick.
I opened my spiritual search wider and read books on other religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism. I read about Mohammed. I discovered that Christianity is not the most popular religion in the world. Popular? I can apply such a word to religion?
I was “freaking out.” I still said my prayers every night, but didn’t know if “anyone” listened. I felt betrayed by the one thing I always thought I could count on.
What if there was no God?
Meanwhile, Diann and I had a bedroom with a door we could actually close, even though it had no lock and we were still in bunkbeds. That door was a new-found luxury.
Once in Coventry High School our classes were separated into college preparatory and those who wouldn’t be going to college.
I needed to prepare for work, which meant shorthand and typing, but I also wanted to be ready for college, though I knew my family couldn’t afford it. Mary’s could. I would be left behind when she left for college—that was a given. I took classes for both.
My sophomore year a new girlfriend entered my life.
Natalie, who lived above the bar her parents owned on the corner of 619 and Dusty’s Road, a short ten-minute walk from our rented house. She was a tall, precocious girl who could talk your head off and did. Probably because she had no siblings and was pretty lonely. She adopted me and Mary and attached herself to us and our walks, and our stories. If we weren’t available, she latched onto my mom, and talked and talked at her until we showed up to give Mom relief. Natalie was a straight A student, though, and the only one of us smart enough (and Catholic) to root for Kennedy in 1960. The rest of us had Republican parents and were, I hate to admit, for Nixon. Before then, all I can recall is my folks being for Eisenhower.
The Kennedy/Nixon election in our high school sophomore year was the first I was aware of watching debates or noticing news coverage. Natalie nearly had me convinced and, by the time Kennedy won, I didn’t mind in the least. Of course, I kept my mouth shut around Dad and, thank goodness, Natalie wasn’t at our house when he was home to argue with him. I can imagine what that would have been like. Nowadays, I wish I could have been more like her. Except for the horror that happened the year after we graduated.
The summer before my junior year we moved again.
I don’t know why, except that we moved only a street away from Mary’s house! And a few streets from Patty, a new friend for Diann, who would become her best friend for life. Dad’s boss lived nearby (Dad had been a plumber for some years), and his sons’ German shepherd, Lance, discovered us and joined Mary and I on our walks all summer long, even to the drugstore where Mom worked. He’d wait patiently outside the door while we went in for frosted nickel root beers or strawberry floats. Poor Maverick had to be tied to his doghouse in the backyard because he would never stay with us or stick around our yard—ever the wanderer. If only he would have been like Lance, who was such a good pal and guardian. Our folks never minded our walking alone, but would always ask, “Is Lance with you?”
One night fairly late after supper Mary and I walked north along Boston Avenue absorbed in one of our stories.
At that time the west side of Boston Avenue was nothing but a large field with a pond and one large barn in the middle. The west ends of Melcher where Mary lived and Kruger where I lived met Boston a little north of where we walked. Lance generally trotted about eight yards ahead, circled around sniffing both sides of the road, wandered around behind us, and continued his loop to the front again. Once again in front, he stopped and growled while looking into the dark toward the field. I’d never heard him growl before. He quickly trotted up to us, wined and pushed each of us with his damp nose, looked back and wined again. This unusual action made us a little nervous, so we turned and headed up the road the way we had come. Lance kept looking back, growling, pushing the back of our knees with his wet nose, and circling around us all the way back to our streets and home. We will never forget that night.
Later we heard a young girl in the area was murdered and they never found the perpetrator.
In my senior year our band marched in the Orange Bowl Parade, and it was my first time out of Ohio.
Coventry’s band was famous in our area and my freshman year I wanted to join because I loved music and I wanted to be part of something special. I worked like crazy and got into marching band and orchestra. This made Dad proud as he liked music and could brag on his daughter in Coventry’s band, which consisted of exactly one hundred students. The rest were there in case somebody didn’t stay up to par, which is how I got in. Dad didn’t mind picking me and my friends, Mary and Janet, especially Janet, up from band practice after school. My third year the band leader, Ralph Heron, said, “Get your teeth fixed, buy a better clarinet, take private lessons, and next year you can play first chair.” I had a hole in my front teeth. Mom paid the dentist. I don’t know who paid for the lessons and my new instrument, but I got them and first chair in orchestra my following senior year. That was the year the band was invited to march in the Florida Orange Bowl Parade.
Florida! First ride on a train, a stop in Washington, D.C., on to a stay in Hollywood, Florida, fresh oranges, coconuts, ocean, the beach, a motel, all in the middle of winter. You can’t imagine what this was like for hinterland me. Like touching my toe into that long-awaited dream. How I wanted more.
By my junior and senior years I was still afraid of boys, but I could talk to them a little, about schoolwork anyway.
I was good in English and reading and good enough in history and government. I held my own in college prep classes. My shorthand and typing were excellent. Algebra? A change in classes and I never caught up. I discovered years later that many students were being tutored outside of class; the rest of us suffered.
Did I have a crush on anyone? Yes. But I was too frightened and he was shy. Neither of us had any idea how to talk to one another the one time we went out together. Such a bust. It was a Sadie Hawkins Day thing where the girl asks the boy, and I don’t know how I got the nerve to ask him. Another risk I took. Poor fellow. Too nice, too polite, to say no. If only we had been able to be ourselves that night we might have been able to have a good time.
Mrs. Miller, the college prep English Teacher held auditions for a production of Macbeth.
I loved reading, plays, Shakespeare. Did I have a chance with all the popular students wanting parts? I was one of the better students in her class. What if I tried out for one of the witches? It was a risk. One I could hide behind by being crazy. Lo and behold, I got the part! I frizzed my hair and cackled my way through my fear. Karen Klink, first witch. “Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble.” We played Macbeth for the parents and to a group in Cleveland. Another plateau overcome.
I graduated with a high B average. High enough for college except my parents had no money to send me. I would have to find a job.
Those early years were filled with anxiety, were often depressing, and peppered with moments of joy. Dad’s greed and anger left me with a lack of self-confidence, but filled me with determination and toughness that enabled me to face life’s problems I might not have had otherwise. Sometime in my teens I decided that when I lay on my deathbed I did not want to regret the way I had lived. I wanted to live an adventurous life, no matter the risks. I wanted to experience what I read about in books. That dream was a major part of what enabled me to get past what I faced in the present.
He never knew, no one did, how strong that dream was. Years later, days after I graduated from Kent State University, refused a local teaching job, and prepared to leave for Colorado, Dad said to my friend, Mary, “I didn’t think she’d really do it.”
It was in the summer when I couldn’t take Dad’s sexual abuse any longer, when that black bubble growing inside burst the first time.
He’d done it again, downstairs because I recall running upstairs and making it as far as Diann’s bed, not my own and not being able to stop the tears. More than tears as it all came up, everything I had been holding onto, all of it coming out and he followed up after me. Maybe he kneeled on the floor at the side of the bed or sat on it. I don’t know but he was there and he must have been scared. I recall most clearly him saying, “I wanted you to know what boys do. It was so you would know.”
That was the end of it.
Except for the way he teased my girlfriend Janet and Diann’s new friend, Millie, who was a flirt. And the fear of riding in the car alone with him, the silence, not knowing what to say, what he might say. The way he drove, on the next car’s bumper, not being able to say a thing. Sitting there, stiffly, hands at your side on the chair, holding your breath. Or, how he’d say to Mom, “What is the matter with you, stupid? Can’t you do anything right?”
This is the same man who was chief of the Portage Lakes Volunteer Fire Department for several years.
I must push through a series of plateaus, one risk after the other.
I had to prove myself to myself in order to build up confidence, and that took years, and therapy. But it can be done. I did it.
Looking back, puberty and junior high was the first plateau and one of the worst I faced.
Though it appeared Dad’s sexual predation had ended, nothing else about him had changed, and I felt more guilty than ever, was overweight, and overwhelmed with fear and anger about him and my entire situation. I hated getting “periods” and I hated getting breasts because I was no longer comfortable sleeping on my stomach. Turning into a woman was nothing but trouble. Look what had happened to Mom? Women were prissy and used by men. In tight situations they did nothing but scream and faint and act silly and I would never do that. It was stupid.
What saved me were the stories Mary and I put together where I was always a man.
Now I was old enough to ride my trusty bike six miles to her house on weekends where we would talk our tales for hours. I often stayed overnight and we played our characters into the wee hours of the morning until I could no longer remain awake. I never realized how our altered selves saved Mary as well as me.
Sometimes her Mom or Dad brought her to our house, and in the summer we slept on cots in the backyard with Maverick as guard. I developed a love of lying out under the stars, of the soft air drifting across my face, the sounds of night all around, the smells. If I can make it happen, I would like to die like that, outside, lying under the stars.
That was summer. The rest was the new Erwine Junior High School.
Horrible. I have never been “sick” as much as I was those two years of Junior High School. The first year we wore saddle shoes and wide crinoline skirts. Those skirts came in handy since we had a math teacher who loved paddling girls. The second year we wore straight skirts and warm hose. No such thing as girls wearing jeans or pants in those days.
I had a tough time keeping up with my school work because I was bored with most of it. I would rather read a good book, and I did half the time. Or gab with Mary on the phone, anything to separate from the real world. One semester I received an “F” in a math class. When I saw that report card I knew I was in big trouble. Dad only had to raise his voice once. His attention was enough to terrify me and Diann. The following semester I came home with an “A.” I can focus when I have to. That lesson has remained with me.
Supposedly, that first year in school we were allowed to choose an instrument to play, but only if that particular instrument was still needed by the band. I wanted to play the flute but, the band leader, Mr. Hadgis, had previously chosen his flute players. This was the story of my life in that local district. I, Mary, students like us, were perennially too late. The popular students always got the best book, the instrument they wanted, the tutors they needed. We received what was left. Funny how it happened that way. Ironically, some of those students quit the marching band to be cheerleaders anyway. Mary ended up with saxophone; I ended up with clarinet, Janet learned trumpet.
Poor Maverick—how he’d run when I picked up that cheap, silver clarinet. Squeak, squeak! Determination won the day, though, and I learned to play the thing.
Dick Clark’s Bandstand was the hottest thing on television. Dad bought a stereo player but not for rock-and-roll. He played Mitch Miller records and classical music. I was weird because I liked classical music. Mary and I played it as emotional background for our imaginations in the basement of her house.
These were also the days of TV westerns. “Gunsmoke” was a family favorite. In the evenings we watched what Dad watched, same on weekend afternoons, which meant football, even if he fell asleep—no touching that channel. During the week there was just enough time to pick up Mom from work and be home by 4:00 and put on our ears for “Mickey Mouse Club.” Fortunately, nothing else was on at that time that Dad wanted to watch.
Right before my high school years we lost the house on Pillar Avenue, as Dad couldn’t keep up the mortgage payments even with Mom’s contribution. Maybe he shouldn’t have bought the TV, the stereo, the rabbits, the trains, who knows what else. All the time he’d spent at Uncle George and Aunt Betty’s working on their house instead of ours—now he had to finish our house so it would sell. Finally. Mom would miss her kitchen. I never said, but I would not miss a thing about that house, except the backyard and woods.
I was thrilled when we rented a house on Dusty’s Road within walking distance of Mary’s house a couple miles away, across West Turkeyfoot Lake Road (619). Our stories became “walking” stories, miles and miles of walking the neighborhoods and down to Rex Lake at the end of Dusty’s Road and back.
A new start. A new house, closer to Mary. I would begin high school and get into the locally famous Coventry High School Band. I decided to lose those extra pounds I had put on. Everything would be different here. Wouldn’t it?
What do you do when your life is one of constant anxiety and fear? When you have no control over what happens to you? We found escape and joy wherever we could. I found them in books, in imaginative stories with Mary, in music, in food, in drawing, nature, and holidays. We had Mom to help us.
Though she was stuck in a difficult situation, Mom did the best she could.
We didn’t have much, but she kept the house clean and taught me and Diann how to help her keep it clean. We received a weekly allowance for helping to dust, vacuum and clean up after meals. The three of us often sang our way through the dishes, Mom washing, Diann and I drying. She taught us to cook and bake. I enjoyed preparing food, and liked eating good food, but hated canned peas. We were told to finish everything on our plates. “Remember the poor kids in China.”
I loved trying out new recipes, as did my friend Mary. When we were older we planned several family meals for our parents. Dad declared he was a “meat and potatoes” man, but he ate everything we served, especially desserts.
Holidays were our favorite time.
Mom helped us make our costumes for Halloween and, when we were little, walked the streets with us, even so far as to Aunt Amy’s house on Snow Avenue. One night we imagined we saw a witch riding her broom across the full moon.
For Easter, she gave Diann and I real woven baskets that we used over and over every year.
Mom filled them with grass, jelly beans, marshmallow chicks and bunnies, a chocolate bunny, a fancy sugar egg, and often some kind of little Easter toy. She wrapped a bow around the handle, and attached little fuzzy chicks to the handles and sides. The three of us always sat at the kitchen table and colored boiled eggs together, and she put the prettiest ones into the baskets. We never saw our baskets until after we searched through the house for them on Easter morning. She also made an Easter cake every year covered with her seven-minute icing and coconut sprinkles. In later years Dad barbecued a ham on a rotisserie outside after soaking it overnight in Bali-hi wine and pineapple juice.
Thanksgiving was reserved for Dad’s family.
We always went to Grandma Plotner’s house for the gathering of the entire Klink clan. It seemed we rode across Ohio country for hours to get to Grandma’s three-story house in Strasburg and sang “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go . . .” If it weren’t for the dark cloud that hung over me, the experience of the old rooms, Grandma’s garden, the cows in the pasture out back, and the barn where Grandma Jack shoed Amish horses would have been more enjoyable.
The dining room was the largest, yet barely sufficient for the huge table that sat eight to a side, depending on how close the family squeezed together. Kids sat at a card table on the kitchen end. An amazing, carved, wooden cuckoo clock hung high on the wall at the other. Grandma came from Austria, so I think the clock did, too—a little bird popped out on the hour.
Grandma cooked the turkey she and Grandpa picked out from a man who raised turkeys nearby so that huge bird was always fresh. I don’t care for turkey these days because it doesn’t taste anything like the turkey from those meals. I feel the same about most vegetables because they don’t taste like those picked from Grandma’s garden.
The women brought their special dishes; the table practically groaned with all the food. We all did by the end of the meal. Afterward, the women cleared the table and crowded the kitchen to wash dishes, while the men congregated in the small living room to watch football. Equality? Unheard of in those days. This was the 1950s, even into the 1960s with this family. Though by then I was off to college and a few of my cousins were growing up and beginning to stretch their minds.
Diann and I often went for a walk, with a dog keeping us company. Snow sometimes covered the ground. Generally we would end up in the high four-poster bed in the front room off the dining area and nap away the sluggishness of the meal.
If we needed to use the bathroom, there was a new one off the kitchen. When I was small, you had to go to the outhouse out back. I can still recall when Dad and Uncle George spent days constructing the new inside bathroom, which was after Dad learned to be a plumber. I don’t know who painted that outhouse bright pink, but it sure is pretty.
Diann and I were both horse crazy and rushed to the front window to watch the Amish trot by in their buggies. Fortunately, they gave our Grandpa plenty of work, as Grandpa Jack was a ferrier. He was also an excellent checkers player—American and Chinese. He taught me to play both, and I was so excited the day I finally beat him, many games later. Years later my older cousin David (Uncle George’s son) told me that Jack let me beat him. He did the same with David. Grandpa made me a beautiful wooden red and green painted Chinese Checkers set about eight inches square with the board laid out on top and a drawer for the marbles. I don’t know what happened to it and wish I still had it.
So many things I owned and boxed up disappeared when I went away to college, including my photographs. Dad said they had a flood in the basement that destroyed everything. I wonder. He would never have spent the time to sort out what could be saved from what couldn’t.
Dad didn’t care for his stepfather. I understand that most of the family didn’t, except for Aunt Peg who was Grandpa Jack’s daughter. I don’t know why there was so much resentment in that family. They hated their real father for leaving them and they disapproved of their stepfather. Was it because he came from Kentucky hill country? The youngest son, Uncle Warren, never showed up at the gatherings, not Thanksgiving and not the Klink family reunion every summer. This was a family of intolerance and secrets. I suspect mine was only one of them.
Mom made Christmas the best holiday of the year.
Suck anticipation! Once we were old enough, even before school, our house, our lives, turned magical. Especially if you compared the days to our usual reality. We visited Santa Clause and had our pictures taken. Even Dad got into the spirit when we were small, so his change appeared magical, as well. One year Dad bought a black and white television; I wish I could recall how old I was, and we watched a Laurel and Hardy movie called “Babes in Toyland.” I got so excited when the wooden soldiers marched after the bogeymen I shit my pants—literally.
For years I wanted to believe in Toyland; I dreamed about it, yearned to go there, where I would be happy and safe. I would get as far as the gates but could never get in.
Little girl and boy land
While you dwell within it
You are ever happy then
Mystic merry Toyland
Once you pass its borders
You can ne’er return again
Yeah, pretty corny now, but I would wake up with tears in my eyes.
Having come to the United States from England, Mom baked a number of delicious British holiday treats passed down through her family. A couple of our favorites were lemon cheese (here called lemon curd) and mince meat pie. She stirred the lemon curd at a low temperature on the top of a double boiler until it was just the right consistency, stored it in a canning jar on top of the frig to add to tart shells she made with special tart pans she brought from England. The two weren’t put together until just before eating. Mince meat was made three to four weeks before Christmas (Cross & Blackwell mince meat only), adding diced tart apples and brandy. When older, Diann and I helped make the shortbread, lebkuchen and iced cutout cookies. Oh, yes, can’t forget the date nut bars and Syrian jam cake made with Damson plums. What heavenly spicy aromas drifted through our house! All the goodies were spread across the coffee table on Christmas Eve, with a special plate of cookies laid for Santa. Likely Dad ate those, as he had quite a sweet tooth.
Diann and I went nuts decorating. One year I painted a winter scene on the three-by-four-foot mirror over the fireplace mantle. When we were little the windows were bare of decorations; no tree stood in the living room. We could barely go to sleep waiting for Santa to jingle his way to our house. We’d whisper to one another from our bunks, “Go to sleep so he’ll come sooner.” We might see him by peering out the three-by-five-foot paned window across from our beds that looked over the roof above the kitchen.
Once morning finally came and we woke Mom and Dad and padded downstairs—there it was: a decorated and lit tree with beautifully wrapped presents underneath! Years later after we helped decorate I knew Mom stashed our presents in the back of her and Dad’s closet upstairs. I never looked because I didn’t want to spoil the surprise. One of my first presents was a Lionel train set Dad arranged under the tree, a set I was never able to enjoy because he confiscated the entire thing, set it up in the garage on a table he built, bought more cars, houses, and parts, and played with it for a few years until something else took his fancy and his paycheck.
One thing I am thankful for—he didn’t drink. He couldn’t. Every time he drank beer or any kind of alcohol he developed a terrible headache. Migraines, I expect. I inherited the tendency from him, and years later a neurologist informed me that the anxiety from my childhood affected my chemistry, making me susceptible to migraines. I take prescriptions for them to this day.
New Year’s Eve was sometimes another Klink family event.
True to what I believe was an Austrian tradition for good luck (and a delicious one), homemade sauerkraut was served first thing on New Year’s Day, which meant right after midnight. For hours the women stood around the stove cooking fresh pork and sauerkraut in whoever’s kitchen the gathering was that year. Wish I still had the recipe.
Otherwise, the evening was quiet at our house as my parents never went out and, because of Dad’s headaches, never drank. Diann and I were excited about staying up late and watching TV. There were always treats left over from Christmas.
After all that excitement, reality set back in.
For years, even as an adult, I fought depression for the first months of the year until spring arrived when I could get outside. When I could escape the house. When the world appeared brighter. When I promised myself, “When I’m old enough I’m getting out of here . . . one day.”