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.