Grab the Ring, or Not?

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.

Me, Bruce, Diann, and Diann’s friend on New Year’s Eve at Mom and Dad’s.

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.”  

The Value in All Things

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.

Loews Theatre, now known as Akron Civic Theatre

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?” 

“Yes, please.”

“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 know.”

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. 

Korb Hall, today.

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.