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 much less, I valued what I had 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. I recall seeing 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. The caffeine in 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.
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.
Natalie was gone. Had passed is what I’m trying to say. Dead.
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 and leave 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.
And I was away from him.
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!”
At that point those years at Kent were the best of my life.
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.