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.