Love Games Waste Your Time

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.

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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.

Gotta Have a Dream

 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.

John Paul Klink, my dad
John Paul Klink, my dad

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.

Poodle skirt
Poodle skirt, but we wore crinolines underneath (from an ad on the web)

 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?