Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Weedle's Memoir

Here are the first 30 pages of Weedle's memoir in the works that she was working on in the last few years. Thanks especially to the guidance of Laurie Martin-Frydman and the good writers in her writing class.

I told my mother goodbye at the door. I wanted her to leave. She was part of the life I wanted to leave behind. I was nobody after she left. And that meant I could be anybody.

I looked around my room then. It was small and square like all the dorm rooms, with the door in the middle of the wall. I had one window opposite the door. It looked out on the circle drive and the parking lot beyond. Everything was very busy that first day, with cars pulling up and families getting out and delivering their daughters. I was drawn to the sounds even with the window shut, and I walked over to it. It had a little hand crank and when I turned it, the window slowly swung open out into the air. My room was on the second floor and the swaying tops of the trees on the round green lawn were right across from me. I watched the people driving up and families unloading luggage and boxes from their cars. The girls looked about the same as girls from my high school, but as I watched them, it dawned on me that I had never seen a single one of them before in my life and that they had never seen me. It was a strange feeling that settled into me for some future contemplation.

After a while, I turned away from the window and looked more closely at my new home. It felt strange having a room of my own, since my sister and I had shared a bedroom for years. I had gotten used to having my half and arranging my furniture and clothes and stuff so it fit and I still felt like I had room to breathe. Edie was so messy with bedclothes and discarded outfits all over the floor. We each had our own nightstands right next to each other and hers was a mess. Books stacked high always ready to fall over, candy wrappers stuffed around her clock and a sad little lamp with a dented shade that never got dusted. After years of living with Edie, I had gotten so I no longer looked at her part of the room.

So now I stood at the door of my dorm room and looked all around it, from one corner to another to another: the desk up against the wall, the dresser opposite, the small closet waiting for my clothes, and the bed along the wall next to the window. Even though my dorm room was only about half the size of a regular room, it seemed to me to be just the right size for me and my worldly possessions. I unpacked everything with my door standing open so I could see and hear the other girls moving in up and down the hallway. It felt less lonely that way. It seemed to me that I was more a part of everything. Still I loved being the only person in my room knowing that I could be alone whenever I wanted to.

Two girls came down the hall towards me with suitcases and paper sacks. Their parents came behind them with more bags, blankets, lamps and clothes on hangers. After they had deposited all their stuff in the middle of the room next to mine and their parents had left, they leaned around the corner and introduced themselves. Both of them were from Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Darby was slender and tan and energetic. She reminded of a little chipmunk, always on the move and busy. Carol was very pale with light blue eyes. She had black frizzy hair and a bad complexion. I hadn’t met anyone brand new for such a long time, they both fascinated me. They had been friends in high school and had worked it out so they could be roommates at K.U. And that was the strangest thing for me. It had only been a couple of months since I graduated from high school. But I knew I didn’t care about ever seeing any of those people again. It wasn’t that I disliked them. I just felt nothing for them. They were gone from my reality forever.

My mother, sister and brother were already becoming distant, too. I loved them just like always, but I knew the person who was their sister and daughter was disappearing minute by minute.

One of the first tasks that week was to decide what classes I would take. I picked up one of the big class catalogs in Strong Hall and started to look through it. I knew I had to take English and Math, but after that I had some choices. Even though I had to take some science classes someday, I decided to put them off for now. After looking through the History offerings, I picked Medieval History.

I definitely wanted to take French, my favorite language. I remembered my dad taking all of us-my sister, my brother and me-aside one evening when we were still in junior high school. It was one of those rare times when he wasn’t yelling at us or giving us the cold silent treatment. He spoke to us gently and seriously and it was such a novelty that we all paid attention. He started by telling us how some of our ancestors had come from France and that he hoped that we would go there someday. I was young enough to believe that I really could go to France. When he added that he hoped we would also learn to speak French in school so we would be ready to actually talk to the French people when we got there, I resolved to do just that as soon as possible. I wanted him to like me and be proud of me.

A faculty advisor had been assigned to me and the next task was to find him and ask him to approve my choices. I found his office in Strong Hall. It was dark and messy and full of books and papers on the desk, lining the walls, everywhere. Professor Johnston got up from his chair when I walked in. He taught in the Latin Department and I loved Latin so that made sense. Professor Johnston was small and thin and dusty-looking. He had bright blue eyes and gray hair and a beaky sort of nose. And when he smiled at me I thought he might have been cute once, but now he was just old. His clothes were baggy and dark and wrinkled. They didn’t seem to have any real color or shape to them. At the same time, they reminded me of the clothes my dad had worn, slacks and dress shirts and black leather shoes. But my father was always perfectly dressed. He chose his clothes carefully from the best stores in town and always made sure they fit right and were coordinated.

Professor Johnston looked like he got up every morning, grabbed some clothes off a chair or the foot of the bed and put them on. I decided it was because he was a super intellectual type who couldn’t concern himself with everyday stuff like clothes. The first thing he wanted me to do was to take the French Placement Exam. He saw that I had taken French for three years in high school and wanted to make sure I got in the right class. He also signed me up for the correct English and Math classes and approved my choice of Medieval History. Afterwards I went to Carruth-O’Leary to take the placement exam. It had been easy to get good grades in high school French without much work. But this was a new challenge. So I tried as hard as I could on the placement test and quizzed into a fourth level class.

I started classes the next week. It took me a couple of days to actually figure out where they were so I was late a few times. There were just so many buildings and so many rooms. A little voice inside my head kept telling me that I really didn’t have to go to class, that I was here all by myself and I could do anything I wanted. I ignored it at the beginning of the school year and went to every class for two or three weeks. It was autumn and it felt right to get up, get dressed and go to school just like I had for years. And I liked the classes, although not really because of what I might learn about History or math or English. I didn’t really care about that.

In Medieval History, our professor completely looked the part of a college professor. His hair was longish and kind of messy and he wore jackets with the patches on the elbows. He was always excited about Medieval times and was very animated. I loved watching him stride around the amphitheatre lecturing on serfs and nobles and the plague. I just couldn’t take notes; it seemed kind of disrespectful. Math and English were boring for the most part, but I enjoyed watching the other students work and take notes and ask questions.

Then there was French. The first day when I walked in I could tell that the other students were older than I was. Even then I could spot a freshman easily and none of these kids were new students. There were only about twelve people sitting at desks scattered around the room. After a few minutes, the instructor walked in. She was a beautiful woman, very young, a little shy and very serious. As soon as she greeted us in English it was obvious that she was from France. She was small and delicate, her hair was perfect and her clothes were beautiful. She usually wore suits with straight skirts and little jackets that stopped at her waist, and high heels. Her hair was shiny black in a soft bouffant style and her eyes were a beautiful blue. We all fell in love with her that day.

She started speaking quickly in French. I watched as the other students got out books and notebooks. They began turning pages and taking notes. I watched what they were doing and just followed along. I had almost no idea what she was saying. By picking up a few words here and there I was able to keep up that first week just by looking at other people’s notebooks and writing down homework assignments. When I got back to my room at night, I had time to go through the book and figure out how to do the homework.

After a couple of weeks of reviewing grammar, we began to read French Literature out loud. The professor decided that we didn’t need the desks anymore, so one morning we shoved them all off to the side of the room and grouped our chairs into a circle. There were only about ten of us and most of our time was spent in reading out of the French Literature books and discussing it. It was all stories and essays and poetry with some questions at the end of each section. I guessed that we were already supposed to know all about grammar and tenses and to have a huge vocabulary. I didn’t, but I knew enough to keep up for a while, and I loved reading out of our books every day.

One day the professor was late and we were standing outside the door waiting for her to show up with the key. I hadn’t gotten to know anybody in there; they all seemed so much older and I was very shy. One of the boys turned to me and asked, “Did you used to live in France?” I looked at him surprised and said, “No. Why?” He looked kind of embarrassed and said, “Oh we figured you probably did because your accent is so perfect.” Our instructor came walking up then and I didn’t say anything else, but it thrilled me to think that I spoke so well. I had noticed that the teacher called on me to read more than other students, but I just assumed it was because she could tell how much I liked it. And it was about the only thing I was good at in that class.

I had settled into life in the dorm. I spent almost all of my time alone, but that was fine with me. My door almost always stood open in case someone wanted to come see me. It faced out and down the hallway past the stairs and elevator in the middle all the way to the other end. I had no idea who lived down there, but it was fun to see girls going in and out of their rooms all the time.

I did get to know the two girls next door to me a little, especially Carol. She spent most of her free time in her room studying. She was taking Chinese of all things which was practically unheard of then. She spent hours practicing the characters writing them over and over in a legal size notepad. Every time I saw her she had this legal pad on her arm writing characters or mumbling them quietly to herself. It was as if it was permanently attached to her arm. We didn’t talk too much but I admired her immensely when I wasn’t thinking she was just crazy.

I hadn’t ever had any real girlfriends; I was shy, for one thing. And when I had lived at home, my sister and brother and I couldn’t ever have friends over because of my unpredictable dad. We never knew what kind of mood he might be in when he got home and it just wasn’t worth it. So I had spent most of the time in high school at home with my brother and sister. I really didn’t “get” the whole girlfriend thing. My best friend growing up had been my brother.

One day my mother drove over from Topeka to visit me. Just her. And just me. We went downtown to the music store. I had been saving my money to buy a guitar and I used it that day to get a small four string guitar. I thought my hands would manage four strings better than six. I loved Peter, Paul and Mary and imagined myself playing and singing on a big stage someday. I still had the completely fantastic dreams of an eleven-year-old, and pathetic as that was at the age of eighteen, I had no idea. I even bought a Peter, Paul and Mary songbook.

When we left the music store it was about lunchtime. There was a Woolworth’s dime store right next to it and we decided to go to the lunch counter there. It was the first time in a very long time that I had been alone with my mother. I had been at school for a couple of months and I’d gone home for some weekends but my brother and sister were always there too. This was so different. Part of me wanted to reach out for her and cry about my loneliness and isolation, about how huge K.U. was and how overwhelming. I wanted to talk about my dad dying and all the awful times before. I wanted to feel her arms around me holding me tight like I imagined she had when I was a little girl. But when I glanced over at her I saw her closed face. Not angry, not sad, just closed. So I kept mine closed too.

Most of the time I just moved along from one thing to another – a predictable cycle that didn’t demand much thought. I finally found all my classes and sat through them with varying levels of interest. Each night I did what homework I could or would do.

Before I went to bed I picked out my skirt and sweater for the next day. I lay down then with my door shut against the new world on the other side. The light from the hallway shined under my door and into my room a little. I watched it and thought about me in that room and everything else in the whole world on the other side. It wasn’t long before I figured out that deciding which dyed-to-match skirt and sweater outfit I would wear and what classes I would go to the next day and if I was going to do my homework or not weren’t really part of the whole equation that was my life. I was away from home for the first time and I was alone. Nobody was telling me what to do and when to do it. I began to realize that I could really do whatever I wanted. And what I really wanted to do was to wander around, watching.

The day after I bought my guitar I opened the case and took it out. The word Framus was written at the top where the strings wrapped around the metal posts. It was in cursive and slanted. I started calling it Framus. It was a little smaller than other guitars I’d seen, so it fit perfectly in front of me with my right hand on the frets and my left hand ready to strum or pick the strings. It felt just right. Of course I had no idea what to do after that.

But I got out my learn- to- play- the- guitar instruction book and tried the first few chords. They were different for Framus because it only had four strings. The book was designed for standard guitars and I noticed right away that it was going to be much easier to play. So I was able to figure out some chords right away. I hadn’t played an instrument since 3rd grade when my twin brother and I had taken piano lessons. It was thrilling to strum the strings and hear music. I immediately began to picture myself on a stage in front of throngs of concert goers. I must get ready for my adoring fans, I thought!

Soon I got out the Peter, Paul and Mary songbook and realized I only needed to know a few chords to play some of their songs. I started with Blowing in the Wind. It was a pretty song the way they sang it and I wanted to sound pretty. The idea of the song being several questions strung together with an extremely vague answer appealed to me. I liked to think that I was kind of mysterious and interesting like that. As for my voice, I had always sung in chorus at school and in choir in church. I had no idea how I sounded, but I knew I could sing a tune.

I walked back to the dorm after class every day. And in the fall the sun was moving further south a little bit each one of those days. I felt its warmth on my back as I took long strides over the cracked slabs of sidewalk. When I got to the dorm and opened the door to my room there was the sun again, shining through my windows, spread out on the floor, the wall, the bed. I had propped Framus up in the corner and sometimes, when I opened the door, the sun was shining on it. It glowed warm and golden and brown in the light.

So I picked my guitar up every afternoon, got my songbook out and started practicing. Only it didn’t have anything in common with practicing the piano when I was little. This was fun and was all about me and my emerging talent. I was amazed every time I mastered a new chord or learned to pick out a melody; it was as if I had this incredible secret that I would spring on the world when I was ready.

One afternoon after practice, I put Framus back in its spot in the corner and opened my door, There was a girl there, sort of ambling down the hallway toward me. And I knew who she was right away. I was so surprised to see her there. I knew she lived upstairs somewhere because I had passed her on the steps. Whenever I saw her, I just wanted to stare. She was completely different from every other girl in the dorm. She was like a visitor from another planet. And here she was, strolling up to me with a cigarette in one hand and a hint of a smile on her face, and saying, “Hi! I’m Lisa. Whatcha doin’ in here?”

All in the space of an instant, I thought, “Are you lost? Are you looking for someone? What are you doing here?!“ Then she was peeking into my room. When she saw Framus she said, “Yeah I thought I heard a guitar. It sounded good! Hey, it’s really nice outside. Do you want to take a walk or something?” I mumbled incoherently, but grabbed my jacket and followed her out the door, still wondering frantically what in the world she was doing.

We must have made an odd couple that day. I still had on my school “uniform” – matching skirt and sweater, stockings and black flats. My hair was in a style. I’m not sure what it was exactly, but it was a haircut of some sort. Lisa’s hair was not cut in a style. It was long and straight and shiny brown, with bangs across her forehead. It fell down and around her shoulders as she walked, and right away I wondered how that felt.

Lisa’s “uniform” wasn’t like anybody else’s in the dorm. She wore blue jeans, which no one else wore except on the weekends hanging around the dorm. They were straight-legged and came down over plain brown leather boots. She had on a sweater, but it had very little in common with most of my sweaters. My sweaters were all pastels and were designed to go with a skirt of the same color or some other neutral shade. They were slightly fitted and very neat and trim. Lisa’s sweater was sort of grayish brown and looked like someone had actually knitted it. It was a little baggy and came down way past her waist. It looked warm and comfortable.

So we walked around that day and got to know each other a little. I was completely puzzled by her showing up outside my room. I had thought I was mostly invisible except to the girls who lived next to me and others I said hi to in the hallway. It seemed like I had never been sought out by anyone my entire life. I didn’t want to ask her why she had been in the hallway that afternoon; I just wanted it to be Fate that she was there and we became friends.

Everything changed for me after I met Lisa. I had been sleep-walking for so long, but suddenly I was awake and I couldn’t wait to catch up on all the fun I’d missed. I found a pair of blue jeans in the back of my closet that I had brought to wear on weekends if I ever did anything fun and I bought a pair of comfortable plain black boots to tuck under them.

The first time I wore my blue jeans to class I didn’t have a big comfy sweater like Lisa’s. So I pulled my pale blue and white sweater out of the closet where it was hanging with the matching pale blue skirt and pulled it on over my head. When I pulled it down over the top of my jeans, something changed. It was a moment of transition – one of many those days. I could wear jeans and that sweater and have a foot in two worlds. One was where I’d lived for the past seven years – a world full of gray shapes and muffled voices. It was a place I wandered through, staying awake just enough to function.

The other one, the new world, was full of colors and sounds and feelings I had forgotten about, a world where I got excited about something as mundane as what I would wear that day. Before long, I found sweaters like Lisa’s and bought more blue jeans. My new look was complete then. But sometimes I wore that blue sweater with my jeans just because it gave me a thrill.

Even then I could remember getting that same thrill as a little kid out of wearing particular clothes. Every year in grade school, each student had an individual photo taken for the yearbook. And each year, my mom bought me a new dress to wear on picture day. My favorite was the one for second grade - a shiny brown taffeta. .It made noise every time I walked across the room or stood up at my desk. At recess it practically rattled when I ran across the playground. The brown taffeta was so shiny it was almost metallic looking and the color moved in waves of silver and brown across the skirt like a mud puddle with a thin layer of ice over it. There was lace around the collar and the sleeves. It wasn’t pink or blue or yellow like the other girls’ dresses – it was brown, the most beautiful brown in the world.

In first grade, my grandmother gave me a whole outfit, complete with white wool tights and black patent leather shoes. It was a dark navy wool skirt with straps that went over my shoulders and buttoned in the back at my waist. The skirt was gathered and stood out like a bell all around me. The straps were adjustable with two sets of clear plastic buttons on each one, buttons that were almost invisible. My mother always crossed the straps in the back to keep them from sliding off my shoulders. Even with that, they still slid off. I didn’t care. When they slid off my shoulders and slowly down my arms to my elbows, I felt kind of helpless and special, and maybe a little daring.

A white angora sweater went with the skirt. It had two tiny white buttons on the collar and my mother always tickled my neck when she fastened them. The sweater was so soft and warm next to my bare skin. Tiny short white threads stuck out all over it. I felt like a little white kitten when I put it on.

I had special play clothes that I had to put on as soon as I got home from school. And again I had a favorite set. It was a pair of corduroy pants and a shirt with flannel lining and a matching jacket. The pants were blue-green and that was a new color then. The jacket was the same color, but it had plaid blue and green pockets. I could get out of my school clothes and pull on the pants fast because they were elastic around the waist.-no belt, no zipper. Putting the jacket on slowed me down because it had big buttons, but I was still quick getting outside.

I remembered only one dress from high school. It was a dark rich wool burgundy that stopped several inches above my knees. Most of the school clothes my sister and I wore were simple skirts with blouses or sweaters. I must have gotten this for a special occasion and afterwards talked my mother into letting me wear it to school. The collar and cuffs were also burgundy but had ivory lace stitched on top so the deep color showed through. I loved it because it looked simple and expensive and I felt sophisticated whenever I wore it. But that’s not why I remember it.

Our high school was set up as a campus with several buildings connected by wide sidewalks and surrounded by very well-kept lawns. One day I had to walk from one building to another on an errand for a teacher. It was a rare sunny winter day with just a little breeze. The campus was so quiet except for the sound of my shoes. As I came around a corner of the building, there were three cool boys sitting on the sunny sidewalk with their backs against the brick building. They were boys who played sports, but who weren’t especially good students. They were boys that my brother knew and sat around with at lunch. They were boys who got in trouble in classes for goofing around, but the teachers liked them anyway.

For just a second I wanted to turn around and walk the other way. But it was too late; they had spotted me. I realized I had to keep going. I had to walk right past them. At first I looked down at the sidewalk. But after a minute, I put my head up and looked straight ahead. When I got up to them, one of the boys said, “Hey, look. It’s Montre”.

That was all. No snickers or snorts, no whispered comments. Just my name. I couldn’t believe any boy in high school even knew my name.

I spent several days wondering about the whole thing. Did they think I was cool? Or weird? Which would also be okay. In fact I kind of liked the idea of guys thinking that I was weird. It was better than them thinking I was stupid or ugly or just invisible. And it meant that there weren’t any rules I had to follow.

After I met Lisa, I realized that I had a lot of catching up to do. First of all, I had to figure out what to do about sex.

My boyfriend from Topeka, Patrick, kept coming over to see me, even after I started spending most of my time with Lisa instead of going to class and doing homework. We had been going together since the summer before my senior year. He lived with his mother, father and little brother.

Patrick’s mother loved me. She was small, had curly grayish-brown hair, and lots of energy. Her name was Margaret Marie and she was always busy cleaning and cooking, or working in her flower garden. She also loved to knit. Right away, she offered to teach me how to knit. I guess she was happy to have a girl around to do that kind of stuff with, and she always made me feel welcome. After Patrick and I had been going together for a while, she began to call me “Sweetness and Light”. There was certainly nothing flashy about me, and I think she thought I would be a good wife for Patrick. She was looking ahead.

Anyway, Patrick always wanted to see me when I went home for the weekends, too. I guess he wanted to save me from Lisa. Nobody then had ever heard of deprogramming, but that’s probably what he had in mind. He’d look at me with searching, worried eyes as if to say,”If I can just get her away from all this…”

Late that fall, he began to talk about getting engaged. It made me feel so old and grownup, but at the same time, I knew I wasn’t. I could feel somebody waking up deep inside me and she was not going to be tied down to anybody from the past.

I did like Patrick, but I knew I didn’t love him. And to me, that meant that he would be perfect to have sex with. I could begin to figure it out and I wouldn’t have to be attached to him afterwards. Besides, he was the only boy I knew. I had to find out what it was really all about. So I’d be ready.

Patrick and I made out whenever we got together and that was okay. But he was a Catholic and a fanatic about waiting until marriage to have sex. He was always talking about getting engaged and planning when we could get married. He really loved me, though, and wanted to be close to me.

I went home to Topeka for the weekend. Patrick and I went to his house in the afternoon and his mother was gone. We went down to the rec room in the basement and started making out on the couch. But this time I was thinking, “I’m not going to stop and I’m not going to let him stop either.” I held him tight even when he wanted to pull away from me. We kept most of our clothes on – too embarrassing otherwise-and then it was over. Patrick and I just lay there on the couch for a while. I wasn’t thinking or feeling or talking. My body and I were just laying there getting used to the new order of things. I thought,” Gosh I’ve had sex now” and the thought scared me a little because it was unknown territory. Would I be different now?

But it was not the same for Patrick. He sat up after a few minutes and said, “Why did we do that? We shouldn’t have done that! I’m sorry!” “It’s okay” I said and I meant it. But he acted so upset that I just wanted to go back home to Lawrence.

We didn’t talk much on the way back to the dorm. I kept going over and over in my head, “I’ve done it. I’ve had sex,” and feeling very calm about the whole thing, followed by,” Gosh, I’ve had sex! I had sex!”

Patrick walked me into the lobby. He looked so worried and still very upset. I didn’t care; I wanted to get away to my room and just think about it all. But when I opened the door into my little cubicle, I looked around it and knew I couldn’t stay there alone that night. My little bed was there, along the wall under the window, with my stuffed dog sitting on the pillow. Framus was leaning against the wall in the corner. I didn’t know who lived there.

The light was off in Carole and Darby’s room, but I knocked anyway. Darby called out sleepily,”Who is it?” “It’s me – Donna. Can I stay in your room tonight? My bed’s messed up!” They were too sleepy to quiz me about what was going on, and I just curled up in one of their sleeping bags on the floor. I laid there for a long time.

The next morning I felt so good. I had done another scary thing that I knew I had to do and it was over. Now if I ever met a boy I liked and he really wanted to have sex with me at least I’d know a little about it. And I wouldn’t have the fucked up virgin thing hanging over my head any more.

I wondered about Patrick that week. Now that we had had sex, I thought maybe he wouldn’t want to see me anymore; I knew that happened sometimes. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to see him. I had had sex with him once and I didn’t want to do it again, so I kind of hoped he wouldn’t call or come over. I thought, “What will we do if we don’t keep having sex? Won’t he expect me to?” He called a few days later and asked to come visit me. When I met him at the desk, he looked nervous. We walked out to his car and got in without speaking. Then he turned to me and said,” Okay I told my mother and she is really mad. She said we have to get married now, right away.”

“You told your mother?!?” I yelled. “Are you crazy?! Why did you do that?!”

“Well, I didn’t know what else to do,” he said.

I hadn’t told anyone and I knew I never would. Nobody needed to know about me having sex. Especially his mother! I told Patrick that I didn’t ever want to get married, and that it was okay – he didn’t need to feel like he had to marry me. At first he tried to talk me into the whole idea, but I could tell that it scared him; he knew he wasn’t ready. After we got that settled, he turned to me and said, “Well, my mother won’t let me see you if we don’t get married.” And I realized how little I knew about him. It was easy then to say, “That’s okay, Patrick. I’m fine with that.” And I was.

In November Lisa took me to see some boys she knew. They lived practically next door to the dorm. But they lived in a regular house. To get there Lisa and I had to walk around to the back of GSP. There were lots of trees and bushes there, but when we moved the branches aside, we could see a little dirt path down the hill to the street corner behind the dorm. It was steep, and we half walked half slid down to the curb. We stood up giggling and brushed off our jeans. Then we were practically across the street from the house where the boys lived. Lisa and I stopped for a minute and looked around at the neighborhood.

I felt like I was running away from home, excited and a little scared at the same time. We crossed the street and the front yard which was mostly dirt with a few patches of weeds, and ran up the steps to the front porch. It sagged a little and was cluttered with all sorts of junk – old furniture, boxes, stuff people had left behind. It was just old-looking. I guessed nobody took care of it. The outside wall was dusty and had lots of cobwebs. Lisa and I walked in the door to the shadowy entryway where there were two more doors. The boys’ was never locked, so we went right up.

The kitchen was narrow and tiny and very messy. But the living room was big and airy and had wide open windows on two sides. That was my favorite thing. I could see the back of GSP looming over me across the street and it was so far away. GSP with its tiny windows that barely opened to a hot parking lot. GSP with a “living room” full of fancy furniture that it seemed no one ever sat in, unless it was the weekend and parents sat stiffly, visiting with their girls.

Phil and Mark and Rick lived in that house on the second floor, and someone else lived downstairs. I’d never known anyone who only lived upstairs in a house. I wondered about the other people – who they were, what they were doing, where they slept, and did they wonder about us?

Mark and Rick were students at K.U., but they were older than Lisa and I. Rick was a film student. He was skinny and nervous, always fidgeting. He laughed a lot even when stuff wasn’t really that funny, but I don’t think he meant to- he just couldn’t help it. There was something a little pathetic about him, and I was drawn to that. I couldn’t tell for sure if I was pathetic too, but I felt comfortable around him right away, as if he was a kindred spirit. I liked talking to boys who were completely unintimidating, and Rick was even shyer and more socially unaware than I was.

His clothes were too big and kind of dusty-looking, like my Latin advisor’s clothes. He wore faded blue Converse All-Star high tops and his feet were constantly jiggling when he wasn’t running around. I didn’t know much about guys’ clothes, but I could tell his were not cool. He was cute though. I liked his messy long black hair and his blue eyes. They were always darting all over the place trying to avoid eye contact as long as he could. He was always dashing off to make a movie with his camera, and he had a little editing machine set up on the table in his room with wheels and gears and a handle to make the tiny picture go round and round in front of us. When I first met him, I spent a lot of time observing him – he was fascinating.

Mark had blue eyes and black hair like Rick, but everything else about him was different. He also had a thick beard and his hair was super curly. He wore jeans and T-shirts most of the time, and old tennis shoes. I was a little scared of him. He was loud and funny and loved to tease me. I didn’t get mad at Mark when he teased me; I was mostly puzzled. Since I knew practically nothing about boys, I didn’t realize he might be teasing me to be funny and to make me laugh, or because he liked me.

But I didn’t want to talk to him. I wanted to watch him, and be quiet.

Being around Mark made me realize I had never understood teasing. I always took it very seriously, as if there was something wrong with me and people were making fun of me for it. When I was little and my sister or brother teased me I always got my feelings hurt. My sister especially loved to get a rise out of me.

It seemed as if every time we had all gone somewhere as a family in the car, Edie and Butch played the same trick on me. My dad and mom sat in the front seat and Butch, Edie and I sat in the back. Dad had a glass eye, and he was always yelling about not being able to see out the back window because of us kids with our heads sticking up in the way of the rear view mirror. Edie was three years older than me and a lot bigger. And even though Butch and I were twins, he was really about the size of my sister. So I always had to sit in the middle so my dad could see out the back better. That was bad enough, just knowing I would probably never get to sit by a window until I was a grownup. But it got worse once my dad started driving down the street.

Edie would lean in front of me and say to Butch, “Gee, it’s too bad Weedle couldn’t come today.” He would lean up and say back to her, “Yeah it’s too bad that she got in trouble and had to stay home by herself” or”Yeah, it’s too bad she was sick and couldn’t come with us.” Then they both looked at me and giggled. I played the martyr, sitting completely still and trying to ignore them, but fuming inside. That made them laugh even harder. They kept it up until I interrupted my parents’ droning voices and said, “Mama make them stop!” My mother didn’t even turn around. She just raised her voice a little and said,’ “Kids, stop.” I wanted her to say, “Oh honey, are they being mean to you?” but she never did. Anyway, that didn’t stop Edie and Butch. They kept right on teasing me, only they started whispering so nobody but me could hear them.

If only I’d laughed or said something clever back to them, maybe they would have quit. For one thing, there was absolutely no way that my mom would ever leave any of us home alone. Those were the days when families went everywhere together.

After a while, I noticed Mark teasing Lisa just like he teased me. She just laughed and punched him or smacked him on the shoulder, and then he’d stop, for a while anyway. Pretty soon, I tried laughing too. At first, it felt unnatural because I really didn’t think he was funny. But it worked so well, I started doing it all the time.

Phil was different. It seemed to me that he was almost a grownup. He had straight black hair down past his shoulders and beautiful blue eyes that I wanted to keep looking at. He looked at me like he knew me, like he knew I was a little pathetic and that I had no idea of what the world was all about. I tried to throw him off by not talking at all in front of him just in case I said or did something stupid.

That habit of staying very quiet in any unknown situation stayed with me. As it turned out, guys often thought I was mysterious and secretive, but the truth was I just didn’t want them to find out how pathetically na├»ve I was.

Before very long, Lisa and I were going to Mark and Rick and Phil’s house every afternoon when we got out of class. We’d run around to the back of GSP and slide down the dirt path, take a look around and cross the street.

The boys’ house was the second one from the intersection. The house right on the corner was different from most of the other houses on the block. For one thing, it had a beautiful grassy yard. All the grass was the same – the same color, the same height, the same texture. It was like my parents’ lawn at home. It was trimmed around the sidewalks and along the curb and around the flower beds up by the house. The house was clean-looking and only had one mailbox, so I figured out that only one person or family lived there. The other houses on the street had several black metal mailboxes nailed on the wall by the door. Sometimes when Lisa and I crossed the street to the boys’ house, an old lady was outside that nice house sweeping the sidewalk or messing with her flowers or something. Right away when she saw us she started yelling at us to stay off her grass. She never gave us a chance to say hi or anything. And I would have said something because I knew I was supposed to be polite to older people. It was just natural. I looked different by then though, with my jeans and India print shirts and long straight hair. That lady couldn’t recognize me. At first the whole thing bothered me, but after a while I stopped caring. It was as if Lisa and I were a different species.

Anyway, we opened the front door to the boys’ place and climbed the steps to the apartment. At least one of the guys was usually there and we just sat around and talked or listened to music. Sometimes I watched Rick edit his little movies. It was kind of like hanging out with my brother – I felt comfortable around him and I didn’t have to think or talk. I always had my guitar with me. I didn’t play it in front of them – I was way too shy. It was really like Framus was my security blanket. Everything was changing around me and I felt safer with my guitar tucked under my arm. I felt very much as I had when I was six years old and starting First grade.

My twin brother and I hadn’t ever gone to Kindergarten. We lived in a brand new neighborhood and the school wasn’t finished that first year. So Butch and I stayed home another year with our mother. I never gave a thought to school – that it meant I would be going away from my mother all day to be with people I didn’t know. I was terrified that first day. The teacher and Momma had to practically drag me into the classroom. All the kids stared at me in silence. My teacher, Miss Gilbert, let Momma stand in the back of the room while I calmed down a little. By the end of the day, I was fine. I had seen Butch at recess and even my sister from a distance on the other playground. But the next day, I was terrified all over again. Miss Gilbert picked me up and carried me screaming over to my desk. That afternoon when I got home, my mother took me down the hallway to my room, sat on my bed and put her arm around me. She was looking a bit amused as she often did when she talked to me. She said,” Sissy, I have a surprise for you.” There was something sticking out of her dress pocket and when she pulled it out, I saw it was a stuffed dog about four inches tall. He was standing up in Momma’s hand on his stiff straw-stuffed legs. I took him out of her hand and felt his rough white fur. There was a gray-brown spot on his back and Momma told me that was his name – Spot. She said, “Spot will go to school with you every day in your pocket and keep you safe.” And he did.

So now I had Framus. And although I didn’t play it in front of the boys, Phil had a guitar too. He sat and played and sang folk songs almost every evening we were there. He was always working on getting the songs just right. I watched him play and knew I would never be that good, no matter how hard I practiced. I’d grown up with Butch, who went beyond boring piano lessons and learned to play like Ray Charles. He’d taught himself to play the flute and saxophone and been in bands since Junior High School. Now he was in a band called simply “Kansas”.

I had learned a couple of songs pretty well, though. Donovan’s song “Catch the Wind” was one of my favorites and was simple enough to play that I actually got pretty good at it.

Every day when I walked up to campus, I passed a big house with a sign on the front porch that said Canterbury House. It was the campus home of the Episcopal Church. And every time I went by it, I had a pressing sort of yearning to go in and join. I wanted the safety of belonging to something familiar and friendly, and I imagined it to be like that. But I just kept going past it every day.

There was another sign there by the side of the house sticking up out of the ground by the gravel parking lot. It was made out of boards that looked kind of burnt. Fiery Furnace was written on it in big red-orange letters that looked like flames. When I asked Lisa about it she said,”Yeah, it’s a coffee shop. You should take Framus down there and play some songs. Anybody can play on Friday nights. “

I kept walking past it for weeks, all the way into late fall. Finally one cold night, I tucked Framus under my arm and headed out into the cold clear night. I walked fast because it was freezing and because I was afraid to slow down. I opened the door of the Fiery Furnace and went down steep steps.

The room opened out in front of me like a cavern. The walls were rough stone and the floor was plain wood. Small tables covered with red and white checked tablecloths were scattered around. A candle stuck in a wine bottle stood in the middle of each table. There were a few people sitting at tables just chatting. They looked up at me for a minute and went on talking. I didn’t play my guitar and sing that night or for a couple of more times. But I watched as people came with guitars and performed. Most of them seemed to know each other. I sat in a corner and tried not to talk.

The third time a man who had played both times I had been there walked over to me and asked,”What kind of songs do you play? Why don’t you sing something tonight?” I looked up at him. He was a grownup man with a wife who came with him sometimes. She was beautiful with long straight blond hair and a good voice. He had red hair and blue eyes and played a 12-string guitar.

I knew they were grownups because sometimes they argued in pretty loud voices when they were at a table and other times they just sat and stared at each other with dreamy looks on their faces. I knew I would never be like that – passionately in love and so intense about somebody. I wouldn’t let myself do that. But I loved watching them.

So after a while I actually got up out of my chair and walked up to the stool where people played and sang. I was too nervous to sit. The only song I knew really well by that time was Catch the Wind so I sang it – fast and quietly. When I was finished I walked over to the door and kept going all the way back to GSP.

Phil was a very good guitar player, but he didn’t like to sing. And I loved to. One night Phil picked up his guitar and began to play “Blowing in the Wind” just the same way as Peter, Paul and Mary. I had been trying to learn how to do that for weeks, and sometimes I could almost do it. But most of the time I just strummed the chords and sang. He started to sing it and I did too. I couldn’t help myself. He stopped singing after a minute and I kept going. “Hey that was good!” he said when the song was over. “You have a great voice!” I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t tell if my voice sounded good or not, but I knew I was so happy and excited and I wanted to sing that song again right that minute.

So Phil and I began doing songs together. Simon and Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme was one of Phil’s favorite albums and right away we learned a song called Cloudy. We both liked Joan Baez, so we started working on a couple of her songs. Phil especially liked Farewell, Angelina and he wanted me to learn that song. It was long and a little boring I thought, but I loved singing it too.

We practiced our songs every time I went to the apartment. But that was all we did together. I didn’t really feel comfortable around Phil – there was something odd about him. He seemed like a grownup, but not a very nice one. I watched him watch me sometimes and there was a sort of appraising look on his face that had nothing to do with who I was.

I did like Rick. And when Phil and I weren’t singing together, I went to find him. One night he asked me if I wanted to be in one of his movies. He wanted to make a movie of me walking across the bridge over Iowa Street. He figured there wouldn’t be much traffic so nothing would get between him with his camera and me. So we drove out there one day and parked his car on the west side of the overpass. I had Framus with me of course and Rick thought that was great. We got out of the car and he said,”Look, here’s what I want you to do. Just walk across the bridge with your guitar under your arm. And when I tell you to, look over at me but don’t acknowledge me at all. Act like I’m not even here. Just ignore me and look normal.” He didn’t want it to look like it was a movie. So there I was, barefoot in my jeans and India print and wire rim glasses with the breeze blowing my hair a little and my usual blank expression on my face. “Yeah, like that!” Rick said. “You look like you’re thinking about something really serious!”

So I walked back and forth across the overpass several times with Rick scrabbling along at the edge of the road to get ahead of me and stopping to film me as I walked past. The whole thing was fun and we laughed a lot, but it was serious too, like pretend stuff always is. It was fun just playing with him, sort of another 10-year old to hang around with. And I was so glad he didn’t care about the whole sex thing. I just thought sex was weird. I mean, I’d had sex with Patrick, but that was so I’d know what it was all about and how to act, kind of like knowing what fork to use at a fancy restaurant. It was really sort of an etiquette issue to me.

Lisa and I spent more and more time at the Indiana Street house. Every afternoon when classes were over, we walked home to GSP just to sort of check in. There were always a couple of girls at the front desk, signing visitors in and out and chatting with students returning from campus. The resident director was often there too, keeping an eye on things. She was always smiling and would occasionally ask someone, “Hi! How were your classes? Did you do okay on your English Lit. Test?” or something else friendly.

She hadn’t ever noticed me until I started spending all my time with Lisa. In fact, I had been mostly invisible to everybody at the desk until then.

Now when Lisa and I walked past them on our way to Rick, Phil and Mark’s house, they got quiet. If I looked up, I saw them watching us go out the door. They looked at us as if they were saying,” Where did those girls come from?” The resident director didn’t really look at Lisa, her shiny straight hair bouncing gently on her shoulders with each long stride and a cigarette held carelessly in her hand. I did catch her watching me, though, with a worried, caring look on her face that said, “What are you doing with her? Can’t you tell she’s not one of us?” I wasn’t one of “them” either though. I had wanted to be one of them for such a long time. But I had never figured out the right way to talk, think or act. And now I didn’t care.

Every night Lisa and I had to be back at the dorm by 10:00 to sign in for the night. On the weekend it was 11:00. And when I did open the door to my room, it felt less and less like I lived there. What had been familiar and comforting to me a few months earlier was becoming progressively more alien. I wasn’t the same girl who had moved into that room. At best I was a fast fading version of her, and there was something frightening about walking in and shutting the door, as if there was a ghost watching me from the corner.

Soon Lisa and I were having more and more trouble getting back in time. Often we would be running up to the door with just a few minutes to spare, gasping and laughing. Lisa would call out to me, “Hurry! We’ve only got one minute! They’re going to lock the door on us!” We were always having so much fun with the boys, it was easy to lose track of time.

However, there was a loophole to the curfew. If a girl was staying with relatives or adult friends in town, she could sign out for the whole night. The Resident Director had to have their name, address and phone number. One night we were at the Indiana Street house and we met a real married couple with a kid. They were friends of Phil’s. They lived in a whole house by themselves and the woman had a job. Her husband was going to K.U. We started seeing them other places too – the Rock Chalk and around campus. We even went over to their house sometimes. They lived on Vermont Street, which was just a block from Massachusetts Avenue, the main downtown street. I practically never went downtown, unless my mother came to visit and we went shopping or out to lunch or something. So it seemed like they were very far away from the action.

Their house was small, but it belonged all to them. They had a little boy named Karl. He had white blond hair sticking out all over his head and he was loud. It seemed like he was running and yelling every time we went over there. Amanda liked to talk and laugh with us, but most of the time she was chasing after Karl. She usually looked exhausted. Her hair was a frizzy mess and there were bags under her eyes. She was a little fat and lots of times her clothes were wrinkled and didn’t go together. I figured it was all because of little Karl, and I decided I absolutely never wanted to have kids. I had always been doubtful about the advantages of kids anyway, and now I knew for sure.

Dave, on the other hand, never messed with Karl. He just ignored him, no matter how much hell he was raising. It was amazing. Dave was kind of good-looking in a grownup way. His eyes were big and very clear blue, but they were kind of droopy, maybe from being old. I wasn’t sure. His black hair hung down around his shoulders. He was kind of pudgy like a grownup and wore regular grownup clothes like button shirts and regular slacks. Most of the time he didn’t talk much to Lisa and me. He watched us, though, with a way- too-interested look in his eyes.

Phil met us at the top of the stairs one afternoon a few weeks after meeting Dave and Amanda and said, “Hey, how would you girls like to stay here as late as you want to, maybe even all night?” Before I could even think of an appropriate answer, as in,”Oh we can’t do that we have a 10:00 curfew, besides you are too weird to be around all night, where would we sleep, what does Rick think about it?” Lisa grinned and said,” Yeah! How can we do that?”

It turned out that Phil had been talking to Dave and Amanda about it and they had agreed to let us sign out to their house as if we were staying there all night. Of course we would really be staying at Indiana Street.

Once again, I was both scared and excited at the same time, only a little more scared this time. I was so tired of worrying about being back to the dorm on time, but the idea of actually not returning to GSP at all seemed almost illegal! Still, there was a persistent voice inside telling me that I had to keep going forward. If I didn’t, I would soon be the same sad and isolated girl I had been for years.

The very next afternoon Lisa and I signed ourselves out to Dave and Amanda’s house on Vermont Street. I felt a little hysterical as we walked quickly around the building on our way to Indiana Street. But when we got there, everything seemed normal. We hung around and talked to the guys and listened to music. Later Phil and I sang some songs, and after that I watched as Rick edited the film of me walking across the overpass. It was just a typical evening, until about two o’clock when Mark said, “Hey! Let’s go to Joe’s!”

Joe’s Donuts was only about a block away. It was part of a little strip of businesses on 9thStreet. Late at night it was all lit up when everything around it was dark and closed. I hadn’t ever been there; it was the opposite direction from campus and my reality just hadn’t expanded that much. We all walked down the stairs, past the bare light bulb burning in the hallway, and out into the dark, still night. There were no cars around so we all strolled right down the middle of the street. Even that small act was exciting to me. And there was Joe’s with its lights shining out onto the sidewalk.

The windows were covered with steam so that we could hardly see inside. I thought,”Is there really anybody buying donuts in the middle of the night?” The whole world changed when we opened the door. There was a line of people winding around from the counter almost to the front door. They were talking and laughing like they weren’t sleepy at all. Most of them were young, but not as young and Lisa and I. A big cooler at the side held little cartons of milk - chocolate and regular. The fluorescent lights from the display cases shined strangely on everybody’s faces as they looked at all the donuts and pastries.

I immediately picked up some chocolate milk and started to try deciding which donut I would get. After looking at all of them, I picked out a round thin pastry with sugar and cinnamon on top. The boys were behind us in line, so Lisa and I went back outside into the night. It was warm for December and we sat down on the curb at the corner, with our feet in the street, eating our pastry. The cinnamon and sugar on top sparkled in the street light as I broke off crunchy, flaky pieces. I felt free and dangerous and wild.

Before very long, Lisa and I were staying with the guys two or three nights a week. We always stayed up very late and gradually drifted off to other rooms to sleep. I don’t know where Lisa slept, but I slept in Rick’s little twin bed with him. I could tell that was what I was expected to do, so I just did it. Rick and I were sort of a couple by default, even though we had never had sex. In fact, we both slept with our clothes on, cuddled under the covers! I was so glad he didn’t want to have sex, because I didn’t either. I really liked doing stuff with him, but it seemed as if we were both children. We went to movies up on campus several times a week and sometimes we held hands, but that was about all. Once in a while we kissed, but it was always a little embarrassing and awkward. So mostly we didn’t.

One night in March everything changed. It was a warm night and the stars were so bright. Mark went into the kitchen and a minute later we heard a loud thump. When we walked in, we saw wooden steps going up through a trapdoor in the ceiling. “Wow!” Lisa said. “Can we go up on the roof?” Mark said, “Yeah. Let’s go look at the stars.” Phil went up behind Mark, but Rick was already asleep. So I followed Lisa up the steps through the square hole in the ceiling and out onto the roof. It was flat around the opening and there was enough room for us all to sit there. I felt like I had forgotten all about the stars, but there they were, twinkling all around us.

After a few minutes, Mark reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out a cigarette. But it wasn’t like any cigarette I had ever seen. It was short and fat in the middle with a little tobacco sticking out the ends. “Hey, want to get stoned?” Mark asked.

I didn’t even hear what anybody said. My ears shut off and I got a cold sick feeling in my stomach. I was terrified. Suddenly, I wanted to run down the steps, out the door and back to GSP as fast as I could. I had broken some rules since I had become friends with Lisa, and it had been fun for the most part. But this was against the law. Even more important, it was against my law.

I had never smoked a cigarette or taken a drink of alcohol. Never, even when kids sneaked cigarettes from their mothers’ purses in high school or took a quick drink from their father’s beer when he wasn’t looking. It wasn’t really that I thought it was morally wrong. I didn’t have any morals that mattered. I did what I wanted to do, or what I thought would advance me in the direction I wanted to go with my life. I was just simply afraid. I was afraid of losing control of myself. I knew I needed to have my wits about me in this new life even more than ever before.

Mark lit the joint and breathed the smoke deep into his lungs and held his breath. I just watched him. Phil reached for it then and sucked the smoke in just like Mark had. The coals at the end of the joint glowed brighter. The thought crossed my mind,” They’re smoking the same cigarette! What about germs?!” I sat there very still, frantically trying to decide what to do when it got to me. Phil passed it to Lisa. She closed her eyes and inhaled slowly and deeply. She smiled softly as she passed it to me. I didn’t reach out to touch it. My heart was pounding as I said,”Um, I don’t really want any.” Lisa said, “Oh, okay” and Mark reached over to take it from her.

The three of them kept passing it around until all that was left was a tiny stub. I held my breath, waiting for them to act crazy, but it never happened. They giggled a lot and their eyes looked kind of fuzzy, but they were still themselves. Gradually, I relaxed and just enjoyed the night. Later on, we went back downstairs and walked over to Joe’s like we did most nights. I was so glad it was over, and that they still liked me. After that, we all went up on the roof once in a while to get stoned. I never did and they never even asked me why. They didn’t care.

Lisa and I had been spending nights at the boys’ house for a couple of months. It was just a routine by then and we really didn’t think about it much. We still spent most nights at GSP, but it was getting more and more difficult. Then one night the phone rang at about 11:30. I woke up enough to hear Mark answer it. After a minute or two, lights were going on all over the place and everybody was getting out of bed in a hurry. It was Dave on the phone.

The Resident Director from GSP had called their house and asked to speak to Lisa. She said she needed to talk to her about something. Amanda was stalling the Director on the phone while Dave ran next door and called us. We all ran downstairs and jumped into Mark’s car. Everybody was freaked out, even super cool Phil. Nobody said anything as Mark drove as fast as he could to Dave and Amanda’s and stopped at the curb. Lisa jumped out and ran into the house. When we got inside, Lisa was just taking the phone away from Amanda. “Hello? This is Lisa,” she said. The rest of us – Phil, Mark, Rick, Dave and Amanda-just stood there frozen and silent. It was as if we knew the director would see us through the phone if we moved or spoke. Lisa was saying, “Yeah, I was in the bathroom. Sorry it took me so long. No, I have English Lit. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Okay,thanks.” When she finally hung up, we couldn’t believe they had called to ask her about her schedule. The guys and Lisa and I laughed hysterically for a while before heading back to their place. Amanda and Dave were pretty quiet though. I guess because they really were grownups.

Picture on top shows Weedle, her sister Edie, and brother Butch (Don) dressed up with someplace to go.

No comments: