Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Danny and I had both started going to Bible studies at the homes of some of the older young adults, the married people who supposedly knew more about life and about the Lord than we did. (That seemed reasonable at the time, but in retrospect, I wonder.) After one of the sessions, Danny told me that we needed to talk. We were sitting in my Camaro on the Pepperdine campus when he said, “I think I’m gay.”

Since I had experienced conversations like this before in high school, it wasn’t quite the shock it could have been. Plus there is a certain sub-conscious knowing that is always in the background in a relationship such as ours. Instead of crying or yelling, I asked very analytically, “Do you mean thoughts or actions?” “Oh, just thoughts,” he assured me. (Later, he confessed that was a lie.) “Well,” says I, “Let’s talk about it.”

“No, I don’t want to talk about it. At the Bible study yesterday, they told us if we had any unconfessed sin, we needed to confess it, and God would keep His promise. You know, ‘If we confess our sins one to another, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness…” So I expect Him to heal me, now that I’ve confessed.” I knew this was not good, I knew we had to talk, I knew he needed help. But I was still such a passive person, afraid of losing him if I pressed too hard, unwilling to do that, afraid of confrontation. I let it be his way.

Sometime during that spring, we planned to go to one of my family’s favorite Mexican restaurants, El Cholos. Danny and I drove into downtown L.A. to Western Avenue in his pale blue Ford Falcon, and sat down at El Cholos and started to talk. He said something like, “We’ve been together for a long time now…and it seems kind of natural that the day would come when we would…get married.”

We talked for awhile about it, but there was never a moment when he asked the question directly. We left the restaurant with what Jane Austen would call “an understanding.” We were unofficially engaged. As we drove back to Malibu, out over the ocean was a long series of fireworks in the distance ahead of us, and I sighed, “Oh, look what the Lord did just for us,” and snuggled next to him, and he patted my knee. “My little Jesus freak,” he said.

But then it didn’t get any easier. It actually got harder in some ways, because now it felt like there was an inevitable fate looming ahead of us and we were almost trapped in it. And the communication never got any better between us. Summer was approaching, and I didn’t know what to do. Danny and I took a trip up to northern California that spring with Sara and Sam, to visit Danny and Sally Jackson where he was teaching high school in Hayfork. Being with all of them, I realized more deeply than ever that Danny and I didn’t talk, and that I wasn’t content with that.

I watched other couples, and I could tell that they were feeling things that we were not. John Scheifele had found himself a lovely woman, Nancy, and he used to walk up the hill to her dorm to pick her up, and walk back up there with her to say goodnight. Danny left me at the foot of the hill and went to his dorm and I to mine. John and Nancy would study together in the library. They acted like they were a team. We never did, and I longed for that kind of togetherness and mutual support.

Sometimes Danny and I spent time in the early evening, and then he would be off doing other things. In our sophomore year, I found out that he would tell me he was sleepy and going home, and then go out with his dorm mates. It would have been fine if he had been honest about it, but I was hurt that he deceived me. That made me feel like he was putting in obligatory time with me and then needing others to relax and have fun with.

There was still this tenderness between us, almost a mutual compassion for our separate pain, as exemplified in the following conversation:

Guten Abend, mein Liebschen. (Good evening, my love.)
‘Abend, mein Herr. (Good evening, Sir.)
Wo gehen Sie? (Where are you going?)
Ich gehe nach mein Bett. Allein. (I go to my bed. Alone.)
Und mir auch. Leider. (And me as well. Pity.)

It wasn’t all about Danny. I knew that. I knew I had a problem with taking risks and trusting and feeling loved. And I knew I could be very, painfully critical, impatient, demanding. I didn’t know why, really, and I didn’t know anything I could do about it, but I didn’t blame him for it. I was just simply discontent and miserable about it. I wrote these words to him, though I probably didn’t show them to him.

Pretend you are a box.
A chest, maybe, antiqued in brown,
with gold and ochre accents here
and there.
As each small treasure meets the light,
examined with some awe and
much delight,
I wonder at the way you’ve been arranged.
A face kaleidoscopic in its stares
and glances,
surprising eyes, and tender hair.
(I somehow imagined
hair like silk
and golden skin to touch
but here you are)
Oh God, you’re here and real
and I have touched you
with my love.

I used to dare to say out loud
(on paper) “I would be terrific,
yes, I know that I could love you
just sensationally,” but I never
really thought I would
love you (or any other man).
Never believed
you’d let me.
Empty and unworthy
still have meaning in my heart
but time and tender words from you
will bring me free and loving to your side.

I met a guy that semester in a theology class at Malibu, a guy who talked to me sometimes, a guy who studied hard, spending hours in the library when not many others did that. (During my four-year period in college - 1970-1974 - at the tail end of the ‘Sixties, it wasn’t really “cool” to study at Pepperdine…so Mike’s diligence stood out as uncommon.) He was graduating in April and going to Yale to pursue a Ph.D. in Church History. We talked rarely during that semester, but we happened to have lunch with a few others on his graduation day. As we said goodbye, I asked him if he would write me and he said he would. And he did. This tenuous and fragile connection with Mike Johnston was just the lifeline I needed to gather the courage to risk losing the only love I’d ever had. Danny was planning to stay in southern California that summer to work, and he would be living in an apartment in the San Fernando Valley.

It turned out that two of my friends, Elaine Thomas and Virginia Burch, had dated Mike, Elaine while they were in Heidelberg together, and Virg at Malibu. His graduation evening, which was our first time alone together, was so meaningful to me that I took notes on things Mike said, and wrote a little essay to remember it by. “I was sitting on the steps in my long dress and boots, feeling sort of freaky and nice and Virg and Mike and Melody were there and we were eating cafeteria lunch and it was that gray day Graduation feeling and he said, “We ought to sing sometime today.” And I thought that wasn’t fair even to bring up, cause I wanted it so much, and I said, “Aw, come on, not really, do you really mean it?” And later, “I want to apologize for being demanding, I know you probably couldn’t and anyhow I should have appreciated your recognition of the fact that it would be nice, and not tried to make it come true.” It was a day for bravery and collected wits and I was a little frantic –

“Graduation was amazing and almost typical, despite Bob Hope speaking and Loretta Young looking pretty. Six girls all in long dresses watching for Janie and Mike. Graduating, valedictorian in a class of nine, with a faded black T-shirt on. It was delightful. Funny to see Diane Johnston as part of his family. Hanging around but just for observation purposes, then off to Alice’s with the Gang. I asked Virg to find out if Mike was serious about singing and to call me and she was sure he wasn’t but would ask anyhow. Walked in the house at 8:00 and the phone rang.

“Where’ve you been? I called half an hour ago.” Rather pleasant conversation, not a bit like Elaine’s and Virg’s joking description.

Me: “Can you come over?…Any time…Here would be better, don’t you think? Bring Virg about 10:00.” Danny had already left for Stockton. Mike showed up at my mom’s condo door all by himself, with his guitar. Comments not in parentheses are Mike Johnston’s.

(Me: “Yeah, I think I can take just you alone.” Strange because Jan [our boarder] and some guy are in the kitchen studying – lightens thing up a little though.)

Well, what are we gonna sing? (Groping, silence, picking on the guitar, but nothing uncomfortable. Me: I’m speechless.)

There, wasn’t that delightful? I wrote that.

(Trying some Joni.) I should listen to her. I’ve never learned to like her.

(Songs from the Judy Collins book: “Michael From Mountains”, “Hey, that’s no way…”, “Since You Asked”. Sappy, embarrassing, but I was feeling them. Then he sang “Till There Was You”, for heaven’s sake.)

I could probably sit here for two days straight and listen to you talk and I’d be a different person.

(Me: Horrible or all right?)

Probably all right – more sensitive or something.

I want to sing some hymns. (“All to Jesus I surrender…”)

(Me: Amen. Smiling souls. Talking interspersed.)

Next time our paths cross – I think we’ll know more what to sing.

…another pebble on the proverbial beach…

(Me: Did you notice the grossness of “I wish I were in Dixie”?)

Not until Virginia said something.

(Me: I’m sort of overwhelmed by the sadness of it all.)

You remind me of Naomi – when I met Naomi I’d just finished reading Franny and Zooey and she thought it was terrible because it didn’t do a thing for me —

(Me: I think I might be past that place in my life.)

(Me: I’m thinking about becoming a theological librarian.)

Are you serious?

(Me: …or a philosopher…)

Why don’t you?

Fishing all day and studying all night – how long do you think that’ll last? Do you think He could?

What was that quote…

No time to be sad about graduation.

(He said he was concerned about keeping sensitive. I said, “You are; and I think He can.”)

Ruined a beautiful goodbye…Are you speechless?

Do I get a hug?

He wrote down his summer address for me and asked, “Is this a cigarette paper?” I don’t know if it was or not. (I think it was only freshman year that I “rolled my own” with that cute little red plastic roller. And sampled Swisher Sweet cigars, and tried to smoke a cigarette with that carved wooden hedgehog hash pipe. Where is that cute little thing?) Mike would be living at home, and going out on his dad’s fishing boat to work all day that summer to earn money for Yale:

2900 Sullivan Road
Sebastopol, California 95472

And then, in the fall:

409 Prospect
New Haven, CT 06510

0 ~ o ~ 0 ~ o ~ 0

Finally, that painful, confusing spring drew to a close. It was the end of my third year at Pepperdine and my first trimester on the Malibu campus. Between April 12th and 15th, I traveled up the coast of California to Gorda, going camping with Chuck and ‘Nell and the Normandie Village gang. They were so well prepared that they packed our own personal logs with us in the back of the van for seating and burning purposes. On the way up there, they were playing Jimmy & Carol Owens’ “Come Together” album and Chuck said more than once he had both hands in the air praising the Lord and didn’t know who was driving around all those curves.

Gorda was barely more than a bump in the road, a general store and a gas station. It was up Highway One, near Hearst Castle and San Simeon where my family had visited before. When I looked in the black notebook of my early poems to see if I had written a poem about Gorda, all I found was a list. But it’s nice list! Here it is.

“I feel like somebody took four days and summed me up.
Camelot with Danny
Sara’s blessed heart
Mike and Amen
Jesus music in the van, Highway One
Gorda and the country store
Ocean, spray on the rocks, sea otter
Sunset and hymns and Irish coast
Talk to Reid, campfire
Communion (Melody, Nance)
Jim Reynolds
Bali Hai and pomes
Ride home in the Riviera
I make you a present of my finest trivia.”

I did write a little short thing that sounds like I wrote it there. I think I wrote it for Mike Johnston, since he had just arrived in my life and so quickly gone away again.

“the sun sparkling a path on the ocean,
the rush of the surf in my ears
the majesty of it all, overwhelmed me
like your coming
was the spray on the rocks
startling, fresh, magical
I couldn’t know that
like the sea, your caress was your going.”

Oh, look! I did indeed write a poem about Gorda, and I just found it, and if the reader is weary of thirty year old teenaged poetry, he or she has my personal permission to skip the next installment with impunity.

To Naomi
on Being Unable to Write
There are some days
when all my sense are fresh
and every leaf and drop
of water comes clearer
and sharper
and my soul expands
to fill up the forest
and there ain’t a thing to say
I mean, I try,
but to talk about the miracle
of the brook and the
diamond sparkle of the waterfall
and the ethereal stained glass
blue jeans and football and
somebody pickin’ a guitar)—
somehow it diminishes the feeling
yet I want to record
this magic time
this wrapped-in-brown-paper present
of two days in Eden/Bali Hai

o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o

Kenny Waters and I had long been friends because he was so in love with Sara. They never actually dated, but they certainly enjoyed flirting and hanging around each other. Jimmy Hahn (whose sister Janice we’d known since I was eleven) and Kenny were fraternity brothers in Sub-Ts, and they decided they wanted to find a couple of dates for an Elton John concert at the Hollywood Bowl. A friend of Danny’s and mine, Virginia Burch, was a frizzy blond with a joyful, exuberant personality and plenty of social skills, and since both the guys had known me, the decided to ask us out.

I wish, oh how I wish, I could have relaxed and enjoyed that evening! It could have made such a difference in the path my relationships took, but alas, I depended totally on Virginia to provide the social oil, and I actually hated the concert. Sadly, I found it impossible to rise above my disappointment with Elton. Danny and I had seen him in a little club in Hollywood before hardly anyone else had heard of him, in the fall of 1970. We had loved his first two albums, and Danny had learned to play some of the songs on the piano, especially Tumbleweed Connection. His early music fit with our mellow, gentle, quiet “music to make out by” preferences.

That night, Elton came out to the world. He was wearing foot-high boots, spangles, his signature giant sunglasses, and he was introduced by drag queens costumed as Marilyn Monroe, Queen Elizabeth, and several other icons. It frrreaked me totally out. I hated everything about that performance, the music, the spirit of the show, the costuming, the antics.

Since I did not know how to flirt or play comfortably with the guys, and absolutely hated the concert, I was a genuinely bad date. So sad for Jimmy and Kenny, who had spent good money on the evening. Thirty years later, it was fun to say, “Yeah, I went out with the Mayor of L.A. when we were young.” After just one term in office, Jimmy lost the election this year, 2005, to his previous opponent, Villaraigosa. He did have an effective, though boring, term as L.A.’s mayor. You just can’t be boring and have a long career in L.A. politics. It’s a pity Janice couldn’t siphon off some of her humor and sparkle to Jimmy. She is still sitting on the L.A. City Council. A recent article, “Last Hahn Standing” was a good portrait of Janice in the L.A. Times and quoted our old friend Sara Young Jackson as witness, since Marilyn is no longer with us.

Escape to Heidelberg

It was now May 2, 1973 and Chip called. “Why don’t you use the other half of the ticket you came home on at Christmas, come back to Heidelberg, live in the Moore Haus and study German for the summer?” I don’t know, maybe I should. That was a Wednesday, and the following Saturday I was on a plane to Germany. I thought it would be fun. Sara and Marilyn, Janie Epp and Caren Hauser would be there.

Caren was a member of Naomi’s sorority, but we had really just gotten to know her that semester in Malibu. She was a senior who had zeroed in on Sara and created a quick and close friendship. So Marilyn would have Janie, Sara would have Caren, and no one in the Moore family could see the recipe for disaster therein. No, Chip and Sharyn and I made a foolish choice in terms of relational happiness. I wonder if Momma asked Chip to invite me to get me away from Danny. It never occurred to me till now, but I’ll never know.

In a journal about six years later, I wrote, “Without Danny, I felt I had come out into the fresh air. It wasn’t only the frustration of failing as a woman with him (and neither one of us fully realized why that was happening). It was that, in order to survive in the relationship, I had stopped thinking. Because there was no freedom to communicate, there was no motivation to have thoughts, and so slowly I fell into blank-mindedness more and more often. Then my desire for physical communication became as well a need for experience, because the life of my mind had grown dull. In a way, I’m grateful I learned how to just be, during those years – how to sit and absorb my environment and be with people without great shyness and without a compulsion to talk. But it was sad because I felt that my self was not acceptable.

“A lesson I learned was the difficulty of timing a talk. If I got ‘heavy’ in the morning, Danny would say it was too early, and if it was after ten at night, when I began to come more emotionally alive, it was too late. Of course the truth was there was no time to ‘get heavy’ successfully. (I’ll not forget the joy, the near-bliss of waking up in Mike’s room at YDS that December morning, 1973, and starting to Talk as if we’d been at it all night and had just paused to catch our breath. Lord, I can’t believe You did that – You gave me that present, that gift of a trip to Connecticut for Christmas that year. How nuts.)”

[Note to Reader: We’re not at that point in the story yet, but we’ll get there.]

In my Travel Log I wrote, “Walking into Chip and Sharyn’s apartment at Moore Haus seemed so natural. I had Nona’s room instead of C&S’s couch, and that’s a tremendous blessing. Had to go get posters from Ali Baba and ivy and etc. before the room didn’t depress me, but I love it now. A deep green forest outside my convent window (Mike
[i] whistling every time he comes up the stairs); the Girls Waking Up every time I’d like to sleep; playing the heavy after shower hours (Who ever heard of shower hours?) and ssshing people all the time.[ii] Just Wilmas[iii], every one of them. A delightful life.

“Chip drove me to Collegium Palatinum to meld mich an (register me). Took a placement test and praise the Lord, made Stiefe IIb, so if I passed the course I could get a Zeugnis (certificate). Twenty-eight hours a week. Unmöglich. (Impossible.) Every morning during the week (except for several sleep-drenched vacations) I groaningly get up by 7:30, get dressed and set out for school. Down the steps, watching for slugs. (One horrible morning the summer before, I had run all the way down the seventy steps to the front gate of Moore Haus in my bare feet, without my contacts in, to answer the bell, and had squished a giant slug between my toes. Hideous.)

“Out the gate and to the right down the tilted sidewalk past my favorite house with the great ivy, the Juliet balcony, stained-glass turret and the crazy little man on the water spout (a gargoyle, for Pete’s sake). Across the road, a Renaissance gazebo. Then the steps down to Altstadt (the terrific lion it took me days to discover); Kornmarkt, and the Mittwoch Markt bei Heiliggeist
[iv]. Through the Türmen and over the bridge. Die Alte Brucke: sparkling water and the swans, wind whipping my hair, traffic either slow bicycles or crazy people trying to almost hit you and each other as they pass in their Citroens or Mercedes or BMWs (Look out for the orange ones, they’re pervert territory.). Down the block past the lilacs and up more stairs to Holderlinweg and the building where Chip used to live with Englisches Institut called Sonnenbühl. In through the doors and past the international intrigue in the hall, to our classroom. My place was in front of the windows, so I froze when it was time for ventilation. But when it got warmer, that was the best place to be.

“Forty-five minutes Unterricht and then fifteen Pause
[v]. At first in the Pauses I would go down to the garden, but the leaves got so thick I couldn’t watch the river any more, and I used the Pauses for letter writing mostly.

“At lunch, it was Christine and Joe and Jota and me to the Mensa, the University of Heidelberg cafeteria. The group varied, and there was also the shy young Turk who often went at the same time. After the second day of class, I never spoke any English, except when at a loss for any other way to explain an idea. I was proud of our class – among ourselves we stuck to German, but the others would speak Turkish and French and Danish etc. at all the Pauses.

“Frau Arndt was our main teacher. Every morning but Thursday, and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. She was such a kind woman. Strict enough to be legitimately German, but always with an encouraging twinkle in her eye. Reminded me of a Grimms’ fairy godmother. The same two or three outfits for the whole two months she spent with us. She always looked crisp, girlish because of the lock of black hair that fell across her forehead. Frau Haas, French in a way I didn’t much like and not a bit imaginative, took us the other times, and then way through, Herr Hildebrand with the holes in his jeans and the cold
[vi] in his nose took over and joked his way through June.

“In that one class we had students from Chile, Italy, Poland, Egypt, Hong Kong, Turkey, Denmark, Spain, Canada, Indonesia, Nigeria and Greece. I was the only American. If you speak German, check the Endnotes for some of my favorite German words and phrases from that summer, along with Rätseln und Witze.
[vii] Waiting with knocking knees and giggles and silence for our individual mundliche Prüfung[viii], Ibrahim passed out plain paper and suddenly we were having friendly little international paper airplane war.

On the Bergbahn (a little funicular up the side of the mountain which I splurged on several times that summer) on Friday after school, I was practically by myself in the silent train when on clicks the conductor’s microphone. In a radio voice, delightfully like Sgt. Schulz on Hogan’s Heroes, a man is singing, “How mmmuch iss ze doggie in ze Vindow?” and the microphone clicks off again. Then, as always, like nothing unusual had happened, when we arrived at the top, the regular mechanical announcement, “Llllinks umsteigen, vorsicht an den Türen, Türen offen automatisch.
[ix]” Click.

I wished I could have hugged him.

Since I wasn’t a Pepperdine student, I wasn’t on their meal plan, so I often ate supper by myself. I really had no money again for food, as had obtained the previous summer. I had discovered Quark, which has a consistency somewhere between yogurt and sour cream, and my favorite was called Frühlings Quark (springtime) because it had dill and green onions and other spices in it. I would spread that on Vollkornbrot (whole grain bread, thin dark brown slices packed with moist wheat berries). And I would splurge on a bottled Coke from the vending machine in the basement for 50 pfennigs (about a quarter of a dollar at the time). I would sit at the little table in my room and read and eat my meal and be most content in the quiet while everyone was gone to the Burgfreiheit for supper.


[i] This was Mike Boyd, a student I met in Heidelberg that summer; Mike Johnston I had met in Malibu, and he had just left for Yale University.
[ii] There was a serious, though illegitimate, reason for that. Chip and Sharyn had asked me, “Are those baby elephants up there, or do the girls rearrange all the furniture every night?” Unfortunately, the room where Sara and Caren and Marilyn and Janie lived was directly over Chip and Sharyn’s apartment. And unfortunately, I wasn’t mentally healthy enough to know that it was decidedly not my responsibility to control the girls in order to accommodate Chip and Sharyn.
[iii] “Wilma” was Caren Hauser’s favorite affectionate yet pointed expression for a foolish, nerdy or irritating girl. Her name for similar men was “Rodney”.
[iv] The Wednesday Market (fruit, vegetables, flowers, small merchandise) next to the Holy Ghost Church.
[v] Unterricht = lesson; Pause = break (pronounced pow-za)
[vi] Older but wiser me thinks it was possibly not a cold in his nose, but I didn’t know about sniffable drugs at that age.
[vii] “Die Kinder lernen die Sprache wie ein Papagei.”
“Ich muss ein Papagei kaufen.”
“Aber vielleicht kann er kein Deutsch sprechen.”

“Würstchen, mit umlaut?”
“Nein, mit Brötchen.”

“Wie ist es in Ägypten?”
“Es ist normal.”

Möchtest du ein Schlug?
Es ist typisch, immer müde in Heidelberg zu sein.
Ich will kein bürgerliches Mann.
Das kann Mann sagen.
Das ist blöde.
Er ist unser Stern.
Er möchtet ein kleine Sultan werden.
Es is NICHT klar.
Alles ist egal.
Ich bin ganz konfus.
Na ja, machen wir weiter.
Lassen sie ihn mal.
So, bis Morgen.
siemlich shwierig…
eine schone Spaziergang auf Philosophenweg
der Täter, der Mann der die Tat getan hat…
die Zöpfen – braids
das Geländer – banister
die Entwicklung – process
trampen – hitchhike

[viii] Oral Exam
[ix] “Exit left, careful at the doors, doors open automatically.”

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