Friday, May 30, 2014

The First Heartbreak

Perhaps the story begins with falling in love, that madness the ancients warn  against, poets celebrate, and teenage girls dream of.  I met David my senior year in college.  He was from England, doing a post-bac year at  my university, and the thing I fell for first was his accent.  It was all very casual and friendly at first.  David told me about his fiance, a school teacher back in England, and I told him about the disastrous break up with my former boyfriend.
 When we began dating, my plan was still to go to graduate school the next year.  I figured I'd have a bittersweet romance before going on to other things.  I'd be sad to part from David, sure, but I'd had break ups before and always recovered pretty quickly.  This time was different.

In September, when the whole school year stretched out ahead of us, it seemed we had plenty of time.  By Christmas, however, I was deeply in love with this lanky Englishman with the Beatles haircut.  David was studying economics
 and was interested in politics, but we never discussed those topics at any length.  We talked about whether to have sex, something David knew way more about than I did, and I was eager to learn.  I'd been kissing boys since junior high and enjoying it too, but I'd never actually been to bed with anyone.  Of course, with hindsight everything is clearer.  David could have obtained condoms, even if there was no way I could get contraceptives.  We were in school in my home town.  My father was on the faculty, and my doctor had known my family since I was in elementary school.  There was no way I could ask him for a diaphragm, even if I'd had a clear idea of what one was.  We weren't entirely gormless; we decided to use the rhythm method and time our lovemaking with as much precision as we could muster and plenty of advance planning.      

It was the mid-sixties and interesting things were happening around the country: the Civil Rights movement, anti-war protests, youth rebellion and pot-smoking.  But my small-town,  idyllic little university wouldn't be swept up in the mayhem until after I graduated.  My life was still anchored by life in my sorority, curfews, and in loco parentis rules.  One of my sorority sisters got married before she graduated, and she was forced to move out into an apartment in town, even though her husband was still in school at a different campus.  It was thought unsuitable for a married student to live side-by-side with (presumed) virgins.

My son   was conceived a few days before David was set to return to England.  We had gone to a party at the apartment of some married friends who were graduating with me but were already married with a baby.  David had arranged for us to spend the night there and after everyone else went home that is what we did but not before having the single fight we ever had.  I was in a mood.  David was already packing to leave, and I could sense he was already half way to England in his head.  He had decided  to go home early, perhaps because he was missing Judy and growing anxious about leaving me.  At first he was going to make me a tape of his voice so I'd be able to hear him tell me he loved me even after he was gone, but he decided not to after all.  I loved him desperately, and I was trying to make the most of the time we had left together, but I also felt free.  I loved him yet  didn't feel permanently attached to him.  How could I?  When other guys asked me to dance, I was only too happy to join them and flirt a little.  David went ballistic.  He was furious, and we went outside to sit in my car and thrash it out.    
“I saw your face,” he snarled.  “I saw your bloody face!”  Clearly, I'd been having far too good a time.

I was shocked and devastated that things would end between us like this.  Through gulping sobs I apologized over and over.  When he said he couldn't spend the night with me after all, I was desperate to turn things around.  I must have been persuasive, because David relented at last, we smoothed things over and went back inside.  That  was  the night my son was conceived.  The next few days were filled with the old tenderness, but we decided there would be no point to staying in touch.  Better to make a clean break and each of us get on with our lives.  And so he was gone.

After graduation I moved home, and it  wasn't long before I began throwing up.  Suddenly cigarettes tasted foul, and I knew things were different with me.  This was 1967, a time when "girls like me  didn't have sex,” and if we did, we certainly didn't talk about it, even with our best friends.  Perhaps some girls had confidantes, but I didn't know anyone I could tell about my fear that I might be pregnant.   I went with my mother to secure an apartment in Miami,Ohio, where I'd been accepted into a graduate program, and thought about what courses I would presumably take in the fall.  I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do.

I had always wanted to go to England and had even toyed with the idea of going to university there, knowing  my mother would never agree to it.  I found out about a study abroad program with Indiana University, the perfect excuse to spend the summer in London, the opportunity I needed to reconnect with David, and I begged my parents to send me.  I could write a paper on Thomas Hardy and earn some credit for grad. school.  I'm sure it was my dad who persuaded my mother to let me go.  She'd been less than thrilled when I spent five weeks one summer at the University of Colorado, my consolation prize for not being allowed to study abroad my junior year.

In many ways that summer was glorious.  I was still slim, and though I vomited from time to time, I otherwise felt terrific.  London in the swinging 'sixties was a grand place to be, and to this day whenever I smell bus fumes I am transported back to its streets.  I joined up with three other young women in our group and we found lodging with an MP and his wife and two small sons in Hampstead. It was easy for four young women to meet people, and we went out most nights.  Our host  took us to the Inns of Court and to a trial at the Old Bailey, which was great fun for us if not for the fellow being tried for espionage.  We went to Kenwood House for an outdoor concert and visited the Tate and Corcoran art museums.  A day trip took us to Summerhill School, the experimental school where the kids made their own rules and did whatever they wanted to.  A.S. Neill, the guru of avant garde educational theory, lived in a charming brick house on the grounds.  With American gumption, we knocked on his door, which he opened himself.  My friend Bert told him she was doing research on the school and wondered if he could talk to us.  He patted her on the head, told her to read his books, and closed the door.  It had been worth a try.

 All I knew about Gordonstoun School was that Prince Charles went there and it was where David was teaching.  I also learned it was at the uppermost tip of  Scotland it took an all-night train ride to get to Inverness, from whence I would have to take a bus.  I was getting used to making solitary trips under fraught circumstances, and though I am normally a reluctant traveler I believe I would have hiked the length and breadth of the country to reach David.  

I'll never forget the train conductor who patrolled the cars and seemed very official in his uniform.  He didn't speak to me when he took my ticket, but an hour or so later he returned and asked me to follow him, which I did without question.  God must indeed look out for fools, for that summer I did any number of what seem now like very foolish things.  I should have had at least some misgivings, but I followed this stranger as if I were a friendly puppy.  He took me to a private car where tea was laid out on a small table, invited me to sit down and offered me a biscuit.  I felt as if I were two people, one doing and one watching, and I remember wondering just what this gentleman had in mind for me.  I had the feeling I should be alarmed or at least wary, but I sipped my tea and politely answered his few questions about my destination.  At length, he rose to leave, but before he went, he told me I was welcome to spend the night in this sleeping car.  It wasn't what I had paid for, but he wanted me to have it.  I  thought he might have nefarious designs on me, but I accepted gratefully and fell asleep.  He left, and I never saw him again.

The landscape around Gordonstoun was harsh,  bleak, and seemed all one color, a monotonous light brown.  That far north the sun barely set at all, but I remember grey skies and brisk breezes.    I got off the bus, hoisted my suitcase, and made my way down the High Street  to the pub David had directed me to, where I would rent a room upstairs from the bar.  I can only imagine what the villagers must have thought of me, a strange American girl, showing up for no apparent reason  with eyes red from weeping.  David met me in the pub and bought me a whisky, something I'd never had before.  It burned my throat and seemed entirely appropriate for the occasion.  He seemed tense, not unhappy to see me but obviously uncomfortable.  At length we went upstairs and were at last alone.  I had been crying steadily for some time, and I sat on his lap and wept into his shoulder.  I told him that if he married me, we could get divorced after a year, but that way I'd be able to keep the baby.  I knew already what my parents' reaction would be.   

When I was still in high school, an old friend of my dad's had written to tell him that his adopted daughter had gotten herself pregnant at the age of 16.  She was going to marry the father, but my dad's friend, a minister, had offered to resign his position in his church, such was his chagrin.  My parents showed me the letter, and I knew they intended it as a warning.   These were good people,   and I knew from this experience how devastated my own parents would be if I were, God forbid, ever in a comparable situation.  At least my old friend was going to marry her child's father.  I figured that if David married me, I'd be able to keep my baby with less fuss.  I was, after all, already out of college and ostensibly grown up.

David and I talked, I cried, and it seemed when we got into bed that he was trying to rekindle what we'd had back in Indiana.  I was happy to be with David, happy to have sex with him, but my paramount concern was for the baby.  “Don't hurt him, don't hurt him,” I said over and over.  

It was games day at the school, and David had to help oversee the activities, so I went along to the playing fields where boys of various ages were put through their paces.  I have always found English schoolboys appealing, with their floppy hair, shorts, and chapped knees.  In those days Gordonstoun had a reputation for being Spartan and “character-building,” and it was clear that these games were serious business.  There was one boy, who looked about eleven or twelve, who had a grossly misshapen face.  His lower jaw was greatly enlarged, giving him a painfully elongated appearance.  He had a face you couldn't help but notice but felt obliged to make the effort not to stare at.  One of the masters barked an order at this kid, telling him to get in line or move along or some such thing, and David immediately jumped in and said, “It's OK.  He's with me.”  
The worst hours were the ones I spent alone in David's room in the house of another school master.  David had gone off to meet with his mother and his  girlfriend, who had come up from London to see David and figure out what to do.  I was to wait for him to return, at which point he would give me his decision about whether to marry me or not.  The previous day we had walked along the North Sea and lain together in the long sea grass, like two nestlings huddling together for warmth.  It was a moment of peace with nothing but sea and sky and  wind.  The rest of the world seemed very far away.  David  said, “I love Judy, but I'm going to marry you.”  If we divorced a year later, I told him, I would be fine with that, but I needed to be married in order to keep my baby.  That was all I was concerned with.  I   loved David, but I could let him go.  I wanted my baby.  That was all that mattered.  We went to a jewelry store and bought a ring, intending to get married  the next day, Monday, but first David was going to meet with his mother.

Since David's mother had borne him out-of-wedlock herself and raised him alone, it would be interesting to know what she said to him.  While he was gone I violated one of the rules of conduct I hold sacrosanct:
 I read all the letters from Judy that I found in his desk.   The bond between them was obvious, as was David's conflict about what to do with me.   Time slowed to a standstill.  I lay on the bed, waiting as I had that day when
my brother had promised to return and play with me, and cried until I was exhausted. When he returned, I knew that my hours of waiting had been in vain.  There was to be no wedding, but I kept the ring—until I lost it a few years later.

The last time I saw David was at the small airport where I caught the  plane back to London.  I couldn't face another long train ride; wherever I was going, I needed to get there quickly.  I stood at the edge of the tarmac, feeling as grey and cold as the sky.  “It's a good thing I'm so exhausted,” I told David, “or I'd be in hysterics.”  I hadn't stopped crying for three days.