Stalker’s Essay Assignment 11
Dave and I met at the Bronx HS of Science. I was 15, a junior; he was 17. We were madly in love and would spend our lives together, we were sure. I wore his heavy senior ring, featuring a black stone on its front, temporarily sized with band-aid wraps for my own finger. I was so petite back then, just over 100 lbs. Under my jeans I sported a white-gold ankle bracelet with black pearls; our names engraved on the wings and 2-2-1969 inscribed on the back of the hearts. “I love you. Will you go steady with me?” he said on 2-2-1969, as our Lexington Avenue train pulled out of 59th Street. (The ring was legal, but whenever we went to his house, I carefully removed the ankle bracelet so his parents would not ask how he had afforded it.) He was six-foot tall, classic dark, stereotypical New York Jewish looks and a big, friendly smile. He was growing his head hair longer, pushing against his parents’ length limit. His chest hair already curled over the neckline of his crewneck t-shirts, and his face showed a shadow by the afternoon.
He was too good for me, I knew. He seemed so cool, so good-looking, so smart. Me? I was searching the library shelves for the answer to myself. Freud, Adler, Jung. Dave seemed to have few such self-doubts. He played lead guitar in his band, and loved the attention. He had so many friends, knew his way around the city, moved through the world with confidence. My parents allowed me to go anywhere if I were with him, no questions asked. Now I had male protection out in the dangerous world, they thought. With him, I discovered Manhattan, holding his hand for dear life. My landscape now included new parks, subway lines and theaters, and was inhabited by B. B. King, Clapton, Joplin, Hendrix and the Dead — with a new wardrobe of jeans, workshirts, peasant blouses, black turtlenecks, pea-coats and drug-paraphernalia inspired accessories. He taught me how to cut school and do what the cool ones did, while maintaining an enviable grade point average and proper appearances at home. I fell into it easily; I was used to living double and triple lives.
That summer, on another subway trip to Manhattan, he said, “I love you. Will you marry me? We can live in my parents’ basement until I get a job and support us.” My future stretched before me in love and security.
His family lived in a beautiful private house in a still pastoral section of the north Bronx, replete with a flower garden in back. Everyone had his own room (Dave’s with one black wall, his parents’ compromise with his demand for four black ones), and all of them were uncluttered and clean. I was grateful that Dave was tolerant of my circumstances: my struggling stressed-out family, overcrowded in a dingy public housing project apartment; schedule restrictions placed by my obsessive-compulsive, Shabbos-obeserving father; the expectations placed on Dave by my admiring but desperate and depressed mother; my own allegiance to my virginity, a safeguard against an eternity in hell (for surely I otherwise deserved that). 1969 was the best summer ever. At its end, Dave took me to see Hair on Broadway; he got the tickets for his 18th birthday.
But the disparities between my two lives were growing, as well as the stakes. I was breaking under the strain. My anxiety and panic attacks were multiplying, but I could not see why.
I believed in G-d, so I still wanted to observe the Jewish Sabbath, eat only kosher food and be a virgin when I married. I loved Dave and being cool, the excitement of all-night rock concerts, mini-acid-festivals at his friend’s house, be-ins at Central Park, and hanging with people on the edge. Of belonging. As time went on my resolve to lead both lives weakened; living the life of my peers became worth breaking the Sabbath for, at least in secret away from my parents’ awareness. Maybe getting on a bus or subway on Saturday, or wearing pants on a Jewish holiday, or doing homework on the Sabbath . . . maybe I could do all that without increasing my chances of a sentencing to hell?
Surely this would all work out?
September, he started college. He still lived at home in the Bronx, so each morning we traveled together on the Number 12 bus as far as Fordham and the Concourse. Then I went up the Concourse to Science, while he caught the D train down to CCNY in Manhattan. The distance between us gradually grew in all ways. He became tired of living his own two lives. He wanted to give up school, then go on the road and become a rock star, certain that would cure his depression. In his eyes, I was an obstacle; I became something that was tying him down to a life he didn’t want to lead.
As I graduated high school, June 6, 1970, the phone call came.
“Give me my ring back. Give it to one of my friends — Simon, Chris or Savage, any of them. You won’t see me again.”
I saw Chris at school the next day; he looked sad, but he wasn’t surprised when I handed him the ring. I didn’t have my own senior ring, because I had been wearing Dave’s. Now I had none, nothing.
I couldn’t eat. When I dropped to 88 lbs., I was scared. I needed a plan to put myself back together. I would get away. Yes, I would find a way that my parents would accept, and get away.
I was not prepared for the Summer of 1970. I made a big mistake.
. . . to be continued