(Dear Reader, have you missed any earlier scenes? Catch up here: Stalker)
Fall 1970. The Bronx, New York
“I can’t share you, you must choose.” I told Dave. “Thelma or me.”
“I will give her up.”
“When will you tell her?” I didn’t let on my surprise, or my relief. I acted as though I was asserting a basic right to have him all to myself, no apologies.
“Tonight. I will call her tonight.”
Thursday night. 8 p.m. My phone rang.
“I did it,” Dave said. But he didn’t sound happy. He didn’t even sound truthful, but I accepted it. I could not share; this was where I drew the line. I wasn’t sure of much else, but I knew being the only one was on one side of my line, and sharing lay beyond it. I was too jealous otherwise.
“Okay then,” I said. It was settled.
I wanted it to be like 1969, early 1970. Walking down the street with arms around each other, legs moving in rhythm to each other. Bitter wind at the backs of our matching navy pea coats. Matching round, wire eyeglass frames. Icy slush cutting through our black socks and brown boots.
Being taken down to Kingsbridge Terrace on a Saturday night, to someone’s old-fashioned apartment in a pre-War brick building. Simon’s mother’s? The first time — finding myself immobile on a recliner chair, realizing I was the only female in a room of ten boy-men — I felt fear. Who was this cat Dave? Do I really know him? How could he take me here? Who are the others? What am I doing here? But they were as silent and still as I was. Except for Patrick, a blond, Irish-Italian Catholic Bronx boy, with a sonorous voice inherited from his classically trained singer mother and a tough, thick, greaser build from his father. He had followed the Barbarian into the bathroom, off stage left. I could hear the Barbarian retching, from where I sat. Patrick returned to the living room, looking not quite as worried, reporting to the silent room. “He is okay. It’s nothing.” Patrick cares. He’s a good friend. The Barbarian followed, slight, pale and sheepish. He looked at me. I looked away, embarrassed for him. I didn’t understand then what was making him sick. They hid that part from me.
Going down to Central Park in April for the be-in with Dave, but turning back in a surprise heavy snow. Strawberry waffles at Jahn’s. (I was careful what I ate out. Anything with meat was too far off the Kosher list to consider, so I stuck with safer vegetarian dishes.) Waiting for his parents and sister to leave the house, so we could stay behind. Dave playing chess with my father in our kitchen. Hanging out by Patrick’s house; the band playing in his basement, my ears finally accustomed to the volume. Dave playing his Les Paul, newly named “Baby.” Summer Schaefer Festival concerts in Central Park. Dave worked in mid-town, but I was free. I spent my summer days shopping for the perfect chess set to give to him as a birthday gift. I could get to Central Park early, and get on line for us. We had the best seats that way.
Sometimes Patrick would join us. Or, was I joining Dave and Patrick? Patrick would sit on my left, Dave on my right. Sometimes I would be reading a book before the band came on. They didn’t mind; they talked over me. Couples, John Updike. Couldn’t put it down! We would walk that way, too: Patrick on my left, Dave on my right. Waiting for the subway in the middle of the night, after the late concert at the Fillmore, walking down the middle of Pelham Parkway in the darkness, the lanes iced over without a passing car, without a bus — still and lifeless, except for us. Watching football games with them. Going to Shea Stadium with them. They explained the games to me, but I didn’t care enough to understand. Being with them was all I wanted.
The three of us in Dave’s parents’ basement. Dave’s and mine matching black pullover sweaters — my mother knitted them for us — thrown aside on leather chair. Patrick holding my bare feet in his lap, teaching me how to keep the soles from being ticklish as he played with them. My head on Dave’s lap. Patrick looking me straight in the soul, with his steel gray-blue eyes. Anthem of the Sun, our soundtrack, playing in the background, then in the foreground. Patrick introducing us to opera. To Robert Heinlein. I saw my first living room Christmas tree when we visited Patrick.
I hoped it would last forever. Why would they want to change those perfect moments? I was like Beth, in Little Women, ensconced in the happy nest of her family, who wonders why any of her sisters would want to leave to find happiness elsewhere.
Maybe Dave called Thelma. Maybe he didn’t. I heard him say one thing, but I felt another.
Wanda was sympathetic, always interested in hearing about Dave. “He was so in love with you last year,” she told me. “He would talk about you all the time. No one else could get his attention.” Was that jealousy I was hearing? Her own obsession? I ignored it. I needed a friend.
“I don’t know how he feels. It’s not clear,” I said.
“Let’s find out,” Wanda said. She suggested using the highest phone technology of the time. “I’ll call Dave from my living room phone and ask about you, and you can listen in on the bedroom extension. We won’t tell him you’re on the line.”
“Okay.” Okay? Had it come to this? Were we 14 years old, not 17?
Punishment for my misdemeanor was immediate. Dave was forthright. Had they planned this all along?
“I love her, but she doesn’t know how to do things,” Dave told Wanda. “It’s because of religion. How she grew up. When everyone else was out doing things on Saturdays — learning how to ride bikes and play ball and swim and socialize — she had to stay home because it was Shabbos. And she still does that. She isn’t like other people. She doesn’t do things. There’s a lot wrong with her. A lot wrong with her family. You don’t know her like I do. There’s something wrong with her.”
He was telling all my secrets to Wanda? My mind switched off and I didn’t hear the rest of what he said. Until the end.
“Would you tell Baby all this?” asked Wanda.
“Yes,” said Dave. He raised his voice and slowed down his speech, as though he wanted to get my attention. “I would tell her myself. I wish she was hearing everything I just said.” He must have known. They must have arranged this. My face burned with the shame.
He exposed me: my confidences, my family. Disrespected my religious practices. Exposed my insecurities about my inadequacies, my athletic and social backwardness. The inner workings of my family. I had told him things I had never told anyone. Let him see who I was. Trusted him to love me for who I was. Rejected, because of it. Embarrassed in front of my friend, because of it. Humiliated. Abandoned.
Wanda hung up and came into the bedroom, pathetic sympathy hanging over her face. “I’m so sorry,” she said. I wouldn’t let her see how hurt and shamed I was. I wouldn’t let on. I smiled, and discounted the incident with a wave of my hand. “I must be going home.” Her face said she wasn’t fooled, and that made it worse.
I gathered up my faded green knapsack of books, and got the hell out of there. My shame flooded my body with waves of red blood flowing too fast, too freely. I stumbled to the bus; my legs didn’t work quite right, my chest was tight, my head floated above me. The person I am — she is all wrong. I am all wrong. I’ve been found out. How could I ever face Dave again? Or Wanda? How could I have been so stupid to let someone in? Stupid, stupid.
I could not change the past. I had made my mistake. But I would never feel this shame again. I would never let anyone see what Dave saw. I would never let anyone in, again, I promised. It was the only way I knew to comfort myself.
And I kept the promise. That I did. And that was Mistake Two.
. . . .to be continued
© Barbara E. Berger, 2011, all rights reserved. “Stalker” is a work of fiction.