“She carries in the candles,
And lights the curtained room,
Shy in the doorway
And shy in the gloom”- Yeats
Always walking around with a sketch pad….
The woods of southern Ohio offered a treasure chest of foraging delight. A friend who was an experienced naturalist-we’ll call her *Heather Meadowlark and I set up a lean-to in the forest behind New Dorm. We lashed cross beams at a slant to two standing trees. Then we wove long saplings and topped that with bark and brush for the roof. We created a tamped earth floor and gathered rushes for floor mats. I loved that little shelter. We’d sit out there and draw and read. I’d cleared a patch of ground for a garden. We fancied ourselves going back to the land even though we were barely out of our teens nor we did know how to make a living. When everyone left the campus during breaks I stayed on to clean rooms for extra money and spend time in the woods.
Below is one of Heather’s delightful drawings that she put in my journal.
Heather was strong legged, efficient, and very Type A. She was also surprisingly coy for a practical girl. One time we went on an outing with another kid from the dorm. I watched as Heather batted her eyelashes at the driver feigning ignorance in learning a stick shift. She sat in the passenger’s front seat, gently holding the leather knob of the gear shift as Neil Goldblatt showed her first, second, and…yeah…third. Courting giggles erupted. I was in the back seat rolling my eyes, waiting to get back to the dorm. As I sat in Neil’s BMW with its soft seats, and sporty engine, I marveled at this guy having such a fancy car at his age and that Heather, with her framed glasses, transformed from a nature geek into a come hither vixen with one of the richest guys in the dorm. I bailed out as soon as we got home, smoked a bunch of cigarettes (tobacco) and tried to work on my paper for art history. I never did ask her if the flirting lead anywhere.
So even though I played the lonely card in my last blog, I have to say I was surrounded by the most awesome people.
That second year in New Dorm, some of my cohorts were Jimmy and Annie-a couple truly in love. They lived two doors down. Think James Taylor and Carole King, the mini version. So sweet. Annie was nervous, anxious, and forever worried that her parents in New Rochelle, New York would find out about Jimmy and kick him out of her life. He was loyal to her as the day is long, and they were always together. Annie had naturally full, voluptuous lips, long before Angelina Jolie was a twinkle in her father’s eye. Annie was Jewish and Jimmy, a Gentile. Her parents wouldn’t approve.
Down the hall on the men’s side of the dorm lived Bob a senior from New York who excelled in photography and studied architecture. His wife, Jenny, a full blood Seneca, was smart and funny and always made us feel welcome. Friday nights were party nights. Saturday, Bob faithfully concentrated on his studies. The college allowed them to live in the dorm because they were married and Bob was in his last year. Jenny worked full-time in a law office in town.
Then there was sleek, sexy Ming, from Vietnam and her Pekingese dog, Smokey. She seemed to swish rather than walk, even though she was small in stature. Actually, she buzzed. She spoke in staccato phrases. She was always going somewhere, and never seemed to study. Her father was in a high level VIP and lived overseas in France, I think. When he called, she jumped.
Another one in our eccentric group was James, Neil’s roommate, with his thick sandy,uncooperative wavy hair and teddy bear body. He was tall and big, not heavy, not fat, just…large. His mouth would be set in a firm line more often than not. He never belly laughed. He had a soft side, a deep side. If I remember right, he was a Scorpio. James owned a purple velvet cape that he would put on when kids were partying. A woman had sewed the garment for him and I sensed a history there. The seamstress, a former lover perhaps, lived in North Carolina and was associated with the Grateful Dead. I wasn’t a “Deadhead” but was fascinated listening to the kids who were into the lingo and culture. The “dead” part scared me. People would read the Tibetan Book of the Dead, popular at that time but I never did read it, nor did I care much. I loved blues and jazz, zydeco and gospel. In literature I was into heavy stuff like Sartre and Nietzsche, as well as the English romantic poets like Keats and Shelley. I was into Steinbeck-imagining myself doing my version of Travels With Charley .
But James was quiet for a reason. His father had died during a diving accident, an underwater death. James was with his father when this traumatic event occurred. Even though he didn’t talk about it much, I sensed a great sadness, even a feeling that he somehow was responsible because at 14, he couldn’t have saved his own father. His eyes always held a quiet discernment; there was a certain barrier that couldn’t be crossed with James. I think he was still in love with his former flame.
Also at New Dorm, lived Sheila Rothberg, who had her own huge room near the front lobby. Somebody had pulled strings to get her that room. She also kept to herself a lot and drew huge pastel portraits of Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and was into the beat poets and Castaneda. She was allowed to have a hot plate-totally against the rules. I’d heard rumors about manic depression, but I really didn’t know much about her. She was always pleasant but I never saw her in any art classes and she would disappear from campus from time to time.
Then there was dearest Yasmin, from Afghanistan, and her American red-haired roommate, Libby. I adored them. Yasmin was quiet and loved dancing. She had olive skin and gentle ways. She felt isolated from her country and family. I never saw anyone from her family. She worked in the mail room at the college. By the second year of college they lived off campus. We had spent hours together my first year in college. Libby had the most handsome boyfriend, whom she adored, an older guy named Steve or Rick or something. He worked in a mechanic shop in her home town in Maryland and eventually he broke it off with Libby. I’d never seen someone so shattered when they split. She sat at her window and cried and cried. We all felt so badly for her. Cups of tea and sympathetic cards didn’t help. She would pull herself together and go to work grilling hamburgers and serving coffee at The Lodge, then come back to her room and weep again. Dear sweet Libby. She hand embroidered intricate Celtic patterns on the pockets of our jeans, just to be nice. When I think about her, my heart still wrenches at the thought of her suffering that break up.
“Black Dorm” was upstairs on the second floor in New Dorm. African-American students wrestled an approval from the administration and negotiated having a completely segregated wing. They had the best parties. Most of the students in that wing were dedicated to their studies. Civil rights and politics were on most of our minds, at least such topics were common with the people I knew.
Anyway, one brother named “Sparks” was the nicest guy and was friends with everybody. Sparks was like the big brother for the whole town. He had charisma and was one of those people whom others admire. He wasn’t stand-offish to the few of us white kids who loved to dance at the Black Dorm parties. He called me “Lil Sis” and we spoke often about life and the outrageously beautiful Creole girl he was in love with over at Miami. She was a high-class beauty in pre-med. He really loved that woman. Somehow Sparks had made it out of inner city Detroit and the future was looking good with his track and baseball accolades. He was a health nut before everyone else got into the fad. Women flocked to him like a movie star.
Sparks wanted to read Richard Wright’s Native Son and I’d told him I had a copy. One late morning after a classic Black Dorm party, I went to drop off the book. As usual, I’d listened to the fantastic local band for an hour or so, then went back to my room and slept. I got up early and went to church at the stone chapel on campus. Every Sunday they had a jazz trio perform before the sermon. I would sit up in the balcony, wanting to be transcended. I missed my boyfriend back home. He hadn’t called and I was bluesy-it was the usual college girl funk. So I went back over to Black Dorm and hesitated before knocking on Spark’s door. I heard people laughing so I left the book on the floor and turned around to leave when he hollered “come in.” He was sitting in bed with two gorgeous sisters Oops, sorry! They chuckled and made a joke about “don’t mind us” or “care to join?” as I closed the door quickly. I mean, I wasn’t naïve, and I certainly was no prude…but… I felt as out-of-place as a redneck in overalls at a country club gala.
And no, none of those kids were my lovers, they were my pals… the kiss and tell part will just have to remain in the reader’s mind, because during this particular chapter of the Lonely Times in the Life of Sue the hot stuff was only in my head.
Journal prompt: Write about the people in your life, past or present. How did they affect you? What do you remember most about them? You can use descriptions, but more importantly, try to give the reader a sense of who they really were to you. Pretend you are writing a screen play and these are your characters. How do they act? Talk about couples, relationships, hook-ups and breakups.
* All names changed to protect the innocent. This is a work of creative non-fiction.
Copyright © 2014 by Susan E. Rowland, all rights reserved.