The Living Spaces #4 – College – Sophomore Year and Beyond – A Deep Dive

Prelude

I adore this photo of my husband. He loved diving. After he got certified and gained experience in different locales, the tropics, the Great Lakes, the Florida Keys and multiple caves, he realized that if he’d had more direction as a young man, he’d probably have chosen diving as a career. One time, I was wandering through our house looking for him, calling for him, finally assuming that he’d gone out without telling me. A short time later, I walked into the bathroom and was startled to see him under water in the bathtub, his snorkel and mask on, checked out of regular life for a bit. Made me laugh. I’m thinking that Michael’s deepest dives were on wrecks in Lake Superior. I know that he was certified to 100 feet plus, certainly my idea of a deep free dive. I was glad he enjoyed those experiences. A cold deep dive in full dry suit was his type of fun.

We had vastly different approaches to a “deep dive.” And Michael much preferred his choice to mine. My idea of a deep dive is always a journey into my interior landscape. The striations in the rocky landscape in the photo above are for me, a metaphor for the layers we pile up throughout the course of our lives. Of course we’re not aware of that piling on of layers. Nor are the mountains aware of their compressed deposits on display to those of us who ponder all the life in those colorful lines. I know we all have those layers. As time passes, many get papered over by our cumulative daily experiences. Some of mine are that way, inaccessible, despite my best efforts to explore them. I do have a prodigious memory but it’s far from perfect. What I do have is journals. They’re far from a complete record of my life. But they are certainly windows to the past. And the pages don’t lie. When I explore them I’m confronted by my young self, struggling to grow up. I see all my mistakes, my embarrassments, my shame. Looking back is instructive, enlightening, painful and beautiful. So far I haven’t ripped anything up. This raw journey and exposure I’m engaged in would not be a high priority on Michael’s list. He was always suggesting I get rid of private things I’d kept that he believed were no one else’s business. But I’m not him. One day, my kids and grandkids will be glad I told my truth.

SOPHOMORE YEAR

1969 – “I decided to change. It’s been too many years now, clinging to shreds…”

During the summer of 1969, I was evaluating myself and not liking what I found. I was eighteen. Freshman year of college was a bust. My grades were mediocre. I’d continued to break rules which in the end caused me problems. In my junior year of high school, I ditched 60 Physical Education classes. I have no idea how I managed to get the grownups to allow me to keep my positions as student council treasurer and member of the National Honor Society, but I did. They didn’t make it easy. As as senior, I had to make up every class I skipped, two for one. On swim days, I was constantly wet. So what did I do in college? I skipped two semesters of my PE requirement. When the time came for fall registration I would be encumbered and unable to participate in school until I fixed that little rebellion. I realized that I was creating my own problems but I didn’t seem to be able to stop myself. My high school boyfriend and I had finally broken up. We were still friends but I was determined to move on. When I went back to school, I intended to branch out and try lots of different things. I realized that I was a curious mixture of courage and insecurities. I developed an exterior that was quick-tongued and sarcastic, learning about social games and how to navigate them while being intensely lonely, feeling misunderstood and pining for love. I felt isolated and unable to fit in anywhere. When I returned to the university, I lived in the same dorm as I did before, but lucked into a room with no roommate. I appreciated the privacy while still being able to socialize with people on my floor. Again, those floors were segregated by sex so I lived in the company of other women.

I didn’t trust the appearances of anyone, perhaps because I knew that with me, what you saw was definitely not what you got. Alternative culture was alive and a definite presence. I wanted to test its substance and depth. Early in the fall, I conducted an experiment. In the basement of the student union, there was a gathering place called “The Commons.” When entering the building from the quadrangle, you would walk down a flight of stairs and through a long hallway to get to the The Commons. There you could grab coffee or a sandwich, study, or just have a break between classes. Lots of people sat on the floor or in chairs along that passageway, many of whom were the “freaks,” the people breaking away from the more traditional paths of their fellow students. They were the object of my experiment. On one day I’d dress in jeans, a t-shirt, my hair flowing loosely, moving with a definite strut, and I’d walk down that hall. The alternative folks would make eye contact and nod at me in recognition. The next day, I’d dress myself in a skirt and sweater, with color coordinated knee socks, my hair pulled back in a severe ponytail. I’d walk the same hall, see the same people sitting there and be completely ignored. Yes. I decided I couldn’t trust any behavior on its surface. I felt even more isolated.

I set out to try a variety of experiences I’d resisted during my freshman year. Many of my friends had already dabbled in drugs and alcohol, even back in high school, but I was still slow and careful. The first time I ever smoked marijuana, I got seven joints and practiced smoking alone in my room. I wanted to make sure I could manage myself with a modicum of control before indulging in front of anyone else. I did the same thing with a bottle of Wolfschmidt’s vodka, a dreadful experience and one of the two times in my life I felt the room spinning as I sat on the floor in terror, trying to clutch anything to make it stop. Drinking never was my thing, then or now. I joined a sensory relaxation group which met once a week. The leader put us through a series of exercises in which we first were partnered with whomever was closest to us, then eventually, put us in groups of seven where we performed exercises that were trustbuilders. We weren’t allowed to speak at all. I actually really enjoyed that challenge and wound up making friends with one person, ultimately developing a friendship that lasted decades.

That fall of 1969 was intense for me on multiple levels. My mother had surgery to remove a growth on her thyroid gland. I waited in my dorm room for a call from my dad to find out about the surgery. He told me that it was successful and that the tumor was benign. I knew he was lying. I remember standing in the dark, looking down at my palms held side by side, envisioning sand slipping through the small spaces between them, a metaphor for life and time. I’d been worried about my mother’s health for most of my eighteen years as she was always sick with something. I didn’t know then how subtly traumatized I was by that worry which laid the foundation for my endless quest for a partner who’d provide me security and shelter. I moved forward, an interesting mix of confidence and insecurities. I attended the anti-war moratorium on campus that fall, along with a variety of other political events as I thought my way into a cohesive ideology about what was happening in the great big world. Huge events which were having a major impact on me and my peers. Thinking always about the war, the draft, everyone’s numbers, who might get called up. School was a sideline for me compared to all these big issues.

I was having some casual, careful dates in those autumn months. One unseasonably warm day in early November I met Al on the steps of the Union where he sat strumming his guitar. I’d actually glimpsed him the year before at some freshman street dance. I thought his dancing resembled how a person would look with his hand stuck in an electrical outlet. I promptly forgot him. Not this time. We had a long conversation and soon were involved with each other. We went to see The Rolling Stones a few weeks after we met. After only recently getting an intellectual grip on my wildly fluctuating emotions, I was determined to proceed cautiously in the early weeks of this involvement. Initially I did well. I sensed his fear of attachment pretty fast. That was a pretty normal feeling for a nineteen year old guy. I wasn’t altogether sure I wanted to be deeply involved with anyone either. The times were so tumultuous and unsettling. I was discarding a whole set of ideas that were benchmarks of my young life and wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to put in their place. My friends were all setting aside the social mores of our young lives, and while I was good with the intellectual parts, I was not ready to let go of my personal dreams of one partner for life. After several months of seeing each other, Al was the first to make declarations of love which he quickly qualified as temporary. Meanwhile, my feelings were deepening despite my certainty that we were doomed.

We got through the winter, driving out to the countryside on weekends, doing lots of talking and exploring each other’s ideas. The campus was alive with dissent like most around the country. I made some passing attempts at keeping up with school and made a decision to switch from being a psychology major to an English major, having discovered that there were some serious statistics classes to complete the psych requirements. Numbers weren’t for me, at least back then. During that kinetic time, I read voraciously, consuming philosophy, literature and history as fast as I could. Always a music lover, I was listening to new sounds. I felt like my brain was constantly stretching. Life was exciting and confusing. I was willing to experiment with my mind, with drugs, with politics and new experiences. In the atmosphere of free love though, I was pretty sure I’d be the last virgin on the planet. But I wasn’t ready to move in that respect. I wrote in my journal that I never wanted to look back with regret on the big decisions in life. I held onto that. Second semester moved quickly, a new decade had begun and when I turned nineteen in May of ’70, the growing pains of the previous year and a half had devolved into me wondering how I’d managed to fall in love knowing that I’d jumped from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. When school ended, I went back to Chicago to my third year of my summer office job. That would be the last time in my life that I’d live in Chicago.

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