That summer of 1971, my roommate and I had moved to a different apartment in the midst of what we called liberated territory. We lived in the house on the right side of the photo while good friends lived in the house to the left. Our street was a short walk away from campus. A burgeoning alternative community was located on the same block, a general store, a restaurant, a garage, a bike shop and a print shop, all connected with each other to provide a place which allowed us to exist apart from the overall culture we found so alienating. Despite all my significant worries, living there provided an incredible sense of connection to a lifestyle and philosophy that made sense to me. With no distractions from my men problems, I was more relaxed. I had my first dog, separate from family pets. Her name was Herbie, after the philosopher Herbert Marcuse. Gender didn’t matter to me. Looking back, she was a nice reminder that despite all my emotional upset and my alienation from school, I was still growing myself intellectually, doing deep dives into complex subjects.
I had a fishing vacation in Minnesota that summer with a group of friends. Then came that drug-fueled wedding at the home of a friend who’d rented a lovely house from a professor who was away on a sabbatical. I still don’t have an adequate description of what happened to me that night. I can’t say I’m a mystical person but I don’t know a logical explanation for how some magical moments happen. Maybe the stars were aligned, as some people say. The right place at the right time. A cosmic occurrence which gives the universe a lot of power I can’t quite buy. Whatever it was, the night I met Michael, with whom I shared a simply powerful instant rapport and connection, was the singular most significant turning point in my life. I didn’t know it then. We were just hanging out, enjoying the peculiar spectacle of lots of people in varying states of mental and emotional disarray. His girlfriend got mad at him for spending time talking with me, took his car and left. The bride wound up vomiting on the front lawn, saying she hated everyone around her. He and I were operating on some other plane of consciousness. We stayed until everyone else had left and helped our friend, the host, clean up the mess. By then it was morning and I was needing to meet another friend who was driving me to Chicago to see my parents. We all converged at that person’s house including Michael’s girlfriend. There was a lot of tension between various people, but for me, this was a piece of cake as for once, none of the issues were mine. I tried to facilitate peace between them but I didn’t know Michael or his girlfriend well enough to be helpful. Finally, I just wanted to leave, stood up and said, “I’m withdrawing now.” All Michael uttered at that time was one word – “don’t.” I left for Chicago with my friend. When I returned three days later, I called around to get a phone number for Michael, called him and asked him to come over to my place for a visit. Ever direct, I told him that I just really liked him, wanted to get to know him and be his friend. He agreed. A few weeks later, he wound up renting an apartment down the block from mine and we began spending lots of time together.
The fall semester was beginning. Al and Dennis arrived on campus, bringing with them all the emotional angst I had about them. But first things first. Most important, both the civil and university charges from my spring arrest were dropped. That meant I could square away as much of my academic failure as possible before departing for Europe in early 1972. My grades were mostly A’s and incompletes. I couldn’t find the discipline to do anything I found irrelevant. Bad for me, but later in life, that proved to be a good learning experience that helped me fix my issues and would ultimately benefit my kids. But back then, I was impossibly contrary.
To say I was mixed up that fall would be a significant understatement. Interestingly enough, though, I was gaining more clarity and beginning to recover from the wreck I’d become. I was sick of my unrecognizable self. Demeaning myself, feeling insecure all the time and twisting myself into someone I couldn’t recognize was the lowest point in my young life. I hated what my quest for love and a version of a lifelong relationship had done to me. My journal began to reflect changes in my thinking. I started writing more about books and current events. I began to develop a more realistic view about the pathology of my situation with Albert. If there was such a thing as the right place at the right time, I’d discovered conversely, there was definitely a wrong place at the wrong time. That was hard for me to swallow. I’d always thought that if I struggled hard enough to get what I wanted, I would. I finally and reluctantly was learning there was a limit to how long I could ram my head against a brick wall. I began to give up. I was battered and wounded. But not totally lost yet. For awhile, I was simply numb, shut down and in a guarded place. I realized that getting away was more important than I’d originally thought. I was present and absent simultaneously. My friendship with Michael was burgeoning. As soon as mid-September, I started speculating about the potential between us as something beyond platonic. But I knew I wasn’t ready. I had a lot of unfinished emotional business.
September 10, 1971 – Last night I was with Michael who talked with me, trying to draw me from my enclosure. But I still can’t receive what I’d like to need from him. And I wish I could. We sit together, fulfilling each other with understanding, yet we are still engaged with others who leave us frustrated and upset, and alone, standing together against them. Right now it is too absurd.
Over the next few months I spend more time alone, being with my dog and actually functioning better as a student. I hung out with my friends and struggled to stay balanced regarding the unhealthy pull of Albert and the more benign one of Dennis who was still muddling around with his own obsessed former girlfriend. I spend lots of time talking with Michael deep into the nights, often falling asleep, then waking to find him next to me as I got up to get ready for school. Our friendship mystified me and when I questioned him about it, he withdrew for a time as if I’d pushed him away. Too selfish to give up the incredible comfort of his unqualified acceptance of me and his willingness to listen, I reached out for his return and we continued this unusual platonic arrangement. As the semester drew to a close, I had some encounters with Al who realized I was leaving and was clearly disturbed, but remained unwilling to move toward any commitment. Dennis, too, was upset that I was going but I’d hit the wall with both of them and headed home to Chicago to spend time with my family before the European adventure. Michael took Herbie in to care for her during the months I’d be gone. Leaving Al felt like a death although we agreed to correspond.
Being back in my parents’ apartment felt strange. I hadn’t lived with them for almost two years and felt the lifestyle change very keenly. I was thinking furiously through all my problems, hoping I’d salvaged enough of my semester to make going back to finish school at some point a realistic choice. I got along well with my family who didn’t interfere much with my aggressive choices. I remembered that over one holiday visit, my mom had ushered Dennis down the backstairs of our apartment while Al was coming up the front ones. Oh my. Strange days. I prepared for my trip, agonized emotionally and wrote letters to Al which I never sent.
Michael surprised me by driving up with Herbie to see me one last time before I left. I was really touched by that gesture and pleased that my parents liked him immediately, although my dad questioned how he could easily blow his nose with that red bandana wrapped around his leg. He left after a day and the next thing I knew, I was driving to New York in a one-way car, a Ford Fairlane, with my two friends, needing to drop the car off in New Jersey before flying out of New York to Luxembourg via Iceland. We spent one night in Philadelphia, visiting an old friend attending college at Penn.
I was deeply introspective on that long drive and by the time we arrived in Philly, I’d realized that I was pretty sure I was in love with Michael, the only one of these males that I felt myself with, always, and who I really trusted. So I called him to let him know, just as I was leaving the country for months. He replied,”far-out.” Then off I went on my exciting journey. Ah, to be that emotionally courageous or perhaps just impulsive. A gift of youth.
The bulk of my trip memories come from my head, my journals and the many letters I wrote, most to Michael, with whom I was always needing to talk, plus the ones I sent to my family. I didn’t have a camera and obviously no cell phone for quick photos. But I remember a lot. We arrived in Luxembourg in the morning and stayed in a youth hostel where there was no hot water and I drank orange juice.
Our trip transportation was hitchhiking. We went from Luxembourg to Belgium, passing through Liege and Brussels before going to Ostend for a ferry ride across the English Channel to Dover. I saw the Hague. We ate in a Greek restaurant where we were led through the kitchen to choose our food – that meal was 90 cents.
Once in England we passed through Canterbury and saw the famous cathedral there. In London we saw all the requisite tourist sites like Buckingham Palace, the Tower, Westminster and St. Paul’s Cathedral. We rode the tube everywhere. We went to Piccadilly Circus and Petticoat Lane. We went to Karl Marx’s grave at Highgate Cemetery. And I went to American Express to receive letters and get the $50 increments of cash my dad set up all over Europe so I wouldn’t blow all my money at once.
I was just thrilled to be seeing all this history as well as meeting different people from all over the world. The courage to get rides from strangers and manage complicated situations made me feel strong. In the midst of it all, I was working my way through my emotions, sorting out who I wanted to be when I went home. We headed to Birmingham, England to stay with my travel mate’s aunt for a time. There were rolling power outages back then and we slept piled under blankets in our clothes and ate hot porridge every morning. We passed back through London and next boarded a Hovercraft back across the channel to Calais, France. I was proud of myself for not having to use the stomach sickness bag handed out to all passengers.
An uncomfortable hitchhiking attempt led us to catch a train to La Gare du Nord in Paris where we met up with a friend who was studying at the Sorbonne. We also spent time with a professor from our home university and his PhD student. A warm and friendly time. We went to the Louvre, saw the Arc d’Triumphe and the Eiffel Tower along with Notre Dame. We walked through the Tuileries Gardens and went to Versailles. I think perhaps my favorite spot was the famous Shakespeare Book Store on the bank of the Seine.
At this point on our trip, traveling as a trio reached a crisis. My old friend and I, who’d known each other since elementary school through high school and as college roommates, split off from our other travel companion who stayed with our friend at the Sorbonne. Off we went to Switzerland, catching a ride with a sports car driver who provided us with terrifying views and speed through the Alps. We toured Geneva and Lausanne where the streets were impeccably clean and the chocolate and pastries delicious.
From there we headed to Germany and stopped to see my sister, her husband and new baby girl. We passed through Bonn and Heidelberg where we toured the castle there. Then we were off to Amsterdam where we hit the famous town square filled with young marijuana smokers, the somewhat unnerving red light district, the Anne Frank museum, the Van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum to see Rembrandt paintings. After that, she went off to meet her boyfriend and I traveled back to Frankfurt to spend more time with my family. A few months had gone by. While I got to know my little niece, I listened to music, read and wrote, wondering what would happen to me when I went home. I was nervous. I felt strong on the trip but wondered what would happen when I confronted the reality of all my unfinished business.
I went home in mid-April 1972, spent a few days with my parents and headed back to school to retrieve my dog and see what life in my old haunts would feel like after my trip. My oldest friend Fern picked me up at the train station and off we went to campus. I saw Al almost immediately and the tension between us was enormous. He had somewhere to be but asked that I stick around so he could join me in an hour. A short time later, I was in his apartment. He asked me to move in as my plans were vague and I decided to give our twisted connection one more try. I also saw Michael who was being careful and non-committal although the solid friendship we had built was still evident. I lasted a week with Albert. He was rapidly overwhelmed by my presence and all that it implied. I packed up my suitcase and went to Michael’s apartment. He answered my knock and asked what was going on. I told him I was going to move in. He asked where I would sleep. I replied, “in your bed.” And so, after never having shared even one kiss, I did. I never left. We spent the next 45 years together.