A Scavenged Memory

Fall 1969 – Me with Pete Swinnerton.

Way back in 1976, after living with Michael for four years and having decided to marry, I decided to wipe away all evidence of my previous relationship with Al. I was deeply involved with Al from 1969 until 1972. I finally left him in April, 1972, after falling in love with Michael. That is I mostly left him. Aside from childish high school romances, Al was my first true love. I didn’t start out expecting to fall for him as hard as I ultimately did; he got there before me. Recently disentangled from a lingering relationship, I’d started my sophomore year of college with the intent of stretching out, trying new things, and exploring the possibilities of a broader life than the one I’d led during my first 18 years. The guy in the photo above was the teacher in a sensory relaxation class I’d been taking at the beginning of that year, a touchy-feely thing where you learned to let a bunch of strangers lift you in the air, stare into each other’s souls and practice other assorted cosmic exercises. Pete and I were on the campus quad during an unusually warm late fall day. I don’t know who took our photo. What I do know is that sitting off to my left on the steps of the Union was Al, in a brown clingy shirt and bell bottom jeans, strumming a guitar. I remembered meeting him in the beginning of my freshman year at a street dance. I was 17 years old and at the time, I recalled him primarily as a terrible dancer who moved as though his fingers were inserted in an electric socket. That was all. But the new me on this day was definitely more interested in him. I sat down next to him and we chatted.

Me talking with Al

An old friend of mine from elementary school days, who I’ve known all the way through college and into my current life, sent me the above photos of that day. I only have one more of Al that’s quite blurry. Before my marriage, I burned all the other ones I had of him, in addition to all my love letters from him. I wanted Michael to feel secure with me, which was a challenge, as it took me years to recover from that previous devastating relationship, a fact of which Michael was keenly aware. I put it away in a corner of my mind. I never “didn’t love” Al. He appeared intermittently in my life for the next few years, trying to convince me that he’d matured and was ready to be with me. But I didn’t trust him and knew he’d broken me too deeply for us to ever be together again. I loved Michael in a much healthier way. When he was stricken with cancer, what little was left of the memory of my first love, was wiped completely from my consciousness after a lifetime of its tiny incursions into my brain through the years.

Fern and me.

Except once. In 1988, my oldest friend died. I was devastated. For three days, I felt unable to function which was so challenging as I was now a wife, a mother of two kids and working full-time. In the midst of my grief, reviewing my life with my beloved Fern, I suddenly remembered that in college, she’d had a fairly serious relationship with one of Al’s roommates. I hadn’t spoken to Al in thirteen years but I knew where he lived. Finding him was easy. Life is so odd. I always thought of him from my perspective through the years, never imagining how he thought, or didn’t think of me. When I called his home, a woman answered, someone I assumed was his wife. I introduced myself as an old friend from college. She went to find him and I heard his voice for the first time in all those years. His wife was speaking in the background – he asked me to hold on a second and I heard him say, “yes, Leslie, it’s that Renee.” I was stunned. I truly had never imagined that he’d told anyone a single thing about me. Pretty dense, I suppose. I told him about Fern and told him I was wanting to contact his roommate. He was properly sympathetic but it didn’t take long to realize he was thrilled to hear from me and was soon encouraging me to stay in touch. I was appalled and unnerved. I felt particularly awful as a feminist, for clearly making his wife feel threatened and uncomfortable. The conversation ended with me determined to never contact him again. I didn’t. I found out later through mutual friends, that he’d divorced this woman, the mother of his children and remarried. My life moved forward.

After Michael’s death, I began the long, slow process of sorting through the 45 year accumulation of stuff that was staring me in the face. Both of us saved lots of paper, especially personal notes, letters and cards. Over time, I made progress, sorting, discarding and still saving every scrap he’d written me and I’d written him. Meanwhile, as I read through so many documents, I discovered that I’d missed burning two greeting cards from Al that were squeezed into the piles of hundreds. I’d also stashed a couple of things he’d written me just months into our tempestuous relationship. I was stunned by this find. We were only 19 and 20 years old, respectively. I don’t think it’s immodest to say we were both pretty smart. But the lengthy fable he wrote to me all those years ago was remarkably insightful and filled with nuggets of self-awareness, much knowledge of who I was and perhaps the most telling sign of our ultimate doom – he didn’t believe that partners could be equals. If only I’d cut my losses early. I’m going to share this remarkable fable which has so much truth although certainly, time and maturation change people. So here it is. As it was written.

The Continuing Dilemma of L.C. by Al H.

One fine morning Little Chicken was buried deep in one of those holes that he digs himself in periodically.

He was wallowing in his own dirt. He was pissed. Because he knew that his own little wings were responsible for the big black pit.

But that made things even worse. So there he was, spiraling deeper and deeper, he was half-way to China, covered with grime

Uncried tears in his eyes, For no particular reason, When from down below he felt a rumbling in the earth, And a light mysteriously began to glow below him.

And then the bottom of the pit dropped away, And then he felt a strange – But pleasant Breeze.

Whoosh-it smelled…why, it smelled of alcohol! What a strange soothing thing this breeze was. Little Chicken was no longer spiraling downward. The breeze was suspending him in mid-air.

He was weightless. He was also plenty scared. All sorts of suspicious thoughts about the breeze Drifted across his chickenshit brain.

He was scared, really scared. So he turned to the next page And began to summon all those Anti-breeze defenses he had used so well in the past, But the breeze (It was a,well, it was some sort of cosmic energy That radiates and glows in the dark) Took the form of a horse. And the horse (Whom Little Chicken called, appropriately enough, Stormy) Began nibbling away at his defenses (Fig. 44)

Needless to say, Little Chick went crazy. This was unplanned (except by Stormy.) But it was fresh. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Stormy was a fresh breeze, A good breeze, Bringing him only soothing relief to his aching blisters caused by too much digging.

Or, at least, at this stage, It appeared that way to Little Page-Turner, Who didn’t know what he was getting into, Who only knew what he was getting out of, Who was sick to his soul with self-contempt, Who would willingly trust that Stormy who could at once reach him as she said she could.

She did. Stormy, she ate away almost all his defenses. The breeze wafted our hero (well, at least mine) Back up from whence he descended A century or more (no shit) ago. And Little Chicken plopped on the solid earth and he was happy to be alive And Stormy galloped on right after him. She galloped on the thin air For she was mystical, magical Stormy – The best thing that ever was.

And L.C.’s heart tripped a million times a minute He thought that now that Stormy ate away his defenses(Though not all, I might qualify) (Unhappily) (But as it turns out, not so unhappily) (But if it turns out differently, very – most unhappily) She would be an obedient, tame, docile little creature Who would follow him anywhere.

But he hoped, deep down, that perhaps she wouldn’t. Little did he know that she couldn’t. For when Stormy emerged after saving him from all the dirt in the pit, she remained true to her nature – Stormy. God, what a bitch she was. For you see, once Little Chicken was helped out of his pit The whole thing became confused. Very, very confused. For Stormy had to change from Savior, Noble Savior. She had to change. She changed to a vixen. A black-haired wench of a horse With pale blue-green eyes That could destroy anything within their reach.

These eyes – they merit some lingering upon Let us linger They are Stormy eyes They spit out flaming ribbons of fiery wrath. Sometimes They can consume – completely incorporate – any mortal foolish enough to linger upon them But they can also freeze. They become as cold as ice water Cold as a January evening in Canada with no clothes on. Sometimes. At these times Stormy can freeze any activity she likes. I told you she was magical.

And sometimes they are but children’s eyes. Curious. Happy – no – gay, and Loving. And sometimes they are all of these things at once. And Stormy, with her eyes of Jade, And with her sleek and supple body Began to toy with Little Chicken As a cat with a mouse. But Little Chicken didn’t mind He was too happy with his rediscovered emotions And he was in love; L.C. loved Stormy. He knew he was in love because he could feel something Else towards Stormy that he hadn’t felt in a long time. Hate.

Little Chicken hated Stormy. He hated everything about her. Her every move, her every gesture Absolutely infuriated him Because he began to realize a gigantic truth. He knew, suddenly why she had saved him. She had saved him from his own pit Only to throw him in her own pit Which was much deeper and dirtier And already occupied by others. Love and hate alternating On and off, Off and on. Sometimes Stormy was good on the surface But evil inside. Sometimes she was a terrible ogre With a good heart trapped inside her plotting deeds. Yes, she was magical. Sometimes Little Chicken was daddy. And sometimes he was an even littler chicken.

And sometimes he was Dionysus and she was Athena And sometimes she was Aphrodite But he was Apollo But he held onto one thing continuously – He was always a Little Chicken (And a bad punster) And sometimes Little Chicken knew that the truth he discovered was a big old lie.

It was just the last line of his defenses. And sometimes he feared the truth of the truth. And for good reason. What a dynamic creature Stormy was! She made everything about her dynamic Including Little Chick Who had been stagnating in a quagmire for too long. She was powerful. She loved her power. She worshipped it more than even herself (Which, being Stormy is no mean accomplishment) But Stormy also knew that Little Chick had power She couldn’t label it But she sensed it – she smelled it And was even a bit afraid of it Because it wasn’t her kind of power at all.

Furthermore, Little Chick was ambivalent toward his power And this was beyond her realm of accomplishment She couldn’t understand his ambivalence And tried to either crush his power, In which case she sometimes succeeded, and sometimes lost. Or to make him her equal Which he didn’t dig at all. (Joint rulers don’t make it) Sometimes Little Chick made Stormy forget she was Magical. He made her feel like a mortal woman – somewhat Powerless, perhaps, but less responsible and much happier. So you see, even Stormy was a little chicken (But somewhat of a better punster – Help!)

But Stormy was a schemer A puppeteer with her hands on everyone’s strings. Stormy never slept. Being a magical being, she didn’t need to. Instead, while everyone else was safely asleep, Dreaming, She schemed and schemed, She schemed to make her dreams real. Stormy could do this, because everyone knows that The only reason we sleep is to give the little People inside themselves a chance to express Their desires and give their opinions. By making people dream. So Stormy found a better way But it wasn’t better at all.

Little Chicken saw that and he told her And she knew he was right, but she couldn’t admit it, But she couldn’t change. Her die had been cast Much earlier, many generations and personalities ago. So Stormy could see through Little Chicken because of her x-ray eyes And Little Chicken, mortal that he was, could still see through Stormy, Because he was very familiar with many of the Games she played. The only thing they couldn’t see, Neither of them.

They couldn’t see what they were doing together. This was a bit upsetting to L.C. But was disastrous to Stormy Who had to know everything That there was to know. She knew a lot of it, too A great deal But never enough. Insatiable, this compulsion was. And when someone knew that she didn’t know everything There was to know, as did L.C., It detracted from her magical quality This made her attractive, No it made her beautiful And real and touchable and reachable. Yes, it made her beautiful When she lost her magic powers But she didn’t know it. And she sure didn’t like it.

Because she didn’t want to think of herself in mortal Terms. Stormy didn’t want to admit reality Much as Little Chicken didn’t. She denied her emotions But tried to use them for her godlike schemes. Sometimes this worked But sometimes it didn’t Especially with Little Chicken Who tried to bring her up/down To his level Of existence (he learned how to release his emotions and accept them. She helped him, but he couldn’t help her.) With, however, Little success.

So Little Chicken and Stormy faced each other Every day. He woke in the morning Only to find her scheming Neither could change the other any more They could only wonder how come they Both slept in the same bed Or occupied it, anyway. It was fun occupying the same bed It was satisfying It was fun playing fun games It was amusing They were always smiling, gay smiles But they were also seeking. Both of them They were seeking And not finding much at all. Except more questions With no answers. And soon Stormy grew to hate Little Chicken Whom she had once saved. She hated him as much as he hated her. She hated him because he was under her magic spell And yet could still retain his power. She hated him because she feared him But feared him because she loved him.

It was very confusing And frustrating. But sometimes, it was rewarding Sometimes Stormy and Little Chickenshit could Romp and play as though they were children(Which they were) And nothing else mattered And they could do this anywhere Even in a cemetery Or walking down the street. But these moments were transient and quickly done with and sublime.

And they made no sense And they made them both unsure of themselves And insecure, Because they knew that all the moments Couldn’t be like that at all. No, they can’t.

So this is a photo Al took of me at his parents’ house, a few months after he wrote that amazing tale of us. We were absolutely doomed but it took awhile longer before we left us behind. I’m so glad to have found this rare look at part of my life that came before I settled on a different path. Like going on a mysterious scavenger hunt and finding the big prize. Maybe some people wouldn’t want the look back. But I’ll always be grateful that someone close to me took the time to describe a rare time in my youth. First love from the first partner. Like fingernails on a blackboard. And then along came Michael. The end and the beginning.

Leave a Reply