Chapter Fifteen

Blaine Hall, Room B102
University of Washington, Seattle
March 14, 1957

Dear Mother and Daddy,

I was elected to Phi Beta Kappa!!!!!!!...

“Kate! Alice! I just heard the news. Congratulations both of you!”
I looked up from my lunch as Rosemary bubbled into the dining room. She approached the table, her face wreathed in smiles, looking first at me then at Alice Duchek, sitting on my left.
“Congratulations for what?”
“There’s a big sign right inside the front door. You’ve been elected to Phi Beta Kappa, you and Alice. It was in the newspaper this morning, too. Didn’t you see the article?”
    I turned to Alice. “Oh, I saw our names in the paper", she said, "but I forgot to mention it to you.” Alice was majoring in Home Economics, a cheap way, I thought, of getting good grades; the science majors probably had the same opinion of me. She was completely blasé, as if being elected to America’s most prestigious honor society was an everyday event.
    “Forgot to mention it” – I was dumbfounded. Phi Beta Kappa. How many hours of study did that represent, how many dates and facts committed to memory – the causes of the fall of Rome, the geologic eras, the twelve pairs of cranial nerves, how many term papers? When I went to the registrar’s office at the end of every quarter to pick up my marks, I stood in line with sweaty palms and a pounding heart, and then rushed outside to calculate my grade-point average. Three point eight zero was the magic number for election to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior, and I had cleared the hurdle with room to spare. I was beyond ecstatic.
    I thanked Rosemary profusely for the news and hurried through lunch. I thought of my father and smiled, and David – how proud he was going to be.
    I reached my room at twenty to one, with barely enough time to write Mother and Daddy a note and call David before leaving for my next class. My heart started racing when I heard his deep voice on the other end of the line.
    “David! I have the most fantastic news! I can't tell you over the phone, though. I want to keep you in suspense. Are you free tonight?"
    “My whole evening’s at your disposal. Let me guess. You got an A+ on the human paleontology quiz?”
    “Much better than that.”
    “You’ve inherited a million dollars, bought a yacht and we’re sailing around the world together.”
    “Don’t I wish.”
    “You’ve been chosen the sweetheart of Sigma Chi.”
“I’d rather be yours,” I giggled. “Stop guessing or you’re sure to hit on it eventually, and I want to surprise you.”
“Whatever it is, I can tell your news calls for more than coffee at the HUB. Let’s eat dinner at Sam’s and go to Sturmvogel afterwards; we can pull out the starboard bunk, find some soft music on the radio and – uh, celebrate.”
“That sounds great. There’s only one problem though – your last suggestion – I’m afraid it’s the wrong time of the month. I’d rather tell you now than disappoint you later on the boat.”
    “Oh.” There was a long pause and I began to wonder if we’d been disconnected. “Why don't I give you a call tomorrow.”
    His response stunned me. Didn’t my news mean anything to him? Was sex the only thing that mattered to David?
“I … I’ll have your typing ready tomorrow afternoon,” I finally managed to say.
“Very good, I’ll see you then.”
Convulsed with sobs, I hung up the telephone, devastated by David’s cruelty. Phi Beta Kappa seemed so trivial. I sat crying at my desk until time to leave for class, then filled my fountain pen, attached a notebook to my clipboard and left the room; I wanted to go out, anywhere, and human paleontology was as good a place as any.
Dr. Osborne’s lecture dragged on. I tried to pay attention to his slides of Javanese fossils, but I kept hearing David’s voice.
“Why don't I give you a call tomorrow.”
“A study of the stratification in the Trinil layer shows …"
“Why don't I give you a call tomorrow.”
“If you look closely at this next slide of an immature Homo erectus, from the Djetis bed, you will observe the premature ossification characteristic of…”
    I couldn’t focus on the immature Homo erectus through a blur of tears, so I got up and left the lecture hall. For the next three hours I wandered aimlessly around the university, avoiding the south end of the campus where I might run into David. I didn’t think; I was past thinking or feeling. I just walked.
    When I returned to my room at six the telephone was ringing, and I dashed for the receiver, praying David was on the line, but Frank’s voice greeted me instead. “I was hoping I’d catch you before dinner. I've got the most terrific news! Kathleen's been offered a teaching job in Seattle next fall – second grade – and we’ve set the date. We’re going to be married June 15. How about that? Another three months and I’m a married man!”
    I congratulated him, hoping my voice sounded more cheerful than I felt.
“The reason I’m calling is to invite you to have dinner with me, at my place. I’ve got some of Mamma Caputo’s internationally famous spaghetti sauce in the freezer, a pound of noodles, a loaf of French bread and a bottle of Chianti. Say you’ll come. I feel like celebrating. I’ll pick you up at 6:30, okay?”
I couldn’t help smiling at the irony. I was going to celebrate after all, not my good fortune, but someone else’s and not with David, but with Frank. At least Frank wanted my company. I told Frank I’d come, and when I phoned Norma to tell her my news, I was almost looking forward to the evening.
Frank’s apartment was located on the ground floor of a rambling house the owner had converted to student lodgings. His room was sparsely furnished, with a hide-a-bed, a square table, a bookshelf and a tiny kitchenette. The bed was open. There was a large poster of Marilyn Monroe – nude – hanging on the wall beside the refrigerator, a record player on the floor and a stack of phonograph records, mostly operatic, leaning against the bed.
Frank tuned his radio to a popular music station and harmonized with the “The Platters” as he lifted strands of noodles from the boiling water.
They-ey-ey-ey-ey-ey-ey call me the Great … chop the garlic finer, will you, like this,” he instructed, taking the cleaver and demolishing several cloves of garlic against the chopping board. "Now sauté them in one cube of butter … Pretender. My need is such, I pretend too much. I'm lonely, but …"
“Do you sauté on high or low heat?
“Child, didn’t your mother teach you how to cook? Sauté, from the French verb sauter, otherwise known as saltare, to jump.” He made leaping motions with his hands. “High heat. I seem to be, but I’m not you see, I’m wearing my heart like a crown… Hey, Kate, if this was a pizza, I’d flip it up like so and catch it like….” Frank tossed the noodles into the air, grabbed a plate and intercepted the pasta less than a foot from the floor. “See all those spots on the ceiling? That’s from when I was just an amateur.” His mood was infectious and I laughed in spite of myself.
Frank cleared a Playboy magazine, two soiled undershirts, and a pile of uncorrected test papers off the table and dragged it across the floor. We sat facing each other, Frank in his one-and-only chair and me on the edge of the bed, both of us gorging on hunks of garlic bred and his mother’s spaghetti. Frank was right about the sauce. It had lost nothing in translation from Italy to Spokane.
After dinner I washed the dishes, trying to keep from dropping the plates while dodging Frank, who was determined to pinch me. He said the spaghetti made him feel Italian and it was every male Italian’s prerogative to pinch a few fannies.
Frank poured more wine and changed the music to something softer. We settled down on the bed, half-sitting, half-reclining, with our backs against a row of cushions along the wall and our feet sticking out in front of us. Frank pressed his leg to mine and seemed pleasantly surprised when I didn’t resist; he moved closer still, and put his arm around me.
"What would you say if I told you I was just elected to Phi Beta Kappa?”
“I’d ask how many professors you’ve been sleeping with.”
“Ha, ha, ha. Hilarious. Well, I am telling you.”
“Congratulations! All the more reason to celebrate. David must be pleased.” He filled my wine glass again.
“I haven’t told him.”
“That’s as in ‘you haven’t told him’, or ‘you haven’t told him yet’?”
“The first one.”
“Oh?” Frank looked at me curiously.
“You know, there’s one thing I like about you, Frank. When I’m with anyone else, even David, maybe especially with David, I feel as though I’ve got this big intellectual image to live up to, but when I’m with you I know there’s no way I can impress you. You think I’m a dumb broad, just like every other dumb broad. From anyone else I’d resent that attitude, but with you I can relax and be myself.”
Frank laughed. “I don’t think you’re dumb, au contraire. Actually, I’m not a bit surprised you’re a Phi Bete. You’re just the type.”
“What type is that?”
“A memory machine. I could give you this telephone book and you’d have it down cold in an hour. I’ve known dozens of students like you. They impress the hell out of everyone else, but there’s not a creative thinker in the bunch. If you don’t mind me saying so, you’ve even fooled David.”
“I do mind your saying so and I don’t want to talk about David.”
“Well, well. While you’ve been exploring his body it sounds like you found his feet of clay.” Frank started to caress my thigh.
“I don’t mean to put a damper on the festivities, but isn’t your conscience bothering you?”
“Why should it?”
“Are you dense or something? What does your Catholic morality say about a man who’s engaged to one woman and practically in bed with another?”
“Oh, I won’t do this sort of thing after I’m married. That would be adultery, a mortal sin.”
“What do you call this?”
“Fornication, merely a venial sin. I’ll go to confession before the wedding and get forgiven.”
Frank poured himself another glass of wine. “I’ll bet you think I’m very experienced.”
I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. “Aren't you?"
“Like to guess how many times I’ve done it in my whole life? Twice. Two times. Due volte. Two lousy times and I’m 25 years old.”
“When was the first one?”
“I was sixteen. I had this girlfriend – Gina – from a really strict Italian family, I mean her parents didn’t let her do anything. She had so many relatives crawling around the house you’d have thought they took in boarders. Her mom used to slip Gina’s kid brother a quarter to keep on eye on us and if it wasn’t Spartaco – honest to God, the kid's name was Spartaco – spying on us from behind the couch, it was Aunt Flora vacuuming the rug, or Uncle Giorgio detouring through the living room every fifteen minutes on his way to pee in the bathroom. I mean their place was like a hotel! Well, anyway, one Saturday the whole family went to a funeral. That is, everyone but Gina, and she got to stay home because she had a big test coming up. So she phoned me and I went over to her place with some records, and we sat on her bed and listened to music. We started fooling around and … it sort of happened.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but Frank stopped me.
“Wait, there’s more. Just as I was finishing, there was a sound of tires screeching and a dog yelping. We got dressed as fast as we could and ran outside. God, I’ll never forget it as long as I live. Some guy in a pickup hit Gina’s little dog. He was laying in the street with his ribs crushed and the blood running out of him. The driver kept saying over and over how he tried to miss him and how sorry he was.”
“What did you do then?”
“I got a burlap bag out of the garage and we buried him in the garden. The whole thing made me sick. Gina was a nice girl, you know, very parochial school, very quiet, all that sort of thing. I was scared shitless she’d get pregnant, but a couple of weeks later she told me everything was ok; she moved to a different part of town at the end of the semester and I didn't see her again.”
“How about the second time?”
“It happened at a party. I was so smashed I don’t remember much.” He paused and took a sip of wine. “How big is David?”
“He’s six foot three.”
“I didn’t ask you how tall he is. I know that. I asked you how big he is.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean.”
I hadn’t, but his tone of voice enlightened me.
I shrugged. “Why are men so preoccupied with genital size? I don’t know because I don’t have anything to compare him with.”
“Do you give him a blow job?
“What’s that?”
“Do you suck his cock?”
“Do I what?”
Frank hooted with laughter. “Were you a virgin when you met David?”
“Did it hurt the first time he did it to you?”
“A little.”
"Did you come?"
"Come where?"
Frank laughed again. "I mean did you have an orgasm?"
I couldn't believe I was having this conversation. Maybe it was the wine. "Not the first time, but afterwards, yes."
Frank shook his head in disbelief. “I don’t get it. David’s pushing fifty; what do you see in an old fart his age? It must take him all night to get it hard.”
I didn’t feel like offering a testimonial to David’s sexual prowess. Frank opened my blouse and slipped his hand inside.
“What you need is a young man.”
“Like you?” Frank was too aroused to notice my sarcasm.
“I’d rather have sex with you than with Marilyn Monroe,” he whispered in my ear.
I suppose he meant it as a compliment, but Frank’s remark struck me as outrageously funny, and I burst out laughing. “We can’t.”
“I bought a box of condoms.”
“It’s not that; I’m having my period.”
“I don’t care.”
Frank flung himself on top of me and we kissed. I felt a curious sense of detachment, as though the real me was standing in the wings watching someone else play the role of Kate Collins. I might as well have been looking at two strangers queuing up at a bus stop.
He put his hand in my crotch. “Are you wearing a tampax?”
“Take it out.”
I went to the bathroom to wash; when I returned, Frank had turned out the lights, and he was waiting for me by the bed in his underwear. He clasped me from behind and cupped his hands over my breasts, reminding me of the evening in the Health Sciences Building when David had embraced me the same way.
“Was it you, that night in the hallway? I know someone was watching us.”
“Yes, it was me. I wasn’t spying on purpose. I just happened to be leaving the lab, and there you were. It drives me crazy seeing you and David together like that.”
When it was over, I lay beside Frank wondering if he’d noticed my lack of response. I knew I’d cheated him; he must have expected I'd give myself to him as I did to David, passionately and without reservations. After one especially torrid session, David had said making love would never be the same for me with any other man. At the time, I thought his remark a bit conceited, but I was beginning to wonder if he was right. I only hoped Frank’s lack of experience kept him from passing judgment on me.
I sat up and glanced at Frank; his eyes were closed and he was covered with sweat. He took my hand and put it on his penis. “Make it big again, Katie, make it big again, Katie,” he crooned over and over. I snatched my hand away and started to put on my brassiere.
    Frank opened his eyes and pulled the sheet up to his chin.
    “He’s huge,” I said irritably. “Like a bull.”
Frank sighed. “It figures.”
“I want to go home.”
“I’m sorry. Next time it will be good for you, too.”
“There isn’t going to be a next time,” I snapped.
We dressed in silence. The feeling of detachment was gone, and I was filled with self-loathing. How could I have done something so idiotic? David trusted me and I’d betrayed him. And for what? Not love surely. Frank was probably flattering himself he’d seduced me, but I’d known I’d go to bed with him from the moment he called. I was lashing back at David’s cruelty with my ultimate weapon, but there was no joy in the victory.
Frank and I didn’t exchange a word on the ride to the dormitory. He walked with me to the steps, and when we reached the door, I paused for a moment before getting out my key. “Do you have a picture of your fiancée?”
Frank took a photograph from his wallet and handed it to me grudgingly, as one might proffer an heirloom to a leper. The picture was taken in a classroom, and showed a young woman bending over beside a child. The photographer must have called her name and snapped the shutter just as she looked up. I was unprepared for the face that met mine; it was a gentle face radiating goodness and serenity, a face that almost mocked mine with its goodness. I was expecting someone plain, homely even, but Kathleen was beautiful, and it was easy to see why Frank adored her.
She’s in love with you?” I asked, handing him back the picture. Frank gave me a wounded look, turned abruptly, and ran down the steps. I wanted to call him back, to apologize for the cruel, senseless remark, to apologize for the whole evening, but I let him go without saying a word. Frank, that was 40 years ago and I can still see the expression on your face. I am sorry.

At two o’clock the following afternoon, an hour before he'd be expecting me, I took David’s typing to the Health Sciences Building, having decided to put it in his cubbyhole and leave without going to his office. I dreaded running into him, certain that in one glance David could read my guilt and would hate me forever. When the elevator reached the fourth floor and the doors opened, I peeked out to the left and right with my finger on the “close door” button, ready to press it if I caught sight of him, but the corridor was empty and I dashed to the Biochemistry office; I entered and saw David standing at Iris’ desk looking through his mail. He glanced up, our eyes met, and he returned my timid nod with a glacial stare. “I want to see you for a minute. In my office.”
Grim-faced, David stalked silently down the hall ahead of me, his hands in the pockets of his lab coat. He opened the door without looking at me and I walked in. I heard him close the door and lock it, but I didn’t turn around.
“Here’s your typing,” I said, laying it on his desk.
“Where were you last night?”
“At what time? I was various places.”
“Don’t play games with me, Kate. I know you were with Frank.”
I whirled around to face him. “Since you're so sure where I was, what are you asking me for?”
“I was calling you all afternoon, and when you didn't answer, I finally phoned Norma; she told me you’d gone to Frank’s.”
I felt as though I was suffocating; some invisible force was encircling me, crushing out my breath.
“He … he invited me to have dinner with him.” My reply was barely above a whisper.
“In the dark?” David asked sarcastically. “I must have driven by Frank's place ten times. His car was parked in front, but the lights in his apartment were off.”
David seized me by the arm. “What the hell were you doing in there?” he roared. “Let me guess. Frank wanted a dress rehearsal of his wedding night, didn’t he?”
“David,” I pleaded, “lower your voice or they’ll hear you in the hall.”
“I don’t give a damn who hears me,” he bellowed. ”Do you have any idea how I feel? I love you and you’re walking all over me with hobnail boots. What do you want out of me, anyway, just sex? Don’t I give you enough that you have to go running after Frank like a bitch in heat? Don't flatter yourself that he cares about you; all he wants is to get you in bed.”
“You’re a fine one to accuse me of only being interested in sex. Yesterday you were full of enthusiasm to spend the evening with me until I told you I was having my period.” I paused to give my words more effect. “Frank didn't seem to care.”
David took his right hand from my arm and struck me hard across the face; the blow sent me reeling back against his desk and for a moment we were both too startled to speak.
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”
“You certainly have a short memory,” I said between sobs. “When I called you yesterday to surprise you with something, you wanted to go to Sturmvogel badly enough until you found out there wouldn’t be any sex in it for you and then you practically hung up on me.”
A look of horror crossed David’s face. “Oh my God, is that what you thought?”
I had a premonition that somehow I’d made a terrible mistake. “David,” I sobbed, “it’s not what you think. We didn’t do anything. Frank wanted to, but I didn’t. Please believe me.”
David passed his hand over his face. “What a mess we’ve made of things. Listen Kate, when you and I were talking on the phone Arlene walked in; she didn’t even knock, she just walked in. She’s never done that before; she never comes to my office, but she did yesterday, and I was on the phone with you. I don't know how much she heard. I wasn't even aware of what I was saying; all I wanted was to end our conversation as quickly as possible. I never stopped to think how it must have sounded to you. I wanted to take you to Sturmvogel. I called you back immediately, the moment Arlene left, but you didn’t answer … I kept calling you…”
I was convulsed with sobs and overcome with guilt. What had David said once about taking an action that determined the course of one’s life irrevocably? I only hoped it wasn’t too late.
“David,” I cried, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I swear we didn’t do anything.”
I took the hand he held out to me. “It really doesn’t matter,” he said in a low voice. “Kate, please forgive me. What I did was …” David sat down, drew me to him, and I buried my head in his shoulder, crying like a child.
The telephone rang and David answered with annoyance.
“No, not right now; I’m busy at the moment. Can it wait?”
“Yes, fine, give me a call tomorrow.”
I stopped crying. David brushed his hand gently against the bruise on my cheek where he had slapped me.
“I’m so sorry, Kate, truly sorry,” he murmured. “May I be struck dead if I ever do such a thing again.” I squeezed his hand. “What were you going to tell me yesterday, the good news?”
“My surprise is a little anti-climactic now, but I was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.”
David’s eyes met mine; he smiled slightly and shook his head. “What can I say?”
“You might try congratulating me.”
“I do congratulate you, from the bottom of my heart. I’m enormously proud of you, though I have no right to be. I guess we're fraternity brothers now.”
“Siblings.” We looked at each other again and smiled.
There was a knock on the door. “¡Carajo! ¡Mierda!” David exclaimed, getting up from the chair. He unlocked the door and opened it just wide enough to see the person on the other side.
“I know these are my office hours, but I don’t have time right now. I'm about to leave.”
He closed the door and put his lab coat on a hook. “Let’s get out of here or we won’t have a moment’s peace.”
I took a small pocket mirror from my purse. “How do I look?”
“Like I’ve been in a brawl?”
“Sort of. If we run down the back stairs no one will see us.”
Once outside the building we turned our backs on the campus and walked south along the grassy path overlooking Portage Bay. We walked until we were alone, away from the picnickers, the strollers, the boys playing Frisbee. David picked a sunny spot and spread out his jacket
“Let’s sit down for a while and have a talk. You’ve been so strange lately. It's not enough, is it?”
“The way we see each other, sneaking into my office at night, the few hours we spend on Sturmvogel.”
“Well, that’s part of it. We're always saying goodbye, always getting pulled apart, when the only thing I want is to fall asleep in your arms the way I did in the motel, and not have to get up in fifteen minutes to put my clothes on.”
“But there’s something else, too,” I continued. “Does it seem to you as though the sexual part of our relationship is just … taking over? Last fall we used to do more things with other people, we used to talk more. Sex is practically an obsession now. I’m not blaming you; I feel driven every bit as much as you, maybe more. A few months ago, I wouldn’t have believed anything could dominate my life so much; sex is like a narcotic addiction. Even now part of me is aching for you, and I long to say ‘please let’s go to the boat, David’, but another part of me feels guilty and ashamed of my weakness.”
David eased a blade of grass from its stalk and put it between his teeth.
“Yes, I feel the same way, though perhaps it hasn’t surprised me the way it has you. You’re right; sex has become a compulsion. It’s like the intense relationships couples had during the war. We’re not marching off to battle, but I suppose the future is equally uncertain for us.” He paused. “At times I wonder if I’m trying to prove something to you…”
“That you’re still young enough…”
“Something like that. I’m far more conscious of the difference in our ages than you are. I used to think it bothered you too, but then I realized you really don't care. I’m not a young man, Kate, and sometimes that fact comes home to me rather brutally. I had a strange experience a few weeks ago at a faculty cocktail party; I knew most of the guests, at least by sight, if not by name, but one man I didn’t know caught my eye. He was standing across the room from me, holding a glass in his hand and looking bored. He was a good ten years older than I, a little haggard …I turned slightly to get a better look at him and as I did … God, what a shock… it was my own reflection! I was seeing myself in a mirror and I didn’t even recognize my own face! It was horrible. For one fleeting moment I saw myself as others see me, and I’ve never felt so old in my entire life. I’ve wondered since then what a man my age … in my position … can offer you.
“I suppose sex is one way of binding you to me in lieu of something more tangible. So many times you’ve come to the office in the evening and I’ve thought we should just talk or invite some of the others in for coffee like we used to, and then I look at you …well, you know how long those resolutions last. You’re right though”, he said with a smile, “it’s entirely your fault. If you weren’t so responsive we wouldn’t have this problem.”
“So,” he continued, “maybe we should make some changes, not see less of each other, but differently, before we burn ourselves out.”
“David, about Frank…”
“Let's not talk about Frank. When I got to the office this morning, I found a note in my box saying he’d gone to Spokane through spring break. He had the vacation coming to him and I think it’s best for everyone.” David hesitated. “I realize I’m partly to blame for what happened; I could have been more discreet. I know sometimes he watched us and it must have seemed like I was dangling a piece of meat in front of a starving dog.”
I was relieved Frank hadn’t contradicted my story.
David lay back on the grass with his hands behind his head, staring at the sky. “You were telling me about the frustration you feel at always having to say goodbye. I have a few frustrations of my own. I loathe the subterfuge, all the sneaking around. I hate asking you to endure a clandestine relationship and it bothers me terribly that I can’t marry you. That’s a part of what I mentioned before, about wanting to bind you to me. I’m afraid of losing you; I admit it. Sometimes I'm tempted to suggest we take off for Tahiti like Paul Gauguin; I feel like shouting ‘to hell with you world, I’ve done enough, I’ve paid my dues and from now on I’m living my life exactly as I please.’ The other thing which frustrates me is that we can’t … that we shouldn’t have children. You have no idea how this thought depresses me.”
He was right; I had no idea. We’d never discussed pregnancy before, except how to avoid it, and his admission touched me profoundly.
He turned to look at me. “Do you worry about becoming pregnant?”
“Constantly. I go through hell every month. My periods are so irregular …”
“I know. I cross off the days myself on a little desk calendar. It’s odd …sometimes… when your period is late I’m almost relieved, as though I’ve faced the worst thing that can happen to us and it’s bearable after all. I've even reached the point where I’m looking forward to your being pregnant; I imagine putting my hand on your abdomen and feeling our child move inside you. Then your period begins and I’m let down, disappointed. It’s like a lost opportunity; I’m a month older. What do you think if we stop worrying, love each other without any barriers and accept the consequences?”
I shook my head. “I’m not ready for that. It’s impossible. It wouldn’t be fair to either the child or me. How would I make a living? When would you see us? A couple evenings a week? Saturdays?”
David sat up. “You’re right, of course. It’s a preposterous idea, economically, socially, morally. You have my permission to smack me on the head with a brick if I ever suggest anything like that again.”
We sat silently on the grass for a while watching the crew practice on Portage Bay; we were close enough to hear the coxswain calling the strokes through his megaphone.
“David, you said before how you are … how you might be using sex. I'm doing the same thing myself, but in a different way. I look at you with your degrees, your academic position, and I feel so … inferior. I’m using sex to hold on to you because sex is the only thing we have in common. I can’t talk about biochemistry with you; I don’t understand a word of what I’m typing for you. I’ve never even heard of half the authors you read regularly.”
“Do you think I’d love you more if we could discuss the biochemistry of kidney function?”
“It's not just science, it’s everything. Do you remember, last September, the first time we went sailing, when we started singing? You asked Frank to sing something from a German opera. Then he agreed and he sang another song – but in Italian - and you burst out laughing. Well, I laughed too, because I didn’t want to look like a fool in front of you, but I had absolutely no idea what was so funny. I still don't”
“He sang the aria Di rigori armato. Yes, it’s in Italian, but the aria's embedded in a German opera, Der Rosenkavalier. Look, when I was your age I wouldn’t have known that, either.” David stared at me with a frown. “For Christ’s sake, Kate, you’re only nineteen. Your college record is virtually perfect and you’ve just been elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Isn't that good enough?”
“But that’s just it, that’s all I’ll ever accomplish. I’m not like you. I don’t have any goals or any commitment to anything. I don’t have any real ability. I’m nothing but a fraud, and I’ve been shaking in my boots for six months scared to death you’d find out. Don’t you see – I’m only sleeping with you to avoid having to talk to you. After I’ve graduated summa cum laude or whatever, and I can’t even get a job because I can only type 40 words a minute, you’re going to be totally contemptuous of me. You mentioned my grades – the only reason I get good grades is because I’m so afraid of failing that I study ten times harder than any normal person – it’s like Frank told me last night, I’m just a good memorizer. He says I’m fooling you.”
“Frank! Since when is Frank an expert on achievement? He has his own agenda. Kate, Kate, how can I make you see yourself as I do? You have the ability to do anything you want, anything. The only thing that can stop you is lack of faith in yourself.”
“I want so much for you to be proud of me.”
He sighed. “Dearest, I can’t be the magnetic north of your life; I’d be doing you a terrible disservice if I encouraged you to excel in order to please me. I can’t chart the future for you. The only thing I can do is stand by and give you a helping hand. You realize what you’re doing? You’ve taken 19 years of dependency on your parents and transferred them to me. You’re dependent on me for love and you’re dependent on me for approval. You can’t put all your emotional eggs in one basket like that; I won’t be around forever.”
“I know I'm too dependent on you. I didn’t mind it so much before, when I thought maybe you needed me as much as I need you, but going to the AAAS meeting was an epiphany. When I attended the opening session and saw you with your colleagues, I realized you have so much more in your life than your relationship with me. You don’t need me at all, except maybe for sex, and even then you could do better. I’ve known that, intellectually, from the beginning, but when I realized it, when it finally got through to me …”
“Is that the problem? Is that what’s behind all this unhappiness? You think you’re unimportant to me, nothing more than a sex toy?”
“Well, look at us,” I said, starting to cry. “You’re a Ph.D., highly respected, poised, a renowned scientist, you can talk on any subject with anyone. You have many friends. You’re the most handsome man I’ve ever met. What woman wouldn’t fall in love with you? What can you possibly see in me?”
David didn’t reach out for me, didn’t put his arms around me. He sat with his head bent over, his face cradled in his hands, as if searching in the dark for an answer.
“Kate, not everyone thinks a university professor is the highest life form the way you do, and I can’t imagine anyone but you considering me handsome. Many years ago, when I was your age and a student at Berkeley, I did have friends, and I think I use the term correctly, as I did when I said Mateo was my friend. They were young men who shared my triumphs and shared my sorrows as I did theirs. Most of us were Jews, passionately dedicated to saving the world, socialists, communists, knee-jerk liberals, whatever you want to call it. We had a vision of another kind of society, and we wrote pamphlets, we spoke in union halls; we worked hard to make that vision a reality. Berkeley was an exciting place to live in the 30’s; it was a center of intellectual ferment, and when I look back to those days, I can honestly say they were among the happiest in my life.
“Well, the years went by, I married, the war came along, our group scattered. Perhaps it’s a natural consequence of maturity rather than the result of a disastrous marriage or the death of so many of my friends in the war, but whatever the reason, I turned inward, away from people.
“I know I’ve become disillusioned; the solutions which were so obvious to us in the 30’s now seem simplistic in the extreme. I don’t have the answers anymore. History rolls on like a juggernaut, and I’m as powerless to understand its meaning as I am to alter its course. You said I have my work; well, thank God for that. How could I have survived all these years without teaching and research to sustain me?
“You said, too, that I have friends. You’re wrong. I have a wide circle of what others might call ‘friends’, but I think ‘acquaintances’ is a better word. They're people who send Arlene and me Christmas cards, who invite us to dinner, other professors I chat with in the halls. But there's not one person in that sea of faces I can turn to and say ‘I’m heartsick because I love a girl I can’t marry, please counsel me’ or ‘I’m lonely, please listen to me.’ No, we prattle on about the weather, or what make of car we’re buying next year. We talk about football, and you know how football bores me. It’s as though silence is a void which must be filled, even if the fill is garbage. Maybe they’re dying inside, too, and we’re all sending each other SOS's that never make it past the barriers of social trivia.
“I’ve been living this way for years, Kate, desperately lonely. Then, one day, a shy girl walked into my office and started telling me about storks’ nests and pistachio vendors and how she felt listening to an old man play the lute. You know how it is to be lonely with no one to confide in, and I’ve been your confidant, just as you’ve been mine. We were friends before we were lovers, dear, and while we’ve heaped many things on our relationship since the beginning, it’s the bedrock of friendship which laid the foundation for everything that followed.
“You think you don’t matter to me? You’ve brought me joy in so many ways. The other day one of my students returned from a trip to Martinique and gave me a conch shell to decorate my bookcase. The shell reminded me of you, of that day in the curio shop when you picked up a conch and held it to your ear, of the delight on your face when you heard the sea roar inside it, and how you held the shell up for me to listen. I never see a sailboat or look at the stars without thinking of you.
“Perhaps my words can move you; perhaps they can make you cry as they’re doing now, but only growing up will make you happy. You’ll be leaving for Mexico in three months and, much as I’ll miss you, I’m glad you’re going. You have to learn to stand alone, and you’ll never manage that with me any more than a rose can bloom in the shade of an oak tree.” David reached out and stroked my cheek. “I love you, Kate. You've turned back the dial of my life.”

It was getting dark when we approached the dormitory. Through the open window above the garden, we heard the voices of the girls from Blaine Hall, rehearsing for “Spring Sing,” an annual music competition. We stopped to listen just as they were finishing Deep Purple and starting a selection from Carousel. Rosemary was at the piano, surrounded by a group of eight or nine singers.
“Rosie’s wearing her glasses,” David observed with a smile.
“Chopin she knows by heart; for Richard Rodgers she needs sheet music.”
“Spring break begins on the twenty-third. Your parents recently moved to California, didn’t they?”
“Yes, a month ago.”
“Are you going home?”
“I think so, why?”
“Arlene is flying to Boston with the children to spend a week with her family. I’m sailing up to a little island in the San Juans. Nothing special. Just a time to think, to do a little fishing, a little clamming. Will you come with me?”
The music spilled out over the windowsill, into the spring evening.

If I loved you,
Time and again I would try to say
All I'd want you to know.
If I loved you,
Words wouldn't come in an easy way
Round in circles I'd go!
Longin' to tell you,
But afraid and shy,
I'd let my golden chances pass me by!
Soon you'd leave me,
Off you would go in the mist of day,
Never, never to know how I loved you
If I loved you.

I looked at David with tears in my eyes.
“Kate, there’s a school of thought which says a quarrel between two lovers improves their relationship, that a fight clears the air and brings them closer together. I don’t subscribe to that theory. Today you and I came perilously close to losing something precious to us both; next time we might not be so lucky.”
David put his arms around me and I hugged him, grateful for the second chance.

Go to Chapter Sixteen