University of Washington, Seattle
March 4, 1957
Dear Mother and Daddy,
Do you remember what Daddy always says about Seattle - that it's either raining, has just rained, or is just about to rain? These past few months have confirmed his judgment and I’m looking forward to the sunny skies of Mexico.
Winter quarter will be over in less than three weeks; not much going on except studying like mad. My employer, Dr. Rosenau, is speaking at this year’s American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting here in Seattle; his accent's pretty strong, so I’ve been giving him diction lessons ...
January wept into February and February into March, the winter bringing weeks of gray skies and unremitting drizzle that turned the campus into one huge quagmire. Across the “quad,” a grassy esplanade between the principal liberal arts buildings, the rain's ceaseless assault eroded a network of dirt shortcuts into rivers of mud.
The wind buffeted my corner room in Blaine Hall from two directions and I sat shivering at my desk every night, wrapped in a blanket, because the radiator stubbornly refused to raise the temperature above 60 degrees, even when turned on full. At least my room was dry. After a hard winter rain, the roof over Norma’s apartment began to leak; it leaked selectively, first in one spot, then in another, and Norma was perpetually rearranging her furniture to avoid the drips. Because Norma’s landlord was away when the problem started, David spent an entire Saturday afternoon on the roof, making patches; his repairs were partially successful, but as Norma observed philosophically when she moved her couch for the sixth time, the humidity seemed to be good for her Boston ferns.
Shortly after the start of winter quarter, I received an invitation to the annual Honors Banquet. I went with a group of residence hall students, and at dinner happened to sit next to a freshman from Blaine whom I didn’t know, a girl named Rosemary Hughes. When the meal was over and the servers had cleared away the dessert dishes, the speeches and presentations began. One by one the honorees were called up to receive their awards, until the moderator came to the climax of the evening, the Phi Beta Kappa prize for the most outstanding entering freshman.
It goes without saying the young woman being honored had a perfect high school record; in addition she had placed first in a state-wide piano competition, won the grand prize at the Washington State Science Fair, and was the recipient of a four-year General Motors scholarship – and these were just a few of the highlights. As I listened in awe to her catalog of achievements, I happened to glance at Rosemary, who was sitting bolt upright in her chair with her eyes closed and an expression on her face half way between astonishment and terror. When they announced her name as the winner I don’t know who was more amazed, the girls from Blaine Hall, who knew her as just another freshman, or Rosie herself. It’s not surprising we were unaware of her accomplishments for Rosemary was, without question, the most unassuming person I’ve ever met, and few people guessed that behind the twinkling blue eyes and the infectious laugh lay a mind that dealt as easily with differential equations as with the music of Chopin.
Rosemary and I became close friends after the banquet, and she helped fill the void I felt when Norma moved out. Rosemary was of Welsh descent, with black hair, blue eyes, and the porcelain complexion common in people of Celtic origin. She was slightly plump, forever on a diet, and a short waist gave her a slightly boxy appearance. Although not beautiful, Rosemary exuded an unselfconscious charm that endeared her to everyone she met.
Rosemary was majoring in mathematics after a painful struggle with both her conscience and her music teacher, who told her flatly if she didn’t pursue a career as a concert pianist she was spitting in the eye of God. At my insistence, Rosie played for me one night after dinner. She chose Debussy’s Reflets dans l'eau, and when she struck the final notes, there was a hush in the living room, followed by a spontaneous burst of applause from everyone present. She had the power to make you cry with her fingers.
Rosemary often stopped to chat late at night when she returned from a date. I’d put on the tea kettle and we’d sit for hours discussing boys, sex, our parents, our futures, all the things that concerned college girls in those innocent times, before the Pill, before Roe v. Wade, before no-fault divorce. We weren’t women’s libbers then – the term hadn’t been invented – and we unthinkingly accepted our destinies as wives and mothers. Rosie, in particular, saw herself working for a few years after graduation, marrying a wonderful young man, and then retiring to a house and children. I wasn’t so sure about my own future; I had too much ego to subordinate my identity to the caprices of others – except David, of course – and too little ambition for anything else.
I introduced David to Rosemary as my employer and she accepted his role without question. Many times I was on the verge of confessing the truth to her, but how could I tell a girl who agonized over kissing a boy on the first date – even Rosie – that I was having an affair with a married man?
When David learned of Rosemary’s interest in music he made a point of inviting her to some of the concerts we attended, and she accepted enthusiastically. Rosemary captivated David, as she did everyone, and he shared my desire to keep our relationship a secret from her; unlike his behavior in Frank’s presence, when David almost flaunted his sexuality, with Rosemary he scrupulously avoided any word or gesture that would have betrayed our real feelings.
Although extremely near-sighted, Rosemary refused to wear glasses except under the most unusual circumstances, and she jokingly attributed her amazing memory for musical scores to an aversion to playing from sheet music with the aid of glasses. Her vanity often had amusing consequences. Once at a concert by the pianist Byron Janis, Rosemary offered us some candies during the intermission. I was sitting between her and David, and when she passed a small box in front of me, I declined, barely looking at it. David nudged my ribs and I followed his gaze to the candies.
“Rosie!” I exclaimed, “those are chocolate flavored laxatives!”
She snatched the box back and peered at it closely. “Oh my gosh, you’re right; I thought they were Necco wafers!”
On another occasion, David took us to dinner at a small Italian restaurant in the university district; all three of us ordered lasagna, and when our dishes arrived, Rosemary seized a glass shaker from the table and started pouring the contents liberally on top of the tomato sauce. David watched her for a moment with a puzzled expression on his face.
“Rosie, what are you doing?”
She looked up, all innocence. “I’m sprinkling parmesan cheese on my lasagna.”
“But, that’s sugar.”
Rosie glanced down at her plate in surprise. “I thought it was odd how the cheese kept sinking in.” Then she exploded in a peal of laughter, for no one was more amused at her antics than Rosie herself. As David said when he met her, “the sun was shining on the day Rosemary was born.”
David and I were constantly together throughout that dreary winter quarter. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, when I had no afternoon classes, David closed his office early and we’d sneak away like children playing hooky, running down the back stairs of the Health Sciences Building to his car before anyone had a chance to interrupt us. We rented bicycles and rode through Woodland Park; we attended concerts and went to movies; we sailed and ate dinner at Sam’s. There was a joy in simply being together, and the most ordinary activities took on a new meaning because we shared them.
One rainy day we spent in Tacoma is etched forever in my memory. We didn’t go to Tacoma for a reason; David had just started driving south, and when we were a few miles from the city, he suggested we visit the aquarium. The building was deserted that afternoon, and we wandered undisturbed for hours through its narrow corridors in a world of perpetual night, like the sea itself. Fluorescent tubes above the tanks provided the only illumination, and as the light filtered through layers of flowing water, it cast eerie, rippling shadows on the walls and on our faces. The fish inspected us briefly, twitched their fins, and swam silently away. Only the creaking floorboards and the sound of bubbling water ruffled the atmosphere of total calm.
All the fish were blennies. My recollection must be faulty; surely there were groupers and bass, eels and flounder, the standard fare of aquariums everywhere, but all I remember is tank after tank of blennies. Big blennies, small blennies, each fish more grotesque than the one before. We stood hand-in-hand studying displays explaining the differences between cartilaginous and bony fishes, we looked at an exhibit of salmon migration, and tried to pretend an interest in ichthyology when we had something else on our minds.
David drew me to him, ran his hand along the curve of my back, and leaned over to whisper in my ear. “Do you want to go to the boat afterwards?”
“Can we wait that long?” The look on David’s face was answer enough.
There was something titillating in the atmosphere. Perhaps it was the velvet dark, or the solitude or the sinuous movements of the fish. We stood in front of the tanks kissing and caressing until the tension became unbearable, and then we moved on, letting the emotion drain away, only to begin again.
Facing a large community tank was a wooden bench placed so visitors could sit and look at the fish. Sitting down in silence, we watched the marine creatures gliding behind the glass, and then we kissed languorously like divers overcome by rapture of the deep. I felt as though I should hold my breath, as though at any instant we had to break apart and swim for the surface. We made love there on the bench, in the dark, twenty fathoms beneath the sea.
When we left the aquarium, it was still raining, and although the sky was overcast, we blinked like people emerging from a movie theater on a sunny day. We walked to a small restaurant nearby, a cheap café with greasy oilcloth on the tables and a collection of semi-humorous signs on the walls: “we run a tight ship, only some of us have been getting tight a little too often;” “in God we trust, all others pay cash.” The bathrooms were labeled “buoys” and “gulls”. We ordered clam chowder and coffee, looked out the window at the waterfront, and held hands under the table.
It was a magical afternoon, one which stands out in my memory like a mountain peak illuminated by a shaft of sunlight on a cloudy day. We all have experiences we fail to appreciate at the time, and it is only later, too late, that we recognize their significance. We are sleepwalkers at the banquet of life. But as I strolled through the aquarium that afternoon with David, I realized how happy I was, and I knew no matter what the future held, I would always cherish our enchanted afternoon among the blennies.
I can see San Francisco Bay from my window. It is calm and unruffled. To a casual eye the water is still, and at a distance boats appear to rest motionless on its surface. But there is a current flowing, a river running to the sea, and close up you can read the signs of its passage: the tilt of a channel buoy, the streaming fingers of kelp, the tide rips swirling around barnacle-encrusted pilings. It is felt by the mariner whose boat is swept off course, even though every sail is full and drawing.
So it was with our lives. Beneath the gaiety, the laughter, the embraces, flowed a current of sadness. There were moments when this current was slack – those were the good times, the glad times – but the current always turned, bringing with it an ebb tide of melancholy.
If we passed a young mother in the park as she pushed her baby in a carriage, I would glance at David, then look quickly away. If we encountered a couple embracing outside the residence hall, I steered him abruptly down another path. By unspoken consent we avoided discussing the future, avoided any reminder that we would never have more than we had then, that in a real sense we had no future.
I suffered more than David did. He at least had his work, and while I knew our situation frustrated him, David wasn’t pervaded by a feeling of gloom as I was. On the contrary, he seemed happier than I had ever seen him. Being in love touched every facet of David’s personality, endowing all his activities with a new vigor, just as it seemed to be robbing me of mine.
I was obsessed with David, completely dependent on his approval for the validation of everything I did. No dress I sewed was worthy until David had praised it; if I received a good grade on an exam, it was David’s delight in my success that made me happy, not the achievement itself.
In fairness to David, I have to admit my enthrallment was not his fault. Link by link I forged the chain that bound me to him; I fettered my ankles as eagerly as a medieval monk doing penance.
I attended my classes as before, I studied, I wrote papers, I excelled. But my heart wasn’t in it. I only came alive with David; between our rendezvous I lived in a sort of limbo, like Sleeping Beauty waiting for her prince’s kiss. But if the hours we spent together were ecstatic, our partings were torture. I couldn’t bear to leave him; I invented excuses to linger in his office, and when we kissed goodnight I cried for no reason at all. I did everything possible to postpone the moment when I would climb the dormitory steps and hear the sound of David’s car driving away. My behavior was irrational and I knew it, yet no amount of intellectualizing could lift the cloud of gloom hanging over me; I clung to him as to life itself.
My sadness perplexed David. When I was seized with one of my crying spells, he’d put his arms around me and hold me until the sobbing stopped, rocking me back and forth as if I were a child. I told him how I dreaded returning to the loneliness of my dormitory room, knowing he was going to the suburbs, to a house with two fireplaces and a book-lined den, to a wife and children. Regardless how bleakly David described his home life, it had to be more fulfilling than my existence away from him, but it was pointless trying to make him feel guilty. Even though he protested I was the only thing that mattered to him, I couldn't help thinking he was getting more out of our relationship than I was.
As winter turned to spring, we continued going to the marina on Saturdays and I still visited his office in the evenings as before, but the focus shifted. We went to Sturmvogel with one objective: to pull the curtains over the portholes and fall on the settee in an embrace. It was the same in David’s office; I brought my books with no intention of studying. After a few minutes of desultory conversation, we read in each other’s eyes the compelling need that had brought us together. He would turn out the lights, remove the cushions from his chairs and line them up single-file on the floor while I undressed.
The cushions made an unsatisfactory bed, one little better than the floor itself; they were too narrow for us to lie beside each other and the glacial chill of the leather against my bare back made my teeth chatter. As the hour approached for David to take me home I used every sexual wile in my repertoire to distract him from the time, but David didn’t need to look at his watch; he had a chronometer in his head. Promptly at ten forty he’d get up and put on his clothes, saying he was sorry, but it was time to go. David could turn off his passion as easily as one switches off a light, and he couldn’t understand why I was so different. As I begged for one more kiss, one more embrace, he’d point out we could spend the following evening together and how foolish it was to jeopardize my college career by breaking the residence hall rules. His logic was impeccable, but I was beyond logic; I only wanted to fall asleep in his arms, to wake and find him beside me.
David practiced lovemaking with the same fervor he attacked everything else that interested him; he was an exuberant and joyous partner, and even with the radio on I found it hard to relax in his office, wondering what sounds were escaping from the room. The graduate students who studied in the building at night, those who met informally in David’s office before Christmas, surely guessed what was going on behind the opaque glass door, and it embarrassed me to meet them in the hall. David was a law unto himself; it didn’t matter to him what other people thought.
One evening I had just arrived at the Health Sciences Building and my hand was on the doorknob to David’s office when he came down the hall. He pressed against me from behind, encircled my body with his arms, and cupped my breasts in his hands. Just as I turned my head to receive his kiss, I glanced along the corridor. A shaft of light suddenly illuminated the dark passageway as someone opened a laboratory door at the far end of the hall. The light remained on for a couple of seconds and then flickered off; someone was watching us. I thought David’s behavior was reckless, but I didn’t tell him what I’d seen. If I had, he would merely have shrugged and said “so what?”
Frank knew we were lovers and David didn’t try hiding the fact from him. If Frank was in the cockpit steering Sturmvogel when David and I were below, it was only seconds before David would be running his hand up inside my sweater. Frank needed no effort to watch us, and I know he did, puritanical and disapproving, but consumed by curiosity nonetheless. David must have realized Frank was observing us, but he wasn’t above displaying his virility in front of a much younger man.
David was insatiably sexual, and he was both pleased and surprised he could arouse a similar passion in me. We made love four or five times in the course of an evening, and only the need to be back at the residence hall before eleven terminated these sessions, not a lack of desire. David was both gentle and passionate, tender and funny, as concerned for my enjoyment as for his own. We only abstained during my periods, for David had an abhorrence of menstrual blood. Those were the days we’d go sailing with Frank or take Norma or Rosemary to dinner.
I worried incessantly about becoming pregnant; my periods were highly irregular, from 21 to 30 days apart, and when the twenty-first day passed without a sign, I was in agony. Every time I went to the bathroom, I examined the toilet paper, searching for the bloodstains that signified another month's reprieve and, until they appeared, I was tormented with anxiety. During those days of waiting, I imagined myself pregnant and leaving school without telling David, or living in a Florence Crittenton home for unwed mothers, or moving to California and trying to survive on welfare payments. My self-pity was exquisite, but no less real for being so melodramatic. From a few oblique references, I realized David counted the days too, though he didn't tell me so directly. I wondered if he shared my apprehensions, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask.
The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science provided a welcome interruption in our routine. Seattle was the site of that year’s convention, and David was chosen as the opening speaker, a singular honor in such a prestigious organization. He threw himself into a frenzy of speechwriting, and when I arrived at his office to spend the evening I would find his radio was off, the lights were on, and David was hard at work, surrounded by books and writing paper. I can see him still, sitting at his desk with his sleeves rolled up, running his fingers through his hair, a perpetual furrow between his eyebrows, gulping the omnipresent cup of coffee.
I assumed the role of speech teacher to help David overcome his strong Argentine accent. His English vocabulary was enormous, greatly exceeding my own and, most unusual for a foreigner, his command of written English was indistinguishable from a native’s. When he opened his mouth, though – well, that was another matter. David’s accent was his point faible. He was utterly humorless on the subject of his English diction; if he was occasionally misunderstood, it was because the listener wasn’t paying attention or was mentally deficient. Although a few vowel sounds eluded him completely, his meaning could usually be guessed from context, so when he told me about hailing a taxi-cub or sealing the flop of an envelope or getting his feet wet stepping in a rain paddle, I knew what he meant. People’s names were something else though, and if David introduced me to someone as “Dan,” I had to see the name in writing before I could be sure it wasn’t “Don.” Despite his protestations, David was aware of his shortcoming, however grudgingly he admitted it. The first speaker on the AAAS agenda had the misfortune to be named Edward Cropper, and David confided to me his nightmare that he would stand up in front of a thousand distinguished scientists and introduce his colleague as Edward Crapper.
For hours on end I played Professor Higgins to his Eliza Doolittle, drilling him on babble and bubble, badge and budge, lab and lob. We improvised our own version of The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly in the Plain, which went The Bear Cub Loves to Paddle in the Puddle.
David also practiced his opening address on me; I heard the speech so many times that I knew it as well as David himself, and we joked if he became ill I could carry on in his place.
The night before the start of the meeting, David invited Frank and me to his office to hear the speech. David had the pronunciation down perfectly by then, and even Frank’s good-natured heckling didn’t fluster him. When he was finished, Frank, who knew of the elocution lessons, turned to me and said in a British accent “by George, he’s got it, I think he’s got it,“ parodying the lines from My Fair Lady.
I looked at David and took Frank’s cue, “again,” I said dubiously.
David enunciated his words with care. “The-bear-cub-loves-to-paddle-in-the puddle.”
“And where does that blasted bear cub love to paddle? Frank bellowed.
“In the puddle! In the puddle!” David shouted jubilantly. We doubled over with laugher and David waltzed me around the room to the beat of Frank’s clapping hands.
The ballroom of the Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle was the site of the meeting. I went to the hotel with David a couple of times when he was making arrangements for the convention, and sat on the sidelines studying while he discussed the placement of the rostrum and the acoustical equipment with one of the hotel officials.
The agenda included several evening talks intended for the general public and a greater number of esoteric symposia for the scientists themselves in the mornings and afternoons. David encouraged me to attend a few of the general interest lectures, but winter quarter finals were approaching and I knew he’d be too busy to spend any time with me, so I bowed out. I did want to hear David’s speech, however, and when Frank offered me a ride to the opening session, I accepted his invitation eagerly.
Opening day's schedule included speeches from two to five in the afternoon, followed by a 60-minute break and then a cocktail party in one of the banquet halls. Ever alert to the possibility of cadging free food, Frank urged me to come with an empty stomach.
Punctuality wasn’t one of Frank’s strong points, and the meeting room was nearly full when we arrived. Frank showed our passes at the door and, after excusing ourselves ten times and stepping over twenty feet, we eventually found a couple of empty folding chairs at the back. David was just standing up as we took our seats.
I felt like a theater prompter; I recited David’s speech in my head as he spoke on the podium, and had he faltered I was quite prepared to supply the missing words. But his delivery was letter-perfect, and when David came to introduce the ill-omened Dr. Cropper, he did so without hesitation. The audience clapped and David sat down. He poured himself a glass of water, bent down to hear the whispered comment from a man on his left, and gave a quick glance around the room as if searching for someone; there was a slight smile on his lips.
I have to admit the speeches didn't interest me. I stole a look at Frank from time to time; he seemed engrossed in the proceedings and I had the uncomfortable sensation of being an impostor, easily the most stupid person in the room. There was an intermission at three-thirty and while Frank made a trip to the bathroom, I remained in my chair with my eyes on the speaker’s platform. David was standing by the dais in the center of a group of men, talking rapidly and with great animation as he always did when gripped by an idea; his audience was listening intently and I felt proud, foolishly proud, of this man I loved so much. Other people drifted toward the rostrum, introduced themselves and shook hands. I was fascinated; outside the university setting it was the first time I’d seen David among his peers. I was struck by his total self-assurance and his easy rapport with the other scientists. I don’t know how I could have expected otherwise; his height and bearing alone exacted deference from others, and his towering intellect earned him their respect.
I felt isolated from David as I watched him on the platform. When we were lying beside each other in the dark, it was easy to fool myself into believing I was the center of his universe, as indeed he was of mine. Here at the meeting, however, it was obvious David moved graciously in several worlds. He was on center stage wherever he went and I was only a supernumerary.
When the meeting adjourned at five and David disappeared with his coterie, Frank and I wandered around the hotel for an hour looking at a watercolor exhibition, killing time until the cocktail party began.
Frank stood with his hands in his pockets, examining the pictures. He was jingling his loose change, a habit that never failed to annoy me, and at last I exclaimed in exasperation, “For heaven’s sake would you please stop playing with those coins! You’re driving me nuts.”
Frank looked hurt. “Geez, you’re in a bitchy mood. I bet you don’t talk that way to David.”
“David doesn’t stand around jingling his change.”
“That’s not the point.”
Frank was right; that wasn't the point. I was in a bad mood and had no right to vent my feelings on him.
At six, when they opened the doors to the Evergreen Room, Frank was one of the first to enter; he went directly to the hors d’oeuvres, piled a plate high with ham slices, crackers and cheese and brought the food to me for safekeeping while he went back in search of a martini and seven-up.
There were more women in the group now; apparently, many of the scientists had made the trip with their wives. The men were wearing pin-on nametags, but even at a distance Frank was able to identify a number of them. He was plainly awed by the company he was keeping.
“You see that guy by the table, the one in the gray suit with the spade beard?” he asked, pointing surreptitiously under his napkin. “That’s Weill from M.I.T. And that one, the one with the crazy looking tie – that’s Rabinowitz from Cal Tech.”
Then I saw them. As Frank was pointing out the luminaries, my gaze traveled over the crowd until I recognized David, standing with a group of six or seven people halfway across the room. He was holding a cocktail glass in his left hand and gesturing with his right. Beside him stood a matronly woman in a green dress and I knew it was Arlene even before Frank told me. The first thing I noticed was her hair, a beautiful shade of natural auburn.
I looked at Frank accusingly, “You never told me she has red hair.”
Arlene had on a knit sheath so tight that it outlined the ridges of her girdle against the bulge of her buttocks. The seams of her brassiere would have been visible too, but I could see from the way her breasts jiggled she wasn’t wearing one. Arlene’s silver shoes were backless and open at the toes, like house slippers on heels, and from her neck, wrists and ears dangled a matching set of gaudy rhinestone jewelry. She had a cigarette in her right hand. The whole effect was unspeakably vulgar and I felt agonies of embarrassment for David.
As I watched, he turned slightly and our eyes met. For a split second he didn’t react – he obviously wasn’t expecting to see me at the party – and then he recovered, acknowledging his recognition with a curt nod of his head.
Suddenly everything in the room came to a halt like a movie stuck on the first frame. Waiters held out trays of champagne glasses, but no one took them; the pianist lifted his hand and the music stopped in mid-note; guests stood open mouthed in the act of speaking. Perhaps I actually lost consciousness for a moment. Then David turned toward his group and resumed talking. Again I became aware of the hum of conversation, of laughter and the tinkling of a piano. Nothing had stopped. Nothing had changed. I realized I hadn’t returned David’s nod; I’d only stared.
“Frank, take me home.”
“Right now? The party’s just getting started.”
“Please, Frank. I don’t feel well.”
“You don’t have to pay any attention to them,” Frank said, nodding toward David’s group.
I laid my glass and napkin down and started to put on my gloves. “All right, if you want to stay, I can take the bus back.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, I’ll take you. Let me grab something else to eat first.” Frank loaded his plate with enough food for a CARE package, camouflaged it with a couple of napkins, and we left the room. On the way out, I turned to look at David, who was standing as before with the same group of people; he wasn’t gesturing with his right hand this time, though, because his arm was around Arlene's shoulder.
Go to Chapter Fifteen
Go to Chapter Fifteen