Sitting here listening to music from 1977 thinking about 1977, my 1977, not 1977 in general. It was a year. I turned 25 in January. The dangerous-yet-not-evil X was visiting his family in Colorado Springs. He wasn’t living with me. The marriage was breaking up (for good reason) and at that time he was a grad student in Laramie at the U of Wy. So, my friends (they weren’t really friends) were there and we were sitting around on the obligatory residual avocado green carpet in my one bedroom apartment a block from the University of Denver drinking champagne and listening to music.
What else do grad students do?
One of my guests was a beautiful, brilliant man with a developing interest in me in spite of the complexities in his nature (he was gay).
The party decided to take the champagne and go out in cars (not smart but…) and we headed to a building where a few years earlier I’d gone with. my mom and grandma to hear Lena Horne and another time to hear the Mills Brothers. It wasn’t that club anymore. Someone else drove my car. I was in the back seat with the wine. At some point I tossed a glass out the window. We got to the — I don’t know what to call it — it was a disco with a back room right out of Goodfellas. As Peter took me through the place, showing things to me, though I was bleary-eyed drunk, he said, “What’s this, Martha?”
“They’re gambling. It’s a casino.”
“What I like about you is you’re soreal.” Peter said that a lot but I never knew what he meant. Everything about that place was illegal. Open after hours. Gay dancing. Gambling.
We sat around for a while on some opulent sofas then left. Dawn was breaking as I pulled my VW into the parking space at my apartment building. I came in, exhausted, sober and mildly confused. I knew I was heading into a trajectory like that which sent the moon astronauts on their way back to Earth, but this trajectory wouldn’t bring me home.
Alone in my apartment I put on an Emmylou Harris album and headed for the bathtub. I had to teach in an hour.
I was laid off in 1974. That was one crazy year in my life ANYWAY but the night the layoffs took effect was the pinnacle of craziness.
I was fresh out of university with the highly desirable BA in English. After months of searching I found a job on the line at Head Ski. I didn’t realize it was seasonal work (nothing about that in the newspaper ad). I worked swing shift (which I ended up liking) cleaning the edges of finished skis. After a while, because I was talented, I got promoted to measuring flex and camber, pairing skis, burning serial numbers on the sides and bagging them in the cotton fish net (oh baby) in which they were shipped. It was a raise in pay, too, which was good, because I was supporting the First X who was still in school.
This went on a couple of months then the pink slips were passed out during break at 6 pm. “We’ll hire you back as openings become available.”
That last day started early. My mom came to get me in Boulder, all the way from Denver, to take me and my grandmother to Loveland for my great-uncle’s funeral. I was dressed up in a skirt my mom had made me and a nice sweater. After the funeral there was lunch and then hanging around. My mom dropped me off at the factory at 3, and I was still wearing my fancy clothes. I had jeans to change into, but no other top.
Factory work is physical work and there were some pretty extreme chemicals in there. My polyester sweater was soaking it all in, believe me. At “lunch” the plan was we would all — all of us being laid off and those in solidarity with us — were going in the parking lot to get high. Afterwards? Well, we stood for the next four hours filing the throats of the tennis rackets to baby-bottomed smoothness. At 11 we were set free. We were all going to a bar on Pearl Street.
I didn’t have a car, but that’s when I learned that Jeff — the CUTEST guy on the line — was interested in me. He took me to the bar in his red VW, treated me like a date, bought me tequila sunrise after tequila sunrise and ignored everyone else. At 2, the bar closed.
Pearl Street was then just a street in a small city. We got to the car and Jeff opened the door. As he was closing it, four guys who were engaged in a fight, came roiling by. Jeff — who was a little stringy dude — chased two of them away but the other two were still fighting by the car. I sat there in a semi-drunken, exhausted, chemical fazed stupor as one guy smashed the face of the other guy into the window behind which I sat.
“Assholes,” said Jeff, after chasing the guy away and getting in the car.
I thought I should have been horrified by what I’d seen, but I couldn’t summon up horror. I was too tired, too high and too drunk to really care that there was blood all over the window.
We got to the parking lot of my apartment and that’s when Jeff made his move. “I don’t know how things are between you and your husband, but, you know, anyway here’s my phone number.”
And he kissed me.
Fact is, life with the First X was pretty awful, and I didn’t know how to contend with that. Still, I didn’t imagine cheating on him with Jeff or anyone. I went upstairs, took off my clothes and crawled into bed. 3 am. Without meaning to, I woke up my husband.
“Good God!” said the soon to be X, “You stink. Go take a shower!”
The next day I started looking for a job. A couple of days later, I called Jeff.
I think for women of a certain age, the word “cherish” has only one association (ha ha ha). I was in ninth grade and I was moving away from the town where I’d left childhood and grown into a teenager. 9th grade back then was the last year of the arcane thing known as junior high.
We’d lived in Bellevue, Nebraska for six years. My mom hated it. My dad liked it. My brother and I? Kids just live wherever, I think, little kids anyway. I grew into the small town. I liked it. I was active in Rainbow Girls, I was studying piano and getting somewhere, and I was popular in my school, one of the cool of the cool. Most important, I had my first boyfriend. Rex. He started being my boyfriend in fifth grade.
And we were moving back to Colorado.
My Aunt Martha flew out from Denver to drive one of our two cars. By then my mom had her drivers license, but my dad’s abilities had deteriorated and he tired easily (multiple sclerosis) so he wouldn’t be up to driving the two long days from Bellevue to Colorado Springs. The movers would pack our stuff once we were gone. We spent the night before our move in a motel in our very town. I have no idea how the logistics of this worked. At age 14 I wasn’t responsible for anything but me.
We spent a night on the road. In Colorado Springs, my family spent a few nights in a motel and I went to Denver with Aunt Martha. The following week, we moved into a little brick tract house that was a lot like the house we’d left behind. Our stuff arrived and the movers put everything where it was supposed to be.
The family tried to slide smoothly into a new life.
I missed everything. I missed being cool (because now I wasn’t). I missed my piano teacher (but he wrote me). I missed knowing where I was. I missed my small town. My piano teacher (a German Jew who’d fled Hitler) reminded me how much I loved the mountains and explained that soon I would be happy to be there.
Most of all, I missed my boyfriend. At 14 I wasn’t allowed to date and I don’t think Rex was either, but we HAD held hands (I never told my mom). In 9th grade there were two dances and Rex and I had already agreed we’d go together. I saw a whole future of football games and dances with him.
In my anonymous bedroom in a new city I didn’t even like, I cried and thought of Rex whenever the clock radio on the shelf of the headboard of my twin bed played:
Listening to it now, it was totally non-applicable to my situation. ❤
And, through 9th grade in Colorado Springs, I went to all the dances with my brother.
“I snagged it on a weed or something. I’m going to get a run. Why did they ever invent these?”
“They’re not as embarrassing as garter belts?”
“I think it’s money. With regular hose, you just replace the leg with the runner, not the whole pair! You could carry spares in your purse. Carrying a pair of these in your purse? You need a fucking suitcase.”
“What’s WRONG with you?”
“This is just dumb. Why can’t we wear pants?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t make the dress code.”
“I hate this.”
“We can stop at Safeway. I think we have time.”
“I don’t have any money. Seriously?”
“Just a thought.”
“It’s OK. Sorry for being so grumpy.”
“Maybe they’ll change the dress code. Aren’t you on student council?”
“No, not me. That’s for the ‘socials’.”
“I thought you were a ‘social’.”
“Not hardly. Oops. There it goes.”
“Yeah, that’s a good one.”
“You know what? I’m taking them off.”
And so Margaret stopped in the field, kicked off her shoes, and pulled down her pantyhose. Her 16 year old heart thumped hard, “Fuck it,” and her existential act was complete. When they reached the mall between the field and school, she shoved them into a trash can in front of the drugstore. It would be opaque, colored tights from then on, until they changed the dress code.