There are many things in life for which we aren’t prepared. The massacre in Las Vegas was one, Sunday’s senseless slaughter in a small church in Texas is another. Things like these shake our faith in the Establishment and even God. My heart breaks for all the victims of horrendous, insane crimes around the world. How can we prepare ourselves for what’s impossible to predict and understand?
Its Tuesday Tales’ time, and today’s word is PREPARE. My novel, Same Time Next Year is a book within a book. Author Dawn Williams, Twyla Wilson’s pen name, writes an autobiographical book about the summer that changed her life. Twyla has returned to the scene of the crime to do it, the resort where she fell in love and left that love behind,. Now, fifty years later, she hopes to make amends to the one she wronged and find out why he wronged her. My own memories of 1967 will play heavily in this book, although Twyla and Michael, and all of their adventures, are completely fictional.
Today’s offering is the start of the book with the book. Enjoy.
When I think back on that time, I can’t believe how naïve, selfish, and wrapped up in myself I was. Sheltered, the only daughter of one of Hoboken, New Jersey’s wealthiest families, I had no idea what it was like out there in the real world. I wasn’t prepared for the pain of betrayal, the agony of shame, and the heartache of loss.
I should’ve been. I should’ve cared about King and the Civil Rights Movement and the plight of black people in America, about the fear of communist expansion that made Eisenhower pledge help to South Vietnam in 1955, a pledge that eventually claimed thousands of American lives, including my brother’s, about the Student Homophile League at Columbia University, about sexual harassment, women’s rights, and feminism, and about all the other things going on around that I was oblivious to, things that mattered more than I realized they did. Like an ostrich with my head in the sand—even though those birds don’t actually do that—I was content in my own little world, looking at life through my rose-colored glasses. What a fool I was.
Like other girls with similar backgrounds, I attended a private high school where my free time was spent gossiping over the latest fashions, which diet would help me lose enough weight to look like Twiggy, and how long would it take for my hair to grow as long as Cher’s, assuming I could convince my mother to let me dye it a dark brown instead of its horrid, carrot-orange color. I’d already learned to use Mother’s steam iron and a towel to straighten it. I was actually proud of the fact I’d only burned my scalp twice.
I spent hours up in my room alone or with a few of my closest friends listening to record albums on my turntable—The Beetles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Jan and Dean, Herman’s Hermits, The Four Seasons, Neil Diamond, and too many others to mention. I would watch American Bandstand and The Monkees, mooning over Davey Jones. I’d seen every Elvis Presley movie released at least ten times. To this day, my favorite is still Blue Hawaii.
No seventeen-year-old girls back then could spend any time together without the conversation turning to boys, falling in love, and S E X. Mary-Louise Archer, our “head girl,” a term you don’t hear much today with all of the slang connotations attached to it, had found a copy of D.H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, at the thrift shop, and we took turns passing it around, reading it at night by flashlight, and hiding it during the day lest our parents should see it. Reading that book was probably the start of my fall from grace. It was my first act of defiance, but not my last. While the book expanded my base of knowledge and my vocabulary, I wasn’t a fan of the four-letter word so prevalent in it. I did find the book far more informative about things than the copy of Growing Up Mother had given me.
Of course, we discussed kissing to great length, even though my own experience in the area was limited. In a time where virginity was something to be prized, talking about French kissing, petting, and going all the way was alien to me. It wasn’t that I didn’t date. I wasn’t a wallflower by any means, although I was shy. Since Father wouldn’t hear of me “going steady” until I was twenty, my dates ended with chaste kisses at the door—some slobbery ones, some painful ones if braces were involved, but I’d yet to meet the perfect kisser, the one whose lips would make my blood boil. I’d heard the whispered rumors about girls sent away to live with relatives for a year because they’d gotten into trouble. Back then, the worst thing that could happen to a girl was an unwanted pregnancy, and Mother sang that song before every one of my dates. Strange how one boy’s touch could make me forget it all.
At night, I would go over the future I’d mapped out for myself. Father didn’t believe in working women. To him, a woman’s place was in the home, serving her lord and master. But these were the Sixties, and once I turned eighteen, I’d have hundreds of possibilities. My Bachelor of Arts degree would be in foreign languages with a minor in journalism. After graduation, I wasn’t sure which career I would finally decide on—interpreter at the United Nations, foreign correspondent, or teaching in a foreign country. Maybe I would join the Peace Corps like Mary-Louise was planning to do. The world was my oyster, the pearls mine to grab as soon as I was ready.
How can you prepare someone for the loss of all their hopes and dreams? You can’t.
My oyster began to rot in April, although, when I think about it now, the tension at home had been thick enough to cut with a machete for months before. Mother and Father argued more than ever, but when my brother Ethan, in his final year at Columbia and his friend Bill Wilson, a young lawyer he’d met on vacation in Vermont, were arrested at a protest, all hell broke loose.
Bill’s father, a powerful attorney with friends in high places, managed to get the charges dropped, insisting the men had simply been at the wrong place, at the wrong time, but the ensuing fight between Father and Ethan was terrible. At the time, I couldn’t understand what they argued about, but two days later, Ethan dropped out of university and enlisted in the army.
Father’s fury knew no bounds. To me, it had made no sense. Each night when Morley Safer came on television with his update on the Vietnam War, my father praised the boys fighting there. He himself had fought in Korea, and yet, he didn’t want my brother to follow in his footsteps. The things he said were terrible, wounding Ethan, a sensitive soul much like myself. When Bill had come to collect him to take him to the train, he’d kissed me goodbye. His eyes had filled with tears.
“Take care of yourself, Red. Don’t let him beat you down. Be who and what you are. You’ll always be my favorite sister.”
Had he known he wasn’t coming back?
Twyla stood and stretched. Outside, the sky had clouded over. In the background, the “Elusive Butterfly” by Bob Lind filled the room, the words searing her soul. How many songs had played while she’d been lost in the past?
That’s it for this week! Don’t forget to check out all the other posts on Tuesday Tales.