The Angeline Constellation
A Story Of Young Love
After the wars were over,
And I was coming home to you;
I saw a Rainbow at Midnight,
Out on the ocean blue;
I saw your face in that Rainbow…
Sung by the Texas Troubador, Ernest Tubb
I was not invited to many parties. I didn’t know why I was invited to this one. I was not a popular boy. I had never done well at parties. As I watched myself compared to others I saw that I lacked the party spirit. This may sound odd, but there is a party attitude that was quite beyond me. Perhaps she had already fallen in love with me and requested the hostess to invite me so that she might meet me.
I was fifteen, she was thirteen. The party was a hayride held on Thanksgiving. I had heard of hayrides. They were a very popular diversion in the Valley. I found their idea pleasing and romantic. I was looking forward to this one. It was my first and only.
I, perhaps, trying to overcome a sense of inferiority tried too hard to impress the others, I was perhaps too boisterous. Or perhaps I was only there at her request and the others preferred that I not be there. I was introduced to her but she failed to make an impression on me. I might have thought her too young. All the rest of the kids were my age, she was the youngest there.
In those days my desire to be liked was so strong that I was willing to force myself on others. As we got in the wagon I tried to be gay and jovial. I thought that was what was wanted. It was, but not in the manner I employed. My efforts were rebuffed. As we rode along I tried romancing the girl next to me but was given a reception as cold as that November night in Michigan.
She had gotten as close to me as she could which was on the other side of the girl I was trying to romance. She only had eyes for me. She was chatting with me, demanding my attention over the girl between us. My anguish at my lack of acceptance was extreme. She was grasping for my hand across the girl between us. We began holding hands over her. The girl wouldn’t move or let me past her. She neither wanted my company nor would she scoot out of the way. I scarcely knew what I was doing but desperation made me accept the advances of this thirteen year old girl. In a few months to a year perhaps she would not have been able to be so forward.
We spent the ride holding hands. I was not sincere, only desperate for acceptance. The ride ended. We returned to the house and continued the party in the basement. I now was obligated to talk to this slip of a girl. She seemed to adore me. I was mystified but continued to talk to her with no idea of romance.
At the time the comedian George Goebel was approaching the apex of his early career. I identified with the sad sack comedians. I imagined to myself that I had anticipated Goebel’s delivery on my own. My mind was so perfectly attuned to sad humor that I had no trouble convincing myself that I had anticipated them all. Perhaps I had.
We talked but I made no attempt to be as friendly as the hayride might have given her occasion to expect. I was a very lonely not very confident boy.
She said to me: “Do you know that you talk just like the comedian George Goebel?”
I fatuously replied that: “No. I talked like this before I ever saw George Goebel on TV.”
“I like it,” she replied, anxious to believe me. “It’s quite a coincidence though.”
“Well, I said knowingly, “There’s only so many ways you can talk. I guess it’s actually fairly common.”
I didn’t believe myself, I felt like falling through the floor.
By then the party was breaking up. She and I were almost the only ones left in the basement. A few apples still bobbed in the tub of water. I was about to say goodbye when some girl walked by and said to my back: “Ask her out!” So I guess that she had asked to have me invited.
Oh, I was so afraid. I was desperate and lonely. So desperate and lonely that I almost preferred to be alone. Still I wanted a girl friend. Someone to call my own. More as a reflex to the command, anonymous suggestion, rather than desire, I asked to see her again. Even with more encouragement than any boy had a right to expect, I still put it in the most awkward insensitive way possible.
“Would you like to see me again?” I said. “I mean would you like to go out on a date with me?”
“Oh yes, I’d love to.” She eagerly responded.
“Well,” I said, casting about for an occasion, “There’s a dance at Melville- that’s where I go school- (“Yes, I know.” She quickly interjected.) Would you go to the dance with me?”
“Oh, I’d love to,” she said. “But my grandmother won’t let me go unless she meets you first.” She said anxiously, shifting from foot to foot, fearful of having made too great a condition.
“Why your grandmother?” I replied startled by the thought of a grandparent rather than a parent.
“My parents are dead and I live with my grandmother. The rest of my family lives in Waterloo.”
Waterloo? Waterloo, Iowa? They had a terrific hillbilly station that broadcasted out of Waterloo. Suddenly I was interested in this girl. Ange was her name.
“Hmm. I guess I could come by next Friday and call on you to meet her. Would that be all right?”
The tension fell away from her, her relief was visible. “Oh sure, that would be fine.”
I was to call on her the next Friday at seven. I left her there to be taken home and began the walk back to Caterina where I lived.
I was terrified. I realized that she liked me, but I couldn’t understand why. My childhood had been terrible. I tried to exude confidence but I walked around quaking inside. My mother had divorced when I was four. At five I was placed in a foster home. At six I was moved to another. At seven I was placed in the Municpal Orphanage by my mother. At ten, when she was remarried, she retrieved me. My stepfather and I didn’t get along. Sometime in the Children’s Home I had antagonized the regular kids- those from homes with parents- at school for not being submissive as an orphan should be. They had punished me for being uppity then. They had never forgiven me and continued to punish me. I was considerably psychologically battered.
I didn’t know how much it showed. I mean I was not aware that it showed so much. Talking like George Goebel should have been a giveaway to me. On top of my battering my face had broken out in the seventh grade. It continued to be a mass of pimples untill I was twenty-two. Then the pimples began to diminish only gradually. Most terrifying to me was that as I left the ninth grade at an even five feet tall I had feared that I would be short. Given my pimples, my battering and my height, it was more than I could bear.
Then between ninth and tenth grades a miracle happened. Sometime in the summer I began growing. I grew nearly two inches a month for three months. When I met Ange I was five-six and a half but I still acted and thought five feet tall. I was amazed to learn that she was five-one and a half as I towered, or so it felt, above her while I felt shorter.
I had experienced more rejection than acceptance. I wondered all week long what she could see in me.
On Friday night I put on my best clothes. My mother and stepfather seemed to have wanted to punish me by making me wear stupid clothes. During the summer I had grown so much I hd humiliated myself for money by caddying at the Valley Country Club. Actually if you worked hard the pay was pretty good. I worked hard. I was there at six every morning to get an early number so I would have a chance of going out twice. Perhaps carrying double each time. I had made several hundred dollars working seven days a week.
My mother and stepfather had insisted I put every dime in the bank. Every dime! I had never had any spending money in my life. Not a dime! I began to report less than I made and hid my money in different places. The Country Club deducted a certain sum of money from each outing to be placed in a fund to be given to us at the end of the season. The notion was that then we wouldn’t have spent all our money foolishly. I had refused to give that money up.
I had grown six inches. You may guess at how my pants fit. My mother refused to buy either me or my brother new fall clothes. She and my stepfather forbade me to spend my own earnings on new clothes. I asked her in the most responsible manner for new clothes for my brother and me. She refused. I had to go to school looking like a fool. Then one day she came home with a full length fur coat. She modeled it for me and had the audacity to ask how I liked it. I was incensed, outraged. Permission or not I resolved to buy me new clothes.
I went out and got me charcoal grey flannels and a pink dress shirt which were the rage at Melville as well as a grey V-neck sweater. My parents had an unerring instinct for geek clothes. They insisted that I had spent too much. I absolutely refused to take my clothes back as they demanded. No! No! A thousand times No!
As If left for Ange’s I at least was dressed presentably, although there was nothing I could do about my pimples. They ravaged my face and my mind. Ange lived South of me on Melmoth Avenue. She lived in a grey rectangle on a corner. The porch was no more than a stoop attached to the front of the house.
When she opened the door she was shy. “I wasn’t sure you were coming.” She said clasping her hands behind her back.
“Sure, I said I would.” I replied. “I wouldn’t ever stand you up.”
This remark seemed to please her as she beamed a golden smile at me.
She was more beautiful than I remembered. Not necessarily in a Miss America sense, nevertheless I found her appearance very pleasing. She had a lovely face, longer than round with a funny little pug nose that came close to disfiguring her but having failed enhanced her appearance.
She was very slender. I remember her as being taller than she was. She was dressed all in grey. A grey wool straight skirt that fell just to the bottom of her calf and a grey cashmere sweater. I noted the cashmere with pleasure as it bespoke the quality I so desired.
We both said: “You look nice.” at the same time. Laughing together she took me into the living room to meet her grandmother. Now that I had seen her again I was afraid I would not be agreeable to her grandmother. Ange was still thirteen. I could have done nothing but understand if her grandmother had refused me.
Her grandmother acted as though I were a statue talking only to Ange. She eyed me up and down and from side to side. I could tell she didn’t approve of me. She looked at Ange and said in what I considered a chilly manner: “You’re sure that this is what you want?”
Ange nodded yes.
Her grandmother looked at me quizzically and said: “Well, you should know best what you want.”
“All right then, Grandmother, please go up to your room now as you promised.” Ange rather artlessly said.
Still ignoring me Ange’s grandmother gave her a questioning look and then mounted the stairs to the second floor.
Ange raced to the foot of the stairs and exclaimed after her: “Now you stay up there like you promised. Don’t come peeking at us.”
A muffled “I won’t.” came down the stairs.
Ange’s grandmother never spoke to me again. When I next came to visit she was already upstairs and never came down.
Ange put her hand on my arm and smiled betwitchingly at me.
“Let’s sit down.” she said, sitting in the middle of the couch. I was awkward. I was terrified. I sat in an arm chair so afraid I was almost trembling. I had no idea what to do. This was the first time I had been alone with a girl in my life.
“No, on the couch beside me, Dewey.”
I was shy, I was very shy. She liked me, obviously. But why?
I slid over next to her. Slowly, ever so slowly we leaned into each other until the warmth of our bodies mingled. My mind was all consternation. Two years older and I was the child. She looked at me petulantly. Then swinging her legs under her on the couch she took my arm and put it around her.
Her scent, her warmth, her beauty was overwhelming. I was petrified. We sat and talked in that pose until eleven o’ clock. Then I thought I had better leave. I loved her. I put her on a pedestal. She seemed to love me. I could have, I think I could have, kissed her goodnight, but to tell the truth I had never kissed a girl in a romantic way and I didn’t know how. Coupled with my terror, I was too paralyzed to even think of trying.
I left more mystified than ever. Why did she like me? Like Me! I thought. She positively thought I was Prince Charming. She seemed so much more mature than I. Whatever she saw in me, whatever it was I couldn’t see it. She had told her grandmother she wanted me. She meant to have me. It was a love I had longed for but now forebodings arose in me as I searched for what made her love me. Anxiety welled up within me, trepidation seized my soul. Yet she was much more lovely than I remembered her. I loved the way she dressed. She was actually perfect. I loved her, I knew I loved her. I thought of the klutz I had been; sitting in the arm chair! She was so mature. I wondered if she would forgive me. I was serious. I trembled. Tears welled up in my eyes. I feared losing her before I had obtained her.
I was solely concerned with my own emotions. the bludgeoning life had given me precluded any thought of others. With better balance I would have seen the obvious- that she was head over heels in love with me. As a mad egoist I would have scented opportunity. But then mad egoism is another side of this life that I am thankful I was spared. I walked home in a euphoric haze.
Strangely I made no attempt to telephone her over the next week as I waited impatiently for the dance at school. As I think now, this must have caused her some anxiety. Perhaps she picked up the phone a hundred times to call me but put the receiver down each time afraid to offend me by being overeager. Perhaps her anxiety was overwhelming too.
I knocked on her door Friday trying to be as radiant as a face full of pimples could be. She threw open the door and greeted me with a radiance that dazzled me off my feet. She was even more beautiful than I had remembered doubled yet again. I struggled to control my elation as I entered the door. She was ready to leave and called goodby to her grandmother.
I had the use of no car. My parents evil- did I say evil?- how else can I explain their behavior as they denied my every happiness until they drove me from their house-evil to the core- would never allow me to drive all through high school. They not only refused the use of their car but wouldn’t even allow me to take Driver’s Ed. We had to walk. Of course Ange didn’t mind. It was actually closer to Melville from Ange’s house than it was from mine. It was a short walk up Melmoth to the Star and then a mile up Mackinac St. to Melville.
As we came up to the Star we passed Buddy’s Super Market. Buddy, if there was such a person, had opened the first modern super market in the Valley. What was at that time considered a giant of 20,000 square feet. People wondered if such a giant store could make it. Stupid question. I had been gazing at Ange marveling at her good taste. She had on a grey overcoat of a design that I have never ceased to love.
I was gazing at her as we talked. Approaching the Star intersection I looked up. Much to my surprise I saw Buzz Gronski carrying groceries out of Buddy’s, that is, he had a job as carryout. He was a very unpleasant reminder of my summer as a caddy. Buzz had adopted the mannerisms of the gangster. He must have seen a lot of old Cagney movies. He had posed as a tough guy at the Country Club with a little gang of caddies he had developed. When I started the summer I was only five feet tall and less than a hundred pounds. It’s all right to be scrappy at that size but it’s tough losing all your fights. I didn’t like getting beat up. I thought I was circumspect, the bigger boys thought I was chicken.
As the summer started I thought I would be five feet tall forever. I just wanted to earn money. Many caddies arrived late, Buzz and his friends among them. They then tried to terrorize the early birds into giving up their priority to them. Buzz, who was short himself, never actually came after me. His friend, Charley Horse, who was much bigger than me, did. Charley got me up against the wall. Grabbing me by the throat he forced me to my knees and demanded my place. I should have punched him back but I didn’t. I was damned if I was going to get up early to be first and then give my place to him. He could hit but I wouldn’t give up my place. Naturally he was afraid of reprisals from the caddy shack and didn’t hit me. While retaining my place I still lost a certain amount of dignity.
Under pressure from these jerks I did something that nearly destroyed my self-respect. I began to tell lies to keep up with them. I don’t mean fibs; I mean tall stories. I invented events meant to aggrandize myself. Fortunately I was caught out almost immediately. I returned to my correct moral standards but the memory of my lapse haunted me. My self-respect required complete honesty.
As I saw Buzz now my immediate reaction was one of apprehension. But then I had grown and he hadn’t. I now ‘towered’ over him. With the respect for tall men that short men cannot conceal he now deferred to me. He was also ashamed to be seen as a bagboy. Eyeing Ange he also placed himself in a class below me. As he hurried to place his bags in the customer’s trunk he didn’t answer my greeting.
Ange, of course, asked: “Who is he?”
I was not only ashamed at having caddied, but my lack of resistance to the hazing I had taken and my lapse of integrity had left me with a feeling of guilt. I struggled to find an answer that would be the truth without revealing my summer employment. I thought if if Ange had known I caddied she would leave me on the corner and go home. I couldn’t think of anything, I didn’t want to. I told her the unvarnished truth.
“I caddied at the Country Club last summer before I met you, Ange. He was just some guy that caddied there.”
“Oh,” she said, not seeming to disapprove.
I wanted to discredit Buzz in her eyes.
“He and some of his friends were real crooks. They used to steal cases of pop off the truck while the driver was filling the machine.”
“You didn’t help, did you?”
‘Oh, gosh no, Ange. I wouldn’t even drink a bottle which they tried to force me to do. That’s why this guy wouldn’t speak to me. It was kind of a reproach. I wasn’t one them.”
She turned an admiring glance on me, secure in her judgment of me.
As I walked along beside this pure flame I felt a sense of inadequacy. My summer haunted me. I wished I had hit Charley. I wished I hadn’t needed the money that I got from the Country Club members. I felt defiled. I looked at her again wondering what she could see in me. I was uneasy.
The dance was uneventful. The school band played its two best tunes- Night Train and Blue Moon- with some trash in between. I knew Al, the leader of the band and got him to play the two tunes again. I liked them both.
We began to walk back to her house. The weather in the two weeks since Thanksgiving had turned cold. This night it was already fifteen, headed for ten, maybe eight, above. The evening had only increased my respect and love for Ange. I had placed her on a pedestal before, but now I was virtually worshipping her. My anxiety had my stomach muscles, always taut, tight. I had a lump in my throat and difficulty breathing. Combined with the weather I was very conscious of my body. Ange seemed relaxed. How could she be so young and still be so confident?
She had taken the glove off her left hand and walked with it exposed to the cold by her side. Even a simpleton could have known enough to take her hand in his. But block after block I agonized over whether I should risk it. I looked at her and through my haze of fear I thought I sensed that she felt rejected because I hadn’t taken her hand. I thought that for a moment she considered giving up and putting on her glove. I thought that she despaired of my loving her. Finally I decided that her hand would freeze if I didn’t take it. I timidly asked: “Is it all right if I hold your hand?”
“Oh,” she said with obvious relief, “I thought you’d never ask.” As cold as her hand was, I believed it.
We now walked hand in hand. It was a beautiful hand she had. I couldn’t cease trembling at my good fortune. It was a cold night. Both are hands were cold. I suggested putting them both into my jacket pocket to warm them up. She consented. I will remember the contented, perhaps even euphoric, way she walked beside me overjoyed at the close contact we immersed ourselves in.
As we walked through the freezing cold, the cold was driven back by the warmth of our love. Rather than two cold children walking down the street I felt as though we had turned into little suns floating through the ether, aglow ourselves, if unable to dispel the cold pressing in around us. Rising above my insecurities I was happy.
Suddenly we were before her house. The little stoop of her house was no place to spoon. We were on display. I was confronted with a terrifying decision. Should I try to kiss her or not? Protocol required me to attempt it as this was our second date. Yes, of course, I knew the answer was obvious. Still I said goodbye without kissing her. She grabbed my jacket and pulled me back: “Wait!” She commanded. She looked up at me expectantly her lips poised to receive mine. I knew I had to, I knew I wanted to kiss them. Anxiety still shrouded my mind. I didn’t know how. Oh yes, simple enough, but now I was terrified that I would disappoint her. In indecision I stepped backward. She misunderstood me and pulled me back again whispering: “Not yet. Don’t leave me yet.”
I had to act. I wanted to do it right, to show her I could be very romantic. Suddenly every big movie kiss I had ever seen flashed through my mind. Pouncing like a tiger I threw my arms around her. Bending her down backwards, as I thought I remembered in the movies, I lowered her to a level where her body was at right angles with her knees. Startled by my rapid move and thrown off balance her arms reflexively tightened around my neck. We were in a close embrace. I can only guess how clumsy my kiss was. Movie scenes flashed through my mind while I tried to determine how long I should hold it. As the seconds ticked away I decided that it was time. With the same suddeness I had seized her I now staightened her up and put her on her feet.
I knew I had failed. How could I fail? She loved me. “I hope that was alright.” I stammered. “I never kissed a girl before and just did it like I’ve seen in the movies.”
She was aglow. “Oh no, it was perfect. You’ve never kissed a girl before?” She giggled and broke into a merry little laugh.
“Well, on the cheek, my cousins, but not like that.”
She threw her arms around my neck and kissed me again. Her lips were soft and perfect. The sky was filled with stars that had descended to earth and revolved around my head. She laughed again, took my cheeks in her hands and looked with merry joy into my eyes. She opened her door, looked back at me with a complete ecstasy and disappeared within. The stars retreated into the heavens. The cold surrounded me and clutched at my heart.
I turned to make the long walk home alone. It was no longer a friendly universe. The warm glowing light had disappeared. The stars had fled my brow and returned into the cold dark sky. It was just another dark cold night. The windows of Buddy’s Super Market had long since been dark when I walked past. Then a discomforting thought entered my head. I didn’t know how I was going to get back into the house. My mother and stepfather refused to let me have a key. They had caused a row before I left. They hadn’t forbidden me to date but they had belittled Ange as not good enough for me, whatever that meant. I was asked how I was going to get back in the house at midnight. In my simplicity I said through the door like always. I was told the door would be locked, they would be asleep and I wasn’t to disturb them. If I did they wouldn’t get up to let me in.
I couldn’t understand why they obstructed my chances for happiness. It was bad enough facing a hostile world without being harassed from behind by your own family. Mrs. Otto, two houses down Monroe, had observed our relationship. She had observed me and made an unfavorable evaluation. She and her husband were having their own problems. Shortly after she threw him out she told me what she thought of my step-father. I was too young to understand much of what she said. The only thing that really stuck was: “I’ll never forgive him for what he’s doing to you.” She was coldly analytical. But since she was the kind of feminist who blamed men for cloudy days, I only listened. Actually my mother was as bad or worse than my step-father but Mrs. Otto would never have believed that. Nor was it clear what she thought he was doing to me. Now I know he was trying to belittle me into an impotence which he himself felt. My problem now was to be potent enough to get into the house. It was close to eight above. I knew that if I woke them they would only shout through the door: “You were warned, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself.” They were like that, that’s what they always said. I had been almost treated better in the orphanage.
I cast about for some friend who might be coming home late from a date but that was chancy and another long cold walk too. I had no choice but to wake my brother up. We fought constantly; if he was in a snit he wouldn’t do it either. He was my best chance. I wove my way up the side streets from Court past the library turning at each corner until I reached Bond St., a block to the south of Monroe.
We lived on the corner in a square little house with a bizarre porch. The porch itself was conventional enough but it was reached by a semi-circular concrete staircase with rounded edges to the steps. Whoever designed such a stairway must have been from Dixie. When the ice and snow packed on the steps it was almost impossible to get a footing. I decided to try the side window first. I crashed through the frozen bushes in the dark. We still had a coal furnace. The fires were banked every night which left a very cold house. To avoid possible asphyxiation each storm window, which was placed over the regular windows to form insulation, had three holes drilled in the bottom to let in fresh air. I could make my brother hear by speaking through these. I called to him softly. I called several times keeping my voice low. I know he pretended not to hear me. I tapped on the window with frozen fingers; still no response. Finally I decided to try the window facing the front porch. Rather than crash through the bushes again I went completely around the house. The steps were so slippery I couldn’t keep my footing so I had to crawl up the steps. Darn cold work and I was risking tearing the knees out of my grey flannels. I could hear my parents chuckling in my imagination if I did.
Worse still, I was conscious that the night had a thousand eyes. I knew my neighbors; I knew that I was being observed by at least someone. I knew they would gossip on the morrow. One of my favorite songs had always been “Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone.” I hated to be discussed whether by friends, neutrals or enemies. My voice was directed now at my brother rather than past him across the room. The door was only slightly ajar so I didn’t think my parents would hear. Of course they had lain awake waiting for my return, but I didn’t know that.
Calling and tapping I finally got a response from Rip Van Winkle. “What do you want?” was his asinine answer. “Get up and open the door and let me in. I’m freezing.”
“If I get up I’ll freeze too.”
This was no joke; I knew I was asking for a favor. The temperature in the room was probably fifteen. Winter nights were so cold that once the spot beneath your body in bed was warm, to move even an inch was to encounter painfully cold sheets. I always found a comfortable position and then didn’t twitch a muscle all night. We had a hardwood floor too. My parents wouldn’t give us a throw rug. When your feet hit that frozen floor it was almost worse than a blistering beach on a hot summer day.
“I’d do it for you.” I hissed at him. I honestly thought I would have too.
After much imploring he said: “Go around to the back.”
“No, Louie, open the front door. I’m right here.”
“Oh, alright.” He grudged.
I had the decency to thank him.
This ending was rather an imperfect one for a perfect date.
In the excitement of my first kiss I had forgotten to make another date. I had to call her. There were no more dances so I hadn’t known what to suggest. Taking a girl to some vulgar movie house was never my idea of a date. Ange said just come on over. She said that I could come over anytime, I didn’t need dates. I countered that I didn’t want to antagonize her grandmother. She said not to worry about her grandmother, she would take care of her.
Apparently Ange’s womanhood was superior to her grandmother’s. I verily believed that she was a sliver from the fountainhead of womanhood. I marveled at here seeming mature awareness. I marveled at Ange.
That week my brother and I had a discussion about opening the door for me. In a tradeoff of responsibilites it was agreed that he would get up and let me in.
On Friday I put on my jacket and began the walk to Ange’s. What a jacket. It was unbearably stupid and old fashioned. A girl would have to be deeply in love to be seen with anyone wearing that jacket. My mother’s fur coat had it all over the jacket. When my mother bought me the jacket she asked which of the jackets on sale I preferred. I chose something someone might want to wear. Having determined what I did not want she insisted on buying it. The ugliest jacket in the whole store. I had to take it. Not so with my graduation suit. She wanted me to buy some godawful piece of junk, using my own money no less. At eighteen I went without rather than humiliate myself wearing trash. This jacket was incomprehensively bad. That a manufacturer could have thought that he might make money on a run of them was inconceivable. The designer must have been out of the asylum on a weekend pass. That a cutter had cut the pattern showed how little he cared for his craft. He should have rejected the pattern outright. That a wholesaler bought hundreds and sold them to retailers was the con job of the century. the Brinks hold up robbers could have learned from him. He didn’t even have to worry about going to jail. That a retailer thought that a customer existed who wouled buy it shows both how savvy and savage retailers can be. This guy knew and was mean enough to exploit it, that a mother who hated her child would buy it. Well, money is money. He’s probably leaning against the wall of this shop cackling still. I wasn’t laughing. There’s a place for him in the seventh hole in hell where his reward is waiting for him. I had to wear the ugly thing.
But I was on the way to wear the stars that had settled on my brow. The memory of her warm lips on the cold night dispelled gloomy thoughts from my mind. I wanted to feel my best, look my best and be my best for Ange.
The kiss had altered our relationship. The intimacy had raised a slight barrier for me that had to be overcome. I was shy, even embarrassed, when she opened the door for me with her eyes shining. God, what a lovely girl.
How could I ever have thought her an insignificant slip of a girl only a few weeks ago, now to be drawn completely under her spell. I threw off the jacket as quickly as I could. I threw it behind the couch out of sight.
“Oh, here, let me hang it up.” Ange said putting her hand out to get it.
Forgetting myself, I seized her hand meaning to say: “No, forget it.”
Perhaps she interpreted the suddeness of my movement as ardent affection, perhaps it was. It did break the discomfort of shyness. She clasped my hand lovingly in both hers and raised it to her lips almost as in ecstasy. My heart melted, my joints turned to butter, my legs almost gave out beneath me. Perhaps I swooned against her. I can’t remember. I just remember next having her in my arms on the couch. She was no weight at all. I pressed her close imbibing the perfume of her youthful innocent devotion. The twin dynamos of her small breasts pulsed warm waves of love through my trembling frame.
As only young lovers can we sat holding each other for an eternity of bliss. Perhaps an hour. The balm of her love on my troubled and tormented mind obliterated all thoughts of sorrow or misery. My past disappointments vanished as a vapor before the healing rays of the sun. My present angers and humiliations were wafted away as before a light summer breeze. But a dark foreboding rose like a lazy bubble through viscous oil.
Did she know my travails? I was an unhappy boy. My two anthems were songs by the western singer, Hank Snow: ‘I’ve Got A Troubled Mind’ and ‘I Don’t Hurt Anymore.’ The titles are self explanatory. Hillbilly songs don’t fool around. I sang the latter as a prayer and the former as a lament. I had the insiders understanding of sad sack comedians- there will never be another Jackie Vernon- and I knew the whole catalog of sad songs. For a joke I sang along with ‘I’ve got tears in my ears from laying on my back on my pillow crying over you.’
I didn’t know if she knew that I carried this load of sorrow around with me. Oh, I had a sense of humor. I could make Ange laugh and be merry. I tried not to let my sorrow show but it is the unconscious mannerisms and conversational traits that give one away. The walk, the gestures, the choice of words and phrases, it is even found in the way we wear out clothes, let alone the choice of clothes and colors. I knew I was unhappy. Even though I would always be kind and gentle to her, I wanted her to know the sorrow that possessed my mind.
Not knowing what else to do I took her face in my hands. Holding her eyes level with mine I tried to penetrate the barrior of vision that separated us. I tried to dissolve the distance which exists between two, not to become one, but to show her everything that was happening in my mind. At first a pleasant smile played abut her lips as our eyes met and we saw each other, perhaps for the first time. Then I was successful and our lenses stopped resisting each other. The plane of existence disappeared and we saw into each other’s souls. Our divine essence flowed back and forth on the waves of union, the bridge of adoration through our eyes. I was intent that she see what I wanted her to see so I kept the inner vision open praying not to break the spell. But her lips quivered and opened with a slight gasp. She lost contact as her eyelids fluttered and half lowered. Her hand involuntarily rose and clasped mine in a warm embrace. Now, in my turn, I tenderly kissed her hands as she swooned forward placing her lips gently against mine.
We dissolved back against and into the couch, where a tangle of melted flesh we half sat and lay wholly in a blissful daze. The effect was overpowering. It was as though our warmth had coalesced to form one sun emiting its rays out into our own universe. It was the gods’ gift to we two for one brief moment. The moment was at once lost, the sweetness lives on a faint echo of a memory never to be recovered.
I knew that I had failed in my intent to show myself to her, or if I hadn’t she must have been to young to know and understand.
Than a moment of distress came over me. I hadn’t planned carefully enough. No, not what you think. I had a horror of bodily functions. I had always taken care when I was with Ange that I didn’t have to go to the bathroom. But now my bladder was exploding. I didn’t want her to know that I had to go to the bathroom. I was terrified that she think that I was inconsiderate.
Perhaps she had seen something in my mind that I hadn’t been aware of, for as my brow furrowed and I searched for words to form the question, she said gently: “It’s over there Dewey. Go through the dining room, it’s on your right.” I was in acute misery because of my lack of planning. I felt like I was defiling her as I got to my feet and found my way to the bathroom. Thank God I had carefully zipped my pants before I opened the door because when I did she was standing outside waiting for me. She clasped my hand and leaning against me led me back to the couch.
“Oh, Ange, listen, I’m awfully sorry…” I said almost sobbing the most intense embarrassment I was ever to know.
“Sorry about what, Dewey?” She said a little shiver of alarm rippling through her body. She feared she had displeased me somehow.
“T- t- that I had to…that I didn’t plan better. That I embarrassed you so.”
“You mean because you had to go to the bathroom?” She said incredulously. “Don’t worry about that, Dewey, we all have to.”
“Yeh, I know, but I didn’t want to embarrass you, Ange.”
“I’m not embarrassed Dewey. I was beginning to think you weren’t human.”
She said it in such a naive manner that her meaning that she really thought I was more than human was apparent. I uttered a nervous laugh of pleasure at the sincere flattery, ransacking my stuttering mind for an equal compliment. She saved me by throwing her arms around my neck and giving me a kiss with pouting lips. Now that we had exchanged vows, she seemed to be much more free with me than I with her.
“It’s getting late Darling, I don’t want you to, but you’d better go.”
I started for my jacket when I was arrested by her gasp.
“Oh, Dewey, I almost forgot to tell you, I hope you’ll forgive me.”
I picked up my stupid jacket and put it on to get it warmed up before I went outside. “Tell me what, Ange.”
“You know I have family in Waterloo?”
“Yes. You said.”
“Well, schools out Wednesday and I have to go back to Waterloo for Christmas.”
We were in front of the door now, both hands held. My mind reeled. I hadn’t thought about it but I assumed we would spend Christmas day together. I stood there looking left to right my mouth opening and closing. Finally I said: “Will you be back for New Years?”
She groaned a heartfelt “No.”
“You can’t go for both Ange.” I was not forbidding it, I was just protesting against a great injustice.
“I know, I don’t want to,” she stroked my cheek, “but I have to.”
Her grandmother shouted down the stairs: “Ange, has that boy left yet?”
“No. He’s going now, Grandmother.”
“It’s late and I’m responsible for you. He can’t stay this late.”
“You’ll have to go, Dewey.”
“Well, can I see you Monday or Tuesday before you go?”
“Oh, no, Dewey,” she moaned, “I won’t be able to see you before I get back.”
I drew her to me and kissed her goodbye. I was very disappointed but there was nothing I could do.
Before she had closed the door behind me the cold and darkness had descended on me and embraced me. I was robbed immediately of the euphoric warmth of her embrace. I felt betrayed because she was going to be gone so long at such an important time.
I hadn’t wanted her to go. She was thirteen and I was fifteen, what could we do? In the great void it left in my memory disquieting thoughts entered. A man struck by a lightening bolt tends to organize his life into before and after. My before was clear, my present surrounded me, my future lay shrouded in the mists of a fearful obscurity. My past had been all pain, without knowing it I was merely now gliding through the eye of the storm. I didn’t know it; I feared it.
I wandered about during school vacation hoping for her return and attempting to worry things out. The air remained crisp and cold. The Valley never received a heavy snow. The heavy snows fell down South or up North. There were perhaps drifts of a foot, bare ground and a layer of three to six inches. It was old snow. It had fallen in two or three falls during the past two weeks. The sun had played on its surface melting it into a crust of ice. A couple years earlier if I had stepped carefully it would have borne my weight, now I broke through with no resistance.
For the last couple days the skies had become solid overcast. The great stream of clouds stretched West and North across the continent stretching out into the tropical seas beyond British Columbia into the Pacific. They would last a while. I have always loved clouds. I have loved their infinite variety. There is nothing like the awe inspired by the great thunderheads of summer rising in great boiling columns forty thousand feet into the air, moving with the majesty of the gods across the sky until the Rider On The Storm of the towering mass of vapor slides overhead and discharges a volley of lightening bolts in a scattering and awesome display of sexual prowess.
I loved the little puffy white clouds that speckled the sky. I loved the great galleons that threw their shadows before as they sailed on into oblivion. I have read writers who have described the sky overhead now as ‘clouds like a tin sheet,’ ‘a leaden sky,’ or ‘lowering slate sky.’ No man who knew clouds could write like that about them. No man who had ever shared a Young Girl’s heart could ever describe a downy grey sky in those terms. My eyes perceived an infinite variety of greys. Each one an exact shade of Ange’s raiment. A grey for her skirt, a grey for her sweater, a grey for her coat and a grey for her lovely eyes. I gazed up at that sky in deep admiration. As snowflakes appeared from nowhere and rather than falling seemed suspended in the air I stood on tiptoes and stretched up to kiss the lovely grey sky. I wondered if the air would be redolent of Ange. Of course I was foolish and realized it immediately. I put my heels back on the ground and walked with my head bowed.
Where had she come from and why? Why had she chosen me to bless with her existence that I had captured and stored in my heart. I was so selfish. I was so afraid. My hope was artificial, sheer bravado. What had I to offer her?
In time the sky cleared and she returned. It was different now. Not so that it could be seen or felt. Uncertainty had entered my being. I now saw her two or three times a week. That was as much as her grandmother would allow, wisely so. Schoolwork had to be done.
Ange had a role in a church play. She invited me to see her in the role. I don’t remember what the play was about; I didn’t care. Ange had asked me and that was enough.
In the seclusion of her house we had been able to keep the world at bay. In the bliss of our love we floated above the housetops, above the trees, in a universe of our own. We were one with the light fluffy clouds high above the earth, removed from the dross of earthly impure elements.
But as we moved about in the mundane world of men and women we had, or rather I had- Ange didn’t seem to notice- to take into account the buffeting of hostile intentions. I thought now that everyone had to like me as Ange loved me or Ange would stop loving me. I sat in the theatre while Ange stood back stage. She fixed adoring eyes on me from the wings while she waited for her part. She was oblivious to all else I could hear the murmurs of others in the audience. Perhaps their comments were normal badinage with which they discussed all swains. Probably the difference in our ages caused comment. Though in love, I was certainly conscious of her youth. But my face was covered with pimples, my jacket was ugly and it didn’t represent the real me; the orphanage was part of my past and I came from a broken home. I knew they all knew. Perhaps when one said: “What does she see in him?” they were merely being curious. Perhaps they wanted to know. Maybe as we had never been intruduced they wondered what I was like. Maybe. I took their comments, I don’t think I’m far off, as rejection, as detestation for me. I thought Ange might discover whatever they didn’t like in me. My past had given my demeanor and actions a caste that seemed to replicate the attitude wherever I went. I was acutely conscious of their critical evaluation. I may have been hypersensitive. But I sat in the middle, as it were, of what I interpreted to be a species of revulsion and the silent adoration of Ange gazing steadfastly at me from the wings as though I were the angel sent down from heaven to please her. Who was right? I was too inexperienced to dismiss them and accept unqualifiedly the love that was offered to me by my sweet Ange. Self doubt plagued me. I wished that Ange would temper her obvious devotions. Jealousy probably drove the other auditors to despair as they redoubled their whispered comments.
I prayed that Ange might diminish her attention to me. In my embarrassment I looked away. But then, knowing that I couldn’t refuse her adoration and not wanting to give her the least doubt of my own affection, I returned her gaze.
Then her turn to perform came. Ange scandalized the crowd. As she spoke her lines she turned toward the audience and spoke her lines in such sublime innocence to me alone. Oh, Ange, how I loved you, how you flattered a heart that wished to steal you from a hard hearted world and hide you away in my heart, but how I wished you hadn’t done that. I was emotionally unequipped to withstand the storm of indignation that swept the the auditorium of that most Christian of churches. Still, it was such a lovely gesture that I haven’t recovered my senses yet.
One woman ignoring my presence stated indignantly: “I don’t care how fascinated she is with that pimple faced boy- at her age it’s only fascination, what could she know of love- but that doesn’t give her the right to ruin this play for everyone else.
I could let “pimple faced boy” go by but I had to defend my Love. “Ange didn’t ruin the play.” I said, next offering a correct, but in the circumstance irrelevant, evaluation of the play. “It wasn’t a very good play, she enhanced it merely by being in it, it was impossible for her to ruin it.”
“Impossible to ruin it! Young man my daughter wrote that play.”
“Well, the first one’s always the toughest, if she’s got talent the next one will be better.” I volunteered, quoting some forgotten critic I had read.
Ange had joined me in the midst of the exchanges. The woman flashed indignation all over me, thinking me a very impertinent boy. Perhaps I was but she could have kept her comments about Ange to herself. At least she, an old woman, should have had the sense not to utter her absurdities in my presence. If you throw a stone into a pond you shouldn’t be surprised if you get splashed.
Outside the church when we were alone and our universe had returned to its rightful form, Ange shyly took my hand and lovingly admonished me for having given Mrs. What-was-her-name the why for. She was pleased that I had defended her. It irradiated her being. Alone with her once again in an adoration I could endure I didn’t mention my discomfort under her gaze in the church. I thought I would but I couldn’t find words that I thought wouldn’t hurt her. I couldn’t stand to see the love dimmed in her eyes for an instant. I sighed and just assumed that the opportunity wouldn’t happen again.
We couldn’t spend all our time together talking, kissing and spooning on her couch. We did have to go on dates. As our romance went on I found to my discomfort that I was being drawn into the circle of her family and acquaintances. She had other family in the Valley than her grandmother. She also had other friends. Some were boys, but it never crossed my mind that she would look at them. She didn’t. But my paradise was with Ange alone and her grandmother who I never saw. My vision was of Ange. Had she been a picture in a museum I would have been oblivious to all the others. I didn’t need them. I didn’t want them. Ange so excelled all others that they seemed shabby in comparison.
My social station was not too high. I, as well as Ange’s grandmother lived nevertheless in decent neighborhoods, if not the plushest. Our neighbors reflected, in varying degrees, certain cultural standards. I considered myself to be of a certain cultural class. I considered Ange to be above class, to walk on air, to discourse with other angels.
In my personal psychology I thought myself a victim of circumstances. A frog prince, captured in an ugly body awaiting only liberation. The beautiful Ange validated that opinion of myself. I knew I could only be released from my prison by leaving the Valley behind and exhibiting my true worth in some glittering capitol that left a burg like the Valley in its true perspective. Ange saved me from being myself.
But her friends, her relatives, the people I had to meet and with whom I was expected to ingratiate myself lived out in the north neighborhoods of town. They not only lived there but they belonged there. They had no culture or intellectual pretensions. I don’t want to go to lengths exapatiating on the quality of my manners, but if I was gauche from time to time, Ange’s people were unfamiliar with the word. They thought manners were putting on airs.
Ange had manners. Her grandmother lived on South Melmoth. I had no idea what her people in Waterloo were like but I just assumed that they lived in a nicer house than either I or her grandmother did. Through Ange I was compelled to mingle with these people and I didn’t like it. There was a vast distance between our cloud castle and those people. I didn’t want my dreams dashed by crudity. Forgive me, Ange.
I couldn’t make them go away, they encroached on my vision of happiness. They didn’t know what true love was. They were becoming a problem as were the other kids at school. Alone Ange and I could stroll hand in hand through the Garden of the Gods; at social functions I had to work hard to keep the real world at bay. My failure would become accumulatively apparent.
I nevertheless felt obligated to show my Darling Angeline the worldly pleasures at my disposal. My own soul revolted at basketball and football spectacles. I didn’t attend many games, especially basketball games, but I invited Ange to go to one.
Our basketball court served as both the boys and girls gyms. The court was divided in two by an immense folding door. The bleachers were contained in huge cabinets. When in use the cabinet doors slid back and the bleachers were rolled out to serve their purpose.
We arrived at the game and found seats about seven or eight rows up along the long wall near the end of the bleachers in the boys side of the gym. We had no sooner been seated than an older woman with a couple of boys in tow climbed the bleachers to take a seat behind us. As they began the ascent Ange recognized the woman as her aunt. The boys were cousins. Thus I began to be introduced to her family. I didn’t even like my own family. I saw no reason to be drawn into hers.
It was only natural that Ange’s people would show interest in the boy she was dating. The boy she raved about as a paragon among boys. It was more than dating, we were deeply involved, although, in my own self-centered way that excluded the rest of the world, I didn’t understand the depth of our involvement. Ange was mine and mine alone. I didn’t have to share her anymore than I had to share my baseball glove. The glove fit my hand. It was mine. Ange and I suited each other. Ange was mine.
At the time I was unaware that Ange was telling her family about us. I just didn’t think about it. I told no one about her, neither family nor friends. I just assumed she did the same. She was in love, she expressed her love differently than I. It’s also true that my parents took no interest in my affairs, while Ange as a young girl would solicit the attention of her relatives. She, with her joy in me, had told them of her perfect love, had even been effusive. In her rapture she had even told them we would marry. If not in those words at least in a manner that indicated that we thought we had or, indeed, had found life mates. The idea occupied Ange’s mind; in my own it rumbled along in the long wave lengths below the audible range.
Her aunt and family naturally were interested in whether I was sincere or taking advantage of a young girl’s heart. Our ages were a difficult point with them and with me. I was open to the charge of cradle robbing. It made no difference that Ange had found me and not I her, I was older and a boy. I was responsible; I accepted the responsibility. I was still sensitive to the charge; I had no intention of dishonoring my Angeline. She was my beauty; a lovely thing has to be kept lovely by loving care. They don’t stay that way on their own. It must have the attention lavished on it to maintain its lustre. I had resented comments made by people who knew us as we had entered the gymn, this woman, her aunt, annoyed me.
Ange’s cousins intruded in my fantasies of who we were. We had always been on our best, our very best, behavior with each other. We had never had a cross word. Whe had never even had a disagreement. I was elevated above the ruck of common life in her presence. She made my life shine. I imagined us as I hoped we would be throughout life. Her cousins and her aunt reflected a side of life that cast shadows on my mirror. Ange wouldn’t understand, they were her people.
The game progressed as basketball games do. Up one end of the floor and back to the other. We were playing Lake Harbor. They had an all Black team. We were all white. They had this one terrific player who could win the game for his team. He was winning it for them. We were not, as they say, prejudiced but we didn’t want to lose to a bunch of Black guys. The gym was definitely hostile to Lake Harbor. Our hope was that their good guy would foul out, then we knew we would win. As he was half the team he tried too hard and got a couple quick fouls. When he got his third one the whole gym erupted into a great howl of delight. The attitude of the crowd was slightly on the ugly side.
Ange looked over at me and said: “Gee, Dewey, basketball games are sure thirsty work.” My first reaction was a thick headed “Yea, sure are.” Then a shaft of light penetrated and I realized that her statement must have been some conventional witticism she had heard and that she wanted something to drink. I thought a second and said: “But, Honey, if you have something to drink you may have to go to the bathroom.” Ange flushed at my use of Honey and cast a look back at her aunt, who was leaning over our shoulders to catch every word, to see whether she had heard it. “That’s alright Dewey, they have restrooms here.” She missed the point, I didn’t want to be reminded that she was human. “OK. I’ll be right back.”
I heaved a sigh and looked out over the gym. The refreshment stand was at the other end by the entrance to the girl’s gym. I usually had to fight my way from one end to the other. There was always someone to try to trip me or whatever. I knew Ange would be watching me every foot of the way. I wanted to look good. It occurred to me that I could go around the corridor from the boys gym to the girls gym and back without walking the length and breadth of the gym. Gracik was taking tickets. He was infuriated because I was with a girl and he wasn’t. He’d given me a surly “Who’d go out with you.” as Ange and I had entered. Once I got out he might give me a hard time getting back in. I resolved to walk the length of the court.
I was only fifteen but I knew enough to know no one would interfere with me when I was empty handed. Lake Harbor’s guy hadn’t made anymore fouls, we were falling behind, the crowd was restless. I made it to the refreshment stand OK and got Ange her drink. I knew the person guarding the girl’s gym door pretty well. I could at least get back in if I tried the corridor. I decided to chance Gracik at the other end. Even with my stub in my hand he made it too difficult to get back in. I could have tried to force it but he would have caused me embarrassment, probably spilling the drink. I went back to the girl’s gym entrance and started back around.
The players, big guys, were thundering up and down the floor. Drinks in those days were open topped, they didn’t use lids so I had to balance the drink carefully. I could have topped it off a little but then if I drank I might have to go to the bathroom and embarrass myself in front of Ange.
I had walked the breadth of the court. I spotted Louis Schreiver as I turned the corner. Schreiver was always in my hair. Fortunately he wasn’t overly bright. He always telegraphed his intentions. One could explain it to him and he still couldn’t understand. I intuited his plan this time before it was clear in his own mind. He was going to wait until just before I passed, then pretend he heard someone above him call his name, then jump up and back into me while waving up above. Shee, get a new new one, Louis. I was close to the boundary line watching Schreiver when this big guy came rolling down the court on the line. He was six-eight, two hundred forty. A very imposing guy. It was sort of like having a big eight wheeler bear down on you at a crossing.
I saw Schreiver make his move. In order to make it look like a Law and Order accident he stopped looking at me at all. He had a mental image of the situation, sort of like a turn around jump shot with your back to the basket. But this big guy was coming down one side of the line, I was on the other. I saw Louis start to stagger backwards. Istopped and stepped away from the line. Schreiver had been watching only me, not paying attention to the game. Now ignoring me as he staggered backward he was counting on bumping into me to stop him. You could see the look of anticipation on his face. I wasn’t behind him. Louis staggered right across the line into the way of the big steamroller. Louis’ friends’ smiles of anticipation shifted from alarm at Louis’ fate to angry scowls at me because I had avoided my projected part in their little drama. They thought I had caused Schreiver’s embarrassment. The school’s mood had been so ugly that Lake Harbor accused us of having gotten into their guy’s way intentionally to put him out of the game. The Ref to defuse the situation actually gave Lake Harbor the benefit of a technical foul.
All the way down the gym I had to answer “What happened?” “I don’t know, a guy stepped out in front of the Train.”
I was quite a hero to Ange as I had seen the collision close up. I didn’t try to explain what really happened. I got the drink to her without a mishap.
Her aunt was saying something about calling on them as we left. I nodded my head but my thinking was that it would be a long time from now.
Sure enough Ange had to go the bathroom. Angels don’t pee. Angel have no impurities. I had accommodated myself to the fact that Ange was human. I always knew it if I had tried to avoid the fact. She had excused herself a few times before which I had accepted. Now she was going to use a public restroom! There was nothing I could do about it. I would never be cross with her but I had told her so.
During the succeeding weeks I was drawn further into the acquaintance of Ange’s relatives. I recognized the inevitability of it but I resented it deeply. Ange and I, I and my Angeline, had a refuge from an ugly and threatening world. We still whiled away our evening hours in each other’s arms on her couch. The bliss of her warmth and her sweet aroma still transported me to pleasant worlds distand from this struggle for existence. The one made the other bearable.
In her arms the frog prince realized for a moment a potential he had difficulty attempting to realize in his parents’ house, on the streets of the Valley and the halls of Melville. I was nevertheless able to sustain a more elevated opinion of myself elsewhere than among her relatives.
I am a democrat, but still a snob. I found her relatives’ appreciation of the meaning of life distinctly inferior to me. They had an earthy quality. It was enough for them to eat, rut and sleep. My own parents, far from intellectuals, still subscribed to a couple magazines. I myself had a good sized library for a fifteen year old. Relatively passive in my demands otherwise, I insisted, demanded, on receiving at least as many books at Christmas as socks and underwear. My eyes were on the stars not in the furrows.
Ange’s relatives had neither books nor magazines. They were strictly functional in the decor of their houses. They had none of the accoutrements of civilized life about them.
Ange herself was oblivious. I imagine she was lost in the wonders of love. She lived to please me. I saw no reason to be critical of her anyway. She was happy. I guarded her jealously. Her relatives were of the animal spirits. They accepted sexual relations in barnyard terms. I don’t believe that they would have objected to our having sexual relations but they also wanted to know about it. I didn’t even let on that Ange and I had ever kissed. I suppose her grandmother had told Ange’s relatives that all we did was sit on the couch and kiss but still I thought that was no one’s business but our own.
Her aunt would make prying comments like: “Pretty hard to control your self when you’re going hot and heavey, eh?” The she would arch her eyebrows and give an inquiring knowing smile like she thought I was goint to offer details of what she imagined. I felt like I was being dragged down. None of Ange’s people associated with anyone I knew. There was a world of difference between Ange’s grandmother’s house on the corner of S. Melmoth and this North side neighborhood.
We were supposed to go visit a cousin of hers one Saturday. I called to pick her up. She greeted me at the door in jeans. Old jeans. I didn’t even know she had any. She, in that wonderful light way that had entered into my existence so completely, said: “You don’t have to dress up to go see my cousins, Dewey.”
I didn’t know how to express my disappointment. I couldn’t be angry with her. I couldn’t chastise or criticize her, still I was near the edge of tears. “It’s just Ange, you look so beautiful in your skirts. Besides I’m not dressed up to visit your cousins, I’m dressed up to see you. I’ve never seen you in…’ I almost said pants, but then I selected a more negative word, “trousers before.”
“These aren’t trousers, Dewey, these are jeans.” She said spinning around to show me. Throwing her arms around my neck giving me a loving little kiss on the lips she said: “Don’t I look beautiful in jeans too, Dewey?”
Well, of course, what could I say? “Oh, Ange, you’d look beautiful in anything.” But she missed the point.
It was a long walk to the North side. When we arrived her aunt and uncle were gone and her cousin Adele was there with her boy friend. I was a year older than the other two who were both fourteen. I had met Adele and was meeting her boyfriend for the first time. I had always thought Adele OK, I was always less critical of girls, but hr boy friend struck me as crude and vulgar. He was. He and Adele were not in love as I considered Ange and I to be. My impression was that they were just dating each other.
After introductions and some light banter things began to drag a bit. I was rather glum under the circumstances. The he kind of roped Adele around the neck with his arm. They began rolling and tumbling on the floor. Ange displaying some elation looked first at them and then at me suppressing a little giggle. I knew what was going on. I didn’t like it. I was certainly not going to get down on the floor with Ange and tumble around with them. There was no reason for him to put his glove on my girl. I knew that sometime soon I would have to increase my attentions to Angeline. I suspected that she wanted me to. We had discussed such things after her aunt’s rude comments. Ange had left me with the sighing impression that that was what lovers do. I knew, I had hpes of sex but not now with the girl I loved and respected. I was struggling.
Adele’s boyfriend seeing that we were not going to join in tried a different tack. “Hey, want to see a game we play? I pretend I’m the driver and Adele’s the car.” He put her left arm out like it was a gear shift. “See, here we shift into second.” He said, moving her extended arm down. “Oh,oh, look out, there’s a pedestrian,” he said, giving her left breast a couple quick squeezes. “Beep, beep.”
Ange emitted a delighted little laugh, pleased at the humor of the joke. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t think it was funny. He looked over at me to see my response. I gave him a stony stare, Adele became embarrassed and turned red. I didn’t want to see anymore. I excused myself to go get a drink of water.
“You don’t have to excuse yourself, Bud, just do it.” Adele’s boy friend said with a smirk. Yeah. Ange and I were in the wrong place. My brow furrowed and my lips compressed as I stood before the sink staring into the glass of water. I felt we have been besmirched. I thought it was time to go.
I made some excuse about a long walk, took Ange by the hand and we left. I was deep in thought. Wondering, wondering. Ange in her innocence looked upat me shyly from time to time. Then she giggled and said- she had a way of breathing out her words- “What did you think of their game, Dewey?”
As she spoke a quiver rippled her palm which was in my hand. Mine involuntarity closed a little tighter on hers. A little shiver convulsed her but I didn’t want to dim the angel lights from her eyes. Our relationship had progressed rapidly from love to the deepest emotional attachment. Apart from consummation there was no further room for development. Maturation perhaps, but not development. That meant to both of us, I think, that we were married in all but fact. She certainly acted the part of a contented wife. I did not object. I did not find it an imposition. What else could she think? We lived and breathed each other. But she was thirteen, I was fifteen. When I was eighteen she would be sixteen.
Apart from Angeline I was unhappy with my life in the Valley. Events seemed to be conspiring to deny me the opportunity to develop my talents. My parents were not going to send me to college. I was not emotionally prepared to succeed there anyway. I would barely make it out of high school.
My step-father’s mother had told me stories about her brother Louie who they had driven from the family. They appeared to have no good reason for it, just some type of familial spite that repeated itself agains a member of each generation. Some irrational psychological tradition required them to do it. In his generation it had been Louie. He had fled the family and gone to Australia. I thought that they had picked me for the Louie of my generation.
I couldn’t stay. I was marking time to leave. As I know looked at my Angeline I saw impossibilities. I knew she was deeply in love with me and would do anything I asked. If, when I had graduated I had asked her to quit school and follow me I know she would have done it.
I knew I had a troubled mind filled with tangled emotions. I knew that it would take me years to sort out those tangled emotion and reintegrate my personality in a productive direction. Had Ange been my age, as two graduates I could have chanced taking her with me. I had it in mind to go as far away as possible. Unlike Louie I didn’t intend to leave the country, I intended to go to the West Coast. I had even picked out the town and state- Eugene, Oregon. I had selected Eugene for no more sound reason than that Eugene was my middle name and it was an unusual name for a town.
Eugene was a lumber town and the home of the University of Oregon. I thought I could get a job in the mills and go to college in my spare time. But I couldn’t see me showing up as an eighteen year old boy with a sixteen year old wife. It wouldn’t be fair to Ange. Oh, I intuited that she would be glad to work to put me through college. But then what could a sixteen year old girl do but be a waitress? I could subject my Angeline to verbal abuse from a bunch of crude loggers.
I felt Ange tug my hand down trembling in anticipation of my answer. “Hmm, Dewey?”
In her insistence we had stopped walking. She was pressing up against me giving me an intent hopeful look. In her anxiety she forget herself and pulled my hand down against her delta. Fortunately we were close enough together so no one could see. Her warmth and perfume were overwhelming. It was as though two suns hurtling through space had been caught in each other’s orbit. Rotating around each other they hurtled on caught in each other’s solar embrace. They were so close together that the long solar flares of fire shot from their surfaces, were drawn into each other’s gravitational pull. The flames shot from sun to sun embathing each in turn in the other’s flaming essence.
There was no higher heaven. Immersed in this lovely girl’s glow I was yet struggling to identify my state of mind. I was not yet ready to speak. I gave her a look meant to indicate that I was lost for words. Seeking to gain time I let out an “Hmmm,” gesturing with my free hand.
I loved her. She was unspotted. Yet here was an opportunity for a situation that I had seen that others had. I longed for such a situation myself. But now that it presented itself a dichotomy arose in my mind.
Several couples beginning in Jr. High had formed just such a relationship, perhaps beginning in the eighth grade. Ange was now in the eighth grade. I was dimly aware that Ange thought she was “wedded” for life. It slowly dawned on me that these other girls had made the same committement to their boy friends. Howie Holland and Allie Simpson were one such couple I knew. I was in awe of Howie’s luck. Allie was a beautiful girl. It was their example that had created hopes in my breast. Now those hopes could be realized.
But now, I realized that everyone knew that Howie was getting it from Allie. We knew that Allie was doing it. Howie had the strut of a stud who knew his woman. He was proud of it. He couldn’t help showing it. He must show it. They couldn’t conceal it. Allie had sacrificed her honor for Howie. But everyone knew she did it. The vultures were constantly circling ready to descend and get some if Howie and Allie broke up.
The same was true of many couples. I also became dimly aware that thes were marriages of convenience for the boys. They would probably be voided when the time came. Their use over the girls who had given their all would be discarded. They wanted to marry their childhood sweethearts and first loves. They had been committed loving wives. As I had suspected all along, everyone of them was thrown over at graduation. Their hearts were crushed.
I could have Angeline on the same basis for the next two and a half years. I looked down at her tenderly. My tenderness melted her heart. Yet, I knew some of my weaknesses. As fiercely as I now protected her I fearted that after consummation my need for recognition might force me to act the boor, to advertise our relationship. I had seen how the other boys walked. They were less than discreet. I didn’t see how I could be any different, I feared I might be worse. I had seen the strain placed on the girls too. Everyone knew. They couldn’t conceal it. I knew that I had acted toward them differently because I knew. They knew I acted differently. I thought Allie, for instance was a good girl, but I secretly believed that she was less good than some others. I didn’t want to cause Ange any grief. I didn’t know what to do.
Angie tugged my hand again and gave me an inquiring smile. I laughed lightly and kissed her cheek tenderly but thoughtfully. Then too, there was always the chance that she would get pregnant. This was a fearsome thought. I would have married her but our lives would probably have been ruined. Especially if I was only the eleventh grade and she the ninth.
Just as if I married her and took her with me when I left town. A child or two and we could probably be stuck in a mill job for life. Besides, I, selfishly, did not want her pregnant, ever. She was everything to me. I didn’t want children, I didn’t need them. I loved her and her alone. I didn’t want to have to spread that love and I didn’t want her to distribute it to even our children. I felt another tremblor pass from her palm to my heart. I had to say something.
“I didn’t like their game Ange. I thought it was crude and vulgar. When I make love to you, Ange…” What was I saying? It just came out, an expression of what I had been thinking. “When I make love to you I want it to be pure and unblemished. I want a memory we can both cherish forever.” My God, I couldn’t stop my mouth. I was making comitments I didn’t know yet I wanted to keep.
Ange’s mouth opened with incredulous joy at my words. I was promising her everything she wanted from me. I wanted to change my words, to say what I had said differently but I didn’t know how.
Ange’s mind couldn’t contain the good news. Her ecstasy flooded out in all directions. Almost beside herself her perspiring little palm clutched my hand with a desperate clasp of complete satisfaction.
‘Oh yes, Dewey. Oh yes. I feel exactly the same way. That is exactly the way I feel. I couldn’t express it any better. You said exactly what I feel. When we do, that’s exactly the way I want it, when we do.”
We walked in silence, each of us lost in our own thoughts and reveries. Two clasped hands pulsed out messages of love, but I was afraid.
I got her to her door. We were forbidden to spend the evening together as we had had the whole day to ourselves. Ange’s mind was still busily sifting and reexamining what I had said. She was still at a loss for words. Right there in the daylight on her stoop she threw her arms around my neck goodbye that promised her whole existence when I should take it. What was I to do?
The turmoil in my mind reached an extraordinary pitch. All the treasure the gods could bestow on a man had been bestowed on me but at such a time as I was incapable of using it properly. As in the old fable of the gold fish that so beautiful in the water but was only a dead fish when landed my dilemma was the same, or so it appeared to me. No matter how I turned the matter over in my mind it came up disaster.
I was inarticulate. I could not express my dilemma in words. Thought, if they may be called thoughts, flashed through my mind in pictures and symbols. I loved Ange. I respected her. I didn not want to damage that wonderful trust and sympathy she showed me. I knew that sooner or later we would have a fight, that her whole hearted unabated affection would be clouded over but I wanted to postpone that day as long as possible. I cherished my image of her. I wanted her to be able to cherish her image of me. Circumstances were crowding down on me forcing that image from my grasp. I simply didn’t know what to know her family. I feared that Ange would be trapped in their plebian view of society. I thought I could handle the pressures from my classmates. They were, after all, part of life and couldn’t be avoided. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to deal with the sex well. I was just a dumb kid. A heavy responsibility would be placed on me, not so much to protect Ange from others, but to protect her from myself. I didn’t know to the extent of my own shortcomings but I was apprehensive about them. Besides the day after we did it I knew that her grandmother and family would know. If I didn’t telegraphy it, Ange, in her pride of being the complete little woman, without even being aware of it, wouldn’t be able to conceal it. For her it would be the seal of our relationship, for me it would be the beginning of insatiable lust.
No matter how I looked at it I saw my lovely Angeline besmirched. It began to appear to be a clear choice between tarnishing my Angel or allowing her to remain in pristine beauty. Sometimes one can love too much.
Ange had received my words as holy affirmation of our desires. A sort of peace enveloped her as she waited patiently for the sacred moment to arrive. There was a beautiful placid air of expectation surrounding her. If possible, she was even more tender and loving to me than before. I reciprocted fearing myself. Why, oh why, had Ange chose me?
My emotions had reached a bursting point. I had no idea which way I would go. Then fate tilted the balance. I was walking her home from some social function, I have no idea what it was, we were approaching the Star. We were holding hands, I more thoughtful than usual, she as admiring and trustful as ever. Then our dream crumbled to dust in my mind. A little musical note emitted from her bottom as she passed gas. I turned to stare. She compressed her lovely little cheeks in embarrassment hoping to stop any further emissions. As flatulence goes her emission was almost pretty. It had a well rounded pear shaped tone. I can hear it yet. She squeezed my hand and laughed merrily as did I but her pedestal had crumble beneath her. What a silly boy I was. Even can come out of good. Good and evil merely exist together. It takes a truly virtuous mind to be able to maintain them in their seprate spheres. I did not have that kind of virtue.
As we had walked, a huge full moon had risen before us in golden splendor. It now sat dazzlingly among the branches of the trees. To someone behind us we would have appeared as shadows on the moon. As I looked at this dazzling golden disc it began to slowly dissove into shades of blue. How could the golden moon turn blue? I wanted to verify the sight with Ange. I pointed and began to explain but she said unfeelingly: “Yes, I see. Isn’t that a beautiful golden moon?” I wanted to say no it isn’t golden, Ange, didn’t you see it turn blue? But in that moment a gulf between our minds had opened. Something had changed in me. I had somehow come to a decision.
We kissed goodbye. I started walking down S. Melmoth. By the time I had reached the Star tears were streaming down my face. I was vaguely aware of the decision I had reached. My only justification was one and it was futile. Angels don’t fart.
Immaturity might be an explanation but not an adequate one. Insensitivity offers no explanation at all. Fear of losing the obtained but unrealizable hope of my life is the only explanation I can offer. She was mine but I knew that I couldn’t have her. The fear had been on me from the beginning. Even as I entered her mind to show her mine I knew that I was secretly purloining her soul. I took it from her and stored it in my heart. She had been only too happy to let me have it. Now with Angeline safely in my heart, my mind, my will was paralyzed.
With what must have seemed a perverse cruelty I did the most incomprehensible thing I have ever done in my life. I simply dropped Ange. She could have had no indication of her fate. As I kissed her goodbye there was no indication that I would never call on her again. There had been no argument, there had been no fight. There had been in indication I was displeased with her. I wasn’t displeased with her. I loved her.
She was the mountain of my pride. She never called me on the phone to see what the matter. But a young girl’s heart cannot be crushed without some protest. I got home from high school before she left Junior High. She lived only a few blocks from South but for some reason she went to Lindsay. She walked up Bond past Monroe on her way home. One day on her way home she looked up Monroe anxiously hoping to see me and have me call to her. I was in the yard. I saw her. Numbly and dumbly I let her walk on by. I saw her recoil within herself when I made no response. The heavens fell shrieking about both our heads.
Her family was desperate. Her aunt sought me out somewhere and confronted me. With apparent inner franticness, hoping, I think, that I would recant, she said simply: “Why did you do it?” I had to answer. I wanted to answer. I answered with characteristic clumsiness: “We went too far, too fast.”
“I thought so!” She said, shaking her head grimly in a knowing way.
It suddenly dawned on me that she thought I meant I had bedded Ange. “No! No!” I exclaimed. “I didn’t mean that. I meant that we had fallen too deeply in love too quickly.”
I meant that I had had no time to adjust to paradise. I had been caught in something I couldn’t understand. But she began walking away quickly. “You disgust me!” was tossed over her shoulder. She wouldn’t have, no one could have understood anyway. Besides I was in the wrong.
I can only guess, but Ange was dreiven nearly to distraction. The sweet trusting girl whose love had been betrayed so dastardly humbled herself before her pride which fell into the dust, a sacrifice to her great love. She had been wronged and that sense of having been wronged prevented her from making a direct appeal to my sense of justice. After had aunt had reported her conversation with me perhaps Ange dimly realized my perplexity. Perhaps she was only desperate.
Instead of walking up Bond on her way home she now took to making a lonely walk without friends up Caterina which brought her directly to my parents’ door. I tremble with fear of the humilation she must have felt as her aching heart compelled her dragging feet to perform their reluctant duty. I saw her walk by on more than one occasion. With eyes that spotted every movement no matter how shadowy she knew that I saw her. Whatever the misunderstanding, whatever my problem, it would have been a simple matter to open the door and greet her. I didn’t.
Her pain was great, her love was greater. She couldn’t sacrifice her pride by imploring me for reasons. I had begun the silence; it was up to me to break the silence. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. My fear of losing Angeline was too great.
Ange conceived one last desperate hope. I guess, but perhaps she left school early and patiently spied my return from school from a distance. I don’t know whether she knew but it was my habit to get the mail just arter I returned to the house. When she had seen me enter the house, my parents rule was that my brother and I use the back door, she took up a position before my front porch directly in front of the door. When I opened the door to get the mail I wouldn’t be able to miss her. I would have to break the silence. I would have to accept or reject her. If she only wanted to assuage her pain she could reject me.
Oh Ange, I wish your plan had succeeded. Rather than make a futile trip to the mail box, as was my custom, I went to the bay window from which I could see the mailbox to percieve whether there was any mail in the slot provided for that purpose. There on the sidewalk head bowed in silent supplication stood Ange. Her books were clutched to her breast in the manner girls carried them. I loved her, I wanted her, but my cruel fate had placed what had been in my arms beyond my reach. I didn’t fully understand myself, I couldn’t begin to explain to Ange. Had I been able to explain, my reasoning would have been beyond anyone’s understanding, let alone that of the beautiful Ange.
it was not fear, it was not indecision, it was with calm if numb resovle that I took up a position opposite Ange on my side of that terrible door. The pure flame of Angeline burned in my heart. I had taken her from Ange. The goodness, the purity, the transcendent beauty of her had been placed where she was safe, where no one could take her from me. Without ever having thought about it I had devised a means of obtaining the beautiful goldfish without removing it from its pond. Angeline floated up to become my Anima at that time.
The gods loved her. In a quick council they resoved to spare her, to unite the flame of her essence with my existence, in deference to my youth they sent flights of angels with caressing and soothing song to move my heart. They sang: Go to her! She is yours! We make a free gift of all a man can desire in your world. Take her, press her to your heart and receive the peace of a perfect love.
The angels were used to prompt obedience. But I knew things of which they were not aware. They knew celestial perfection; I knew of the corruption of the furrow. I held my ground. I began to erect barricades around my heart to protect the image of my love. Dismayed but tolerant of my youth the gods sent a further flight of angels to move my heart. Their song was sweeter than that of the flight that had preceeded them. The raptures they promised were a temptation beyond mortal man’s will to resist. I resisted. I strengtened the barriers of my heart. Even gods lie.
The gods believed me insolent. They meant for the Girl Ange to have her desire. Great streams of harpies and furies rose up from their subterranean dwellings, they streamed from their dark caves. Wheeling high in the obliterated skies they descended on me to drive me forth; to break the plance of the door separating Ange from her desire. Their mere appearance was terrifying. The pain they inflicted was excruciation. The wheeled past my body in the black birdlike forms tearing little pieces of my flesh away. I was stripped of flesh to the bone. But my heart had been surrounded by solid oad within which burned the purest flame of the sweet virginal love of the Girl Angeline.
In their form of great black birds with more than imposing beaks the harpies and furies tore at my mind while great tidal waves of sound crashed over my brain. It would have been easier to go to Ange but still I stood firm. Out of the corner of my eye through the bay window I saw the broken hearted girl, Ange, abandon her vigil trodding her hopes into the dust as she left my door forever.
In anger and disgust the gods commanded the harpies and furies to fill my brain with their droppings as they returned to their dismal haunts. The gods now decreed that I was to be given no surcease, no rest. The defiance of omnipotence cannot be done with impunity. I cared not; for the pure virginal flame of Angeline’s love burned with a warm glow in my heart. Through it all I kept her. I had won out. She, Angeline, was mine. Only mine.
Her love was worth a great price, I paid the price over again with interest. But, with no regrets. Je ne regret rien.
The birds returned every night to haunt my dreams and prevent me from sleeping through the night. All the nightmares took different forms, but they all had the same meaning and they all left me sitting bolt upright between sweated sheets. I was too young at the time to know what I had done. to understand any of this. I did not understand the nightmares nor did I know why they began that very night. The most persistent nightmare, in symbolism that should have been so easy to interpret, was of this very house. My very brain. I was in the house. Some force, whether malevolent or not I could never determine, was trying to force entry. Figures stood about observing my distress. Cold and without pity. I now recognize that one of them was Ange, evjoying her revenge. I was unable to lock the doors. The locks wouldn’t turn. I ran back and forth between the front and back doors trying to keep the force without. I even had to defend those little ventilation holes in the storm windows. Of course I was always able to keep that force out.
Now I realize that force was Ange’s love. I had cruelly driven her away in real life, howcould I fail in my nightmares to do the same.
I don’t think Ange ever ceased loving me. How could she, I had placed her essence in my heart. She was mine now, she didn’t belong to herself. It had been Spring when I had driven her away. I can only guess what a long lonely summer she must have had. A summer during which she had possibly conjured up long warm days of bliss. I had promised her that I would make her mine. Perhaps she had visions of love as we spent long hours in each other’s arms. Did she still pray that I would come back?
I went about my affairs as though nothing had happened, as though Ange had never existed. I probably hadn’t forgotten her, but I didn’t think about her; at least not consciously. As must be obvious I never actually stopped thinking of her. She was never off my mind. But I could bear Ange on my mind with Angeline in my heart. Of course my heart was unavailable for anyone else’s love, which I did not comprehend. I did not rush out to find another girl friend although I was now available. The consequence of my selfish and fearful desire to hide my love from the world in my heart was that no other girl could compare to that virginal flame steadily burning in my heart. The flame came from the untarnished virtue of the first love of a young girl. It is the pearl of great price. It is only there once in any girl’s life and only at that time of her life. With each passing year, even month or day, she becomes bemirched with the foulness of the world. Without ever realizing it her innocence is chipped aeay. She becomes knowledgeable. Her love, perhaps quite against her will, becomes more worldly. Angeline’s virginal flame could never become worldly.
But, what had I dont to Ange? In attempting to spare her a hurt that seemed inevitable to me at the time I soiled her life worse than if I had proceeded in a blindly self-serving way. Even had I taken her love and used it only to discard her, as others did to their girls, she would at least have had a pleasant girlhood. She would have had pleasant memories to solace her heart. She would know others in the same situation. Her fate would have been comprehensible to her.
Looking back, I could have prepared her for the fact that I would leave town at graduation. I could have explained that I wanter to finish school. In two years the worst excesses of the mental ravages of my childhood would have dissipated. They did dissipate. With that maturity gainedI could have come back to her if she still wanted me. In any event she would have been spared the degradation she endured. Her young girl’s heart would have been kept pure that much longer. Those alternatives did not present themselves to me at the time. I do not attempt to exonerate myself, only to understand what I did. It seems so cruel and heartless. The reverse was my intent.
Ange must have brooded during the summer and the fall. That next winter I went down to Reuchlin Park. Reuchlin Park was a large natural hollow, slough, that was flooded every winter to create a huge outdoor skating rink. When there was snow the slopes of the basin were used for sledding. I don’t know how Ange knew I was there that night. I hadn’t known I was going, I had told no one.
Perhaps in her anguish she and her friends and relatives were spying out all my movements. Maybe her cousins spotted me and telephoned her. It seems farfetched that she would still be so preoccupied with my memory. I guess I failed to understand the extent of the injury I caused her. But on that night, as it happens, I struck up an acquaintance, or rather they struck up one with me, with a couple guys. They suggested playing in the snow at the South end of the park. I demurred; there was never anyone on those slopes; I saw no reason to be there. They invented reasons and I went along.
They adopted, as what seemed to me a rather sinister attitude as we reached the South slopes. We threw a few desultory snowballs. I was about to bid them farewell when I looked up and there in her grey coat silhouetted in the white floodlights against the black sky was Ange. I was taken by surprise. Why I expected that I would never see her again I don’t know, but I did. Now, suddenly as a spectre, here she was before me.
“Hello, Dewey.” She intoned as though her voice came from beyond the grave.
I stuttered out an Hello Ange. For the first time my cruelty and heartlessness became apparent to me. I hadn’t stopped loving her. But how silly would my explanation sound if I were foolish enough to attempt it of the pure flame of Angeline in my heart. Foolish enough to attempt it? I wasn’t even aware of it myself. But, before I could say anything to her, she turned on her heel and walked away. What pain she must be enduring.
Just as I had walked out her life without a word, without an explanation, she now thought to pay me back in kind. But she would not be able to do so. I had left her but she had not left me. Had she been wise, had she known on that night when our essences mingled, she would have taken my soul from me, then I could not have left her. Better yet she should have sent me away. I still loved her.
That was the winter her grandmother passed away. I don’t which was the most disastrous for Ange: Her love for me or her grandmother’s death. The pain I caused her was immediate and apparent; the injury done her by her removal to the North edge of town was slow and invisible. Of course, her aunt, with whom she went to live, loved her and wanted the best for her. Within their means and understanding I’m sure they provided it. But there were no books or magazines in her aunt’s house. All the unapparent but significant apparatus that elevates the intellect and forces one’s aspirations to the astral level were missing. The electric satan- the television set- ran continuously from dawn to retiring but the evil it spewed forth in the guise of entertainment would no nothing to raise her level of consciousness.
Even had she been going with me, still my struggle to prevent her aunt’s family from unduly influencing her mind and character would have been misinterpreted. I would have had to keep with with me except in the dark hours of the day. She would had had to live with me during her waking hours. Had my parents allowed it, who know, she might have been a civilizing influence on them. Perhaps I would have unintentionally given my mother the daughter she had always wanted.
It was far better for Ange that Angeline was safe in my heart where Ange’s true image couldn’t be tarnished.
I next saw her in the summer between the eleventh and twelfth grades during the Fourth Of July fireworks display at Reuchlin Park. She was sitting on a blanket high on the slope of the central section tending to the North end of the park. As I remember it there was a great deal of difference in character between the South end, the central section and the North end of the park. In the North end the lower ground was a swampy morass. Through the trees, across the railroad tracks, that were no longer in use, one could see the old cemetery.
She beckoned to me to sit with her. Strangely, I thrilled to her voice. I was now seventeen. I had a greater understanding of the world. With approaching maturity I had a better, if vague and undefined, understanding of what I had done to her. Her injury was obvious. I was willing to do what I could to relieve her hurt.
I would have seen her and allowed her to take her spite out on me. Especially during the late winter and early spring I had witnessed how mean people can be to each other. I had been down to the bus station while my mother saw her sister off on a visit to Detroit. There were a bunch of guys at the station on their way to the US Naval Receiving Station in Philadelphia.
I didn’t really know this guy who started talking to me, although we were aware of each other’s existence. He was twenty-one. I was only sixteen and a half. He was under extreme stress, he had to talk to someone. I seemed sage to him. Because he recognized me he began talking to me as though he knew me well. To me he appeared the epitome of what I would like to have been. Tall, well dressed in the conventional way, confident and in charge of himself. Apparently, as he spoke, I learned that he made himself over from something like what I was. Beneath her surface swagger lingered fear and insecurity. He had just got his life working for him. He had what he considered a good job. He had been recently promoted. On the basis of that promotion he and his sweetheart, with whom he was deeply in love had been married.
He had enemies, powerful enemies. He said he knew who they were but he didn’t name them, they remained shadowy. Had he told me who they were I might have secretly avenged him. I was an attentive listener. He went on. When he had returned from his honeymoon he had found his draft notice waiting for him. I believed then that he had powerful enemies. Men were clamoring to get into the service, there was a waiting list, there was no need to draft anyone. It became apparent to me then that the draft could be used as a political weapon.
So here he was, his job gone, with a lovely young wife form whom he would be separated right after marriage for two years. How cruel on his enemies’ part. How vicious. His worst fear was that he would lose his wife. I could sympathize with his fear. Most of our State recruits were assigned to the East Coast. He said he intended to hitchhike home every time he could get a seventy-two hour pass. I was impressed. The East Coast was so far away in my imagination that it might as well have been on another planet. The risks of being AWOL several hours or a day were great. To be AWOL was to be brought before a Captain’s Mast and your Navy reputation was in jeopardy. No small matter.
I listened to him and watched him with intense interest. His bus arrived. He waved goodbye to me as, shaking with trepidation and anguish, he boarded the bus.
I wondered if people were out to get him. I seached out this address and walked by it several times. I saw his young wife who was a very lovely young woman. She worked downtown. She took the bus home every night at five-thirty. I contrived to become acquainted with her and even walked her to her house on occasion to learn how she and her huband’s situation was developing.
He did manage to hitchhike home on two occasion over the next three months. Then his squadron was sent on a Mediterranean cruise. By the time he returned his home had been rifled and taken from him. I was never able to learn why his enemies hated him so. Perhaps it was a simple matter that in having raised himself from an inferior social status he had aspired to and won the love a girl considered above him. Perhaps he had won her over the hopes of someone who considered himself a social better. I don’t know but the denouement may give some indication. He enemies had the power to crush his heart, to defile his love, to emasculate his manhood.
His wife had been a good girl; thus a direct approach would have failed. Girl friends of a higher social station appeared who discovered her good qualities and befriended her. She was flattered by their attention and accepted their friendship. then there were gatherings where her friends had dates and she was a spare wheel. Then a boy was provided, a very charming boy, handsome and well connected, just as a sort of escort so she wouldn’t feel left out. Thus she was gradually weaned from the notion of fidelity and compromised. Then, without her realizing it, she began to be passed around to other men in the circle. Gradually the quality of the men was reduced until she was seeing men of the station the sailor’s enemies considered his. The sailor could hear their laughter redounding around the world.
Thus his enemies by using the draft as a weapon to separate him from his wife and involving his wife in a whirl of parties and social affairs deftly robbed him of his happiness. He was still overseas not yet fully aware that his love had been defiled, that his marriage was a thing of the past, that the cup of life had been lined with a bitter rim. His wine, no matter how good, would always have to pass the bitter rim of his glass.
Angeline was safe in my heart. Who knew what my enemies might have attempted when I left home. Fut this sailor’s circumstances had increased my compassion for Ange. She, I and Angeline would not have to worry. Ange could never be defiled.
The change in her from when she had lived with her grandmother was obvious. Her manner had lost some of its refinement. This was occurring at the very critical stage of passing from late girlhood into young womanhood. My interest in her was clinical as well as personal. Even though I had shattered her self-esteem and confidence I hoped to be able to restore her self-respect.
I had come over and sat by her. She was pleased that I had but her hurt and anger were such that having sat by her she now ignored my presence. She wanted me to suffer. She had interpreted her standing before my door as crawling to me. She now wanted me to crawl to her. I probably vaguely understood. I was uncertain what the consequences would be. We were not to be married. Should the result have been a rejection of me I would have assented but if the consequence had been a reunion as plighted lovers that was impossible. The sailor’s example had shown me perils I had not imagined. I knew know in a sense that transcended the notion of fate that my future was not mine to control. There were both impersonal and personal forces capable of wreaking havoc with my life.
I was anxious to explain myself but if she wouldn’t speak to me I would leave. “No, wait. Stay by me.” She said as I began to rise. There may have been some more words I could have said, some move I could have made to dissolve her resistance. If so, it was beyond me. She still refused to speak, gazing out over the crowd. I excused myself again. She let me leave.
After graduation I prepared myself psychologically to leave the Valley forever. I had no intention of returning. I was taking one last walk with my brother. A drive-up hamburger joint had sprung up on a point of the intersection of Bay and Court. As with all this type of hamburger stand it had attracted a band of toughs who held court there. My brother and I put on our meanest mien and walked up to buy an ice cream cone. As we did so a girl dashed up and slapped me on the arm, crying: “Hey you, Dewey.” Then dashed away, turned and stared at me in a most distracted manner. Her face was unwashed, smudged with dirt. Her clothes, an old pair of jeans and what appeared to be be a boys, shirt, unwashed. I stared in astonishment and then I recognized my own Ange. The change was astonishing. It was worse than I had feared it would be. So this was the result of her aunt’s tutelage. Deep anger welled within me. Ange had been, was a beautiful girl, by which I do not mean only that she had attractive features. She had been, she was, pure of heart. Glimmers of this future had danced across my mind long ago when I was too young to do anything about it. Which was crueler, fate of people?
The little woman who had put me in awe of herself was gone. To be sure her destruction was also my fault but the deteriortion in her expectation had been her family’s doing. My little Queen of Heaven had been cast to earth. I wanted to do something, to say something but she wouldn’t let me. I implored her: “Ange…” but she shouted things at me and danced away. She was a tough among toughs. The order of the planets in the heavens would have been beyond my capacity to alter.
I tried to tell her that I was leaving town. I tried to make her see that she must talk to me now or it would be too late. She wanted me to humiliate myself as I had humiliated her. I would have if it would have made her feel better, I wanted to, I owed it to her. But to do it it would have been necessary to penetrate the psychological barrier caused by my apparent rejection of her. I didn’t know how to crawl to her as she had crawled to me. I would have if I had known how. It would only have been to help her because it couldn’t hurt me. I had Angeline where no one could take her from me. Ange wouldn’t have understod; perhaps she would have been enraged if she had.
I was desperate to make her understand that this was her last chance to save herself. I was in tears as I implored her: “Ange…Ange…”
She misunderstood. “Cry! Cry! and you’ll cry alone, just as I did. It won’t do you any good. Hard hearted son-of-bitch. I’m hard hearted too. Just the way you made me.”
She didn’t understand. I understood only too well.
The sun set in the West, my extended thumb silhouetted against it.
The worst of the abuse, shame and embarrassment was lifted from my consciousness after a couple years on my own away from parents, town and my past. The rest of the damage of eighteen years was not discarded so easily. The psychological overburden was deep and complex. My actions were not my own. I was directed by deep subconscious fixations inflicted on me by others. I knew how if not why. While I tried to live my life I fought every day every minute to free my psyche. I studied, I read. Freud, de Sade, history, biography, literature. I made a study of popular music. I worked at the common symbols of psychological doctrines delineated in all those modes of expression. My fixations were stubborn. They didn’t want to reveal themselves. Fear of the unknown prevented discovery for long periods of time. None of these memories when revealed appeared that fearsome. Decades passed. My work went on.
I once read an article about this pirate chief. He had finally captured the treasure he had bee seeking all his life. Once in his possession he didn’t know what to do with it. Cruising the storm ridden coasts of Newfoundland he determined to bury it where it could never be retrieved. He had his pirate crew dig a deep pit. Into the pit he laid the treasure at the bottom. Then he built a devilish contraption of logs with traps and dangers. It was so contrived that like the Gordian Knot it could not be unraveled by the mind of man. His treasure at the bottom, his contraption of great thickness over it, he then killed his crew, threw them in on top of the contraption and shoveled a thick layer of dirt on top. The grass grew and waved in the breeze like a flag over it all.
So my life had been. But I was more clever than the builders. I disassembled the enigmatic psychological structure. As I resolved each psychological dilemma my character did change and it did change for the better. Instead of acting compulsively I assumed the direction of my own acts. As I resolved so I accomplished. A day came when I had cleared this pit of remembrance but to my dismay no great relief came. A feeling of oppression remained with me. I sifted and sifted the memories looking for either another one or key I had overlooked in the detritus arranged in piles before me. I was at the bottom of the pit of my psychology. The overburden had been removed. The structure had been disassembled. I sat on the edge of the pit staring down into the murky darkness. Where was my treasure? Where was the relief I had been working for? I could now deal in a free manner with the people about me. My vision was assuming truer perspectives but I still had no relief.
I sat staring into the bare bottom of the pit. Then the skies cleared a little bit; the warm healing sun illumined the dark earth. As I watched a vapor formed and rose. It coalisced, gained density and form. As it rose before my eyes I saw the smiling fact of the young girl Ange. She was my treasure that I had ruthlessly, perhaps desperately might be a better word, placed at the bottom of my memories. The wrongs that had been done to me had been placed over the great wrong I had done to Ange.
My other fears, my other traumas had disappeared when brought to light. After a short period of discomfort they had dissipated into a manageable memory. Less than that. They had vanished as an oppressive force. They had all been wrongs done to myself such as what had happened to that sailor. Now Ange rose up before me. I could not dismiss her. I had wronged Ange. My worst memory was my best memory. At first I tried to laugh it off. Well, life is tough, we all have to make our own way.
It wasn’t my fault, life, circumstances, youth- I dreamed up a myriad of excuses for my behavior. None were valid in my mind. Ange’s memory haunted me day and night. I compared her memory with the image of Angeline in my heart; they were identical. I walked with my eyes very nearly tearing every minute of the day. A huge lump was constantly in my throat. I had wronged an angel. I was a victim of love.
Some girls will kiss and run away. Some girls thing love is just sport and play. Some girls thing love is just for a day. But some girls hope that love is there to stay. Ange had been one of the last. I had failed her. Some boys just don’t care. Some boys take delight in hurting and just run away. Some boys take it and leave. Some other boys throw away the most precious gift the gods can bestow on man. I was one of those last boys. I ruminated on what I had done to Ange, that sweet innocent slip of a girl. I loathed the double blow of fate that had taken her grandmother and setn Ange to the degradation of her uncultivated people.
I feared what her development might have been but I resolved to attempt, at least, to explain myself. I wanted to ease the pain, if I could, that had been so apparent at our last meeting. I didn’t know whether she had married. I interpreted our last meeting to mean that she had pined for her lost love and had never married.
I had fled the Valley thirty years before. I had kept my vow and never returned. Now I felt I must break the vow. I had never spoken to my family for all those years. I didn’t know if my brother, Louis, still lived there but I was given a number by the operator.
Louis still lived in the Valley. He was very surprised to find me on the other end of the line. We worked around our mutual hostility and exchanged information about what we had been doing. Then Louis asked for what reason I had called, certainly not for small talk as he put it.
“Well, Louis,” I said, “I do have an ulterior motive.” I emitted a short nervous laugh. “Do you remember that girl I used to date in the tenth grade?”
“You mean that girl we saw at the drive-up just before you left?”
“You mean you don’t know?”
“No, of course not, how could I know, I haven’t even seen anyone from the Valley for thirty years. Why, who did she marry?”
“Why she didn’t marry anyone, Dewey. She came by the house a couple times after you left. She thought maybe there would be a letter for her, maybe you didn’t know her address so you sent it our house.”
“Hmm. That’s strange. Well, then, what did she do, go to New York or someplace?”
“No, Dewey, she stayed right here.”
“OK. Can you get her address and phone number. I’d like to get in touch with her.”
“She doesn’t have an address or phone number.”
“Oh for Christ’s sake Louis, you always we…Stop being mysterious. Tell me where she is.”
Louis paused a while before anwering.
“Dewey, she committed suicide around Thanksgiving of the year you left.”
“Committed suicide? Why would she do that?”
“Yes, Dewey, she committed suicide. She left a note. She didn’t mention your name but we knew you were responsible.”
“I was responsible?” I cried, denial and anguish rending my soul. “I was responsible? What did the note say.”
“It was just one word, Dewey.”
“Oh come on, Louie,” I demanded in anger and frustration, “What was the word?”
End of the Angeline Constellation. I will next put up the story of Disco Donn. It’s a good story, you might like it.