Probably the person who influenced me the most in the direction that led to Berkeley and my actions there, therefore everything else that happened to me in my adult life, was a man I met while still in high school named Roland W. Eves, now deceased. He was arrested in 1961 in Tallahassee for helping to organize and participating in sit-ins aimed at desegregating lunch counters. Ours was a lifelong relationship that ended only with his death in 2000, an event that prompted me to accomplish a goal I had had for many years–to organize, edit and excerpt 40 years of his letters. The resulting book was never published, but I handmade about a dozen copies to give to our friends at his memorial party in San Francisco a year later. Below, a beginning on here publishing excerpts of the excerpts I think provide some insight into how some of us were feeling when the 60s hit us between the eyes.
IF YOU TAME ME
Excerpts from the letters of Roland W. Eves to Jentri Anders, 1959 to 2000
If you are miserable through your own fault, you’ll soon find out how not to be. If it is not your fault, you’re obviously not to blame. So you’ll end up either innocent or happy. June 1959, New Port Richey
On a warm Florida night in 1959, the Groveland High School chapter of the National Beta Club, an honor society for rural students, was visiting its counterpart group in New Port Richey. The host chapter had chartered a shrimp boat to cruise the teenagers romantically around Tampa Bay. I was 16, skinny, four-eyed, flat-chested and ready to find some hole to hide in until the ordeal should end, this being my standard adaptation to contrived adolescent mating rituals.
On the dock, however, my best friend Sarah, in whose glamorous wake I could usually be found trailing, struck up a typically flirtatious conversation with the nearest group of boys. I stood by, ready to take up my usual role as court jester to the Queen, should the need arise. The group included Roland W. Eves, “Roy” to his oldest friends.
Somehow, in the crush of hilarious introduction, I squeezed in a witticism and caught Roy’s eyes. As we boarded the boat and, much to my surprise, Roy cut me from the herd and lassoed me into a relatively quiet spot for closer inspection. We then proceeded to engage in an exclusive six-hour conversation unlike any I could then claim to have had. I had never seen anything like Roy. Well, I can hear him joking, you were a hick at the time and hadn’t been around that much… true, but I have now and if I’m a hick, I’m a much wiser one. I can still say with a straight face that Roy was one of the most consistently amazing people I’ve ever met.
For me, Roy was the weekend. When I got home I wrote him, starting a correspondence that lasted, with one or two notable hiati, for nearly 40 years, ending only when we finally lived close enough together to visit and phone instead of write. I never lost one of Roy’s letters. After his death, I reread them and was reminded just how many chunks of my personal philosophy came directly from Roy. The very idea of a personal philosophy came directly from Roy. What my life would have been like had I not met him is one of my worst nightmares. What he gave me was later polished and sanded and pounded by experiences I shared, as the man said, “with the best minds of my generation,” and on that subject, I claim a doctorate from the school of hard knocks. It was my own life, but Roy started it for me. There is no way around that.
If there were nothing else I could say about Roy, I could say that, of all the relationships in my life, nothing else resembled this one. We were almost never in each other’s physical presence but lived our lives from high school on, as he said, “in reference to each other.” During the 60s, we danced around each other in double triangles a lot. He must have asked me to marry him a dozen times, but never when both of us could have done so without breaking off a relationship with someone else. Even so, I never allowed myself to be in a relationship that would require me to ditch him. That stipulation became the final test of any new romantic relationship and its potential to confine me. I believe the same was generally true for him.
On the other hand, as we agreed years later, it’s damn lucky we never married, because it would have ruined our beautiful friendship. We were friends, we were lovers, we were comrades-in-arms, we played teacher/student both ways. About this aspect of our relationship, we often jokingly asked each other whether we had stumbled into the plot of Pygmalion, he teaching me about “Cultcha,” or whether it was really Breakfast at Tiffany’s, me teaching him about life. Either way, we both knew, all joking aside, that our friendship was a very special one in a very special time and that maybe the right word for it has not yet been invented. The last time I saw him, he provided the final word on the subject, saying that we were “siblings who committed incest.” Exactly.
Roy could make me laugh no matter how far down I was. Even dead, he made me laugh, as I read and reread his letters. Now, there’s a friend. Somebody who can posthumously laugh you out of the dump you’re in because he’s dead. We were pen pals, we were colleagues, he insisted we were family. We were tragic and isolated pieces of flotsam and jetsam, grabbing for each other in the stormy sea of history and if that’s melodramatic, who would forgive me faster than Roy, a closet playwright and the most dramatic person, counting me, in pretty much any room either of us were ever in.
The one relationship we always kicked around but never manifested was–he writes, I edit… and Roy needed an editor. To begin with, he was a rotten speller. I never noticed it until I edited his letters, because I was so dazzled by what he said. And then there was the problem that he didn’t believe in drafts. He liked to think the truly great writers got it right the first time. I was never able to disabuse him of this naïve and sophomoric notion, but we certainly had some delicious conversations about it. So I guess we ended up playing writer/editor posthumously. Given our personalities and respective egos, maybe that’s the only way it could have happened– for more than a half hour.
Our journey was deeply karmic in the sense that whatever I was supposed to do in this lifetime, I needed my relationship with Roy to do it right. And his letters say it was the same for him. His death made no difference to that. It only reminded me once more, as he did so often, who I am. It only, through my tears and laughter, made me dream my dreams again and renew my resolve not to “let the bastards get me down,” or at least to hold them off as long as possible.
In 1960-61, Roy was at Florida State University in Tallahassee and I was attending Norman College in Norman Park, Georgia, a Bible college 60 miles north of there run by the Georgia Baptist Convention. At his urging, I had done my damnedest to try to get to FSU, but I just couldn’t scrape up the money. I was expelled from Norman, with credit, in June, 1961, basically for hanging out with Roy when I had signed out to visit my parents. In the fall, I finally made it to FSU, choosing that university only because Roy was there.
We were a part of a network of people the administration referred to, according to Roy, as “The Bad Attitude Group.” Like many of Roy’s friends, particularly the female ones, I was expelled in short order, thereby losing nearly a semester of work and, as far as I knew at the time, all hopes of higher education. We were thereafter physically separated until the 1990s, except for visits– him to Berkeley, me to Huntsville, Texas, and San Pedro, California. Although we constantly fantasized trips together, I was never in a position to stop working and go with him, but his letters from the far corners of the Earth, full of references to people and events, always spoke to me as if I were part of it, as if he were surprised that I had not been there, too. His view of me kept open possibilities I would have closed, on my own, long before.
How much did I trust him? In 1961, in Tallahassee, a group of us were climbing up the publicly-owned huge pecan trees to shakedown pecans. (We were scavengers long before it was cool.) About two stories up, I found the next branch a little too awkward and wanted to turn back. Roy said, “Nonsense, here,” reached his hand down and grabbed my wrist, trapeze-artist style. To my great astonishment, I allowed him to pull me straight up to his perch without my being supported by anything at all but his strength. A fall would have been fatal or crippling. But, I let him do it. Aside from my son, my father and my husbands in the best of times, I have never trusted any other man that much.
How much do I owe him? In the late 70s, deep into my Earth Mother incarnation, I had a dream about Roy, whom I hadn’t seen in years. In it, I was at the creek where mothers with babies usually spent a hot summer afternoon. Something pulled me downstream, away from the group, where I discovered, to my horror, Roy’s body, incompletely buried in an eroded bank. Then I remembered that I had killed him. I tried desperately to cover him up, so as not to be caught, but his head and arm kept falling out, beckoning, making me think of Captain Ahab on the whale. (Roy had once given me a copy of Melville’s Moby Dick, which he had hand-covered with fabric and his own illustration.)
I tried to remember why I had killed him, but I could not. Just as I realized that not only would I be caught, but that Roy would not be there to help me deal with it, I woke up. No mysteries there, for us Jungians. Roy was my intellectual animus as well as the unwilling keeper of my social conscience. (He protested that notion vehemently.) I had killed not him, but the part of me he had nourished and protected and loved. The dream was clear. You can only have this idyllic country life by murdering a huge part of yourself and wasting the education you fought so hard for at a time when the world needs it and you. In only a few years, I was back in graduate school, to Roy’s great delight, finishing the anthropology doctorate I had abandoned, pregnant, in 1970.
One of the great things we shared was an almost identical scholarly orientation, which is to say we loved humanities and social science and hated math. There are some little-known facts that emerge from his letters, regarding those preferences, things I missed the first time around. Roy flunked math and had a 2.5 GPA in his spring 1959 semester at FSU because of that. Of the university’s attempt to force him to take calculus, he said, “Can you imagine a social science major in calc? As my roommate, Steve, said, they’d throw rocks at me.” Although Roy flunked math that semester, he got an unbelievable A in PE, a subject upon which we all delighted in heaping scorn. I was mystified until he mentioned that the course was canoeing. Ah, water, I thought, that explains it. Roy loved anything having to do with water. In everything else, he got B’s, the math F having more than counterbalanced the ironic A in PE. And he was, hard as it may be to imagine, briefly, in ROTC.
Our relationship to information age technology was similar, but out of sync. During 1960-61, he wrote that he was getting interested in semantics and cybernetics, thereby beating me to the draw by twenty years. I couldn’t spell “cybernetics” until I read Norbert Weiner, working on my doctorate in the 1980’s. In the mid-60s, he was telling me he was interested in computers and was writing me on the back of discarded printouts, evidently fished from the garbage can, again, beating me to the draw by 20 years. My first encounter with computers was in 1981, after which time I found them indispensable. But, as far as I know, Roy never owned a computer and in the 1990s claimed to despise them. After about 1995, he even stopped typing his letters.
I did not miss the typing, since Roy was an ace calligrapher and draftsperson. Though his ordinary handwriting could run to the indecipherable, his letters are generally filled with funny little sketches and diagrams of houses he was imagining and maps and calligraphed recipes, quotes from literature and his own haikus. For years and years, I kept on my refrigerator a calligraphed quote he had made for me that went “from goblins and ghosties and long-legged beasties and thinges that goe bumpe in the night, dear Lord, deliver us.” It had come soon after I had written him about my nightmares. When I mentioned to him 20 years later that it had gotten lost in the shuffle of my many moves, he replaced it with the beautiful Spanish blessing-prayer that lives on my current refrigerator.
In 1967, he got into territoriality, psychological geography and ethnoscience, again beating me to the draw, this time by 10 years. In anthropology, those subjects come up as cultural ecology, ethnoscience and sociobiology, all of which are closely related to my doctoral fields. In the 1990s, we imagined doing dolphin research together on some warm Caribbean island, having found that we had both read every word we could find about dolphins. They say great minds work in similar ways. I don’t know if that necessarily makes minds working similarly great, but I do know it was great to experience some degree of mental similarity with Roy.
The words “unique” and “complex” have become overworked in this time of bubbling psychobabble, but Roy was truly a unique and complex individual, way too deep for the understanding of most people, a genius too observant and compassionate to be of much practical use: courageous, usually; brutally honest with himself at times, unspeakably dense at others; screamingly funny, rivetingly serious; curious about everyone and everything; rife with faults, most of which he would point out to you before you could name them. In later years, I was shocked to find there were subjects I could not discuss with him. I also discovered that we could both maintain a snit for quite a while. But he could always talk me out of it and I could always talk him out of it. I’m told he could be infuriating, but somehow, the only thing he ever did that truly infuriated me was to die too soon. Exasperating, yes. Infuriating, no.
The last time I saw Roy, I apologized for not being able to pay him back some money he had given to me to use for something I didn’t use it for. He placed his hand over mine on the table, looked at me from his heart and said in a voice I knew to be his real voice, “Never mind about that. Just be my friend.” It sounded so strange to me because we have been so much more than friends, at least in the way that word is commonly used. I fear that I was not as good a friend to him as I would have wished. There is much I wanted to do for him in the last decade but I could not do because I loved him too much to lose him. He would accept no help, no sympathy, no advice and would warn you away with a look if you tried to insist. “No blame,” I’m sure he would say.
If ever the phrase “labor of love” applied to anything, it applies to this modest endeavor. Reading Roy’s letters was the only thing I could think of to do to keep my wild grief for him from sinking me (shades of Holly Golightly, to whom he had compared me, against my adamant protestations.) Editing them made his presence a near-tangible thing, helping me one last time through a really hard spot. I don’t know how much my picture of Roy is like anyone else’s picture of Roy. I know well that I probably only have a little sliver of his story, but it’s a damn fine sliver and I offer it joyfully hoping only to honor him.
Jentri Anders, August, 2001, Trinidad, California
THE SAYINGS OF ROLAND
Of course, I’m an intellectual misfit. Everyone who is capable and willing to think at all is a misfit in this freakish society that scorns and mistrusts it’s best minds. July 1960, New Port Richey
I try very hard to be pessimistic as a matter of principle, because if you expect the worst, then you are prepared if it happens, if not delighted. Optimism, however, is apt to be very depressing. October 1960, Tallahassee
If you like shopping for people half a continent away from California, I’d love to have a little Buddha, perhaps two to four inches high–for my dashboard. The best kind, I think, would be a big GREEN plastic [marbelized?] with PINK seashells around the base, but any cheapish one would do. But a nice one. Do you know any very vulgar Oriental religious stores? Just keep your eye open and if you happen to see one… I haven’t made the local folk nervous enough for way too long… April 1965. Huntsville, Texas
[Note: I went to Chinatown and tried very hard, but I could only find expensive, tasteful ones. By the time I traveled in Japan three years later, where trashy ones were all over the place, Roy lived in a more cosmopolitan location, where making the locals nervous was not such a priority.]
I really do love you. Of course, you could get a psychologist to tell you that it’s just a form of extended narcissism, since what delights me most about you is that we feel so amazingly similarly about so many things, especially about the things that seem important to us now. July 1960, New Port Richey
[Note: Little did we know that those things would never stop seeming important to us. As it turned out, they would define the entireity of both of our lives, lives that Roy pronounced “interesting” the last time I saw him, referring to the alleged Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting life.”]
With regard to your question about finding your Utopia, answer is, of course you won’t. By now you must know that if such a Utopia existed it would only be an escape, a permanent or at least a temporary refuge, not a place to live. The only way is to build your own, or rather, to fight the good fight trying to. And of course we always lose, which is not to be wondered at, as the outcome was known before the game started. The Greeks knew what they were doing, I suspect, when they made tragedy the highest form of art, for art should reflect life and not just nature; and every life is a tragedy. It can only have one end, which is known at the start.
What is more obvious than that life is a process, not a finishing. Isn’t it possible to be triumphant by playing the game well, by taking even one small step in the right direction? No one needs reminding today how tenuous is the existence of civilization itself; so much, so laboriously built up over so long, can be so easily swept away. Literally, c’est la vie. But perhaps, just perhaps, “ages and ages hence” [from Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken] things will be substantially better and if we continue to take slow steps and if no holocaust comes to obliterate them. But I do wax lengthy in philosophizing. Since it is already well known that I am a pompous ass, which is not necessarily to say that it is known whether that is good or bad, I’ll not apologize. January 1962, Tallahassee
[Note: Roy wrote this a month after I had been expelled from FSU and had run away to Philadelphia with my boyfriend, Mike. He finished by quoting me the entire Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.” Ironically, a month before that, Mike had glued that same poem to the inside cover of a copy of Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, which he had given me for Christmas. Mike had been referring, if not directly to Roy, then to the life toward which Roy had been pointing me. Both of them had a stake in my choice and both quoted the same poet, unbeknownst to each other. That’s poignancy number one. Number two is that I spent my whole adult life taking Roy’s advice to build my own Utopia, only realizing after his death that I hadn’t thought of doing so in 1968, when I actually dropped out, but years before, when Roy gave me the idea and the rationale in this letter.]
[Re: The relationship between substances and mental illness, after the first time I scared myself getting drunk.]
It’s funny, but there was a time when you seemed to me almost indestructible–if the world got too bad you told it to get back to hell where it belonged and it couldn’t harm you much. Then, when that became obviously not so, I guess I tended to be too distressed about you. Well, it wasn’t alcohol that has ever worried me about going crazy– either as cause or symptom/agent. It was a purely mental-emotional thing, but well under control now. But, as you say, it is a weird feeling: now I must be rather careful or before I know it, I’ll be round the bend. Spring 1963, Tallahassee
[Re: my recent arrival at Norman College, Norman Park Georgia, a training center for Baptist preachers and their wives run by the Georgia Baptist convention.] If your mail is also, i.e., in addition to your conduct, thoughts and everything else, censored, let me know that you never got this. October 1960, Tallahassee
[Note: I was, in fact, expelled after “Mama” Altman, the house mother, illegally searched my room and found an unmailed letter to Roy containing my uncensored opinion of the nine months I had just spent at Norman. There were more concrete reasons for expelling me, but the letter didn’t help anything.]
[After a lengthy typed philosophical discussion in which all the capital letters began to disappear.] in the end, nothing is certain and whatever we believe in as the starting point is accepted on faith. even the propositions of geometry or math rest on postulates and definitions accepted on faith or common sense. for this thought I don’t even claim one-time originality. I do claim it makes one more tolerant, though, and dammit don’t ask me at this point what the value of tolerance is and on what criteria do I think so. eventually I might be able to tell you without resorting to acceptance on faith this late, but I’m not up to it now. as you see, I’m even too exhausted to shift the keys. July 1960, New Port Richey
My dear, you are without a doubt my most delightful correspondent. (That was a closing, so don’t expect another at the end.) Fall 1960, Tallahassee
IMORE TO COME