Back to the swamp
Letters of reference to Dr. Guy and my reinstatement notwithstanding, I was treated with suspicion in Tally from the git-go. The atmosphere, on campus and off, had doubtless been influenced by the lunch counter sit-ins of three semesters before. I was dimly aware of these through Roy’s letters and my visits, but was too politically naive to understand the context they created for my Florida State University matriculation. I really had no idea what I was getting into going to Tally in the Fall of 1961. Some sense of what it was like when I got there and just before, as well as what I was looking forward to, can be inferred from Roy’s letters, from before and after I was there:
I’m looking forward to seeing you at college, any college, but preferably FSU. July, 1960, New Port Richey
No joke, you would be in heaven there and furthermore, one that’s good for you, at FSU. You and I are not the only misfits there, more (much) when I see you. Summer, 1960, New Port Richey
This is terrific, about your grades and all and maybe coming here—how good are the chances of that? Naturally, this is the end in view. I’m getting two other good friends to transfer from Gainesville, so we’ll have practically everybody who matters here. . . December 16, 1960, Tallahassee
If only you could get to FSU… there’s a gang of people there would be just as glad as I, or almost, to see you. Winter, 1960-61, Tallahassee
What a complex, tiny jungle Norman Park seems to be! Anyway, I can well assure you that I and many people will be only too happy to have you here. I will say for the nth time, try to make it through the year. Sounds more than a little like you are rather more than the locals can comprehend, hence the fear. April 16, 1961, Tallahassee
There is a rash of the bomb symbols (you know, the British nuclear disarmament people’s one) in Tally; one spray-painted on in front of the Americanism Bookstore, also in front of Tully Gym, the post office, the Democrat—and a big flag made from a sheet with it sprayed on flying from the Supreme Court flagstaff. The Tallahassee Daily Democrat, with customary, though incredible, ignorance, published an upside-down picture of it and called it a “mystery symbol.” Naturally, they got lots of calls saying that everyone in the civilized world knew what it was. Al and I made one out of a sheet donated by Erin and hung it from Westcott’s [an FSU building] north gable at 4 a.m., but it was already down in the morning, damn shame. Anyway, it was fun trying. Spring, 1962, Tallahassee
My first move upon arrival in Tally was to attempt to get around the rule requiring undergraduate women to live in the women’s dorm. There was, of course, no such rule for men. It was my hope that I could save money by finding a share situation with graduate women students with whom Roy could easily put me in touch. I intended to seek from the Dean of Women a dispensation from that rule on the argument that I could only attend college by working and living in the dorm would limit my working hours to the dorm hours and also that living off campus would be much cheaper for an obviously poor student such as myself. There was, to my knowledge, no kind of financial aid available to me on the basis of my need, nothing similar to the work-study program at Norman College. My parents, probably my father, had agreed to take one more chance on me and had paid the $400 for my dorm fee, but I hoped to be able to return that money to them if I could move out, get it refunded, and live off campus.
Dean Warren turned me down flat but not before attempting to discover who were the friends with whom I hoped to live. The influence of the House Un-American Activities Committee permeated everything at the university and, as far as I know, at all universities at that time and I had been forewarned that I would be asked this question. Previous contacts between Roy and his male and female friends and both deans had produced this line of questioning. I refused to name any names and said that I did not actually have any friends yet but had assumed that I could locate housing with graduate women, should I have succeeded in getting permission to live off-campus. She obviously did not believe me, but I got out of her office without putting any more names on the list that we assumed she must have of members of what we jokingly called “the bad attitude group.” Dean Warren ended the interview with a lecture on whom I should choose for friends at FSU, probably knowing full well already who my friends were.
I have since also strongly suspected that, although my transcript had been expunged of the reference to “disciplinary expulsion,” Mama Altman of Norman College, at least, would have been overjoyed to put in a call to Dean Warren warning her of my imminent arrival. It would be hard to ascribe such a suspicion to paranoia, in the context of the time and place. In reporting my interview with Dean Warren to Roy, I was assured that I was now, surely, an official member of the bad attitude group. I knew her eye was on me the whole time I was there and when I was expelled at the end of the semester for breaking dorm rules, it came as no great surprise.
I quickly landed two part-time jobs, one shelving books in the FSU library and the other as a clerk for the Florida Department of Public Safety. There, I was one clerk among many, assigned each evening to climb up on a high stool and drive a ferris wheel made of bins full of driving records. Each ferris wheel covered a section of the alphabet. We were handed a stack of forms from insurance companies requesting a list of driving violations incurred by applicants for car insurance.
Although we were strictly forbidden to look into the driving records of anyone not in the stack, I am sure I was not the only one to alleviate the boredom by looking up people I thought of who would be in my section of the alphabet that evening. (Let it be a lesson to you, dear reader, that nothing is confidential, or was, even before computer hacking.) In this way, I learned of the early death in a car accident of my childhood friend Glenda’s little brother and that Phillip Wylie, the author I had idolized in high school, had a breathtakingly long record of drinking violations. That he and others like him kept getting their licenses back after year-long suspensions for DUI, was quite a revelation to me. I get fined $25 for a completely sober car accident even the judge said I did not cause, he gets busted over and over for drunk driving yet never has his license permanently revoked. Is it because I am female or because he is rich and famous, I had to ask.
The job for the State of Florida was three nights a week and I had to commute on the bus. I left campus at five and got off at ten, thereby missing entirely dinnertime at the Commons, for which I had been forced to pay in advance for the whole semester. No leeway was granted to working students and their schedule problems, since that university and all universities I ever encountered as a student, are run for non-working students, i.e. the rich.
The dorm closed at 11. This meant that, three nights a week, if I were to eat dinner, I had to do it on my own nickel and before five or after ten. My schedule was such that I was not hungry before five because I had lunch late, fitting it, probably a banana, in between class and work at the library, which was sometimes on the same day as work at the office. Breakfast was out of the question, both because there was no time for anything but coffee and because I have always awakened slightly nauseous. Breakfast is not my meal. Most days, I would get off the bus near campus, run quickly to the only restaurant open at that time and order a milkshake and french fries to go, the only thing I could afford, then race to the dorm, get there just before it closed and eat my meal in my room. It was harrowing, to say the least, and it proved hazardous to my health.
There was a little refrigerator on each floor of the dorm in a snack room. I, at first, attempted to keep food in this refrigerator to eat on work nights so as to save money and not have to rush to get in before the dorm closed. But, my food was constantly stolen by other occupants of the dorm who, it can be safely assumed, were not in such desperate need of it as I. There were periodic dorm meetings where dorm issues could be raised and I raised this one at my first dorm meeting, beseeching my fellow students to not steal my food out of the community refrigerator because I desperately needed it to stay in school. I explained my situation fully and clearly and reasonably.
My pleas were met with nothing but ridicule from the other students, few of whom were working, or had ever worked, and public scolding from the dorm mothers about my anti-social attitude. I also received a lecture from Roy’s friend, Lorraine Nelson, newly re-instated after her expulsion the year before for missing curfew, that I must keep a low profile and this was not how to do it. That experience, I am sure, did nothing to hinder my lifelong and unabashed pure hatred of spoiled-brat rich kids who did not work their way through college and rejoiced in impeding the path of those who did.
My status with the dorm mothers was further lowered by an event that would seem trivial to many but mattered a lot to me. My dorm room, which I shared with a friendly enough cashmere sweater-clad woman named Peggy, was located next-door to the shower room. Early in the semester, there was some kind of a plumbing problem that required the workmen fixing it to knock a hole in the wall between our room and the shower room. I came in from class one day to find that my precious record player, located against the wall on the floor, the only place where there was room for it, with a precious record on it and the lid open, was full of drywall pieces and drywall dust. When I went into the shower room and asked the workmen why they had not checked my room to be sure that they would damage nothing by knocking a hole in the wall, I was met with nothing but derision. It seemed very funny to them that a co-ed would have any right to care about her possessions. To be fair, it probably never occurred to them that I was as working-class as they were and could not simply call Daddy and ask for money for a new record player.
My record player and my records were just about the only thing, other than my clothes and my Featherweight Singer sewing machine, that I owned. It had been a gift from my parents that I had begged for in high school and could never dream of replacing or even fixing, if the dust had ruined it. The record was toast but I carefully cleaned the record player of all the dust I could see. There was no way of knowing how much had sifted below the turntable into the workings of the machine. I tested it with another record and it seemed to be working okay but I felt that someone should replace the record. I went to the dorm mothers with my complaint and once again received a lecture about my antisocial and uncooperative attitude. Whether they had been alerted by Dean Warren to the anarchist in their midst or whether they simply had no idea how to deal with hard-working poor students with some sense of themselves as individuals with rights, I will never know, but this experience, as well, did not do much to improve my opinion of the class system in America.
I cannot remember how I did it, but somehow I had managed to land myself in the dorm room across the hall from Bonnie Friedman, a good friend of Roy’s, who had, no doubt, been instructed to watch over me, even though she was younger than me. Being a genius, she had been admitted to FSU at age 16 and had, the preceding year, been one of four students who had brought FSU a victory on the TV game show, College Bowl. One of the other contestants had also been a friend of Roy’s, but Roy had not been chosen, I suspect because of his rap sheet and that he probably came off as arrogant and superior to the judges at the tryout. Most people saw him that way. Bonnie and Claire Kemper were prettier and much more conventionally charming and had not yet been busted or suspended for subversive activities. Had anyone known just how subversive they really were, I doubt they would have been chosen to represent FSU on national television.
Bonnie’s roommate was also, peripherally, a member of Roy’s coterie. What free time I had was often spent across the hall with Bonnie, Claire Freiberger and Lorraine. Between the three of them, I received the female bohemian viewpoint, an entirely new experience. A precious memory is the day early in the semester when my roommate was gone and we amused ourselves in my room, located across the street from sorority row, watching women participating in the ritual that might get them tapped for membership in a sorority. This involved walking from sorority house to sorority house, dressed to the nines, and doing God only knows what at each one inside. I imagine it involved teacups. The women went in groups, wearing flat shoes because of all the walking involved, and carrying their high heels, which they all unceremoniously put on at each doorstep, leaving their flats piled up chaotically outside.
Once their feet were appropriately clad, after the most awkward and unseemly maneuvering imaginable, involving the attempt to not drop their clutch handbags while changing shoes or fall over sideways and dirty their fancy clothes, they would all straighten up, tug on their ensemble and look around self-consciously to see if anyone saw them. They never noticed us at the window, across the street five floors up, hanging onto each other and giggling insanely at the complete stupidity of anyone who would go through all that just to get into a sorority. We figured they deserved whatever they got. I was sad to learn that I had missed it the preceding year, when Bonnie and Lorraine claimed they had followed several groups and hidden their flats while the women were inside participating in whatever silliness was required. Watching their antics from the window was as close as I ever got to engaging in a college prank.
It was only four months, but it was the most important four months of my life in terms of explaining what happened to me in Berkeley. There was no going back after that. It was the point of no return in a life that, had they seen it coming, would have turned most people around.
I heard the word “anthropology” for the first time, made love to classical music, learned way more about the House UnAmerican Activities Committee than I knew before, had my first orgasm and, for the very first time in my life, experienced what it was like to be truly popular “with the boys.” I was popular because freethinking, intelligent, non-virgin women, in relation to males with those virtues, were in short supply, certainly in that time and place, maybe elsewhere as well, I cannot say. Every single heterosexual avant-garde male in Tally wanted to meet me–I hardly knew how to react to that.
I was in so many ways a naif, and more sophisticated people were eager to educate me. Although Roy had fed me existentialism from high school on, and I had already read Kafka, Camus, de Beauvoir, and Dostoyevsky, Roy’s friends did not know that and assumed I was the illiterate I must have appeared to them. I remember being regarded intently by one of the Tally men at a quite unconventional party, and being told earnestly, “I think you’re ready for Dostoyevsky.” As a come-on, it failed utterly, so insulted was I that he would imagine I had not already read Dostoyevsky.
Some sense of my experience at FSU is conveyed by an excerpt from a short story I wrote the year after I left, probably to cope with the shock of finding myself expelled again:
It was that kind of night. The kind where the excitement bubbles and churns down in some isolated nook of your mind or soul or whatever and, in spite of your most judicious efforts to ignore it, still causes your carefully maintained veneer to wrinkle a little here and there. There was, for a change, just enough soft breeze to rustle the leaves in the pecan tree outside my open fifth floor window.
The tree was the best part of the room, to me. It was my fantasy escape route. It was one of the reasons I wanted that particular room at all, in addition to its location across the hall from Bonnie, among all the other identical rooms in that modern prison-like building. Everyone else came up the elevator in the center and went down the tight little hallways to their own room with the number over the door, and was stuck there until morning, when the doors would open and let them out. But, I was blessed among women. When the weight of all those rooms above and beside and below me threatened to flatten my soul into pulp, I could leave my body there as a decoy, and let my soul escape out my window and down my tree, where it fluttered free into the night, hoping for adventure.
Dorm sounds murmered as I brushed my hair and did a passable impersonation of a girl who went parties every night. My roommate watched from her neat half of the room, from behind her bland and proper face, without envy. It was her opinion that someday my facade would fail, my surface would crack and my sanity would erupt through the cracks like a volcano. She was not far from wrong, as it turned out. For her, I was an unknown variable, prone to unexpected actions and remarks, far too serious and far too enthusiastic. It was not fear on her part, but it was certainly caution.
Done with my musings, I finally threw my brush on the bed, picked up my only sweater from under my dresser and sauntered out into the hall. The dorm was almost deserted, since it was 8 o’clock Friday night and the women all dated ritually at 7:30. It would not be a long evening, since I would have to be back by midnight, lockup time. Occasionally, as I walked down the hall, a sigh or other sad sound oozed out from under a door and tried to form a slick place on the floor for me to slip on. Friday nights in the women’s dorm were hazardous. If you were home, you were a failure. I could be easily distracted by sorrow, perhaps even knocking on a door to check on the occupant. Tonight, however, I was invulnerable. One more minute, down the elevator and out of the building, and I could rush into the fresh air and, for a limited time, there would be freedom.
There was welcoming warmth and activity in the front yard as I approached the house with its windows lit only enough to appear bright from the outside. I stood for a moment in the shadows, shivering slightly, whether from chill, trepidation or excitement, I could not tell. People in the yard talked loudly and rapidly, gesturing freely, silhouetted by the windows like so many black jungle shadows. Then, out of the dark, up the steps, into the house.
Standing in front of the fireplace, a half-dozen people of both sexes and a range in age held plastic cups full of red wine and spoke seriously to each other about existentialism or politics or free love or peyote or some completely unpredictable and absurd subject that had popped into their minds five minutes ago. In lesser-lit locations, a few people sat alone, watching. In a corner, a woman I did not recognize read palms.* I made a note to search her out later. Incredibly wonderful things were yelled across the room from one old friend to another. Bert sat on a rocking chair in middle of the ruckus, like a wise old rock, inevitable pipe poking from the appropriate facial crevice. Rick, with eyes like a living apology, produced a drink for me and began his highly predictable chant.
“You’re beautiful, Baahbrahh, you’re so beautiful. God, you’re so beautiful,” giving my name a Southern double beat on each syllable and turning the r into ah, repeating his mantra as if repetition would make it true. Soon, the chant became a part of the night, of the party, and it was possible for me to hear other voices, other songs, other messages. The drink stopped the shivering. My stomach relaxed, my hands unclenched, my neck supported my head more like a live oak branch than a yellow pine tree trunk. I evaded Rick and found a sheltered spot in the kitchen in which to acclimate to the odd comeraderie, not that I had not seen it before, but it had been a while. Roger left the group by the fireplace to come into the kitchen and lean his long self on the counter next to me, eyebrows arched inquiringly.
In a bedroom, Lorrie was singing a cappella, her voice, as always, so haunting and unexpectedly beautiful, coming from one so otherwise intimidating. From somewhere, I could hear Bonnie holding forth on a literary point. Her roomie, ethereal Claire, fragile as a butterfly, uttered an unexpected oath, surrounded by an eager group of her admirers. She did it often, just because, I suspected, it was so incongruous with her looks. High up on the stair, Roy laughed his incomparable laugh, so real in the midst of all his affectations, head thrown back, never so happy as he was now, among his carefully chosen old friends. Holding two drinks as if they were sacraments, he descended, priest-like, casting his blessing on all and sundry. I wondered for the millionth time if he appeared so absolutely certain of everything because he was or because he wasn’t.
*I did, incidentally, actually consult the palm reader at the party described and received the amazingly accurate prediction that I would always be poor and would never have a “real” lasting marriage, but that there would be many children in my life. It was quite a thing to say to a nice Southern girl at a university party back then and not the kind of prediction one might have made to a stranger by guessing. My interest in the paranormal might have been sparked right there at that party.
The description is based on actual parties that I did attend through Roy in Tallahassee during my semester there. My effort to fictionalize a composite party is some indication of the semi-mythological status that semester Tally attained for me shortly after it happened and then for the remainder of my life. It turned out to be, not a step in my career, but a philosophical experience that opened the door out of the South for me. It was the door I needed and was ready for and that was why it did so much in such a short period of time.
One of the best things that came out of Tallahassee for me that semester was that I began to learn to play the guitar. Although I was much in demand as one of the few interesting women available, the demand did not take the form of ordinary dating. Therefore, on a Friday or Saturday night, when most of the other women had conventional dates, I was most likely to be found alone in my room with a book. This situation changed because of Claire F. What little social time I had was often spent across the hall with Bonnie, where my path sometimes also crossed Claire’s.
Claire had obtained a classical guitar from one of her many admirers, apparently as a more or less permanent loan, but she viewed it mainly as a prop. I never saw or heard her play it. Anytime I was in the room across the hall, I could not resist touching the guitar wistfully. Finally Claire took pity on me and, knowing that I was a singer, said that any time she was not there I could take it into my room and try to learn to play it. Bonnie, a pianist, knew how to tune it and that was all I needed to get started. I had taught myself to fiddle, more or less, as a child under similar circumstances. I was sure I could figure out the guitar.
Since Claire, unlike me, never lacked for a date on Friday and Saturday night, those were my music nights. Because of my church background, and all the singing that was done at home, in harmony, with my mother and sister, and because I had played fiddle by ear, I had no difficulty picking out folk melodies on the guitar. Once I had done that, it was a simple matter to find a harmony note and then another one. From there, I learned simple chords and by the end of the semes
ter I could play and sing a number of Joan Baez folksongs, as well as simple hymns. Someone gave me a Theodore Bikel songbook with chord diagrams and so I learned a few more chords and the names of the ones I had discovered on my own. I would play for hours, until my fingers bled on the strings. Then I got my calluses, and showed them to Claire, who breathed a sigh of relief that her fingers would never be that ugly.
Hearing of my efforts, a sympathetic male friend provided me with a tip, that Sears and Roebuck in downtown Tally was having a sale. There were el cheapo guitars available for six dollars a piece. It was quite an unjustifiable splurge for me but I went downtown and bought my first clunker guitar. The only thing that can be said for it is that it was mine and I could take it with me when I had to leave Claire’s guitar behind. You could, with determination, make recognizable chords on it, but it was not easy. Guitars have been a constant in my life ever since, the most steadfast of friends, more sympathetic than lovers, more reliable than husbands, and an object of jealousy from both, with the exception of my fourth husband, a musician. Children and men have come and gone but my guitar has always been there.
Out on my ear, again
As all of this was happening to me, political turmoil simmered unchecked, but this time not about integration. There was a big push to rid FSU of homosexuals, by a state senator running for re-election named “Uncle Charlie” Johns (his name will appear again in the chapter on race relations.) Ridding FSU of “queers” was one of his central campaign promises. Roy had alerted me to that situation while I was still at Norman:
[Referring to actions against gay people] Take courage with your lot at the badBaptistbackwoodsbrainwashery. Things at FSU don’t seem a hell of a lot better right now. Ole Uncle Charlie Johns, of witch-hunting-in-Gainesville fame, is here in person, sans committee, as the story goes, but with the same intentions for FSU that he had for U of F. This, needless to say, is very bad. Legend has it that he is after the girls this time. And that the Dean of Women, goddamn her, has 16 girls working for her and the Dean of Men has 66 boys working for him and that some of them are paid, like, $15 a week. They must pay them in half-dollars, you know, 30 pieces of silver. Gee, Dad, what a nifty way to work my way through college. . . October, 1960, Tallahassee
There was thus an awful lot of fevered conversation around me on that subject and, as always, the subject of personal freedom in general. I had to believe it when one of my gay men friends got very serious on me one day and said, referencing my nonconformity, “You must leave the south. If you do not leave the south, you will end up either committing suicide, being involuntarily committed to the loony bin [they could do that, then, and did it all the time to mouthy women], going to jail or becoming an alcoholic. There is no hope here for women like you.” I believed him and I still believe him and I am deeply grateful to him for saying that to me. I asked him, “Where shall I go?” and he said, “San Francisco, that’s the only place in the world for you.” In that moment, my goal in life changed from making it to Tally to making it to San Francisco. And, it was good to have an alternate goal as I endured my second experience of being unjustly thrown out of school.
My expulsion from Florida State University was due to not only to the severity of the rules applying to women and to the philosophy of guilt-by-association, but also to my health issues, which were directly due to my poverty. I was working 20 hours a week and taking 18 hours of class. That, plus the oversensitivity I had to authority after my imprisonment at Norman College, made me very nervous and rundown. I lost 10 pounds that semester. I was five feet, four inches tall, with a string bean build to start with, but 89 pounds was really, really too skinny. I was overworked, sleep-deprived, and malnourished from my all-starch and insufficient diet. I had a period that started in October and ended in January and I had no idea that ill-health could be the cause. I was supposed to be fearing no period, not extended periods.
Mental issues were also coming into the forefront for me. I had been having nightmares, which was not all that unusual for me, since I had been troubled by nightmares since childhood, probably due to PTSD, but they increased in frequency and vividness during that semester. I was also having experiences that might have been auditory hallucinations. I heard trains that no one else heard. While Tallahassee certainly had trains, they were not that near campus or where I worked. I should not have been able to hear them in either place or even outside waiting for the bus. When I described the sound to Roy, he said I was describing the sound of old-fashioned trains that had not been in Tallahassee for many years. Trains from my babyhood beside the railroad tracks, I thought.
I was certainly nervous and prone to crying but, as it has been all my life, my external circumstances were such that it is hard to say what might or might not have been normal about my reactions to them. My terrifying freshman year had raised questions about my sanity for some people and I have to admit that my behavior did not meet the standards for female normalcy in Norman Park, Georgia, in 1960. I had very little factual information or expert guidance to rely on but it was clear to me that this was a central issue in my life and I needed to come to some conclusion about it.
In spite of all the efforts to keep it a family secret, I had known since childhood that my mother had had “a nervous breakdown.” I knew that many people believed there was a genetic factor in mental illness but, having no clue as to what had caused my mother’s problem, I had no way of assessing how much of a danger it posed to me. This situation influenced my life for years and figured into my decision later to experiment with LSD, then being looked at as a treatment for schizophrenia. In Tallahassee, that factor, added to the nightmares, insomnia, emotional lability and possible hallucinations, did nothing to reduce my general level of anxiety.
Sometime in late November, as I puzzled over the failure of my October period to completely stop, I began to ask my women friends what I should do. Bonnie, who later became a psychiatrist, advised me strongly not to go to the campus medical service because as soon as it was ascertained that I was not a virgin, that information would be forwarded to the Dean of Women to be used against me as needed. She assured me that she knew of cases of that happening. There was among us a legitimately pregnant married woman, a former student who had dropped out. She gave me the name of her doctor, assuring me that he was a sweet old fatherly type and the soul of discretion. Whatever he knew about me, she said, she believed it would remain confidential. I forgive you, Carol.
I scraped up the money for an office visit. I described my situation and was examined. The doctor told me that the extended period was caused by my emaciated and overtired condition and that the only solution was to either drop out of school or quit working. If I did not do one or the other, he said, I would only get worse and could well have a nervous breakdown. I told him that there was no such choice open to me, that there was only six weeks left in the semester and that I would try to make it through those six weeks and then review my options. He said that he did not recommend that course of action.
When Christmas vacation came along, I was faced with another female-only problem. The dorms would be closed for two weeks, but my job working for the state would continue. Men who lived in the dorms were allowed to stay in Tallahassee in whatever way they could manage, but women who lived in the dorms could only stay with a family pre-approved in writing by their parents. I knew no families in Tallahassee with whom to stay. I only had Roy, who shared a house with several men friends. My only option was to stay there and hope to not get caught. They would all be gone and they all agreed, on the condition that if I did get caught, I would never reveal where I was staying, since they could all get expelled as well, for what crime I am not entirely sure. Moral turpitude or something, I expect. Mike, the man I had met in Atlantic City, would come from Penn and stay with me in their house.
The plan worked fine until the very end, when the FSU vacation ended before the University of Pennsylvania vacation ended. Mike wanted to spend as much time as he could with me and I was not ready to leave him, either. During his two week visit, we had decided together that I really was too sick to make it to the end of the semester without even more disastrous consequences. He urged me to seek a medical dismissal, which would cause me to lose all my credit for that semester, but would not impede my ability to re-enter FSU or some other college in the future. He would pay for my plane ticket to Philadelphia and we would live together there until my health improved, when I could then decide what to do.
I went to the doctor and told him that I had decided to take his earlier advice and both quit my job and drop out. He congratulated me on my good sense and said that he certainly would write me a letter in support of my application for a medical dismissal. Then he asked me where I would go. I told him I would go to Philadelphia. When he asked why there, I said because my boyfriend lives there. He already suspected I was breaking dorm rules by even being in Tally, but I had allowed him to think I had permission. He knew Mike was also there because he had seen me with him getting off the bus to the clinic. Silly me, I figured, “Oh well, whatever he suspects, I’m covered by medical confidentiality.”
But, that was when he said that he would not support my application for a medical dismissal if what I was going to do was run away with my boyfriend. I told him I was not running away from anything, I had not really lived with my parents since I was 16 and I was going to Philly because there was simply no other place I could go. Did my destination change my medical condition, I asked him. Needless to say, he was not in the mood for such challenges. I left the office knowing that I was about to receive the shaft. It would not be the last time a male doctor used his position to try to impose his patriarchal morality on me.
Roy had stayed with some friends so that Mike and I could keep his room for a few more days. I was supposed to be back in the dorm, but I had been told that many women were late coming back from Christmas vacation and it was usually not a problem. It was a mistake for me to have relied on that information but, by now, I really was not thinking clearly. Predictably, my roommate, who had been looking for a good way to get rid of me all semester, immediately reported my absence to the dorm mothers, who relayed the information to Dean Warren. Bonnie appeared at Roy’s house the same day with the message that Dean Warren was contacting my parents and that I was to call her immediately. Clearly, I was not to be given the same kind of leniency on being late back from Christmas vacation that women not oin the bad attitude group were routinely given.
I called Dean Warren in the presence of Bonnie, Mike, Roy, and three very nervous housemates, all watching me intently. I explained to her why I had had to stay in Tallahassee and that I had not expected such a reaction about my being late a few days back to the dorm when I knew that many women had been late in the past. I did not mention that I had not been alone. She told me that she had received a phone call from my doctor, who had told her that I had been in Tallahassee with my boyfriend, unchaperoned, during the vacation. She asked me where I had been staying. I told her, while looking deeply into Roy’s eyes, that I would not tell her that.
She said that, if I would not tell her in whose house I had been staying, I could consider myself expelled. I asked her what the charges were against me. She reacted as if no one had ever asked her that question and answered, “Well, what do you expect for me to do? You knew the rules and you broke them.” I reminded her that I had done my utmost to get proper permission to live off campus precisely to avoid a situation where my job hours would conflict with dorm rules, but that she had been unwilling to make that completely reasonable exception and I had thus been forced to break the rule in order to keep my job and stay in school.
I told her that the doctor in question had been completely willing to help me get a medical dismissal for the most legitimate of medical reasons, until I had said that I was moving to Philadelphia and that my boyfriend lived there. I said that, had the doctor respected my medical confidentiality, not jumped to conclusions, and behaved in an ethical manner, this situation would never have arisen because I would have applied for a medical dismissal as soon as school started again, stayed in the dorm until I got it (people had told me that could happen fast) and never have been late back to the dorm. But, once again, my excellent legal arguments had no effect on authority figures devoted to the concept of in loco parentis. She then said I could fix the whole thing if I simply provided her with a list of people I knew, never mind whose house I had stayed in. Hello, Joe McCarthy. I restrained myself from telling her to go fuck herself and said I was not going to do that, either.
When I hung up the phone, I received the sincere sympathy of a roomful of relieved people and headed for the dorm to pack. I knew it was pointless to go to student court to defend myself. I had already been through that farce in Georgia. I left a nasty phone message for the doctor, made a few snide remarks to my roommate on being such a snitch, wished her the boring and uneventful life I knew she longed for, packed up one suitcase and my guitar and kissed FSU goodbye. Mike and I got on a plane within a day or two, my first plane ride, and headed north. Bonnie promised to pack up the few belongings I could not take with me. Roy promised to locate my Theodore Bikel songbook from wherever I had mislaid it in his house and guard it with his life until I had an address he could sent it to. I feared that some other folkie hopeful would snag it.
The hardest part was leaving Roy. I had come to Tallahassee imagining that we would soon be a couple, but I had been in for a rude awakening. Bonnie hastened to inform me that Roy was in love with Claire K., a divorcee living off campus with her two children. I had assimilated this information with some equanimity. After all, Roy had not been my only reason for coming, but it was not until I met Claire that the futility of my fantasy became crystal clear. Claire was everything Roy would want—beautiful, intelligent, poised, accomplished, the daughter of professors, sophisticated, witty. Even her name was classy. When he took a group of us to her house and she served us sherry in real sherry glasses with nuts in a nut dish, I thought it was just about the most casually urbane thing I had ever seen. I took one look at her and said to myself, “That’s the competition? Forget it. Next to her, you really are a redneck.”
Roy did, in fact, marry her much later, but in Tallahassee, she was more interested in Roy’s housemate, Len. Decades later, Len and I reconstructed the chain of love obtaining in Tallahassee. I loved Roy, he loved Claire, she loved Len and he loved Phyllis, along with several other people. Who Phyllis loved, no one knew. Bonnie also loved Roy, but neither of us were Claire. I had adapted quickly to the situation, fended off the proposal from my former Georgia boyfriend, Ben, who had driven down from Moultrie to see me and been shocked by both the state of my health and my reincarnation as a beatnik, and looked forward to Mike’s promised Christmas visit.
Now, Roy begged me to stay. He said I could hang on to my job, maybe get more hours or find an additional job. He would find me a room in a house with his friends and I could reapply to FSU down the road. But, I was in desperate need of some emotional security and tender loving care and, as long as Roy was pursuing Claire, I knew he would not be the source of it. I was just too exhausted by my independence to stay in what now seemed to me to be a pit of chaos. I was ready to rest and be loved, for a change.
I had never gone against Roy’s wishes before and neither of us was accustomed to it. As I left for the airport with Mike, Roy turned up his record player and feigned deep interest in the female companion I could see in his room, the door to which he had left open expressly, I knew, for this purpose. It was his way of saying, “Go ahead, leave, and see if I care.” I recognized it as the reprimand it was but I knew he would get over it and, anyway, I thought, where do you come off playing jealous lover, now, when I could have used it much earlier on? The music was Franz Liszt, Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2. I could never hear it again without reliving that moment.
Once again, I feared that this was the end of my college career, but I hoped that changing my geographical location would help, somehow. I was, for the first time but not the last, choosing love and safety over independence. I suppose it could be argued, in the context of the time, that I was running away with my boyfriend, and I was running away much more than I was going, but I saw the boyfriend part as incidental. Had there been another destination possible, I could as easily have chosen it. Most importantly, the South had defeated me. Roy and his followers had the resources and the background to fight it. I knew I did not.
Every last one of them was what my family would consider a Yankee, their families having moved to Florida from the north—no swamp-rat Florida-cracker roots for them to overcome. That fact alone gave them an edge I did not have. Every one of them had grown up in a city on the coast, not in the middle of what Claire K. liked to call “the piney woods.” Every last one of them was middle-class already. It is true that not all of them had enough money to not work at all. In fact, all but Bonnie did work, at least in the summertime, but I do not believe anyone there had to come up with as much of their expenses as I did, at least while working against such strong antipathy from their families, or slog through the kind of discouraging experiences I had had in Georgia and Atlantic City. When, years later, I tried to explain this part of my reasoning on leaving Tally to Claire, using stories from Georgia to support it, she slapped me down hard by saying, “Oh, come on, you’re making this up. That never happened to anybody.” Roy and I had stared at her, speechless, then at each other. We both knew it was true.