I dreamt the other night in a different mode than usual for me of late. Most recent dreams have been what I will characterize as “post-retirement” dreams, maybe even “post-retirement blues” dreams. Not dreams deeply, terribly blue, but dark enough, remembrances frequently of former students (I’ve taught more than a thousand –too many years of large lectures) and faculty colleagues, in surreal circumstances (naturally, as of course I’m in a dream), that include usually a good deal of danger – an imminent strange battle perhaps, or somewhat similar circumstance – whatever the specifics, for some reason an air of danger and violence pervades. But what is reason in a dream? Dreams, in any case, that cause me to awaken and say to myself or aloud (who cares? I live alone) “What in the name of all the gods was THAT about?!?”
The dream in question seemed composed in a different key, still blue, but closer to the shade of an only slightly “triste” blue, “triste” French for sad, wistful – lovely word, triste…
In it, I am walking with a young woman – am I young in the dream? I think so, it’s a young man’s dream it seems to me, but I might be older in it – it’s sometimes difficult to see myself clearly in my dreams. And in regards to women, I fear I have not changed. The body has corroded, the mind is that of a sadder but wiser fellow, but as a woman much wiser (if not more sad) than I once explained to me: “The limbic knows no time.”
In the brain, the limbic system is concerned with emotion and memory, among other functions. In matters concerning love between me and a woman, even though my body and mind have deteriorated, I have remained emotionally as I was left after my first romantic kiss (in fifth grade, dancing with Sonia Menchaca – wow!). Not necessarily a good thing. Nor a bad.
Back to the dream: I am walking with a young woman I do not know to whom I am attracted, as she it seems is to me. We do not talk much, if at all, simply stroll through a variety of landscapes. We do not hold hands but we are physically very close to each other, and our hands brush at times. In the fleeting seconds of those hand-brushes we glance quickly at one another and smile or even laugh lightly…and our walk continues.
The brushing of the hands and the glances of acknowledgement also somehow indicate to us that whatever this walk is, wherever it leads – and it doesn’t seem to matter where it leads – neither the walk nor the feeling will last.
And then I wake up. When I do, there is no thought of “What in the name of all the gods was THAT about?!?” Instead I smile, slightly, as I did with the young woman in the dream, and lie there feeling neither happy, nor unhappy – perhaps a trifle triste…
And then a few memories of real women came back to me, women I barely knew who attracted me, and for whom I was attractive. After which brief interlude(s) nothing more came of the fleeting encounter(s).
In that early morning post-surreal “awakening” there were three brief encounters from my waking life that came back to me. I first thought of a young woman I was introduced to just after I graduated from high school, with the intriguing name of Aldema Ridge…
A word (many words, let’s face it) about my love life up to that point. For me love was nearly always present but never requited, in part because I never let the objects of my affection know of my love. Let’s return briefly to Sonia Menchaca (whew!), and her best friend Suzie Kerr. We were all living on an Air Force base and attended school together there. I was told, by whom I don’t remember, to beware Sonia and Suzie, that they both dated airmen. Now, I was a very callow young fellow (in FIFTH grade and they dated airman? impossible!), but I believed it, and though both Sonia and Suzie flirted outrageously with me the mere thought of their experience terrified me, so to paraphrase Shakespeare “I never told my love.” If love it was.
Now that I am ruminating on it, perhaps that formative experience explains a good deal about much of my love life thereafter. In seventh grade I was madly in love with Carol Anne Cooke, the most beautiful girl in the class. I was now on another Air Force base but attended a public school off base. I was there for only a year, but it was long enough for me to develop a crush on Carol Anne Cooke (as well as one on another seventh grader, Vicki Bartlett), but Carol Anne alas was in love with Tommy Toombs, who was the finest athlete in our grade. I made a few male friends that year (though not the alliteratively named Tommy Toombs), one of them a fellow named John Henry (not he of hammer fame). I told John Henry of my unrequited love for Carol Anne, which was, I was to find out, a very naïve and foolish thing to do. Shortly after my true confession, I received a phone call one evening. No one EVER called me on the telephone! But when my mother or father called me to the phone and I answered, who began to speak to me on the other end but Carol Anne Cooke?!? We spoke for a long time and confessed our affection for each other, then said our phone farewells with expressions of delight – we couldn’t wait to see each other the next day! I was on a high that I had never experienced (except perhaps for an instant with Sonia Menchaca), as, floating on air, I walked to school, at the entrance of which John Henry caught up with me and told the truth. It had been HE who had called, and using his best imitation of la plus belle Cooke, had gulled me completely!
Thank all the gods that have to do with amor that he DID catch me before I entered and threw myself at Carol Anne! I was too dazed and confused to be angry at this stunt almost straight out of Shakespeare (same play as paraphrased above by the way). Of course neither of us was versed in the Bard as yet, so John Henry’s clever joke/complete betrayal was original, and devastating. Recall in Twelfth Night Malvolio gulled not by a phone call (not possible except in an updated version) but by a letter written by Maria in the hand of her mistress (“make the sweet babbling gossip of the air cry out”) Olivia, and the merriment that ensued. When I encountered that play much later, played in Orsino in it actually – I was very good, though in retrospect I should have been cast as Malvolio – the dark incident from seventh grade leapt back into my mind!
Cut to high school, from which time I can count on one hand (literally, not figuratively) the number of dates I had. This was partly because I did not learn to drive (why? another story altogether, and one not as pleasant as this), partly because, as I’ve already noted, while my love was near constant – there are several I could name from high school, though some of them are Facebook friends and I couldn’t bear them to know – I never told my love.
There are actually only two dates that I remember specifically. The first was with Barbara Snell, a small, mousy young woman (but what a voice she had!) who played the lead in our high school musical, The Bells Are Ringing. I played Jeff Moss opposite her. I was very good; she was even better. I’m certain that the attraction was thespianical in origin* and therefore slightly surreal. We and I think one other theatrically minded couple went on a date, possibly to dinner first, I’m not remembering that for certain, to the Warner Theatre, one of the classiest movie palaces in Washington, DC (it later became a porn palace, alas and alack) to see a screening of My Fair Lady. Wouldn’t you know, a musical. As I remember we all had a great time, and as I also remember nothing in the way of romance came of it. Barbara and I studiously avoided each other for a time, and then, as with all high school musicals, the thrill of our performances wore off both for us and for others, and we resumed our mere friendship. But, thespianical as it might have been, there was more of the real world in it than the three ephemeral trysts I will eventually address here. But not before a
Slight sidebar: Re the “others” just above, the only times I was ever adored (“I was adored…once” – I seem to keep quoting from Twelfth Night) by women in high school were a few fleeting days after the high school play I was in (and I was in all of them). Lots of attention paid to me then, but by the time I began to be brave enough even to think of acting my of the attention, what shall I say? For the ladies, the thrill had gone.
*dictionary (but whose?) definition of thespianical – adj. pertaining to a theatrical liaison (includes summer stock romance), which by its very nature renders it a mere illusion, a phantasmal creation that can feel a little like a dream, for that is all it is. Origin: from Thespis, an early actor/writer of dithyrambs (see below)and tragedies in the era just before the heyday of ancient Athenian theatre. Writers at the time typically also acted in their plays, and Thespis is much better known as the actor who stepped out of the chorus line and sang “kiss today goodbye, and point me toward tomorrow…” kidding of course…who stepped out of the chorus line and “answered” it, creating theatrical dialogue from what had previously been simple choral odes in praise of Dionysos, called dithyrambs.
The second and last actual high school date I have any memory of (there were one or two more, I think…at least I hope! Just now remembering…I think I MIGHT have taken a younger student to a cast party once, plied her and me with seven & sevens – ugh! and regretted it mightily) was a completely arranged outing. I was on the executive council of the Student Government Association (SGA). Its treasurer was a tall, dark-haired, bright but brooding Italian named Barbara Lavezzo (interesting that the only two high school dates I remember fully paired me and two Barbaras, granted two completely different brands of Barbara). Ferne Brandon, the adviser to student government – love the name Ferne, right? – got wind of the fact that neither Lavezzo nor I had a date to the senior prom and that we both had decided independently of one another to skip it. She brought formidable/faculty/Ferne power to bear, arguing that it would be unseemly for two members of the SGA, who had helped plan the prom, to not show up at it – this argument in front of both of us…mortification!!! She pretty much ordered us to go together, and knowing that I did not drive (sigh…see above, but you won’t find much as that’s a story for another blog), even arranged for us to double-date with another couple. I do believe that the night went all right, though I think I stepped all over poor Lavezzo’s toes attempting to dance with her. In addition to all my other failings/insecurities/ neuroses, I fear that I am NOT Fred Astaire (not even Fred Mertz) on the dance floor. There may even have been a second date, though if there was I remember none of the specifics…and then as all matches made in SGA heaven go, it petered out. I really believe that Ferne thought the pair of us a good match, alas.
And now, FINALLY, far too many words later, back to the three women that my dream inspired me to remember.
Aldema Ridge was an equestrienne, petite with dark auburn hair, fairly quiet, very bright. I do not remember who introduced us. She did not go to our high school (remember that this encounter occurred just after I graduated), but to a private school in the Washington DC area. Aldema…Aldema Ridge, what an exotic, intriguing name, at least to this young graduate steeped in Romantic poetry and novels…perhaps most closely fits the description of my dream, as I remember little else but quiet walks, hands brushing, though as I remember no lips touching, and then, after a short time, a parting.
The parting had much to do with my family’s move to Florida during the summer after my senior year. But I wonder now if I even asked for Aldema’s address so that I could write her? Possibly, and possibly a few letters passed between us…but no more. I confess that I still on occasion think of those few days that summer spent walking alongside an enigmatic and elusive equestrienne with fondness. It is right and proper that hers was the first name/vision that came to mind just after my dream, as it might have been Aldema Ridge that inspired it.
The second dream-like brief encounter occurred only about a year later, when I was in the US Air Force (4 years in the Vietnam era 1966-70, but no Vietnam thank you – instead Germany, then the National Security Agency) on leave ahead of flying to my assignment at a small town in Germany, called Hof. My sister Judy introduced me, on this three or four week leave, to one of her high school classmates, a tall, good-looking, willowy blonde named Claudia, and immediately I became infatuated. Our walks this time were along the beach (my family lived not far from the ocean in the vicinity of Cape Canaveral, FL). Again, I remember almost nothing from our walks and talks, though this time instead of a mere brushing of hands, the affair became somewhat more passionate. Claudia was at least as infatuated as I was and we spent much time in my bedroom as well as on walks – nothing unseemly, mind you, but some “making out.” Usually accompanied by some of my favorite vinyl LP record albums. I do believe that it was Claudia who introduced me to serious kissing…hmmm…mmmmm…At any rate, we were smitten, promised to write each other, and as a sign of good faith I loaned her some of my sacred LPs – not that they were of sacred music, but that they were the holy of holies for me! One among them I had just purchased. It was a Tony Bennett album called Songs for the Jet Set, which included two of my favorite songs, “Corcovado” (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars) and another bossa nova style song, sung to perfection by Tony Bennett, “How Insensitive.”
Then she took me to her house to meet her mother, and the dream crash-landed into an ugly reality. Her mother was a mess, the house was a mess, and in the small living room there were at least ten cats, hovering on various perches, all staring at me, as the smell of kitty litter, unsifted for some time apparently, almost overwhelmed me. Fortunately for me the visit was short and while I hid it from Claudia and mother from hell, I was gasping.
But I had already loaned her my records, I was leaving imminently, and there was nothing to be done about it, but for me to ponder on the one hand our dreamy infatuation and Claudia’s kisses, on the other all things cat that I would almost certainly have to live with had our relationship continued. So off I flew to Germany, and one or two letters were exchanged before, but I had already forgotten Claudia and her cats, and more or less wrote her off, telling her that alas, alas for she and me, a lasting love ours ne’er would be. I didn’t use those words, just waxing a tad poetical as I am writing this…
I don’t remember if I heard back from Claudia, but I DO remember that when I returned on another leave, about a year and a half later, I found that my records had been returned to me (thank the muses of music!). I put on my favorite Tony Bennett album, but when the grooves got to the great “How Insensitive” the album started skipping. My younger readers won’t even know what I’m talking about, but it was all too easy to ruin part of an album by scratching it in those days. What was interesting about this particular album was that none of the other songs were touched by the scratch, so I looked at the album closely and noted a straight, deep line deliberately cut through the entirety of “How Insensitive.” The rest of the album was unblemished. Ah! Some of you won’t know the song! It’s worth printing the lyrics to the song, written by the excellent Antonio Carlos Jobim, here:
How insensitive I must have seemed
When she told me that she loved me
How unmoved and cold I must have seemed
When she told me so sincerely
Why she must have asked
Did I just turn and stare in icy silence
What was I to say
What can you say
When a love affair is over
There’s another great verse, but you get the idea.
Claudia had her revenge upon me! And I don’t think her friendship with my sister lasted either. (“I’ll be revenged, on the whole pack of you!”) Twelfth Night again, sorry…but it applies!
So, while Aldema Ridge is a dream complete, Claudia turned quickly enough from dream to nightmare. The third surreal liaison gets even more…interesting.
A brief interlude before the last remembrance after my dream – and this one will be brief, I promise. In Germany, I fell deeply in love, this time for real, and more deeply than any love before or after her. Karin Fritz was a few months older than I, and worked at the activities center on the tiny Hof Air Force Base. Her boss was a wacky old-ish English woman named Lenis Cartier, who must have once been a real fireball. She introduced me a drink called a French 75, which is not for the weak of heart. She also introduced me to Karin, a German national fluent in English with only slightly less perfect French. Lenis and I actually started the Hof Little Theatre Group, and we put on at least three plays before I left Germany. We became close and Lenis thought Karin the perfect match for me. I think Karin and I agreed on this, but we were both very shy about expressing our emotion. So crafty Lenis concocted a plan. She suggested that the three of us meet at a church in downtown Hof on an evening in which Mozart’s Requiem was being performed. Her treat. We jumped at the chance, the evening came, Karin and I showed up…but no Lenis! She had tricked us and oh boy it worked. It was a cold evening and the church was not heated, so we huddled together and listened to the strains of one gorgeous piece of music. Then we walked…and walked…and talked…and kissed. Ah! Ecstasy!
This part IS dreamy, isn’t it? But then a lot of reality se in and our encounter wasn’t brief and did not remain dreamlike. In fact I wanted it to be for life, and for a time at least Karin did too. Then I was reassigned (to the NSA of all places – curse you, USAF!), and much of the year (approximately) that we were to have together in Hof was quickly reduced to a matter of a few months. The reassignment changed things. Karin and I still had lovely times, but I could tell she was beginning to distance herself from me, and while we pledged that she would come to the U.S. within a few months of my departure, it was not to be. In fact at a dance on the base only a few days before my departure a rather dashing young Army guy taught her the Tennessee Waltz. She picked it up very quickly. My two left feet remained much as they had been when I stepped on Barbara Lavezzo’s toes at the prom, so I was no competition there. The end is like a movie – Karin was to meet me at the train, and she did, but she was running late. She brought me a farewell present, a German sausage (un phalliken symbol?), we kissed, and I looked back through an open window as the train pulled out and Karin ran to the end of the platform, waving…
Letters from Karin stopped shortly after my return to the US, a friend of mine wrote that she was in a relationship of sorts with the dancing Army charmer, and my heart was broken. Some of you may be thinking, the first date at a Requiem…hmmmm – that sorit of seals it, if you think back. But it was lovely for a time, and I still think that Karin Fritz might have been the love of my life.
Well, this interlude ended being anything but brief, but then which of my writings are ever brief?
The last of my three brief encounters is perhaps the strangest. This came a few years later. Two friends and I found an apartment (actually it was bequeathed to us kindly by my sister and her first husband) on the border of Maryland (Silver Spring specifically) and Washington DC. The NSA was about halfway between Baltimore and Washington, so we had to commute daily, and I still couldn’t drive, so Brian and Ernest shared the driving responsibilities – our rent seemed pricey at the time, but it was a pittance – a one bedroom apartment for $100 a month. Ernest and I slept in the bedroom, Brian in the living room, and later, after we’d all left the service, another Air Force buddy moved into the walk-in closet. You think I’m joking – don’t! So my monthly share in the rent dropped from $33.33 a month to $25 a month – oh, those golden days! And I was on the GI Bill, attending a community college, paid for by the Air Force, only a short bus ride away from the apartment.
This meant that I had a lot of reading and studying to do, and while the one bedroom apartment was fairly roomy, with four sharing it, there wasn’t a place conducive to study – not even the walk-in closet! So I went to the local library a good bit, where it so happened that a beautiful young woman with chestnut hair down to her waist – she was proud of it, you could tell – and rightly so was a library assistant. I checked out books ONLY when she was on the job, but I remained quite shy, and she was exceedingly so. Our “walks” consisted of clumsy “dances” around the library, she shelving books, me happening, accidentally on purpose, to the stacks where she was, a glance, a smile, perhaps a hand brushing as I helped her occasionally, no more. We discovered that she lived in the same apartment complex that I did, and waved to each other occasionally there, while a good bit of unrequited passion was building in each of us.
Then one night my roomies and I threw a party (we threw many in those days and most of them were pretty grand, but that’s a tale for another day) and this time I screwed my courage to the sticking place (the Bard again, finally from a play other than Twelfth Night – a tragedy, of course…hmmm) and a few days before struck up more of a conversation with my library friend (whose name I am ashamed to say I remember not. I DO remember her hair) than we’d ever attempted, and I said as casually as I could, that if she had nothing better to do she was welcome to come to the party. She said she’d think about it, thanks.
“A trip to the library – has made a new man of me…” couldn’t resist the paraphrase from one of my favorite musicals, She Loves Me.
The night of the party came and had nearly gone when she arrived. Then we did talk, and she stayed after the party, and before she left to go back to her own place, she kissed me. Deeply. I had never been kissed like that before, and I have never been since. “Her lips suck forth my soul…” (God this is getting literary – some of you at least will recognize Marlowe’s Faustus on the quality of a kiss from Helen of Troy).
And then she left, with some of my books in her hands – we were both intellectuals as well as in love, so of course I loaned her some of my favorites. And I never saw her again.
Shortly after, I found from asking around at the library, she had been admitted/committed to a facility for the mentally impaired. For what reason, I know not. And it was not me! (Could it have been? No, of course not, ours was too fleeting an encounter to cause such a result). No, this had been growing in her, I was told, for some time. How it manifested itself I know not, what specifically caused her to be taken I know not.
I confess that I lied when I wrote above that I never saw her. She appeared once again, a few months later. There was a knock on the apartment door, I opened it, and there she was! With her mother, and with the books she had borrowed from me in her hands. She said nothing, only smiled slightly, sadly as her mother explained that she was improving slowly, and that, if I didn’t mind, the returning of my books was a brief exercise in her re-socialization. She handed me my books, smiled again slightly, sadly, then she and her mother walked away and after that (telling the truth now, I promise) I never saw her again, never knew what became of her.
But I have thought of her on occasion, as I have thought of Aldema Ridge, and to a lesser extent of Claudia. Three phantasms, dream-like themselves, and appearing again, fleetingly, after my own recent, not unpleasant, but slightly triste, dream.