Chapter 1: Leaving Home
I drove to Penny's house with my mind going nine hundred miles an hour. I couldn't believe what I'd just heard. How could he?
When I got there, I was happy that Penny was in the back yard, by herself, reading a book. She looked at me strangely and she could see that I was in some kind of turmoil.
"What's wrong, Ron?" she asked sincerely.
"Penny, we have another assignment. We have to find my mother." I said in a rush.
"What? Why? I thought you never wanted to see her again." she said with a frown.
"I didn't ... at least ... not until this afternoon." I said with a sad voice. I reached in my pocket and pulled out my mother's letter to me. I had never shown it to anyone, but now everything was different. I handed it to Penny. "Read this." I said quietly.
Penny took the letter from my hand and read it without comment. When she had finished she still had that questioning look on her face. "What's changed, Ron. This is a difficult letter for you to accept, but I don't see how it changes anything."
"I was talking to Jeanine this afternoon and she calmly told me that she had been ... involved with my dad way before mom had anything to do with Mr. Robinson. She didn't seem to realize how important that information was to me and I didn't let on. It means that my dad was cheating on my mom way before she did her thing. It means this letter is true. It means she isn't the only one at fault."
"Oh, Ron. I'm so sorry. Of course, that changes everything. Oh dear, what have we done?" she began to cry. I put my arm around her.
"Penny, it's not your fault. I was the one who decided to send the letters and I was the one who got you involved in the first place." I said, trying to comfort her. We sat together for a few minutes while her tears dried and I had some time to think.
Penny and I had done something that I guess now we wish we had never done. I had discovered that my mother was having an affair with a Mr. Edwin Robinson, right under my dad's nose. It began when I saw Mom's car in the Robinson driveway one day and after we played junior detective, we figured out that Mom was seeing this guy on the sly. I was pretty close to my Dad and I decided that I had to let him know what was going on, so with Penny's help, we sent him a couple of anonymous typewritten notes giving him the lowdown on her whereabouts.
Well, my Dad went off the deep end when he found out about it and right away he kicked Mom out and started divorce proceedings. We were shocked at how he reacted, but we thought it was his right to be that upset. After the divorce, Mom just disappeared, but she wrote me a letter about how sorry she was and that she loved me and that Dad wasn't as nice as I thought he was and hadn't been for a long time. I didn't believe her, but I kept the letter anyway. Dad started seeing this younger woman, Jeanine, who was a real good-looker. She finally moved in with us and they got married. It was just about half way through my senior year in High School and I was thinking of what college I would go to, since I was getting scholarship offers for swimming.
So, this afternoon, when Jeanine told me that she and dad had been fooling around long before mom met Mr. Robinson, I was shocked. Dad had tricked me and I had hurt Mom when maybe she didn't deserve it. I was confused. Part of me was angry with Dad and part of me was upset with Mom.
"I can't see myself telling my dad what I know." I said finally to Penny. "Unless Jeanine realizes what she said and what it means, I still have to live there for a few months until I go to college. I don't know how my dad would act if he was found out. He threw mom out so quickly that anything could happen. I guess I'll just have to hope Jeanine doesn't figure it out. She's pretty clueless most of the time anyway." I said, thinking out loud.
Penny snorted her laugh at that last comment and then put her arm around me again. "How are we going to find your mom?"
"Well, the letter had a postmark from Salem, Oregon. She has an old friend living there; Aunt Hilda. I'm guessing she's staying there." I answered.
"Do you have her phone number? You could call her and tell what you know." Penny said. She always was a good thinker and I told her I would see if I could find her number when I went home. I just wasn't very anxious to head home right now. I didn't know what to expect when I got there. I shouldn't have worried. When I got home just before dinner time, everything was normal. Dad was puttering around in the kitchen and Jeanine was watching something on TV. I washed up and helped dad with the meal. I kept watching him to see if he was any different, but I couldn't see anything that might tell me if he knew what I knew.
Dad and Jeanine went to the movies like they always did on Saturday night, so I had lots of time to look for a phone number for Aunt Hilda without raising any suspicions. I searched high and low but couldn't find anything like a phone list or a memo book with that kind of information. I finally gave up after looking for a couple of hours. It was pretty obvious that dad had thrown out anything that belonged to mom. Worse than that, I had no idea what Aunt Hilda's last name was, so I couldn't find her number from information either.
The rest of the school year passed uneventfully in the household. Either Jeanine never figured out what she had told me or she had forgotten all about it, but either way, I never had any sense from dad that he thought I knew their secret. But, just the same, it was very uncomfortable for me. I thought my dad was a great guy all those years and then I find out he wasn't and it was a real let down.
I knew I was going to get a scholarship for swimming because I already had some written letters offering them. When I looked at which ones were the best for me, I finally narrowed it down to three; Iowa State, which was only a hundred and fifty miles from where we lived in Aberdeen, Illinois and last but not least, Oregon State. How these people had ever heard about me I'll never know, but there you go.
In the end, I was torn between Iowa State, because I would still be close to Penny and Oregon State, because the campus wasn't far from where my mom might be. It was a really hard decision, but when Penny got an academic scholarship at the local Junior College, it didn't matter where I went, I wasn't going to be very near to her. We talked about it and Penny thought I should try and find my mom and make it right with her. I think Penny still felt very guilty about what we had done, so I could understand her decision. I was sure she wasn't trying to get rid of me.
The one thing about Oregon State was that it was just about as far away from my dad as I could get. When I accepted their offer of the scholarship, they seemed pretty pleased, but not pleased enough to offer me even a bus ticket to Corvallis.
I had saved quite a bit of money from my supermarket delivery job and so I had a choice. I could drive the car that Mom used to drive and that Dad had given me or I could sell it and buy a bus ticket to Oregon. I sucked it up and talked to Dad about it and he said he didn't want me driving across the country in "that old wreck" as he called it. Instead, he sold it and gave me the $350 he got for it and wished me luck. I thanked him and started planning my trip to Oregon. The plan was pretty simple; take the Greyhound to Omaha and catch the Union Pacific to Portland and then another bus to Corvallis. By travelling coach on the milk run and buying the tickets in advance, I paid $185 total for the trip. That left me $165 over for food and other stuff I was sure I'd need. I didn't even have to touch my own money. I was ready to go.
Parting with Penny was the hardest thing I had to do. We had been more than friends for years and we had hoped and planned and dreamed about going to college together but that wouldn't happen. No matter which college I had chosen, it would be a long way from home and we'd still be split up. Penny understood. She was great that way. She knew I had to get away from Dad and Jeanine. She knew I had to try and find Mom. That last night together we spent in the back seat of my dad's car. We made out like crazy and even though we didn't go all the way, I was pretty sure how I felt about her. If I was going to marry anyone, it would be Penny or someone just like her. We shed some tears and held each other tightly and promised we would write every week. It felt really lonely when I drove home that night.
I left the next morning after Dad and Jeanine drove me to the Bus Station. I shook Dad's hand and hugged Jeanine; or maybe she hugged me. Anyway, she squished those big tits into me when she hugged me and I thought that was OK. The driver threw my two bags into the luggage bin and I climbed aboard the big unit and we were off. The seats weren't bad and it was one of the new air-conditioned buses that helped with the late August heat. Lucky for me, the train station was next to the bus station in Omaha and I didn't have to wander all over the place looking for the train to Portland. It wasn't a very big train compared to the fancy ones that went to Los Angeles or Seattle, but I guess Portland wasn't that big of a city.
At first the train ride was boring; mile after mile of wheat and corn and flatlands. Before long, though, we were in Wyoming and the Rocky Mountains. They were really something to see. I was pretty revved-up about the trip west and I only slept off and on in the train seats since they were leather and kind of slippery. We went through some really neat places I'd only heard about in Western movies. Places like Cheyenne and Laramie and Snake River. Too bad some of it was at night. I could get up and walk around and that helped a lot. I ate my meals in the dining car, and the food was pretty good. It seemed like a long three days and nights but finally on the morning of the fourth day, I arrived in Portland. I was tired but again the bus station was near the train station, so I didn't have any trouble finding the bus to Corvallis.
I guess I wasn't that good at planning because I ended up in the bus station at Corvallis at eight thirty on a Sunday night. I had no idea where the campus was and I was sure there wasn't anyone around there on Sunday night. I asked the only attendant where the closest hotel was and he said it was the College Inn, just a couple of blocks down the street. I set off in the pointed direction and while his "couple of blocks" turned out to be a lot more, I finally found it and dragged my two bags behind me into the lobby. As I approached the empty desk, I idly wondered what I would do if there weren't any rooms.
I caught a break and there were a couple of rooms left and I paid the incredible sum of $18 for one night in a bed. I couldn't believe anybody could charge that much for a bed and bathroom, but I had to sleep somewhere and I was too tired to argue or look for another place. I had hardly spent any money on the bus or the train, so it wasn't like I was broke or anything. When I finally got to my room, I was tired, but as I sat on the edge of the bed, for the first time I felt lonely. No Mom or Dad or Penny or even Jeanine ... no one. There would be time enough in the morning for regrets and to start the next day of my new life.
Chapter Two: Relocated and Stymied
The first week went by in a blur. I registered, found my dorm, moved my stuff in, went off to buy my books for my first year courses, met with the men's swim coach to and finally met my roommate. Zoltan Juhasz was a freshman like me, but he was on the wrestling team. When I first saw him, I though he was pretty small; probably only 5' 4", but the first time I saw him with his shirt off, I realized he had muscles right up to the eyeballs. He had come to the U.S. during the Hungarian Revolution in '56 when his parents made a run for freedom. He was only fifteen when he escaped, but he had seen a lot of death and blood and fear and he acted older than he really was. Apparently, he had seen his uncle killed by army troops in the streets in front of their home. He didn't seem too anxious to talk about those days and I didn't press him.
Zoltan was a great guy to have as a roommate. He was neat, quiet and not around very much. He took his studies very seriously and I think he must have written a letter to his parents every week. He had a certain way of being around without you really noticing him. We got along great right from the start. I told him a bit about my family and the troubles we had and he told me a bit about his family. His dad was an expert furniture repairer and refinisher and found a really good job in Portland almost right away. That took a lot of pressure off his mother and Zoltan and when he was awarded the scholarship to OSU, he accepted with their blessing. In a matter of three years, he had learned to speak, read and write very good English. He was obviously a very smart guy.
During the second week, we had a general meeting of the swim team to get our training schedule and the meet schedule. Since the men and women went to meets together, we would be traveling together and probably staying in the same hotels or motels. So, naturally, the first thing the men's team was told was to keep our hands off the girl's team. I'm sure the girls were told the same thing about us. Most of us snickered and gave them our assurances we would never think of such a thing and then promptly checked out the girls to see what they looked like. The best opportunity for that was a social they called a "meet and greet" party.
I was still thinking of Penny and I had been writing to her every week; telling her how much I missed her and trying to tell her about OSU and what I had seen of Oregon. I didn't see anyone on the girls swim team that attracted my attention which was probably just as well. It was all I could do to adjust to living in a strange place and adapting to both going to classes where no one took attendance or cared much if you passed or failed. I had no intention of "flunking out". With Zoltan as my role model, I knuckled down to my studies and let the swimming look after itself. I was in pretty good shape, but I wasn't really as good as I could be. My first set of time trials told me how much further I had to go.
I got through that first semester pretty well. By Christmas, I had figured out what it took to get by and I had upped my training to bring my times into line with the competition. At this point, I was still a "spare" in case someone was sick or injured, but I did travel to the meets and I got to see quite a bit of the western U.S.; most of it by bus. Since both the swimming and diving teams for both men and women travelled on the same bus, it was inevitable that some of the guys would get together with some of the girls. You always knew where to find them; at the back of the bus, necking. I'm sure the coaches new what was going on, but they pretended not to and always sat at the front of the bus. I figured that as long as no one rubbed their noses in it, they wouldn't interfere.
I had tried a couple of times to write a letter to my Dad. I was upset at what he had done to cause Mom to do what she had done. I wanted him to know how upset I was and I wanted him to know I didn't blame Mom any more; I blamed him and myself. I tried to write that letter, but it just didn't come out right. It took a really weird thing to help me write it. I had just sat down at my desk to try again to write the letter when I heard a big commotion out in the hall and some banging near my door. I opened the door just in time to see Barry Walston stagger away a few feet and puke all over the floor. He was obviously drunk and it wasn't the first time. Unfortunately for me, the house rule was that the closest freshman was always the cleanup man and I was "it".
I groaned and swore at Barry as he half crawled into his room. I didn't feel sorry for him a bit and I was swearing mightily under my breath as I headed for the utility closet and pulled out the mop and pail. I filled it with water and began the unpleasant task of cleanup of someone else's barf. I knew I wasn't going to be in a rush for dinner tonight. It took a bout fifteen minutes to do the job properly and finally I was about to clean the mop and pail when I let my anger get the better of me. I picked up the pail and mop and pushed open Barry's door and plunked the whole ugly mess down in the middle of his room.
It was in that mood that I returned to my room and began to write the letter to my father. I was in a bad mood and it showed in the letter. On the other hand, I finally had a letter that really said what I wanted to say.
To My Father:
I have struggled to write this letter for a few weeks and I can't put it off any longer. I have to tell you how unhappy I am with the way you treated my mother. I know about your affair with Jeanine long before Mom had anything to do with Mr. Robinson. Mom wrote me a letter before I left home and told me that she thought you were seeing another woman, but she couldn't prove it. She also told me that you treated her badly but that you hid that from me. I didn't believe her, but now I do. If you don't already know, I was the one who wrote the notes to you that told you about her and Mr. Robinson. Now I'm sorry I ever did that. I don't think that would ever have happened if you didn't push her into it.
I always thought you were a super Dad. You were good to me and you helped me a lot and I am grateful for that. But what you did to Mom has made me ashamed of what I did and also ashamed of you.
I'm sorry if this letter hurts you, but I have to tell you how I feel. I will try and find Mom and try and make it up to her. I know she is very hurt by what happened and I probably can't make that go away, but at least I can apologize to her for what I did.
I don't suppose we will see each other again for a long time. I hope you and Jeanine are OK and that you have a good life.
I don't remember ever being quite as lonely as I was that first Christmas. I hadn't had a chance to go to Salem to look for my Mom and I didn't have any contact with my Dad. I was still writing to Penny, but not quite as often. I guess I had written to her a couple of times a month and of course I sent her a Christmas card and wished her a Happy New Year. She was sending me a letter once or twice a month, but I guess with my being gone, she might looking for a guy to keep her company. I couldn't really blame her if she was, but it would still hurt if that happened.
Since Christmas fell on a Wednesday, we had almost two full weeks off from December 24th to January 6. Zoltan headed home to Portland while I stayed at the dorm. I think I was only one of perhaps five or six people still there and it wasn't much fun. On the spur of the moment, I decided to try and find my mother. The last address I had for her was at my "Aunt" Hilda's address in Salem. I had the envelope with the address and Thursday, the day after Christmas, I took the bus to Salem and crossed my fingers that my search would be an easy one.
"Aunt" Hilda wasn't really my Aunt. She was an old friend of my Mother's family and over the years she had become an honorary Aunt. I had only met her once when I was a little kid and I had no idea what she looked like. It was only about fifty miles from the campus to the Capitol, but with three stops along the way, it took over two and a half hours by bus. When I got to Salem, I had no idea what part of town the address on the envelope would be, so once again I asked the attendant at the bus station for directions. This time it was a bit farther out of town and I decided I would take a cab. It was a short ride and only a $3 fare, so I tipped the driver 50 cents and walked up to the front door. There was a name tag under the bell and it read H. Davis. I pushed the button and waited.
The woman that answered the door was older than I expected. She had grey hair pulled back into a bun and wore one of those print dresses that most old ladies wear these days. She did have a nice face with a smile and I didn't have much trouble introducing myself.
"Hello, Aunt ... I mean Mrs. Davis. My name is Ron Francis and my mother is Helen Francis." I said in my most polite voice.
"Well ... this is a surprise. Hello Ronald ... I haven't seen you in ages. Come in ... please, come in." she said brightly.
I walked into the house and immediately felt at home. Perhaps it was the furniture and decorations that were so much like our home or maybe it was the smell, but it felt good whatever it was. Aunt Hilda surprised me by giving me a big hug after she had closed the door and I didn't know what to say or do.
"Sit down Ronald." she said directly. "This is a wonderful surprise. I didn't expect you at all." She wasn't upset about my being there but I'm sure she had a million questions. I thought I'd better tell her why I had come.
"I'm looking for Mom. I got a letter from her and she had this address on the envelope, so I was hoping she would be here." I blurted out.
"Oh, Ronald, I'm so sorry. She was here for a few weeks, but she moved on. She was looking for a job and I think she went to Portland but I'm not sure. I haven't heard from her in months." I didn't have any doubt that she was sorry that I had missed her, but I could tell she wanted to know more. In the meantime, I had let out an audible sigh and slumped back in the sofa. I guess my face told her how disappointed I was.
"Do you think you might hear from her?" I asked. "Didn't she send a Christmas Card?" I was desperate for any clue on where to look next.
"Ronald, your mother was very upset and unhappy when she was here. Something very bad had happened to her and she wouldn't talk about it. Can you tell me what happened?" she asked searchingly.
I gave her a short version of what had happened from my discovering her affair with Mr. Robinson to my Dad throwing her out and divorcing her and then my discovery of the dirty trick my Dad had played on her. I told her I wanted to find her and apologize and try and make it up to her. I didn't want her to think I didn't love her.
Aunt Hilda was in tears when I finished the story and she came and sat beside me on the sofa and hugged me to her side.
"Oh Ronald, that is so sad. I'm so sorry for you. If there's anything I can do to help, you can count on me." she said sincerely.
We sat on the sofa for quite a while and talked. I told her about my scholarship to Oregon State and how I was doing and I even told her about my girlfriend Penny. I guess she got the idea I was pretty lonely because she insisted I stay for dinner and overnight before I headed back to Corvallis. I wasn't going to argue. She was a nice lady and I was happy to have someone to talk to, even for a day.
The dinner was great and the first home-cooked meal I'd had in months. The smells in the kitchen were wonderful and I caught myself wishing I was home and with my Mom and Dad together. I had to snap myself out of it. I knew that was never going to happen.
Aunt Hilda told me that Mom had gone back to her maiden name, Markham. That was a help. At least I'd know what name to look for. She hadn't been gone long enough to have her name listed in the phone book, but we talked about other places I could look for information. Salem was the state capitol and maybe their information department would have some ideas where I could look. If she had a phone or was registered to vote, that information was held somewhere in a record. She also suggested putting an ad in the paper telling her that I was looking for her and to contact Aunt Hilda for more information. Calling the dorm was no good. Aunt Hilda was someone Mom trusted and that was the best place for her to contact me.
On Friday, I went to the Capitol building and headed for the information counter. I got nowhere! If they knew anything or had any suggestions, I wasn't going to hear them. They must have thought it was some college prank and just ignored me. On top of that, most of the main people in the Capitol were gone for the holidays and I couldn't stay until after New Years until they came back to work on the hope that one of them would take me seriously. I was stuck and I wondered what to do next. We had a road trip to Portland State in early February, so maybe I would have a chance to look for her then. I phoned Aunt Hilda and thanked her for her hospitality and her promise that if she heard anything from or about my mother, she would let me know right away.
Chapter Three: The Party
When I got back to the campus on Friday night I discovered someone had organized an "Orphans Party". I had no idea what it was about, but any party at this point was OK with me. Apparently I wasn't the only person on my own over Christmas and New Years and the idea was to get anyone who wanted to have some fun and company to come to the Mt. Hood dorm and join in on the party. BYOB was the only part I didn't understand, but when I got there, the party was in full swing. There must have been thirty or forty of us; boys and girls, frosh, sophs, juniors and seniors alike. It didn't matter; we were all orphans that night.
I found out BYOB meant Bring Your Own Bottle. I didn't drink booze and I was too young anyway, so I brought a six pack of cokes just to have something to bring. Most of the people brought food they had made or been given over Christmas and when I saw that I beetled back to my room. Aunt Hilda had given me all kinds of goodies like cookies, tarts and candy to take back with me and while I left a few things behind for myself, I was happy I had something I could share.
It was the best party I think I'd ever been to. I met all kinds of people including some cute girls and we had plenty to eat and drink. Someone shared some dark rum with me and I had my first rum and coke ever. Then I had my second. I might have even had a third, but I couldn't remember. I just remember laughing a lot and kissing some girls and laughing some more. I wasn't lonely any more and I had made some new friends; even if it was only for that night.
I don't know when the party broke up but I must have been really late. I do remember waking up on Saturday morning with a really bad headache. I searched around our tiny bathroom, but I couldn't find any aspirin. I wandered down the hall until I found someone else and bummed a couple of aspirin from them. I don't think I even knew who he was. I do remember the night before agreeing that we would do it all again on New Years Eve. I made myself a promise to do two things differently; stay sober and buy some aspirins. On the other hand, I also made myself a promise I was going to have just as much fun as I did Friday night.
Chapter Four: A New Lady in Town
When the first year ended, I had passed all my classes and was ready to move on as a sophomore. I also figured that since almost a quarter of the team had been seniors, I would finally become a regular on the team. My swim coach along with some alumni had organized a job search and I was lucky enough to get a summer job in Albany, only five miles from Corvallis. It was boring and I didn't earn very much, but it kept me in snacks and movie money as well as my next set of books for September. I had been keeping in touch with Aunt Hilda every so often, but she hadn't heard anything from Mom. I decided to get a jump start on the new school year and enrolled in a couple of courses that were offered over the summer. It turned out to be a smart move. By the end of the summer, I already had six credits and it took the load off my studies.
That turned out to be a bit of good luck that I didn't appreciate until September rolled around and the two swim teams got together for the traditional "meet and greet" social. When I first saw Elizabeth Johnstone, I thought I had seen my first movie star. She was beautiful. She was tall and had beautiful broad shoulders and lovely hips and when she walked in those tight skirts she liked to wear, there wasn't a wrinkle anywhere possible on that lovely bum. She had a nice chest too and sleek, dark brown hair pulled back into what I had heard girls call a French Roll. Whatever it was, though, only emphasized the one feature that was her most stunning; her eyes. They were brown and almond shaped; almost oriental. She had thin eyebrows and she must have used makeup to have those eyes look so amazing.
She was a frosh and since I was now a soph, I made a beeline for her as soon as I could. I figured I'd have to stand in line to even get to introduce myself, but that wasn't the case. I think it was because she gave off some signals about being a bit cool. I of course, being the insensitive nerd that I was, failed to notice these signals and marched right up to her.
"Hi, my name is Ron Francis. I'm on the swim team too." I said, realizing immediately that I was stating the obvious.
She looked at me with those eyes but I couldn't tell what the message was just yet.
"I'm Elizabeth Johnstone." she said without a hint of a smile.
"I'm from Aberdeen, Iowa." I volunteered. "How about you?"
"West Vancouver ... it's in B.C ... Canada." again with the deadpan face.
"I'd be happy to show you around the campus ... help you get settled ... if you'd like." I was struggling to get this conversation going and not doing very well.
She looked at me with that inscrutable face for a moment and then, out of nowhere, she smiled and I was a dead man. "That would be nice, "she said lightly. "I'm kind of nervous. I've never been away from home ... on my own I mean ... except for Girl Guide Camp, but that doesn't count." Once she got started, she just let it all out. I guess I must have been smiling as well because she was looking at me and she was still smiling.
"It can be pretty lonely here if you don't have friends." I started. "I was lucky. I got a great roommate in my first year and we've asked to share a room again this year. He's a foreigner too ... he's from Hungary." I blurted out.
I thought I had said something really cool. She turned and looked at me with a scowl on her lovely face. "Is that how you think of me ... a foreigner?" she demanded.
"Uh ... No! No! ... I didn't mean it that way. I'm sorry ... I didn't mean to hurt your feelings." I gasped. Jesus, talk about stupid. I get this beautiful girl to let me show her around and I immediately step in the dog dung.
She looked at me closely for a moment or two and then, once again the smile was back on her face. "So, do I talk funny or something?" she asked.
"No! No! ... of course not." I was near panic now. I willed myself to calm down and to shut up before I said something else stupid.
As I sneaked a look at her face while we stood beside each other, I could see a sly smile on her face. I let my breath out and leaned back against the wall. It was the signal for her to snort a big guffaw and then put her hand over her mouth and look at me. There was laughter in her eyes and I immediately knew this was the girl for me. Penny who?
"So tell me everything you know about Canadians, Ron." she challenged with a smirk.
"Uh, nothing ... I mean nothing special. I know we speak the same language and we both live in a democracy and we both drive cars made in America ... you know ... that kind of stuff."
"So, do you think we live in igloos and eat raw fish all the time?" she deadpanned.
"No! No! At least, I don't think so. I never saw any Eskimos that looked as pretty as you." I said, trying to salvage at least a bit of my vanishing confidence.
"I bet I know more about your country than you know about mine." she challenged without a hint of arrogance.
"Uh ... I don't think I'll take that bet. You sound pretty smart to me. I'm pretty dumb when it comes to knowing about other countries. Besides, I'd never been outside of Iowa until I got this scholarship. At least with the road trips I get to see a bit more of the country." I had the feeling I was getting back on even terms with her again and I would be smart to shut up and let her tell me about herself.
"Well, my parents go to Palm Springs in the winter for a vacation and we've been to Hawaii too. I want to go to Europe some day. I want to travel when I get the chance. You know ... see the Pyramids and Victoria Falls and London Bridge and places like that."
Her parents were obviously well off if she could go to Hawaii and Palm Springs. My "poor boy" status wasn't likely to impress her. I had a sinking feeling that she wouldn't want to waste a lot of time on someone like me if I couldn't show her a good time. I think she must have detected my change in mood.
"Do you get to see your parents much, Ron?" she asked.
"No ... no I don't." I answered without elaboration.
"Oh ... that's too bad. Is it because they're so far away?" she asked.
"No ... no ... it's a long story." I said quietly. I didn't want to ruin a nice afternoon with my tale of woe. This girl wasn't likely to be attracted to me anyway, so why rush the inevitable.
"Oh ... sorry ... I didn't mean to be nosy." she said sincerely.
"That's OK." I said, hoping that would end it.
"Do you have a girl friend here or at home?" she asked.
"No ... I mean ... I did at home but she's going to college there and we haven't been in touch much lately. I think it's hard for her to hope I'll be home some day and we can pick up where we left off. I wrote her and told her to start seeing other guys and not worry about me. She didn't write me back, so I don't think ... well ... I don't know what to think." I finished.
"Oh, I'm sorry Ron. That's hard. You must be lonely with no family and no girlfriend. Maybe we can be friends." She said it so calmly and so sincerely I almost couldn't believe I'd heard it. I turned and looked at her with I'm sure what must have been a stunned look on my face.
"You mean that?" I asked.
"Of course. I saw you when you first came into the room and I thought you had a nice look about you. I was really glad when you came over and introduced yourself to me. I was scared at first. I didn't know what to say ... but ... you made it easy. You were nervous too. I felt better then." I couldn't quite follow the logic, but I knew she was telling me she liked being with me and that was enough. I must have had a goofy grin on my face because I thought she was going to laugh again.
"Why are you so surprised? You're a good looking guy. Any girl would be happy to be with you once they got to know you." she said simply.
"I'm ... surprised I guess ... and ... flattered. I never thought of myself as anything special; just another hick from Iowa at the big college campus." I stammered.
"Maybe that's what I like about you. No superior attitude and no jock stuff. You act just like you!" she said pointedly. "Some girls like that stuff you know." she said with a smile.
"Some girls?" I said with a big grin on my face. "Lucky for me, you're one of those girls."
We spent the rest of the day together and ate dinner together in the Dining Hall that evening. It was the beginning of the best days of my College life. She asked me to call her Liz because only her close friends were allowed to call her that. I had graduated to close friend in one day and that was very good for my ego.
Liz boosted my confidence in myself and it began to show in other things. I discovered that she had an ambition to qualify for the Canadian National Swim Team and she was very serious about her training. As we spent more time together, she and I put in the extra effort to help both of us improve and improve we did. My times dropped noticeably and the coach was now putting me at anchor on a couple of the relay teams during practices. Liz always was fast in the sprints and according to the information she had, she would probably qualify for her national team. The trials were in her home town Vancouver, at the University Pool in July. It was perfect for her because she could train during the summer and not miss any school. I already knew I would miss her over the summer, but she would be back for her sophomore year and my junior year and we would be together again.
Liz struggled a bit during the first semester getting used to college life. She was a bright girl and a good student, but with the demands of the swim team and adapting to being on her own, she was feeling the pressure. Luckily, with six credits already in my pocket, I could afford to help her and we often met in the library and studied together. I coached her whenever I could and was a cheerleader for her as she began to improve her grades. She never failed to tell me how much she appreciated my being there. We had become very close and we were truly boyfriend and girlfriend. We had pretty much done everything except gone all the way and I wondered when that would happen.
In October, I received a letter from Penny. I was almost afraid to open it. I wondered what I would do if she said she still wanted me to be her boyfriend. I was pretty sure I was falling in love with Liz but I felt an obligation to Penny. This could be a big problem, I thought. Finally, I opened the envelope and began to read the letter.
I have been trying to write this letter for a long time. Now I know how your mother must have felt when she wrote her letter to you. I have missed you very much in the past year and when I got your letter telling me to look for someone else, I was very upset. It was as if you were telling me you didn't want me any more. It hurt and yet I understood what you were telling me.
The truth is, I don't think I can last another three years by myself. I didn't realize how important it was to have a close friend like you and I guess I still need someone like that. I need someone that I could share my secrets with and hold onto. A girlfriend just isn't the same.
I am dating another boy at college. We started going out together this summer when I met him at my summer job. His name is Jim Blake and he is in a lot of the same classes that I go to. He is very nice and polite. A lot like you I guess, but he isn't an athlete. He wants to be a writer for a newspaper or magazine and so we have a lot in common. I'm sorry if this upsets you. I don't want to hurt you, but I have been lonely and you did suggest I look for someone. I hope you won't be angry with me.
I hope you are doing well in Oregon and I wish you all the best. You were very important to me and I am glad you were my friend. I won't forget you.
Your good friend,
I must have read the letter five or six times. I didn't know how I felt about it. I was upset and felt badly that she had been dating another guy, but after all, I did tell her to go ahead. How could I be upset? Besides, I had Liz and she was everything any guy could ever want. So why did I feel so crummy? I guess I'll never understand how emotions work. Even though I got top honors in Psychology last year, I still didn't understand much about behavior. I had a lot of growing up to do and I guess the good news was that at least I knew that.
I got over the letter fairly quickly and promised myself that I would write a nice letter to Penny telling her I understood and wishing her the best. It took me a while to get around to writing that letter, but I did and strangely, I felt a lot better after I put it in the mailbox on The Common. That part of my life was over and now I was living a different life with different people. I was thanking my lucky stars for Liz. She was the glue that was keeping me together.
Liz went home for Christmas and New Years and once again I was on my own for the ten days or so that we were off. There were a couple of "Orphan Parties" and while I attended them, without Liz I just didn't have as much fun as I did that first year. I phoned Aunt Hilda, and she invited me to her place for a couple of days between the two holidays. It made a nice change and once again I was reminded how good it was to be in a comfortable home with lovely cooking smells. Aunt Hilda said that next year I should plan on being with her for all the holidays and we would make it a proper Christmas. I thanked her and said I would look forward to that. She was a really nice lady and I was very happy to have her as my honorary Aunt.