Sophomore year was ending and the cycle of looking for an apartment for next year was beginning. I don’t know how it happened but we all had decided to part ways and get an apartment on our own. That might be fine if you were funded somehow but that put me in a world of hurt. Additionally, I would be working over the summer and so I would need a place in a few weeks instead of the usual start time at the beginning of the school year.
This whole process of apartment hunting was done through small 3-line classified ads in the Boston Globe. When you’re finished laughing, we can continue. So I went through the ads and found one where they had an empty room. The best part was that it was in Harvard Square and that would make my ride to school and to work much easier. I went out to look at it and there were two women there. They explained that they didn’t think the neighborhood was very safe and they wanted to rent the extra room to a guy. They thought it would make them feel a little safer that way. It sounded pretty lame to me but the rent was what I could afford and I could move in when my current lease expired. And besides, I wasn’t going to turn down a nice apartment with two women in it.
I moved into the apartment, got everything settled. This was a nice place. You could tell that women lived here. There was nice furniture and everything was reasonably neat and clean. Wow! It didn’t take long before I could feel a mutual attraction with one of the women. Her name was Paula. She was my age, had skipped college, and worked at a Savings Bank in Harvard Square. We would go on to have a nice time together and I was really starting to relax in my new life. She had two Olde English Sheep dogs, a mother and a daughter, and at some point she had bred the mother and had made enough from the puppies to buy a new Volkswagen Beetle. But these were pretty big dogs and the fur was everywhere. There was never anyone who loved her dogs like she did though.
Inevitably, I would at some point be informing my parents about my new living arrangements. It did not go over well. The whole idea of living in sin was completely contrary to their 1930s upbringing. It didn’t seem to matter that I was happy. It didn’t seem to matter that my grades at school were better. What mattered was the rigid code, the contest between my father and I, and the rest be damned. My father had said his piece and he was done with it. Now, apparently it was up to my stepmother Elinor to take on this incessant in sin mantra for him. Again, it was up to me to bend, there would be no understanding, no flexibility, and almost no discussion, just the mantra.
I think my father and Elinor were a little surprised at my reaction. I had been through a lot in the previous 10 years. I had become a tough kid, I had become an intelligent kid, and I was slowly finding my way through this life with almost no help along the way. Now for the first time I was happy with someone outside the family circle. This was a precious thing for me and I think they greatly underestimated the importance of this relationship over all other things at this point in my life. In the coming weeks and months, Paula and I would visit my parent’s home many times. I found them to be only marginally polite and often rude. She felt it as well and gradually we reached the point where visiting my parents was no longer a good idea. The battle had been joined.
I wasn’t really winning this battle. Over the next 5 years I would leave Paula several times for the comfort of my family, only to find that the internal politics of this now large family were very strange and often destructive. Elinor had made a strong alliance with Barbara and together they would deliver scathing opinions about selected members of the family. Janis and I were often the subjects of those opinions. Naturally, as I was taught so long ago, I would run. And so over the next 5 years I would get back together with Paula. I was once again becoming a mess. I was being pulled in too many directions with too great a force. I’m not at all sure why Paula would always want to get back together. My complete inability to stay on course with our relationship during this time had to have an effect on her. But I never saw it, either because she was so good at hiding her feelings, or because she was trying so hard to make it work. I just couldn’t see what was going on.
During one of my intervals at home it became apparent to me that I needed to get away for a fresh start. When I had left the apartment with Greg and John I had thought I was in pretty good shape. I was well on my way to becoming an adult. Now everything had gone all wrong and I would need to fix it if I was to have a decent life. Beyond everything else, I was determined to have a decent life. I just didn’t yet know what that meant.
© J T Weaver