Age Twenty-five: The Turning Point

So we come to the end of the October Memoir and Backstory Blog ChallengeThanks to Jane Ann McLachlan for proposing this challenge that has taken me places in memory where I would never have gone otherwise. At times I believed I’d have nothing to write, but it seems memory begets memory.

The end of the challenge brings me to a strange place in my personal history. If you’ve been following these posts, you know that by the time I turned twenty-five, I had two little boys. I was a stay-at-home mom. I couldn’t imagine a different kind of life. I was happy. I thought we were happy.

Christmas

Our first Christmas in the little gray house, my husband and I decided to have a party. I cooked all the food, I cleaned, and I decorated, using lots of freshly cut evergreens and magnolia my parents brought the day before. They took both babies home with them, so we would have our party and the rest of the weekend to ourselves. It was a rare occasion. My husband was in his internship year by then, which meant more nights on call, more time away from home.

We had a great crowd, mostly medical school friends, good food, good wine. I wore a new dress, and I remember feeling pretty. After the last guests left, we stayed up late, picking up glasses, cleaning up spills, putting away food. I was excited and pleased at how well the party had gone, and I kept trying to get some kind of response out of him. I wanted to be told what a good job I’d done. I had done it for him, after all. But I got nothing. He had seemed withdrawn and sad for weeks. Every time I’d asked, he would say he was exhausted, which was true. His schedule was grueling. But I kept after him that night until he told me. Yes, there was something wrong. He wasn’t sure he loved me, he said. Maybe he loved somebody else. What? We had been married three years. We had two children.

I didn’t sleep that night. The next morning, he got up early and went hunting with friends–another surprise. He hadn’t told me he was going. I was left alone, distraught and uncertain. I missed my children. I called my parents, thinking I would just check on the kids, and my mother immediately knew something was wrong. I told her. I’ve always regretted that.

By the time my husband came home the following afternoon, the little boys were back, too. He had made his decision, he said. He wanted us. Just like that. That easily. And I believed him.

We would stay together for a long time after that Christmas. I gave birth to two more sons. Did I think that having more children would hold him? No. I’d wanted a house full of children, remember? It didn’t matter. He left anyway.

I blamed myself. He was the one who left, but it must have been my fault. All my fairy-tale notions of love and marriage? Destroyed. I hated myself for not knowing what I might have done differently. Oh, I knew all the self-talk and the psychology. I was a psych major, after all. I went for counseling. But still, it was a long time before I could look anybody in the eye and carry on a conversation.

I wasn’t writing back then, but I was getting ready. I believe the surprises, the unexpected turns, the complexities of relationships, the betrayals, the losses, the long years of trying to hold a marriage together, of getting up in the morning and putting on a fictional face to the world (“How are you?” “I’m fine, thank you!”), were the catalysts for stories to come.

I hope stories will surface out of this challenge. We shall see.

Thanks to all of you who have read and followed these little pieces of my past. I hope you’ll come back soon and see what else I have in store. Or in story.

If you participated in the challenge, what did you gain from it? If you were a reader and/or follower, what have these memories sparked for you?

At Nineteen: Already a Has-been?

I have news: the Sophomore Slump isn’t a myth. I know. I lived it.

After a pretty exciting first year of college, at the start of my sophomore year, I hit the slide. Oh, I was going out some, but there wasn’t anybody special. Generally, life was good. I liked my classes, and I wasn’t as anxious about grades as I had been during my freshman year. But my social life slowed way down.

I was living with two other girls–that’s right; three of us crammed into a room meant for two. We had a set of bunk beds plus one other, and one closet for all of us. But we were great friends. I guess we had to be! One roommate was a morning person who, the instant the alarm went off, leapt out of bed with “Good morning! How’s everybody this morning?” (I cannot italicize that word enough to give it the proper emphasis!) I would groan and roll over, dying for just five more minutes of sleep. She was also the one who, when she answered the hall phone and it was for me–yes, there was just one pay phone for the entire floor–would scream, “Goochie! Phoo-oone!” at the top of her lungs. I didn’t like being called “Goochie.” But I loved my roommates, anyway. I still do.

This is what our room sometimes looked like:

After the ball is over . . .

But that doesn’t address the slump. I dated a football player briefly that fall. He thought he was God. (I knew how to pick ’em, didn’t I?) He took me to a drive-in movie and ran over the speaker. He asked me to be his date to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Do I need to explain to you what a huge deal that was? My parents didn’t understand it. They refused to let me go. The Big Football Player didn’t call me again, and I was crushed.

There was this other guy, though. He’d cut in at a dance back in the fall, and one afternoon after class, he offered me a ride to my dorm in his white convertible. He didn’t call me until the spring, and I thought he’d forgotten all about me. When he picked me up for our first date, he was driving an old Ford, not a convertible. A bird had hit the front grille, and he hadn’t been able to get the dead bird out. That car smelled awful! It turned out the convertible belonged to his sister. By then, it didn’t matter. He was a pre-med student, a Mississippi Delta boy with the bluest eyes I’d ever seen and a great smile. He wasn’t handsome, exactly, but those eyes. He was intelligent. He loved books and music. He had a great future.

If you had handed me a checklist of all the things I was supposed to look for in a mate, I would have checked all of them off. I’d been schooled in the primary goal, you see: to find somebody to marry who would give me smart children and provide for me well. My college degree was like a trophy. I wasn’t really expected to do anything with it, although my father had advised me to get a teacher’s license so that if something happened, I could take care of myself.

This New Boy and I dated the rest of our sophomore spring. I won’t tell you the end of the story. Not yet.

At what point did your life take a turn that would determine your future? Were you aware of its importance at the time?

Thanks to Jane Ann McLachlan for bringing us the October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge!

Eighteen: The Frosh Year

Scared to Death!

And so the girl went off to college! I’d been given a terrific scholarship, but I figured I was woefully unprepared for college courses, coming out of my small high school. For the first time in my life, I had to study hard.

The English and lit courses, though, I adored. A professor named Charles Noyes taught my freshman English Comp class. Dr. Noyes loved his pretty girl students (not in a dirty old man way) and tolerated the guys. He would perch on the edge of the desk with his pipe between his teeth, ask me a question, and listen, as though I had something remarkable to say. One of our writing topic choices (which I aced–wonder why?) was “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” I credit Dr. Noyes with giving me confidence and helping me discover my voice.

The freshman year wasn’t all grind. 

I’ll confess it: I went out for rush and pledged a sorority. Yes. I was an Ole Miss Sorority Girl. (What kinds of stories have you heard about that, I wonder? It seems Ole Miss girls are legendary.) That meant a whole new set of friends, meals and study nights at “the house,” work days, campus political campaigns, and volunteer activities. But it also meant fraternity swaps and parties and football games. In those days we got very dressed up for games: a suit, high heels, a hat, and a big mum corsage, accessorized by a frat-boy date. This was Hotty-Toddy land, the golden era of Johnny Vaught football. (If you never heard of Johnny Vaught, look him up. This was the year that LSU beat Ole Miss 7 to 3, courtesy of Billy Cannon’s 99-yard punt return.)

Roaring Twenties Party
(I made my flapper dress. And there really wasn’t any gin in that bathtub.)

Our freshman dorms were overflowing that year. I started out with two roommates, neither of whom I’d known before. By second semester, both were on academic probation, which meant they had to be in the dorm by six in the evening, so they would go out on dates in the afternoon. By sophomore year, they were both gone. There were no coed dorms in those days, and everybody had to be in at nine on weeknights. No pants or, God forbid, jeans except on Saturdays, and then we had to wear a raincoat over them. We had to sign in and sign out of the dorm. There were panty raids (No, Mother, I never threw anything out my window!) and romantic fraternity serenades when somebody got “pinned.” It was a wondrous time.

Free!

There was still the shadow of The Old Boyfriend, who had transferred to Ole Miss that year. We had agreed to date others, right? But he was possessive, and he acted out if I showed up at a party with somebody else. He flunked out after a semester and was gone. (He will reappear once more in these stories. Stay tuned.)

Then, I was free. I was having the time of my life.

When were you on your own? College? Working? Military? Tell me what your leaving home was like.

The memory quest continues with Jane Ann McLachlan’s Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge through the month of October. Go over to Jane’s site and have a look at other bloggers who have dared to meet the challenge.