Some people thought that I was on the fast lane to the highway to hell. I was 22, already seperated from a boy who is the single friend that I kept from the days of everything happened so quickly, how did I end up living with a group of girls I had known in college who had turned into lesbian junkies?
Frankly I could have lived with the lesbian part, if Caroline had only told me. Some people thought that Caroline had been the most beautiful girl on campus; others thought Shelby had been. At least one person still claims that I was; so don’t ever expect me to trash my two second marriage. Caroline looked like the idealized WASP with perfect rich girl long chestnut hair, and a penchant for boots, jeans, expensive sweaters and fitted blazers; a style that I still emulate today. Though my personal style was ’30’s and ’40’s vintage with silver boots made out of mylar, crushed velvet smoking jackets, and lace. For a shy person with nearly no confidence, I had tremendous confidence in my abilty to dress uniquely, memorably, with flair and confidence. I retreated into my hair and clothes; they seemed to subsitute for a personality. People thought that I had one when I was just a girl who wasn’t afraid to experiment with style as I had nothing to lose.
I had been living in splendid solitude near the dock of the bay, when Caroline suggested that move into a house she and a few girls from school were moving into that winter of 1973, in another Long Island Sound town where we had many friends. I had been amazed when Caroline claimed me as her best friend. The anxious mannerisms that others found endearing were gross to me. I remembered idolizing Caroline but I don’t remember ever having a real conversation with her.
Caroline and I had been part of the same huge crowd that hung together. I knew her story: WASP daughter of anti-Semite home builder who had begun college in 1966 two years before me without ever having smoked a joint and had been for the war in Viet Nam. Why her father allowed her to go to our school which was very Jewish was beyond my understanding.
I knew that she had fallen in love with a Jewish boy and had lived with him until her father and two older brothers came to their house and dragged Caroline out. They forced her to live at home while she finished her degree. Though her father and brothers were well known home builders they came from a more working class construction background and it wasn’t impossible to picture them ruling Caroline’s life.
After she finished school she moved into somebody’s dorm room; many people did that, and resumed college life, or grown up life without its responsbilities. That should have been a clue as I dropped out in large part because of the excessive drug use, and when I returned from traveling through Europe and lving in Israel, my friend Richie K invited me to visit his dorm. The wonderful wacky world of qualuades had come to Long Island. It felt like all the dorms where places for people to crash, and that I was stepping over bodies just to get to the bathroom.
I’m not a terribly moral person when it comes to drugs. I still believe that pot should be legalized.
But in the winter of 1973, I was a full time student at my second college in Manhattan, and working full time at two of my parents’s four stores. I was just another sales person:
“forget that she’s a relative.”
My parents hoped that I would finish college; but truthfully I had a hard time making it to classes in Washington Square–two of my classes were literally held in the park unless it was raining. My father offered, no begged, to pay for a dorm room. I refused as I was 22, seperated, too old and mature to live in the dorms. If I had accepted his offer I wouldn’t have had to work full time, or at all, but since I hadn’t…Instead of going to class I would do much volunteer work against the war in Viet Nam. You know that nightmare about having never been to a class all semester and trying to find it, naked on the day of the exam? In my case it wasn’t a dream.
I can’t even say I was the least responsible person that I knew. The realtor hadn’t allowed Caroline and the all-Carolina chorus as Shelby and I called Nancy and Suzan to sign the lease. Suzan was in love with Nancy, Nancy was in love with Caroline, and Caroline was in love with____. Yes, me, though it took me many months to figure that one out. They all had bad credit. I had no credit, but I did have a 35 hour a week job and money in the bank. I signed the lease for the winterized former cottage in a town where most everybody was young and an artist of sorts.
Caroline did have a trust fund that her father couldn’t stop from disbursing funds; Suzan, a fat ugly girl without a sense of humor though she was intelligent had a beginning management job. Nancy was a senior in college. The rent was cheap and I had more than enough for two years in the bank. Wedding gift money. Had no idea what to do with it; my parents said that I should just keep it.
Even today I will run into people who will remember me not for me, but that I was Caroline West’s best friend, before the horrible things really did happen to her and rumors filled Long Island and Manhattan. I don’t know the true beginning, middle or end of the story; I only know the part that involved me.
Caroline and I had fun together the rare times that I was home. We would smoke pot, listen to music and laugh about her men-less states. If we were the golden girls, what happened to the girls who sat in the dorms on weekends? Probably great things, but I didn’t know that then. I had a double bed, and Caroline shared it with me. This drove me crazy. If I wanted to share a bed, I would have been with a man:
“Caroline you have to get your own bed. You have a f**kin beddroom that’s sitting empty.”
“I’ll get one soon,” she would mumble. “I have to go to the Bronx today. Wanna come with me?”
The former Long Island debutante was collecting welfare under five names. I don’t know how this started, and I didn’t approve, but I had a day off during the week and Caroline would want me to be wherever she was going. A building super who lived in a tenement in the Bronx had somehow taught Caroline. I know she gave him a portion of the proceeds.
She taught a mutual friend, Ellie, how to apply for welfare, and Ellie taught her about White Castle. That’s when I began refusing to go along. I just sat in the car while they would go into the welfare offices, and had nothing to do with the schemes but…
I had no great love for the government and its systems but defrauding the government and teaching somebody else to might have sounded revoluntary in the abstract but in reality it was something very different. I sound so judgemental even in my defense of not judging yet not approving. There was a counterculture that I belonged to; it wanted to change society through peaceful and legal (as much as possible) methods. There was another counterculture that wanted to change society through less than legal means. When the old rules don’t apply how do you make new ones that do? But it was the hamburgers that really got to me.
White Castle’s the tiny tiny stinky hamburgers you have to be born in the Bronx to appreciate or to be Caroline who took to them rapidly. She had been a debutante and was supposed to like cucumber and watercress sandwiches, not these tiny little god forsaken stinky tampered with meat sandwiches. I hated them. More than that I hated how they, carelessly, threw the bags in the car when they were finished. I hate bad smelly food as opposed to more gourmet smelly food and even then I have problems with certain smells. It did keep me thin then
I forced her to begin sleeping on the couch downstairs and spent all my spare time with Shelby, who had many faults, but wasn’t defrauding the goverment or wanting to be in bed with me.
I have never told this story before in detail so most people still think Shelby was sicker than Caroline. Nobody would have believed it at one time either. Nor will they believe it now that so much time has past and once again Caroline has reached mythic angelic status to some people. She was so beautiful and so perfect seeming. Caroline was famous for her calm smile. When horrible things would happen, Caroline would just smile. I would grow to hate that smile because I knew how Caroline used it to get what she wanted. But Caroline had lost any ambition the day her fathers and brothers came for her. I was too immature; too messed up and scared to be ambitious. But I faked living a life better than most people did.
One day I wasn’t expected home. Shelby and I decided to go to my house while I changed before we went to My Father’s Place, a club in Roslyn, a close by town with hippie stores, a restaurant my family had been going to forever, a duck pond, a clock tower and the only restaurnant/club on the Island that had good music. We knew the owner, but everybody did so that was no great achievement.
When we walked into my house, Caroline, the all-Carolina chorus, and Jon, a vet with a bad substance habbit were all nodding out in their chairs. Some heroin was on a piece of wax paper, the needle in the record player was going round and round as the Cat Stevens albumn made endless repetitions around the player.
Shelby and I looked at each other.
“Oh, yeah, I understand now.” I felt like the worlds biggest fool.
“It’s not your fault. How were you supposed to know? Move in with me.”
We never made it to My Father’s Place that night. I took my clothes and ran as fast as I could to Shelby’s modern glass two bedroom apartment on the other side of town.
I should have known. All the signs were in front of me, but I refused to look. There was a slight problem at Shelby’s. Her newest boyfriend moved in. He ate a lot and refused to pitch in any money for for food or rent.
The all–Carolina chorus woke up long enough to try to sue me fot running from the lease, but I had a lawyer send a letter talking vaguely about “conditions in the house.”
I never saw Caroline again. For years there would be rumors of Caroline sightings: the super was her pimp and she was a street hooker. Somebody else swore that they saw her working at a mid-town McDonalds with her face all bruised. Years later Shelby and I called her father. He hung up on us.
Like all the work I put in Courting this is a rough draft. It was hard for me to write as the details of this story aren’t exactly in my repetoire. I still feel massive guilt that I moved in with Caroline, in some ways abetted her, didn’t try to help her and ran when the obvious finally hit. I know the only person I could have saved was me. I seem to have learned that lesson often without absorbing it. I don’t like reliving these times, but for memoir purposes find that the more honest I am, the better the story becomes, or I hope so. I’m putting this in without waiting because I will probably never put it in if I don’t now. Yes it’s off the topic of Zachary but does help explain how I ended up with him.
The next post will be about how I went to visit my sister for a weekend, in Cambridge and didn’t come home for two years. Yes I dated the least known player in a big named group. It wasn’t serious but had my mother known about it she would have approved as yes he was Jewish. Though I always did think my mother had eyes in the back of her head, was psychically linked to me, and knew when I was getting into trouble. The weird thing is she didn’t age physically during that period.
This is all true, and the story as every other story in Courting belongs to me and me alone. Not that anybdy else would want them