Vicky

Retreat

By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 29 Mar 2022


Pat, Vicky, and a trip to Washington, Iowa.

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February rolled into March. We had fewer parties at our place but were invited, (with our speed) to others, several at Will Scarlet’s, based on our model. He had a large old house and many friends. My money ran out but not our stash. Sometimes we sold small amounts for food and beer money. Our spirits were still high but our health was wearing thin. Every night we went downstairs to the bar or to other parties, then continued on back home with a few friends, till the wee hours.

Some rare days we went very lightly, close to abstaining. This would be after four or five nights of four or five hours of sleep. On those days we ate better and sent everyone home by midnight, to catch up with a good ten hour sleep. But while it lasted we used it to excess and our health wore thin, which showed in our looks.

One night towards the end of March we were sitting around the coffee table, six of us, burnt out and vaguely discussing our future. Bones suggested we should pull the plug and go home for a rest. We were out of money and almost out of speed. I said I didn’t want to. Bones suggested we take a vote on it. All around the table, one by one, each declared that I should go home until the last to vote, Kim, sided with me. He always sided with me even in the face of four others, including his friend John, siding against.

So Bones and I sublet the apartment for a month to keep it. I borrowed money from a recent girlfriend, Pat, and we boarded a Greyhound bus together heading East, he to his hometown in Washington, Iowa (in the middle of nowhere, a tiny farming town in southern Iowa, flat farm country and nothing else) and I to Erie, Pennsylvania, the closest spot on the bus route to New York for my destination. The tickets those days were seventy dollars.

We packed our backpacks and with just a few dollars in our pockets and our last two grams of speed we set off. We sat in the very back of the bus for two days and nights, talking most of the way, making brief acquaintances, Bones playing his guitar now and then. We both got off at Iowa city. Bones wanted to show me his small hometown and friends and family. So we hitch-hiked there and I spent a week, crashing on his friend’s Jonesy’s floor and having a good time.

But now my money was all gone. I had my ticket and it was time to head home. I had just enough change for a loaf of ‘Wonder bread’ with a dime left over, by lucky fate, in my pocket.
The bread had to last me the day long ride to Erie and the hitch-hike home. The dime, providentially, was the price of the toll I didn’t know about to cross the Rainbow bridge on foot into Canada. I still had a little stuff left and wrapped it in paper and tucked it into the center binding of one of my dog-eared Latin pocketbooks, a volume of Livy, and stashed it among the ten others like it in the bottom of my backpack.

I remember at the customs counter, being scraggly looking, long haired, unshaven and unbathed for several days, the agent searched my belongings with added thoroughness and by chance picked out the one book my stash was in, opened it, curiously staring at the Latin, leafing pages and wondering how old it must be. As it was opened the binding spread and the paper could have fallen out at any moment. After a minute of this I nonchalantly said: “be careful of the binding, it’s brittle and might break”. He handed it back and home I went.

I finished it off the first night I was home in my mother’s house in Niagara Falls, staying up till 3 A.M. in the living room reading some book. The next days for me were perfectly normal. There were no ill effects of quitting the drug after four months of daily use. That’s why I mentioned that it was in no way physically addictive (as opposed to common myth), no more than drinking coffee. When you quit you don’t notice any change.

Whenever I think of how many close calls I’ve had in my life, with the law and with near accidents or disasters, I begin to wonder about superlunary agents.
Before I leave this period of my first revisit to Berkeley after graduation I’ll recount a few incidents that still play brightly in my thoughts, as significant episodes in my life.

Her name was Vicky, (still is if she’s still alive, which I hope she is). I met her one rainy afternoon at the bar of the Plough. She was blond, straight mid-length hair, petite, about twenty, extremely pretty, talkative and had a tom-boy demeanor in her gestures and speech. After some small talk I invited her upstairs to do some lines. As we were sitting on the couch and by now chatting away, Bones comes in, pulls me aside and tells me this girl is really big trouble and shouldn’t be here. I didn’t ask why but told him I’d take her outside.

The rain had stopped and we were both pretty high so we began walking the streets and talking. I hinted at what Bones had told me and she said she had an abusive, heroin addict boyfriend, (I’d even briefly met him once as she described him, at the Plough. They lived just down the street). He beat her up and anyone else who came close to her. He was a large brute with tattoos and had done time. She said this had happened again recently and she needed ‘to just get away’.

It began to drizzle again so we went into a dark, hole-in-the-wall bar near University avenue, where we nursed a few beers and did more lines in the bathrooms. She told me her whole life story and I told her mine. We were captivated by each other’s narratives, ‘tête a tête’, staring into each other’s eyes. Then the barman told us it was time to close.

It was two a.m. She told me it was too late for her to go home. She would be beaten. We walked the streets some more, pensive. We must have walked a hundred blocks that night in dark and misty weather, with no one else on the streets, but we were not weary or despondent at all. We were elated with each other’s newfound company and high on speed.

What struck us both was that we were very much alike in many ways, character traits and even size, like brother and sister. In a better world, had we met earlier, we would have been one of those couples everyone agrees make a perfect match. The only place with lights on at three a.m. was the I-hop on University. We went in and ordered pancakes; our hair all wet from the dew. We talked more intimately, holding hands by now and made plans.

I had a very close college friend, Hiram C., living in his very small hometown of Lemoore, (population 500) located in the very center of the central valley, the middle of nowhere surrounded by miles and miles of fields. I’d visited there once before in college days, an old farmhouse he had all to himself. So I told her I could take her there where we’d be welcome. We could hide and never be found again. She agreed.

It was now near dawn. We walked back the twenty blocks to the Plough where I snuck in and grabbed my backpack and some clothes. We went the four blocks to her place, (strange that I’d never met her before but I think her boyfriend rarely let her out) snuck out some clothes in a bag and off we set, hitch-hiking, a long walk to the freeway but then easy rides with the morning traffic on a now bright and glorious dawn.

Vicky, your presence comes alive in my memory with just the mention of your name. The beauty of your face is unforgettable. But your boyish charm comes back with even stronger emotions, as it was so rare. The three days I spent with you were richer than a thousand others in my mind’s eye. We were mirror images to each other and felt it. We acted and thought on the same wavelength.

You reminded me of Jane from my boyhood days, when we would each grab an apple from one of the two trees in her yard and enjoy them in the sunshine, then go catch frogs by the creek, catch them and let them go, gently, and watch them swim away in the water (not like Kevin who’d always smash them against a rock), then on to some other game with a glance, running side by side with pure joy and laughter, true companions.

You reminded me of Gena, sitting beside me in Rich’s basement on a Friday night, sitting together, sharing a joint and discussing the latest Janis Joplin album while listening to it, perfect equals, even in the number of beers we drank, and happily recognizing the similarities in our tastes almost everything. Or Kim nineteen years later in Puerto Rico.

Every other woman I’ve loved was for the inexplicable allure of their female manners and attributes, worlds apart and alien to me. The breaching of this gulf made for passionate love, which never lasted long, and equally passionate fights, our two minds so different, at cross-purposes. It made our attempts at talk often unintelligible to one another, all reconciliations happening only under the sheets with body language.

I wonder what it would have been like to partner with any one of these boyish sprites, so alike in mind to me and shape even, all of you being flat-chested and narrow-hipped. Perhaps sex would have been uninteresting, and far less satisfying then the long, intimate talks we’d have in bed. But our closeness, our partnership, our friendship might have been a far better satisfaction of soul than sex could even come close to, and lasted a lifetime.

The trip to Lemoore would take about four hours by car. We made it there in five. Whenever you hitch-hike with such a pretty girl the rides come fast and easy. Hiram was at work but he told me before that he never locked his door. There was no need, no crime, everyone knew everyone. When he came home he found us fast asleep on his waterbed.

Glad to see me (or any rare visitor) in these distant parts, we spent a merry evening eating and catching up. He told us we could stay as long as we wanted. He’d recently scored a great job in Hanford running the computers at the Armstrong tire factory, excellent pay but long hours, as they kept breaking down and he had a rare talent in repairing them, and had to stay till he did, as thousands of dollars were lost each minute the assembly line stopped. The one good thing about this job of his was that his pay increased rapidly as they realized his value.

So we had the days to ourselves, nothing to do but look out at cornfields, or take the two mile walk into town hand in hand along an eerily deserted dirt road to the one coffee shop where we’d sit and chat, while the local customers would stare at us as if we were aliens.

By evening we’d smoke pot with Hiram, listen to his huge music library and talk. We talked of life. There was no television in his house, probably no reception. It was rustic simplicity.

After the third night Vicky told me she wanted to go back. She’d had the time she needed to think things through and thanked me for it. She wanted to return and settle matters and leave her junkie boyfriend. I knew she wasn’t hooked because she had no tracks on her pure white arms, and for the three days with me, she was sober. I even checked her purse. There was nothing there to hide. And you can always tell if a person is using such drugs by their narrow pupils and looking away when they talk to you, trying to hide it.

But I did think it odd that she lived with a drug addict and wasn’t one herself. We cuddled and talked for hours and slept in each other’s arms but we didn’t have sex. She wanted to but had a disease I might catch. She told me this with tears in her eyes when I made advances the second night in bed, (the first night we were so tired we passed out like a light, after being up all the night before). She said she’d do anything to satisfy me and bent under the covers. I pulled her back right away and told her that wasn’t important, just her embrace.

We hitch-hiked back to Berkeley on the fourth morning. I left her at her doorstep with a hug and never saw or heard of her again. I really hope she went back to her mother in the East as she solemnly promised me the night before. Then again, telling a junkie you’re leaving him for good is like talking to a loaded gun, pointed at your forehead.

Another day I remember vividly was one day with Suzanne. It was a bright, windy Saturday Spring morning in San Francisco, the end of March. I was already planning on leaving and needed money. I had a few semi-rare books with me and thought to sell them. I tried the bookstores in Berkeley but they didn’t handle such rarities. So I thought a few antiquarian booksellers in San Francisco might be interested.

I made a list of shops from the telephone book in the Plough. Suzanne saw me doing this and asked what I was up to and when I told her she asked to come along. My prize was a one volume complete edition of Ovid, 1685, Lipsiae press, pigskin, 900 pages and once owned, with his signature plainly written, by William Rossetti, brother of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and a famous book collector. I’d purchased it in a small bookshop in Toronto for sixty dollars and knew it was a steal, the owner having no idea what he sold. This was the age before the internet and many treasures were sold cheap, as they were hard to look up in catalogues.

I had six or seven shops on my list to visit, but not the right one, which I found five years later, a private collector who would have bought it from me for many hundreds of dollars instantly. But his shop was by appointment only, old and not listed in yellow pages. Still we had a very fine day, traipsing up and down the hilly streets together, almost arm in arm, enjoying the sights and chatting away. I spent one of my last dollars sharing a plate of ‘lo mein’ with her, using chopsticks, laughing at our clumsiness, from a Chinese street vendor, but no luck with the books. I have the book still, on my shelf. If I’d sold it, the money would have turned into sandwiches and beers in no time, and maybe another night with Suzanne. But the book would be gone, forever.
The other striking memory is of Pat, the girl who gave me the money to make it home. One evening Bones and I paid a rare visit to John Seebach’s small room. We found him there sitting on his bed beside a girl. We were invited in. Bones took the chair and I sat on the other side of the girl. She was about John’s age, five or six years older than us, with long, straight brown hair and pretty when her thick glasses were off.

She didn’t say much besides ‘hello’, so us boys got talking excitedly about some current topic for fifteen minutes or so, when all of a sudden I felt her fingers streaming through my long hair, then both her hands on my scalp, stroking my hair over and over. ‘It’s so fine’, she said, leaning over and holding some close to her glasses, sniffing it. ‘I want you to come home with me now’, was her next remark. John and Bones smiled and off we went.

When you’re young and unattached and a strange woman invites you into her bed, it’s amazing how compliant you are. I was led away like a lamb, with no idea where I was being taken and didn’t care. Under the street lights she led me by the hand, smiling.

This was the beginning of a strange week-long affair ending when I boarded the bus she put me on. She had a Spartan room in a house with a mattress on the floor, a few books and a desk, pretty curtains. She had very little money, no job, just an S.S.I. check, I guessed. She wore tight, light-blue jeans sometimes and a plaid flannel shirt and sneakers that night, highlighting her curvaceous rear. I suppose she was out for sport that evening.

On other days she wore full-length robes and sandals and a denim jacket, whenever we took a stroll up Telegraph avenue. She was taller than me by a few inches and probably my weight. She rarely went out and had no friends that I knew of, except John. I spent most of that week with her. Bones and I were running out of speed so we weren’t giving any away, and our company, except for John and Kim, evanesced.

I spent a few days with her, just walking around campus, doing most of the talking, showing her my favorites haunts, Moe’s bookstore and the Med. Other mornings she seemed sad and stayed in her room, while I went my rounds to the Med. and bookstores (as I was soon to leave them for who knows how long), but back to her pad by evening, for dinner, talk and sex.

She came over to see my apartment only once. There was company, two or three guests besides Bones and she sat bolt upright on the couch beside me, smiling but with nothing to say. The one remark she did make that afternoon, while we were on a far different topic, interrupting us just as someone came from the bathroom, was that she could tell what type of character a person had by hearing the sound of his toilet flush. No one replied to that odd statement and we went back to our conversation.

She told me quietly one night, lying in bed beside me, almost in a whisper, that she’d done too much L.S.D. and other drugs as a hippy, ten years earlier, hitch-hiking around the country with another girl, her best friend, having crazy adventures, and that she knew it had affected her mind. Then she started weeping. She also told me she wished she was my mother. I replied out of sympathy that night that she’d be a good mother, because she was so nice to me.

These were strange, half-sad hours with her, and I treated her with all the kindness I could muster, doing no speed, drinking tea with her each morning, talking of trivial things, happy to be with her. At other times, after a cheap dinner out of a can, like pea soup or chili, I’d talk to entertain her. I’d describe in detail pieces of my happy childhood, exploring the empty hills and woods with my two friends, Brad and Jim, our tree forts and hammocks, the beautiful Crystal Springs reservoir, swimming in it and getting chased by rangers and escaping them. She loved such stories most of all, as if they were dreams she could enter.

She had to empty her purse to get me home, some eighty dollars, but she did it out of love. I took it and never saw her again, ‘the kindness of strangers’.

It didn’t have to end that way. I came roaring back into town four months later with a pocket full of money (800$) from ten weeks of work. I should have looked her up and repaid the debt and her kindness with some of my company. But I didn’t. Bones and his new girlfriend May were still at the Plough, about to move out in three weeks but inviting me to stay, and a new whirlwind of events and a new affair put her out of mind. I never looked back in those days, the fast pace of youth precluding it. But now, in solitude, I do.

Do I regret it? Yes, but in an ambivalent way. It might have caused more pain for her, as I could never have stayed with her for long. She was too crippled in mind. Retrospect and memories are full of regrets, until we dissect them.

Can the end of an affair, however brief, ever be pleasant? No final parting happens without remorse, without:

‘The Horror of the Last’. ‘There are few things, not purely evil, of which we can say without some emotion of uneasiness: ‘this is the last’.

Samuel Johnson, last "Idler essay".

I even feel this now as I’m done with her, the last mention of her name, a letter of which I’ve changed in some convoluted tenderness, as if to protect her. But this thought of her won’t be the last. Today, as I’m writing this, is the first anniversary of my mother’s death. The subject is strangely appropriate.

Life in Niagara Falls was dull, uneventful, friendless in fact, the life of a hermit, but rich in books and health restoring. I would work awhile then travel back to Berkeley with some money, eager for adventure, and easy to find. Then back to Niagara Falls, broke and burnt out, to my mother’s basement, to rest and recuperate, taking on another easy, dead-end job, reading all my free hours, and little else.

My first job in the Spring of 1978 was with the Niagara Falls public library. I parlayed myself into that work telling the head librarian that this was my first job since out of school, and that the government would pay half my wages for ten weeks, something I’d read by chance in a newspaper. So for half the minimum wage they took me in. I’d had my hair cut and wore a light blue, summer leisure suit, spoke politely, but with collegiate fluency, making the impression of a model youth, a future community leader, far different from the motley crew of bohemian poets and free thinkers who were my friends and ranged through my head. A perfect disguise.

The fact that I was only using this job to get back to that lifestyle has some irony in it.
Although I loved books, (certain books) and enjoyed these ten weeks, I could never be a librarian. Most of the aisles were filled with trash which I could never recommend or stamp out to the feeble-minded public who approached the front counter.

If it were my library to do whatever I liked with, there would soon be a huge bonfire in the back parking lot, burning for days and nights, and all the shelves would soon be nine-tenths empty. But each patron from then on would walk out the front door with something far better than what they came in for, and improve their minds.

Since I was only temporary there, they, all female workers at the library, young and old, gave me a pleasant taste of the different aspects of library work, filing returned books, coding new acquisitions with the Dewey Decimal system, cleaning up. One day they let me compose a short, one paragraph synopsis of fifteen new books. One was a large print bible, very large print, so I wrote:

"A book benevolently designed for those with infirm eyes as well as infirm souls".

Word of it spread like wildfire. The head librarian said it was beautiful. I was treated with great deference for the next few weeks but the ten were over so I packed up and hit the road.

I traveled to Connecticut to spend a week with my father, lately divorced from my mom. He’d bought a condo and worked in N.Y.C. at corporate headquarters for American Can. While I was there he had to go on a business trip for three days. During that time, I received a letter from John and Bones. I’d told them my itinerary. The letter was written from the Plough, urging me to come back and as an incentive, they dumped about half a gram of speed right in the envelope, not even wrapping it in plastic. So I spent the next two days going through my father’s large Jazz record collection, day and night.

A few days later I was on a hippy bus called the Gray Rabbit, from N.Y.C. to S.F., non-stop. They’d taken the seats out of this old bus and built a platform at seat level, then covered it with mattresses that were bent up to the window level at one end so you could sit or lay down as you pleased. Two drivers took turns and drove continuously. Pot smoking was encouraged, but not beer, to cut down on rest stops. I sat next to a German girl named Christina, very pretty, her boyfriend sitting on her other side. I talked with her briefly at times but read Caesar’s ‘Gallic wars’ almost the whole way, eight hours a day, in a pocket Latin edition. I think this must have deeply impressed her somehow, from what happened months later. But she mentioned nothing then. We didn't even exchange numbers or addresses then. Probably both of us had no idea where we were going.

As I came up to the Plough Bones and his new girlfriend May were hanging out the front window waving at me. He’d returned from Iowa after three weeks and met her at a party a few weeks later. She was very pretty and they were inseparably in love. Kim had taken my room while I was gone, (he'd found some carpentry work) but gave it back to me and returned to John’s floor. All was as before except there was much less speed. We had to buy it now and it was expensive, so it became a weekend affair, at most.

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Diomedes
Diomedes

B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.


Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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