A Blow To Peter's Self-Reliance

"Is It Always A Love Story?" Chapter 6

David Stone
In Chapter 6 from Is It Always A Love Story?, Peter recalls the crushing emotional blow that sent his rebellious, independent self into a tailspin. 


Chapter Six


For Ginny and me, the next few weeks were a calm unruffled by warnings, intuitive or otherwise, about what was coming. There was some discomfort in relocating ourselves. No longer underground romantic radicals resisting authority, fighting for love, we felt around for redefinitions. This was all new territory, especially for me.

“I don’t think I know how to be a nice guy,” I told Ginny. “It felt better being the devil sneaking through the backdoor to get in the princess’s pants.”

“We can’t sneak around now. We promised. My mother will kill me…”

“Love will find a way. So will this,” I added, taking her hand and pressing it between my legs.

Ginny massaged me though my jeans for a moment, then pulled back.

“We’re going to have to be more careful.”

After our bleary-eyed, middle of the night summit meeting, Ginny’s mother got an old quilt from the closet and made a bed for me on the couch, the couch where Ginny gave me so many handjobs before I persuaded her of the wisdom of my idiotic plan, advancing to the next level by stretching out with her on the floor.

“You’re going to be the only person downstairs, so don’t mind all the noise when the kids get up. We’ll try to make them leave you alone, so you can get a little sleep. No promises.”

Lights out, I lay there in a darkness I had never known, camped out on my girlfriend’s couch in the place where I’d been a raider. Now, I was tamed, I was harnessed. It felt fucked up and very breakable.

The giant heating unit in the back of the living room blasted air over me as it dispatched waves of heat strong enough to bank the turn to reach the rooms upstairs. In one of those rooms was the toilet. Could I find it in the dark or should I continue to hypnotize my dick? I laughed to myself. At least one thing was working perfectly, even if it was just my coffee-flooded bladder.

I managed the miracle of self-control until enough light found its way inside to show me the way to the bathroom before a disastrous flood of urine soaked their couch. Then, I came back downstairs and found Ginny’s mother already in the kitchen. She was wrapped in a long, pale blue bathrobe that just missed sweeping the floor and her hair was asunder. No wonder. She probably got less sleep than I did. A residue of alcohol must be afloat in her like pools of liquid ash.

I felt funky myself, in the same clothes for twenty-four hours, through work to light, interrupted sex to confrontation to a battle of wills with my bladder, which I was lucky to win.

A colorless dawn was challenged by a bright, warming ceiling light.

“Good morning,” I said. “Thanks for letting me stay on the couch.”

“I hope you don’t think we’re the kind of people, Ginny’s father and me, who’d send you out into the middle of the night.”

It occurred to me — and, my intuition told me, to her too — that I’d been doing that to myself for months, going from making out, even having sex, with their daughter directly into the cold on that windswept hilltop. Mom, of course, didn’t know about the sex. Yet.

“No, I never thought that. Ginny always said you were nice and we would get along, if we ever got a chance, but we got off on the wrong foot.”

“Yes, you did,” she responded pointedly.

“Well, that’s over. It was wrong, and it won’t happen again.”

Did I know I was lying? Part of me, sure.

“Would you like to have some coffee, Peter?”

The morning outside was stretching into a tepid gray.

“I think I need some, before I head home.”

“And home is where now? I know we went over it, last night, but there was a little too much…”

“On Mather Street. I’ve got an apartment there. And I’m working at Montgomery Ward’s, in sporting goods, except when they yank me over to the stockroom, which I hate.”

Loquacious, I see now, answering too much.

Mrs. Lewis turned from the stove and looked at me seriously.

“If you want to have a future with our daughter, you know you’ll have to go back to school. No high school dropout is going to marry one of our girls, not if we can help it,” she said.

“Yeah, there’s a lot I need to get worked out there. I’ll do it though. I know I have to.”

No, I didn’t, not yet. All I knew were the threats of poverty the schools tossed at dropouts like me, like the forebodings my sales manager, years later, coaxed me to use in a closing technique he called, “The Chimes of Doom.” They were never going to ease up. The middle couldn’t stand to stretch that far. It was important that everyone believe.

“Maybe you could patch things up with your folks,” she advised, holding a mug in her hand, almost absently, nodding slightly.

Which folks among the splinters should I try gluing into some sort of form, like a popsicle stick house maybe, I wondered, and against their will?

“I will have to do that, I know, sooner or later.”

I could see that she’d patched together a concise capsule of me in the few hours since leaving me downstairs on the couch, bundled in a quilt. She must have thought she knew enough details, and I was happy to let her have that image, the one with the roughest parts missing.

So, here I was doing my own Eddie Haskell rendition, and experience should have taught me that detente was the beginning of the end. But an irrepressible strain of optimism plagues my DNA. It keeps trying to rescue me. Gravity tugging toward a romantic notion of normal kept me going with the flow, but not for long. Soon, there would be a painful lesson about myself in the world in which we’re forced to navigate.

Money talks and bullshit walks, they say. I didn’t have any money, but I had plenty of the latter.

Although Ginny and I were free to see each other openly now and did whenever my work schedule allowed it, we were supervised. Her parents were all but formal chaperones for a while, popping up unexpectedly wherever we hung out, never letting us get more than a half-hour alone. You can bet I was banned on Saturday nights when alcohol ruled the empire, and hard-ons were about as welcome as poisonous snakes and vampires.

Ginny’s mother knew what I was after, and her skinny and silent father, aware, sympathetic, yet dutiful, was something like the palace guard, establishing blockades, scheduling patrols and menacing at a distance.

Easing into this, Ginny and I were happy, sitting together, watching TV with her five younger brothers and sisters, sometimes babysitting, gaining trust.

“It was coming unglued, though,” I told Cal one afternoon, on patrol in Asia, as far away as we could get without leaving Earth, “but I should’ve known. I saw her once or twice a week. I built my life around it. I was sure we’d end up together. But when I was away from her, working all day, coming home with nothing to do, nobody around, it felt okay to play around with other girls. They were there, you know, and she wasn’t.”

“I know. They say stiff dicks don’t lie. It’s true. You can’t tame the savage beast. Pouring love on it doesn’t instantly get you a softie.”

“Christ, that fucking resonates,” I said. “Around here, savage beasts everywhere. If we had more sex, maybe we’d have less war.”

“I doubt it,” Cal reasoned. “It ain’t young guys with hard-ons starting wars. It’s old guys who don’t get it up anymore.”

Cheating on Ginny confused me, given the assumptions we all started with about love, but it felt easy. One morning, many years later, thinking about it for roughly the millionth time, the doubts playing around created, the truth just came to me: forget ideals and philosophy, we all do exactly what we want to do unless and until there is something big enough to stop us. That something for me, by then, was empathy, conscious consideration of others, but in 1966, others were still very much others in my book. It was me in the shell, by myself. I may have thought I’d come out, but I hadn’t. I couldn’t.

After all, my cheating turned out to be meaningless, except as philosophical evidence.

It’s odd how incidents abut in memory, but these two always do in mine. First, there is the Sunday afternoon, the first one warming into the sixties when Ginny’s mother let her gaze drift long enough for Ginny and me to go out for a walk together. Her mom apparently thought of sex as something done indoors, involving furniture. I soon led Ginny down a dirt road where we wouldn’t have to worry about cars racing over the rolling hilltop, then into the shelter of trees where woods sent a slender arm across the fields. We kissed hard for a while, and I felt her breasts, then reached down inside her jeans.

“Peter, we shouldn’t.”

“When else are we going to have a chance? I’m ready to explode.”

I pulled her hand down to the front of my own jeans.

“See?”

“All right. I love you. I love you.”

She tried to bury her head inside my chest.

Sex talking, I would remind myself, in anger, for years after that.

We laid down on the damp leaves, our pants down past our knees, and did it quickly. I’d been holding back a lot. It didn’t take much. It was the kind of brevity that could get you shot by the 1980s, figuratively.

After, we laid there, catching our breaths, Ginny’s head, I noticed, just inches from a little stream trickling along undisturbed by clumsy fucking in the neighborhood.

I felt out of synch as we rearranged our clothes, standing among young trees not full enough to protect us from rain, if it started falling out of a blue sky, or the eyesight of anyone who happened to stumble along. I could even see the road we walked down, escaping, which meant…

“I love you, Ginny,” I said, as a way of reorienting.

What I had just done had too little love in it, pushed aside by nature.

“I love you too.”

She looked away, then down at her clothes with a kind of disbelief, her jeans a little soiled from being rubbed against the ground.

“I hope my mother doesn’t…”

“Honey, we have to find a better way. It shouldn’t be like this…”

“What can we do? My parents…”

“Maybe we should just love each other and wait,” I spilled off the top of my head, in recovery mode.

“Can you do that?”

“For you, I can do whatever I have to do.”

Because the ridiculous unreality of that reassurance didn’t taunt me until we parted for the day, we were easy with holding hands as we walked back to her house. We talked again about the future, the house near a stream in the woods where we’d have our kids and the life we wanted. I left her with that, feeling optimistic, but it was soon over, we were over.

Three days later, Ginny called early in the morning. I was living at home again, my job and apartment arrangement having crashed in a probability challenging expression of simultaneity. When I grabbed the phone, my father and sister looked at me with suspicion. Interruptions in routine were taken as signals that I was in trouble again. I was.

“I can only talk for a minute,” Ginny said. “I’m on a pay phone at school.”

“What…?”

“I think I’m pregnant, Peter. I’m so scared…”

“What? It was just two, three days ago…”

“From before.”

The idiotic plan, I remembered.

“We’ll figure something out. Does your mother know?”

“Not yet, but I have to tell her.”

“Okay. Can we talk later? Maybe I should come out…”

“Don’t do that. Let me talk to her first.”

This was the next to last conversation Ginny and I ever had. While I was still sorting things out in my head, waiting for her, Ginny’s mother called instead. She didn’t call me. She called Dad.

It came to me like watching a slow-motion avalanche, from which there was no escape, picking up momentum over my head.

Dad usually didn’t answer the phone, since calls were rarely for him, but it rang as he was in transit from his nightly bathroom assignment to his chair in front of the television. He reached over and picked it up, a little annoyed as he always was with its disruptive ringing.

“Hello. Yes…”

He glared at me. The freedoms I got to play with exceeded any my friends got, but the one thing guaranteed to piss my father off was when the results of those freedoms came crashing at him. Usually, I was able to limit the damage. This time, it was too late.

I waited and watched. Mostly he listened and agreed to whatever was being said.

“Yes, I’ll tell him,” and, “No, I understand,” were among his concessions. 

You could see he was disgusted and eager to get off the phone. When she let him go, he looked at me with a complex expression, one I hadn’t seen before and would not again, something like frustration, disillusion, distaste and hate boiled together.

“I suppose you know who that was…”

“How would I know that, Dad?”

“Didn’t you promise before you’d stay away from that girl, that Jeannie…?”

“Ginny,” I corrected him. “What about Ginny?”

His anger swelled.

“I suppose you don’t know what kind of mess you’ve gotten yourself into, do you?”

Time froze. It was like reality paused to recalibrate.

Without much thought but feeling the apocalypse in my bones, I decided to challenge him and not be a boy anymore at home.

“What?”

I threw my arms wide apart.

“You don’t know she’s in trouble? She didn’t tell you?”

“Oh, that,” I reacted from some glib part of myself I hadn’t previously been properly introduced to.

“You’d better do something to fix it before the police come to get you again,” Dad said. “Just don’t expect to bring any babies home here.”

No, sir, I thought to myself, we wouldn’t want to inconvenience you, Dad. And what the fuck was “fix it” supposed to mean? Retract my sperm? Pray to Jesus to save me?

Instead of continuing his march to the TV, Dad limped up the short hallway where Mom had parked a washing machine we never figured out how to work and disappeared into his bedroom.

Abandoned, I realized that Sally had been standing behind Dad, having started for the living room when the telephone rang. She looked like she wanted to disappear. From what I could tell, she’d been at least partly successful.

She looked at me now with the family standard wit and said what I’d expect from her, Bobby or Tim.

“That was stupid. What are you going to do now?”

The next day, I hitchhiked out to Ginny’s school in Whitney Point and went inside to look for her. I didn’t know where to find her in the middle of the day and wandered the long, broad hallways, peaking in classroom door windows, until a teacher stopped me.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

The teacher was indefinite as a person, wrapped in the disguise teachers used then to keep their private selves walled off from students. She was serious-looking, her glasses a kind of tool.

No futzing around, I told her I was looking for Ginny Lewis.

“Any special reason?”

“Not really. I…”

“You must be the young man we got a call from her parents about. They didn’t want you hanging around the school with her. So…”

“I’m not dangerous,” I objected. “I just want to catch her between classes for a minute.”

“I understand,” she said, looking over the top of her glasses to make real eye contact, “but you’re not going to find her. They called her in sick, the last couple of days.”

I flirted with the idea of going to Ginny’s house and instigating another confrontation with her parents. I didn’t because, this time, I didn’t know what to say, what kind of appeal I could pull off. Was I going to marry her? How could I propose that with no job, not so much as a high school diploma, money or any kind of definable future? What was I going to offer, magic?

I was going to let it fall out on its own, that’s what, let the solution roll out of somewhere else.

I swung into neutral, and it did.

Two long, moonstruck days later, Ginny finally called. Fortunately, I got to the phone before Dad did, but I got the privilege of his staring at me with a degree of malevolence throughout the conversation.

“I just wanted to let you know I’m not pregnant, after all,” Ginny told me when I asked how she was doing.

“Good.”

“I got my period yesterday. So, no baby…”

It registered that I’d gotten an extra day of grief for nothing.

“What now? Are your parents really mad?”

“They were, Pete, but we talked it out. They made me agree that I would never see you again. I could make this one last call, but I can’t even call you again, after this…”

In my mind, I saw, not just Ginny, anxious, adjusting her glasses with a single finger at the bridge of her nose, staring at the floor, but her mother hovering over the conversation, being sure Ginny made quick, efficient work of it.

“Ginny, what kind of shit is that? You can’t…”

“I can’t talk to you about it. I still love you, but we can’t see each other anymore. Not ever…”

“Come on!”

She hung up — or her mother plunged a finger past her shoulder to hit the disconnect button. But what else was Ginny going to do, keep the seesaw pounding the ground under our asses for a few more useless minutes?

I stood there, dumbfounded for the first time in my life, as far as I recall. Reality knocked to the ground. 

It, Ginny and me, was over. Just like that. Bam! Door closed. It really was over. I felt ridiculous, detached like a pinball whacked and pounded against the walls with no strength of my own.

I looked at Dad. He’d stopped at the end of the short hallway. We hadn’t talked since Ginny’s mother called. He didn’t look angry now. Or disgusted. He looked sad, maybe a drizzle of disappointed.

“Well, she’s not pregnant, after all,” I told him. “So much for that…”

He nodded, almost imperceptibly.

In unfamiliar territory, not clear on what he wanted to say, I guessed, Dad stood silent. I reacted to my predicament differently.

“I’ll be upstairs,” I said. “I’ve got some things I want to do.”

“Some chess later?” he asked.

“Sure, Dad. Give me a half-hour…?”

He looked at his watch.

“Eight o’clock?”

“Eight o’clock.”

I went upstairs, closed my door, and I cried myself dry, unable to stop until I had nothing left, draining emotion to save my drowning soul.

 

A complete chapter list can be found here.

Find Is It Always A Love Story and all of my other books on my Amazon Author Page.

 
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