All Downhill from Here

So in September 1969 we load up all our furniture and of course the baby carriage and move into a rented house about a block from downtown Bethlehem, if there were any such thing there as a block or downtown.  The village is just a general store with a soda fountain and a gas pump, no sidewalks. That first day, I push Caitlin down the dirt road trying to avoid potholes, park the carriage outside the store and carry Caitlin in, sit on a stool with her in my lap, and order a malted milk.  The proprietor looks at me blankly.  I say, how about an egg cream.  Silence. Never mind I say. We consult over the menu and decide what I want is a frappe.

Our rented house is old, ancient even, crumbling white clapboard set back from the street and surrounded by woods.  It was vacant all summer, and every window is draped with huge spider webs and hairy spiders. Phil is terrified of spiders, it turns out, and huddles in the living room under a blanket playing his guitar and singing the blues at the top of his lungs to ward off evil spirits. Peter just laughs and lies on the couch beating time to the music with invisible drumsticks and smoking dope, and I read the local paper looking for a job.

I go to work in the Collections Department of the regional hospital, making telephone calls to deadbeat patients, sometimes dead patients.  You never know.  Caitlin is almost a year old.  She goes to a babysitter’s each morning and cries when I leave her.  She and I are not cut out for this, I think.

I have been dropped into an alternate universe.  Nothing in this new world, this countrified nightmare, is familiar. At least in Ypsilanti you could get bagels.  At least you could drive on paved roads.  At least you could stay home and watch television instead of yelling at poor white trash all day to work out a payment schedule or forget about coming to the hospital the next time they get sick.

Phil comes to me one evening when we are alone in the house, Peter is supposedly in the library, and says, “I think you should know that Peter is seeing a girl at the college”. He looks ashamed. Peter is his best friend.  He tells me who it is and I actually have met her, can you believe that?

I am beside myself, I am a rampaging Fury, I am so jealous I cannot see straight. “Watch the baby” I tell Phil and I haul on my boots and parka because we are in the midst of a fucking snowstorm, just another fucking hardship in the wilderness, and I drive through the blizzard to the girl’s house, and knock on her door. When she opens up I say, “How can you sleep with a married man with a baby and break up his family.” She looks uncomprehending at me so I shout. “What kind of a person would do that?” She shakes her head, “Oh, it isn’t a big deal. I don’t love him or anything.”

When I confront Peter he is sorry and promises to stop seeing the girl, he says what he really wants is for me to spend more time with him and his friends at the college, stop being so serious. I don’t know what to do. I still love Peter and I can’t imagine leaving, so I don’t, I stay, I brush off his infidelity, make an effort to become part of his world, and honestly it doesn’t take much, just hang out on campus and do drugs. It all comes back to me, how much I used to like speed.

So my detour into respectability is abruptly over. I am jarred awake.  My life has shifted, I rub my eyes, and see that everything has changed while I was busy having a baby and oblivious to the world outside.  It is 1970 and I can’t play house any more, I understand. Peter has dragged me into the center of a conflagration, dragged me away from the comforts of New York, far from my mother, into the wilds of the Far North, the wilds of psychedelic freaks and rock and roll, the wilds of drugs and women who, like me at an earlier time, believe in free love.

About Karen To and Fro

Everything you didn't want to know about me!
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