A 20-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early October, 1971
Friday, October 1, 1971
I called Dr. Wouk last night and spoke to him about the anxiety attacks I’ve been having. He said it was really nothing to worry about and that we’d talk about it at our next session.
Shelli called a bit after that. I felt hurt although I had no right to feel that way, and I acted coolly toward her. She and Jerry went to Chinatown for dinner and then went over to St. Mark’s Place to see Yankee Doodle Dandy. He went home with her, but didn’t go in and just kissed her on the forehead.
But Shelli was upset about something else. Her father decided to go into a hospital for shock treatments. He’s going into a Manhattan mental hospital called Gracie Square on Sunday for an indefinite time, and Shelli’s worried that his weak heart won’t be able to stand the strain.
Also, it looks like her grandmother has to be put into a nursing home, and that, plus her father’s hospital bills, will drain a lot of her family’s money, and her mother’s very nervous about everything, of course.
Anyway, this morning I spoke long and fondly to Shelli. Tomorrow morning we’re driving downtown to Planned Parenthood again so she can pick up a four-month supply of pills, which of course I’ll pay for.
By the way, Bill Breitbart wants Shelli and me to be in his movie about a couple of kids going for birth control counseling.
I was in a good mood when I went to the college this morning. Before class, I hung around with Jill, Avis and Hal, and then left for Poli Sci with Terry. Vince lectured brilliantly on British politics today, and even I raised a couple of good points.
Mikey said he learned the Governance Report calls for separate student governments for each of the six new “schools” (Science, Humanities, Education, etc.); President Kneller’s strategy is obviously to divide and conquer.
Shelli and I had lunch at Campus Corner and then went behind the library and made out before she went to Music and I returned to LaGuardia. Leon, Stanley, Lois and Jay were discussing the films Leon’s going to show this term in the EXCO series. But as Slade once said, “Celluloid never solved anybody’s problems.”
Gary complained about how “plastic” all the girls he meets are. But he’s pretty plastic himself, compared to most of the young people I know, and who does he expect to meet going to Upper East Side “swinging singles” bars?
Allan, Shelli and I went to Nathan’s at Kings Plaza for sodas and then Allan dropped us off at my house, where we made love. It was so beautiful coming inside her again. I missed her. But then she cried because she thinks Jerry’s in love with her. That’s got me worried too.
We went out to dinner in Georgetown, bought candle dye, and went to the movies, a Mia Farrow suspense film that wasn’t that bad. The long drive we went for afterwards was beautiful.
When I got home, I helped a little with the housekeeping because now Mom has that terrible cold and she’s really sick.
Sunday, October 3, 1971
Prof. Merritt invited the students in our English Lit class to go on his one of his architectural tours of Manhattan, to look at Victorian houses in the Village and near Gramercy Park, where he lives. I did want to go, but I knew today would be a rough day for Shelli, with her father going into the hospital, and I wanted to be there for her.
I saw Mayor Lindsay on Face the Nation, and if he isn’t running for President, then I’m not neurotic.
Shelli looked a bit tired when I arrived at her house. The phone rang, and she said it was Melissa, and then we went back to playing Risk. But I kept winning, and finally she threw the game board over and started crying.
Then she said it wasn’t Melissa that called, it was Jerry, but she told him that I was there so she couldn’t talk. She kept crying, and I told her to do whatever what best for her.
Dr. Russett told her to date other guys and I guess she wants to or she wouldn’t be doing it. Maybe I’ll see other girls although I don’t particularly want to. We were both sitting in silence when Allan arrived, bringing presents he’d gotten us this summer in Copenhagen.
I went out to bring back delicatessen — the counterman told me he’d never heard of anyone taking mustard on a turkey sandwich before – and when I returned, Melissa was there. I don’t think Allan likes her, really — but we all sat around and talked and had drinks and listened to records.
Shelli and I went out, walking over to Wetson’s while leaving Melissa and Allan alone in the apartment with Shelli’s grandmother, who was sleeping. Before returning upstairs, we made out in my car for a while.
At 5 PM, Shelli’s mother arrived home, looking haggard, and I quickly suggested to Melissa and Allan that we leave. Mrs. W had to take a taxi to the hospital and the subway home because none of her three rotten sisters-in-law would help.
At home, I called Gary, who said he spent the weekend “on the hunt” — for girls. I read some Wordsworth and Poli Sci stuff and watched Jude the Obscure on Masterpiece Theatre.
I can hardly believe it’s already October and the leaves have started to redden and fall.
Monday, October 4, 1971
So much has happened, it seems like today was an eternity. I’ve broken up with Shelli. Elspeth said, “For how long this time?” but I’m afraid we’ve reached an impasse and the point of no turning back.
This morning I awoke with optimism and ready for a new week. At school, Shelli, Stanley and Mike were sitting around when Shelli went to her mailbox and told us she found a note left by Elspeth, asking, “How are you getting along with Jerry?”
That brought the whole thing back. Shelli has now firmly decided that she wants to date other boys. She told me this morning’s session with Dr. Russett cinched that. I called him and shouted “Pig!” into the phone, just as Shelli had done to Dr. Wouk.
Steve Katz saw I was upset and tried to be helpful, but in Poli Sci, I couldn’t concentrate on British politics and could only think of the hurt that gnawed inside me.
After class, I went with Mikey to a meeting planning another (yes, another) antiwar Moratorium on the 13th. Professors like Bart Myers and Gary Osterhaas were there along with Ray and Mikey and me, but there were very few people. Students don’t seem to care about the war anymore.
I went home depressed, didn’t want to see Dr. Wouk, finally decided to go, and took a cab downtown; the driver wouldn’t stop talking about mutual funds — or maybe municipal bonds — for the whole trip.
Dr. Wouk said that my fear is that Shelli will sleep with another guy and I’ll think I’m a shit, lousy in bed as I am in everything else. He suggested I tell Shelli either she doesn’t date other guys, or it’s all over and we’ll just be friends.
I did just that tonight and Shelli chose to date other guys. Maybe it wasn’t fair giving her that kind of choice, but as Dr. Wouk says, I need to think of myself – as Shelli should, also, think of herself.
There were tears, “I love you”s, “I hate you”s, and as I left her house, I didn’t look back.
She called Melissa and Jerry; I called Allan and Elspeth. By tomorrow morning everyone in LaGuardia will know. I didn’t tell Gary when he called, though; I wanted to have a normal conversation, and Gary will find out soon enough.
My feelings are summed up by some graffiti I saw carved into my desk in Poli Sci today: “How can I be sure?” I guess I can’t.
Wednesday, October 5, 1971
An incredible day: absurdity abounds. Shelli and I sort of came to some kind of unspoken understanding late last night, and then she told me to call Jerry because he was afraid I hated him.
He told me straight: he likes Shelli and would ask her out again. I said I was still his friend. But I didn’t sleep last night and this morning I was depressed and didn’t want to go to the college — ever again. My stomach hurt and I felt rotten.
Mom, seeing me depressed, let me take the car and I drove to Rockaway. It was cloudy and high tide at the beach, and for an hour I sat there thinking and watching the surf. As I went back to the car, a man and his little baby hitched a ride with me to Cedarhurst.
I thought of visiting Aunt Sydelle while I was there, but decided to go to Berkowitz’s Poli Sci class so I returned to Brooklyn. But I didn’t go to class. Shelli cut her first class too and we talked by the lily pond.
Everything was a mess. She spoke to Jerry again after I called him, and I felt like the two of them were close and I was the outsider. We hurt each other a lot, but I kissed her before she left for Bio.
Jerry came on campus. He’d told Shelli that he was going to take me out to lunch, but I’m afraid I acted very coolly to him. I wasn’t feeling well, and when Gary said he was going home, I decided to do the same.
It was a really awful depressed afternoon. I was really in a bad way and quite upset. Mom said nothing was worth getting that sick over, but I didn’t listen. I just wallowed in self-pity until Mom got a phone call from Dad and came to my room and said, “You think you’ve got troubles?”
It seems that this morning, in Cedarhurst (irony!) Monty took Merryl and the twins and left Aunt Sydelle, taking Grandpa Nat’s car. Aunt Sydelle, perhaps more like me than any other member of the family, was naturally frantic, and Dad was with her all afternoon.
I picked up Shelli after her Bio lab and we were one again. Her father had the first shock treatment today, and I drove her to Borough Hall, where she got the train to the hospital.
After leaving off a love note at Shelli’s, I came home and found that Mom and Dad had both gone to Cedarhurst to be with Aunt Sydelle.
I called Grandma Sylvia, who again said her famous phrase with a sigh: “Never a dull moment.” She’s “going out of her mind” — but I guess I’ll have to wait until Mom gets home to find out the full story.
What a day!
Thursday, October 7, 1971
Today felt like autumn, as it turned very cool. When I arrived in LaGuardia this morning, it was raining very hard; Elihu and Scott brought their bicycles into the building.
I talked with Carole, who is now officially pinned to Irving Itzkowitz. Then I went to English, where we did Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” which Prof. Merritt really likes. But somehow I couldn’t get into it.
I walked up to the fifth floor of Whitehead with Gary. He’s really such a schmuck sometimes; he wants to be a clinical psychologist, but he’s the last person I’d take my problems to because he has absolutely no feeling for people.
Gary showed me his letter of resignation from the Spigot to Juan and it was full of big words used weirdly: “My dissatisfaction with editorial malfeasance with concern to the communication of events has led me to this impasse.”
In Poli Sci, Prof. Berkowitz gave a great lecture on the nation-state, but again, I found it hard to concentrate. Maybe it’s just sitting through two 75-minute classes in a row that’s my problem.
I walked back to LaGuardia with Linda, and then Shelli and I went for lunch. Understandably, this past week she’s been upset and she’s showing the strain. We now agree that we can date other people and we’ll see what happens.
Back on campus, Shelli went over to Saul, who had a column in today’s Calling Card (the quasi-Spigot “Government Report” page was worse than last week’s, leading Harvey to replace Juan as editor with Teresa).
Saul’s column was on his philosophy of life and smacked of ontology. He’s a hopeless idealist, and Shelli is attracted to that. I’ve never been one for “heavy stuff” like what Saul is into; he has too much faith in people, and I basically see life as absurd.
Anyhow, I went over to Leon, who was writing a letter to Jon Z in Berkeley. I’m not a Leon groupie, but he does have a magnetic quality. For the first time he did mention that he got my letter in Copenhagen.
After Shelli and others went to class, there weren’t many people around. I walked Avis to her cashier job at Waldbaum’s and then came home.
Later Shelli came over and we made love; it was very nice. I took her to Georgetown to buy a shirt and then to the subway to go to visit her father tonight. After dinner, I became nauseous and lay down for a little while.
I feel better now. Gary had wanted me to do a psych experiment with him tomorrow but Joel volunteered. Aunt Sydelle had a legal consultation with Sid Rosenberg this afternoon although she still hopes Monty will come back to her.
Sunday, October 10, 1971
A rainy October day. It’s 6 PM and I’m alone in the house, listening to James Taylor sing “Fire and Rain” in Marc’s bedroom. I’m sad. And lonely.
I think I shall soon burst if I don’t hold another human being in my arms. At the moment I’m settling for one of Jonny’s stuffed animals, the Snoopy dog he calls Augie.
This morning I just did not want to get out of bed. I used to be eager to get up and start the day, but lately I don’t want to face the world.
Shelli went with Jerry on the ferry to Staten Island last night, and she made another date with him for tomorrow, to go to the Met to do her Art paper for Sawin. I could have helped her, too.
Shelli says she still loves me, but she’s growing closer to him now. They’re discovering new things about each other and I’m certain they’ll soon be lovers. I don’t know: I feel as if I got a bad wound and now every day people keep reopening the scab.
After I wrote Jerry in Europe on the day this past summer when Shelli went out with Jack, telling him how much I loved her, he must have realized how much he’d be hurting me now. I’ve never done anything nasty to him.
But I guess he’s thinking of himself first, as Shelli is, as I am, as we all must. But why does there have to be so much hurt in life? For me, for Shelli, for Aunt Sydelle? If your whole world can turn upside down in a day or a week, what will the years bring? Don’t answer!
I called up Melissa and she went with me to Rockaway, walking on the boardwalk, watching the rain fall on the ocean. Melissa and I talked of inconsequential things, but I’m afraid I was too depressed to be much fun for her.
Later, I called Alice and she cheered me up a bit, but she’s ill with a bad cold and I couldn’t go over to see her. Alice has been a constant in my life since second grade, so it’s good to talk with her.
I wrote a letter to another old friend, Melissa’s cousin David, stupidly asking if he thinks I’d like Georgia. Well, I feel as though I have nothing to lose and so I might just try anything — even an existential act like murdering Dr. Russett or Uncle Monty.
Bob Dylan is singing now. I know that things will get better, but right now I’m a burnt-out case.
Monday, October 11, 1971
A hell of a lot has happened.
Last night I tried to call Shelli and her line was busy. I dialed Jerry’s number and it was busy, too. So I got hysterical. I just got this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I tried to commit suicide, taking six or seven tranquilizers, and then I called Shelli. She was cold and it was over between us.
When Mom and Dad returned from Cousin Wendy’s 10th birthday party, they tried to convince me that I had my whole life ahead of me and nobody was worth the aggravation.
Because of the pills, I slept, but I kept seeing Shelli with Jerry. For the past week I’ve been dreaming of her making out with other guys: Saul, Jack, even Mikey.
This morning I just didn’t want to get up. This sick feeling stayed with me all day. I didn’t cry. I don’t think I have any more tears left. It was Columbus Day and no school and nothing to do.
Since Maud was away, Mom had to clean up the house, so she gave me the car. First I drove to the college to xerox my story about Rockaway and I talked with Carole, who works in the copy room. I winced when she asked how Shelli was, but I kept my cool.
I walked around Prospect Park for what seemed like hours, stepping on the crunchy leaves: everything’s turned red and yellow and brown and orange. All I really wanted to do this afternoon was sleep. I kept taking tranquilizers, but they didn’t help at all.
The protection agency called at 5:30 PM and said “the place” was robbed, so Dad and Grandpa Nat had to go back to their factory/showroom. It turned out not much was stolen.
This evening Shelli called. I was polite but cool and firm. Later I went over to see her. She had been crying. And she cried more when I said we could now only be friends.
Jerry says he thought about her all summer in Europe, that he loves her very much and will make her love him and he’ll wait forever. They went to the Museum today.
She says she doesn’t love him, but perhaps in time she will. She said she might have taken me for granted. I made up a pact, that we become “the fierce and friendly two.”
Back at home, I felt more secure if a little bit triste. I wrote a note to Dr. Russett, apologizing for my behavior on the phone last Monday.
Wednesday, October 13, 1971
Autumn is coming. It’s here actually, and winter is coming. The diet I’ve been on has taken off some weight, but I’ve been getting terrible hunger pains. I’ve also been exercising a lot in my attempt to create a new me.
Ivan was sitting in LaGuardia lobby when I arrived at school today, and I confided in him about Shelli. The uncomfortableness between us is going away, and I’m glad about that; all I ever really wanted from Ivan was to be his friend, the way Shelli was.
Hey, I even like Saul now. But it distresses me that Jerry and I can no longer be friends.
A Kingsman reporter interviewed me about the screenings for the Student Court, the most impotent branch of this powerless student government.
Since taking office as president, Harvey hasn’t done anything. His cabinet members are all his brothers from the APO fraternity and they don’t give a damn about the issues.
Kevin came over to me for advice with a problem: he was working for the photo ID’s office and as a goof, he made up a faculty ID card for himself.
Dean Eastmond told Kevin that he was sending him a registered a letter, specifying the college’s charges against him. I told Kevin to see the legal counselor right away and wrote down the office number for him.
In Poli Sci, Vince discussed European intellectuals. Then came the Moratorium rally: speaker after speaker, more rhetoric, and people shouting “right on!”
Bart Myers talked about the exciting strikes and rallies of yesteryear, like our truly monumental Moratorium of two years ago when we pretty much shut everything down. But getting 200 people on the quadrangle today isn’t a bad turnout for 1971.
I sat on the quad with Mason and Leon, who’s completed work on this term’s EXCO courses. After the rally ended, Jill took me aside and said she knew about Shelli and Jerry – from Elihu, who’d heard it from Elayne. There are no secrets in LaGuardia Hall.
Jill was really great. “As a girl,” she said, “I know that you have much more to offer her than Jerry does.” She said while his attention may be flattering to Shelli, Jerry is very sick and more neurotic than I am.
Just then, Shelli came along and we went to the meeting with Peter Amato, where all we did was argue about a name for the magazine we’re doing; nothing got settled.
Tonight there was a Mugwump meeting in SUBO. Mikey is really taking charge and I think we’re going to go places. In the car, by Shelli’s house, we made out like old times – except I felt I was doing something with another guy’s girl.
Friday, October 15, 1971
This morning when I called Shelli she mentioned that she had a date with Jerry tonight, and that Mark was going over to Staten Island with them to do something or other.
That made me finally realize that I wasn’t going to let Shelli hurt me again – Mark was my friend before he was hers, although I guess he was Jerry’s friend before he was mine – and I told her I no longer loved her and that I didn’t consider myself her boyfriend anymore.
I’m going to be try to be strong this time; I’ll see if she does okay without me.
Deciding to cut Poli Sci, I sat down next to Leon in the lobby and felt closer to him than I ever did before; he really seems to be a wonderful person. We took a long walk together and at one point I really wanted to touch him. I guess it was just that I needed to touch someone at that moment.
I went to lunch with Teresa. She and Elspeth have made up. I was telling Teresa about Shelli and me, but I bet she knew it already from gossip. After we ate, she had to go to work, so I went back to LaGuardia.
Shelli entered soon afterward and handed me a note which said that “it will be easier for both of us once we’ve realized what’s happened and get used to the change.” She asked me to make an effort to be my friend, and said she’d always give me everything I need. She signed it, “More than love.”
She went to class and I got Mason to join me at a party given by the Classics Club in SUBO. The club’s headed by my high school friend Peggy Kestenbaum (née May), who played my wife in a scene from Ionesco’s Amédée we did in Mr. Sarney’s drama class in our senior year.
They tried to make a Bacchanalian feast, and I had some herb bread and Chianti while chatting with people, including Ethyle Wolfe, the chairman of the Classics Department who’ll be the head of the new School of Humanities. She is a delightfully witty and erudite woman.
Back in LaGuardia, I saw Jerry; we talked coolly, about world events. Neither Elihu nor Jill nor Elayne would talk to Jerry, and he looked unhappy about it. I left school but just felt depressed at home and so returned by car.
I found Linda outside on a near-deserted campus — that’s how it always gets late on Friday – and I sat down next to her and we talked quietly for an hour. I really opened up to her and told her about my therapy and stuff.
Harvey came by to take her someplace, so I walked over to SUBO and met Geri Reilley, who’s been in a few of my classes along with her twin sister Teri. We walked around a lot and she asked me to sit in on her British Art class.
On my way off campus, I spoke to Kevin at the SUBO cloakroom. He got a letter from the dean specifying charges regarding the fake faculty photo ID and the date of a meeting. I wish I could help him in some way.
Because Mark had gone to Staten Island tonight with Jerry and Shelli, Consuelo called me and said I should come and visit her. (I guess Mark and Consuelo want to be friends with everyone.)
I brought some flowers to Consuelo to make up for not getting her and Mark a proper wedding gift. She said she also told Mark to see other people and in fact threw him out of the house until he asked out someone else, but he refused. So, she said, “I stopped trying to do something that would make me unhappy anyway.”
We talked about our nervous breakdowns, and Consuelo said that down deep, we’re all lost souls searching for meaning in life and the closest we come to it is to have people we love. A remarkable woman, Consuelo is working in a ghetto day care center these days.
I seem to be making out all right on my own. Maybe I’m stronger than I thought.
Sunday, October 17, 1971
I’m so confused. I cried myself to sleep last night. I could have gone out with Gary, who kept urging me to get out and take my mind off things; he really is a good friend when the chips are down. Also, Mark called, telling me to come to have dinner with him and Consuelo.
But I just wanted to stay home. I did call Shelli but her mother said she went to a movie. This morning I called her and woke her up. She was distant.
After breakfast, I went out to the beach in Rockaway for a while, walking on the sand. Then I planned to go to the Brooklyn Museum. But on the way there, driving up Flatbush Avenue, I suddenly decided to turn right at Church Avenue to go over to Shelli’s.
She was having a late breakfast when I got there and her mother was preparing to leave for the mental hospital. Shelli showed me a letter Jerry gave her, one that his friend Börje’s mother sent to him after his mother’s death. Jerry stayed with their family in Stockholm for a while last summer.
Börje’s mother’s letter was about the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read. I cried when she compared what comes after death to “our Swedish spring . . . with every death, there is always a new birth.”
After her mother left, Shelli and I had something to eat and started watching the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup on TV. I held her hand and one thing led to another and pretty soon we were petting heavily.
Then we had sex – she wanted it as much as I did. I didn’t know if we were doing the right thing, but I couldn’t help myself. Après, she was quiet and said she had something to tell me.
“You had sex with Jerry last night,” I said, not wanting her to say it but not wanting it to be true, either. And she nodded, and I felt like vomiting.
But I restrained myself from trying to say something that would hurt her because she seemed very guilty and kept calling herself a slut and started staring at the kitchen knife and saying maybe she should kill herself until she realized how stupid that sounded to both of us.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so deeply hurt in my life. She told me how much better it was with me. She said, “You know how you’re concerned that you have a small penis? Compared to him, you have a weapon. And he’s like six inches taller than you.” That just made me feel worse.
Sex was something special – something between the two of us. How could she do it with him? I was outwardly calm, but I left as soon as I could. As I closed the door, she said she loved me.
I picked up a girl hitchhiker and told her the story and then went over to Gary’s and cried to him; he’s about the only person I can trust.
I was feeling okay for a while, but now I wonder if I’m just not being used to her. Marc says I’m a fool. I’d just like this unhappiness to end. I’ve lost seven pounds this month.
Jerry just called me as I was about to call him. We talked for an hour and I realized what made him my friend. I invited him over to the house for dinner tomorrow night and told him he could sleep over if he didn’t want to go all the way back to Staten Island. He agreed to come.
A | A | A
Of all the breakups I’ve had, the saddest and hardest to get over is the one with my platonic girlfriends.
I will keep looking at them while you go through the checklist of things you need to bring. I will note how I am not on it and feel the cracks under my ribs escalate with every beating pulse.
We’ve come too far to give up who we are
So let’s raise the bar and our cups to the stars
I have never held hands that were equally my own and not, at the exact same time. It is this lack of understanding that makes me want to say thank you.