Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Election Night

I had forgotten it was John Lennon's birthday on Monday. It also happens to be one of my dearest friend's birthdays, and he received my birthday greetings and wishes for a good year. So it was that I was thinking about when I saw the mention of Lennon today.

My connection to John Lennon is virtually non-existent, other than the fact that I came from a working-class Northern English factory town—he a Liverpudlian, me a Mancunian. But there is a link to John Lennon in my life. It's also a link to politics and my personal story, so if you're in the mood to read, I'm in the mood to tell.

In November of 1980, I was a college freshman. I had spent the entire summer prior to college working on a congressional campaign. It was exciting work, and I met many "famous" politicians, got to hob-nob with political movers and shakers. I was young, and I kind of got adopted by the campaign as the "kid," but the deal was, I was also intense and well-organized, and I wound up being the volunteer coordinator. Yep. 17-year old me organizing phone banks and sign parties and envelope-stuffing parties.
I also had an enormous crush on one of the campaign coordinators. He was a recent graduate of college, taking a year off before applying to law school, and I thought he was to die for. I thought about him constantly. Even when I went away to college, every weekend, I'd go back down to campaign headquarters and work with him. And, because I was going to college in the same district, I still got to see everyone when they came up for events.

He and I talked all the time. He was a huge Beatles fan, especially Lennon. We talked about music. About politics. About how the world was going to be a better place. We talked about human rights. About how labor unions were important. About how he was going to law school to get involved in international justice. Each day, my crush became more and more of a love. I was blissful in his company. I couldn't help it.

November 4, 1980. For a liberal Democrat, it may reign as one of the worst nights ever. It wasn't just Jimmy Carter getting trounced by that animatronic moron. It was the liberal Democratic senators who lost their seats that night: Church, Bayh, McGovern, Magnuson. I forget all of them now, but I just remember being despondent. As the election returns came in, it just went from bad to worse to grim. A caravan decided to head south to our main headquarters so our candidate, who had clinched his race, could make his victory speech. It was late. After 11. Nobody noticed that I was pouring myself drinks from the open bar. But by midnight or so, with it hellaciously clear that nothing was ever going to be the same, I was pretty drunk.

As was he. He offered me a ride home to my parents' house. My folks had no idea I was in town, of course. I remember we got into his car and he said to me, "Well. You have two choices, I can drive you to your folks, or you can come home with me."

Guess which I chose? I wasn't a virgin then. I had lost my virginity at 15, and my fantasies about this guy had always included sex. Of course I said yes. And what I needed from him was more than sex. I needed comfort. Some assurance that the world that I thought was collapsing all around my feet wasn't really collapsing. That it wasn't really as bad as it looked. That this country had not really just elected Reagan and a band of such conservative dismal Republicans that certainly, now, Orwell's 1984 was about to manifest itself.

He needed that, too. He needed to lose himself in me, to pretend that the world would be different. So that's what we did. We went back to his apartment and we fucked all night long. Literally. The room was light by the time I fell asleep. We slept for a few hours, and then, when he woke up, he said to me, as only a 22-year old male could, "That should not have happened."

I don't think I could have been more devastated. The world was over and the guy I thought I was in love with had just disowned everything that had passed between us. He drove me to the bus station, and I remember crying all the way to my college town.

Three weeks later, I'm late. It's just a day or two. No biggie. But I'm getting worried. This is 1980, and they don't sell pregnancy tests in stores. There's a health clinic on campus, but the earliest they'll do a pregnancy test is two weeks after a missed period. Three days. Four. Five. No blood. I call him, tell him the news. He's supposed to be leaving for Europe right after Christmas. He's supposed to be starting law school in the fall. This is not in his plans.

He begins to call me every day to ask me one simple question. "Have you gotten your period yet?" And every day, the same answer. "I'm sorry. No. I haven't."

I didn't tell anyone. Who was I going to tell? I just carried myself through my days in a daze. I tried not to think about it. I had heard that you could make your period late by stressing out over it, so I tried to tell my body to relax. I went running, every day, thinking that the exercise would make me start.

Abortion was legal, and was available in the college town where I lived. But I didn't know what I wanted to do. If I was pregnant, could I go through an abortion? I preferred not to think about it.

I saw my folks. Didn't mention anything going on with me. I went to classes, did my school work. Talked to him every night. It was bittersweet. On one hand, he was talking to me and I thought I might be in love with him. On the other, he clearly did not want to be talking to me. He wanted me to go away.

Finally. The first week of December. I went into the health clinic the first thing in the morning. I peed into a jar. I would get my results in the afternoon—after three p.m. they informed me. He had arranged to meet me off-campus at 4:00. I showed up at three in the clinic office. "Negative" the nurse said, and I must admit, my feelings were mixed. I was happy to not be pregnant. But I also knew what it meant for him.

He showed up at the café. I told him the news. He was so happy. He was so happy I wanted to punch him. He was happy because he wouldn't be saddled with me. That he could let me go now. That I could go away and he could go away and that was that.

And he did. But a few days later, I was sleeping and my mom called me. I thought she was calling because it was her weddding anniversary and I had forgotten. No. She was calling because John Lennon had just been shot to death. It was like 8 pm my time.

The only person I could think to call was him. And so I did. He was crying, couldn't talk. I don't remember what we said, but the conversation lasted maybe 60 seconds. I wanted so much to hold him, make him feel better. But I couldn't.

It was the last time we ever talked.


Chad Smith said...

Whoa. How can you end the story there? Give me more, damn it. Well, I guess if you gave me any more, that last line wouldn't haved resonated the way it did; it knocked the wind out of me.

Heartland1 said...

You never know when you'll say that last goodbye, or when the last time you'll stand on that mountain peak, or the last time you'll be able to remember the color of your dead wife's eyes. Separation is the only constant in the human condition. Memory even has to be passed down.