He walks into my life...
There I sat amid the clamor of a hundred voices waiting for another school year to begin, as single as a person could be. It was one month before my twenty-fifth birthday and not a boyfriend in sight. I had a roommate and a dog, while my friends from school were coupling up like rabbits. In July, I’d finished a graduate program in French Lit at Hunter and gotten my permanent teaching certificate. I’d been sure I would meet men in grad school. Magical thinking, that was, as if cute, eligible guys would be sitting alongside me in “French Tragedies of the 17th Century.” It was that summer the Beach Boys had us all singing, “We could be married. Then we’d be happy. Wouldn’t it be nice?”
To quiet us down for his “welcome back” talk that fall morning, the principal rapped on a cafeteria table. As I turned toward the podium, I caught a glimpse of a new face at the door, a guy who looked like a nineteen-year-old surfer with shaggy, sun-bleached hair marching in with his arms full of textbooks. He could have been mistaken for a student, but he strode in confidently, wearing the uniform of the male teachers—a collared shirt with a tie and khakis. The wrinkles in his shirt told me he didn’t live with a mother, a wife or an iron. With a blast of breath from his bottom lip, he blew wisps of hair out of his eyes, slammed his books down on the science department’s table and dropped onto a chair.
Studying the stranger that morning, I had a powerful feeling that I knew him, not well, but that I had at least seen him before. I thought he might be one of the nameless freshmen boys who’d entered college at the start of my senior year who showed signs of the cultural phenomenon blowing in. They’d be out in the work world that fall—those gawky kids with their unkempt hair hitting their collars and their bangs hiding their eyebrows.
That morning I’m sure I didn’t attract Jack’s attention. Older by three years and sitting with the motley bunch of language teachers, in his eyes I must have been part of the lackluster wallpaper. To me, he stood out as if surrounded by an aura. The only hippie in the room, I thought.
Jack must have been experiencing culture shock in that fluorescent-lit room smelling of Mr. Clean and brimming with middle-aged teachers listening to administrators drone on about new referral forms. Later he would tell me that a month before, he’d been packed in with 500,000 bodies for a weekend on farmland in Woodstock, NY. He’d been tripping for days, he said, screwing strangers and rocking along with Creedence Clearwater, Janis Joplin and the rest.
As other administrators made announcements, I studied our new faculty member. His pen ran out so he poked a neighbor and borrowed one. He scanned some of his reading material while the attendance officer spoke. His knees bounced together non-stop.
No, I decided, I had never actually seen him before. He just exuded the spirit of guys coming of age in the late ‘60’s, and the life force I saw in him was what I’d been looking for. I wanted some of his to rub off on me. It didn’t occur to me I could find it in myself.