Saturday, August 12, 2017


     The summer of 1939 I worked as a filing clerk at Liberty Mutual Insurance Company in Boston. On my last day this poster was presented to me by artist Lenore Johnson.  The back was covered with the signatures and good wishes of co-workers, most of whom must be gone by now.
(from Mother to my brother, Dick)
October 19, 1939
     Sunday I went to Northampton to see your sister.  She is not as happy there as I could wish -- in fact, she is thinking seriously of transferring next year to Wellesley. She is not sorry to have one year of dormitory life, however, and is making the most of it. . . . 
Sunday, October 22, 1939
     I had a lot of company this weekend.  Ed, of course -- also Mother, Vaughan, Jim, and Janeth.  Vaughan talked to me privately and said she is dismayed at the idea of my living at home next year.  She pointed out that Mother and I are both leading more peaceful lives because we no longer have those upsets between Janeth and me.
Sunday, November 5, 1939
    I have broken up with Ed.  I explained that I loved being with him, but I just didn’t have time to see him every weekend and join in the activities that college offers. He was so precious -- I can’t even attempt to describe how appealing he can be -- but I was strong and held to my decision. 
      It is hard to pluck him from my heart -- he is too much a part of me. It’s like a sickness, and I hope I shall recover soon.  I must keep busy.  Mr. Rinker and Taffy are coming up in a couple of weeks; that will help.
      I hope Ed doesn’t write to me.  If he does, I hope I’ll have the strength to return his letters unopened.
Nov.9, 1939
     There is no use trying to kid myself that this is just another squabble.
     As a last gesture of my affection I have sent you a gift that is the culmination of the mad, miraculous muddle of Beyer vs Malley.  It is finished.  Amen.      
    The future is up to you to make or shape as you wish.  As you must realize by now, life is a stubborn clay which we can, if we will, mold with clumsy art into some semblance of the thing that we want it to be.  Our success at this sculpture is governed not only by our dreams but also by reality.  So, my sweet, I say to you -- do not let your creation of yourself become, like Dorian Gray, distorted, crude, and ugly by mistaking the unknown for beauty.  Do not sell your soul in a fruitless, vain chase “over the rainbow” in pursuit of a romantic something that is not there but is back where you started from.
1.     All this sounds queer and mixed up to you.  It does to me, too.  My only excuse is that I wanted to write it, so I wrote it.  If it makes you feel like laughing, then laugh.  If it makes you mad, please forgive me as I am only clutching at straws.
2.    This is the last time that I shall bother you by writing.  If you want a letter, you must tell me that you’d like to hear from me.
3.  I’m planning to go to Wesleyan for the week-end.  If I do, I shall drive through Northampton on Sunday afternoon and we might have a friendly, unemotional and platonic tete-a-tete -- or maybe even dinner.
4.  WELL?
Saturday, November 11, 1939
     I’m feeling besieged and unable to think straight.  Ed is making it impossible for me to forget him.  Yesterday I received two records from Prince Egor, our favorite symphony, and couldn’t stand it any longer.  When he phoned last night, I told him I wanted to see him. 
      Miss Cobern, our house mother, asked me if I was going home this week-end.  When I said no, she said, “That’s good.”
     “What do you mean, Miss Coburn?  I’ve been home only twice.”
     “Yes, but that young man has been up here every week-end.”
     “He’s coming today, too.”
     “Well, I don’t think you’re very wise, Bobbie.  How is your work coming along?”
     “I’ve had only one mark below a B so far.”
     “Oh, my goodness, that’s fine.  That’s all right, then!”
Monday, November 13, 1939
     Smooth sailing with Ed again.  I am still discontented with the situation as it stands -- my never going out with other fellows, I mean. He went to a Wellesley dance Friday night, the fickle knave. Nevertheless I feel much more at peace just letting things slide along than trying to break off abruptly.  As Ed says, “Time will solve all our difficulties.”
Nov. 14, 1939                                                             
     If perchance I seem overdue in my letter writing, please forgive me and place the blame on my amateur automotive engineering.  The Packard is completely dismantled so that it looks like a disemboweled behemoth.   My hands are grease-stained, my fingernails broken and my body tired.  If it weren’t for that great Malley good humor and fortitude, I’m sure I would collapse.
     I saw Taffy for a few minutes tonight, and she told me that so far she had not heard anything from Mr. Sti -- Wrinkor about next Saturday.  She is going to write to you just as soon as she does.  . . .
Smith College
Nov. 15, 1939                                     
Dear Ed, 
1938 with Taffy in back yard, 716 Commonwealth
     I just got a telegram: “Doctor’s counsel makes postponement necessary Katherine joins me in ten thousand regrets yours -- B.F.”  In less polite language, Mr. B. F. Rinker and Taffy have stood me up.  You have probably already made arrangements for Saturday, but if you haven’t, could you possibly come up?  Please let me know -- telephone or something. .  . .                                                         
Monday, November 20, 1939
     Mother was up Friday, Ed Saturday and Sunday.  She said she is at her wit’s end trying to cope with Janeth’s moods.  I never thought the day would come that she would say that to me, of all people.     Boston, Mass.
Nov. 21, 1939
Dearest Babs –                                            
      Darling, I hope that you will forgive me for my failing to write until now.  The Packard has taken so much of my time that I haven’t had a moment.
     I’ve been moaning to myself that with that cock-eye of yours, you can read so fast I’ll have to write twice as much as it would take to satisfy any ordinary person.   The Packard is slowly rounding into shape.  If my schedule works out I’ll bring it up to Smith Saturday, but it will take forever and a day to get there at 25 miles per hour.  Can you wait that long??
   I wish you were at Wellesley so that I could stand guard at you door and shoot any foolish male who endeavors to see you.  Or maybe I shall put one of those inter-office television sets in your room so that I can check on you every once in awhile. Isn’t it too bad someone hasn’t invented a device for transmitting your kisses?
Smith College
Nov. 23, 1939
Dear Ed –
     I’ll have you know that you hurt my feelings with that snide remark about my cockeye.  You’re liable to make me so self-conscious I’ll go around with it half shut to disguise my infirmity -- and then do you know what will happen?  I’ll get hit by a truck, you say?  Well, that isn’t what I have in mind.  More likely some handsome young man will think I’m leering at him, fall madly in love with me, and carry me off to his castle.  It would serve you right. . . .  
Nov. 30, 1939
Dear “sister” –
     Well, you are once again within the environs of dear old Smith.  I want to thank you again for being the means of my having such a nice Thanksgiving.  I really had an enjoyable afternoon despite my sorrowful face.  I must be like those Saint Bernard dogs that look unhappy all the time.    
     Oh, Babs, I can’t keep this up.  Once again I appeal to you to reconsider.  Are there no impassioned words strong enough to make you see what I am trying to offer?  The possibility of losing you has me deeply worried. . . .
Smith College
Thanksgiving night, Nov. 30, 1939
 My dear Mr. Malley --
     I want to thank you for the pleasant twenty-four hours we spent together in our new brother-sister relationship.  At least I thought they were pleasant, but I’m not sure about you.  Your expression was so doleful, everyone must have guessed you were being deprived of your favorite dish.  Speaking of which, I assume you have written a thank-you note to Mother’s friend, as I suggested.  Wasn’t she a  kind and gracious hostess? 
     I am jealous of Mrs. Snyder.  You might write me a thank-you note once in awhile.  “For what?” you ask dolefully.  For the sweetest platonic kisses I ever bestowed on a suitor who threatened me with knock-out drops. . . .
Monday, December 4, 1939
     God, what a fool I am!  I’ve been trying to break up with Ed, but he wouldn’t cooperate.  This weekend I hit on a plan that would enable me to wean myself away from him gradually.  I said that if we were to continue seeing each other, it must be on a platonic basis.    And now, even though it’s too soon to go into a panic, I’m so sure I’m caught that I can’t eat or sleep or concentrate on anything for more than five minutes. 
     Why, oh why did I give in? And if I had to give in, why was I so careless? I was the one who got carried away.   The entire course of my life could be changed by a few reckless moments.  
      Having to leave college after only one semester will be bad enough., but what will I tell the trusting people who gave me a scholarship?  And Mr. Rinker, with his faith in my future as a writer?  And Mother!  How will I face Mother?   What worries me most is the thought of Vaughan.  I could probably convince Mom that I wasn’t unhappy, but Vaughan would be harder to deceive.  She has worried all along that I would marry Ed; I have assured her again and again that I had no such intention.
     If I’m pregnant, I see only one choice: I’ll have to convince everyone, Ed included -- myself  included -- that I don’t mind leaving college to get married.  
Smith College            
December 11, 1939
     And a cheery good mornin’ to you, my darlin’!  How did you feel when you got up this morning?  Full of high spirits, I am sure -- raring to go (jump off a cliff, probably).      
     It seems kind of pointless to work on my source theme now.   I'm finding it hard to work on anything -- even to write letters.  What I’d like do would be to crawl into bed, pull the covers over my head and hibernate for the next nine months.  And I don’t want to see anyone until I come out. . . .
Dec. 13, 1939
     Without the confirmation of a medical expert, I hesitate to say that I fear you are slightly demented.  Don’t start worrying yet; it probably isn’t serious.  You certainly aren’t violent or dangerous -- I hope.  I promise you that I shall always take into consideration your irrational condition and treat you accordingly.  With a strong and firm hand, I’ll lead you along life’s stony path and protect you from the world’s erratic inhabitants who, though they are not as mad as you, are probably not as happy.  There, my little lunatic, does that make you feel better?
     As for myself, I almost hope that “worse comes to worst” and my life will become part of yours for always. Whatever you think, please do not feel that I blame you for making my life a “mess” or that I blame you for depriving me of my “liberty.”  It is only with you that I could ever be truly contented.
Saturday, December 16, 1939
     I still can’t believe I’m pregnant.  It can’t be that easy to have a baby.  Every ten minutes I go to the lavatory and look desperately for a tinge of pink.  Pink that will deepen to red.  Red for redemption.  My dorm mates must think I have the runs.                                                                         
Dec. 16, 1939 
Dear Babs -- 
     Boy, are you mad at me!  Whew!  After what your mother told you and the horn-blowing incident, I don’t blame you.  Your mother misunderstood me.  I didn’t mean to appear conceited when I said I thought you had just finished one of the most beautiful years of your life.  Please believe me when I say that I think your mother misinterpreted my remarks.  It is hard for me to explain them inasmuch as I do not remember just what words I used.  I do know that the three thoughts I tried to leave with your mother were: that your knowing me had not been entirely bad and unhappy for you; that in the last analysis all I was concerned with was your happiness; and finally, that if she were sure my knowing you was hurting you, I would accede to her wishes and stop seeing you.
     About blowing the horn there isn’t much I can say except that I hope you will try to understand.   When I drove by your house I saw the light on upstairs and my aching heart hoped that you might come to the window if you heard the horn.  In the Elysian days of yore you used to come to the window and smile at me when I passed.  I am truly sorry that I woke your Mother up.
     Tonight I left a note at your door but I really don’t expect that you’ll let me see you before the date you have ordained, New Year’s Eve.  I can only hope. When I drive by your house my heart seems to swell up within me until I fear it will burst.  I miss you so that I shall die before January first.  Now that you are home it seems sacrilegious to waste any of these precious moments when I might be with you. 
     Of course there is also the very real possibility that you may have a baby.  If so, I want to be near you when you realize it so that I may love, comfort and reassure you when you become scared or unhappy.
     1.  I love you
     2.  I hope you have our baby.
     3.  You love me.  (I hope)
     4.  You must believe in me.
     5.  It's 2 a.m. and I'm tired.
     6. My business deal is progressing.
     7.  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
     8.  Think of me once in a while.
     9.  All of my love is for you darling. 
    10.   Forever and always.
Thursday, December 21, 1939
     Yesterday afternoon I answered the phone.
     “Hello, may I speak to the elder Miss Beyer?”
     “This is Miss Beyer, Mr. Black.”
     “Oh - - that’s too bad.  Well, are you busy Friday or Saturday?”
     “I’m free Friday.”
     “I’ll pick you up at five o’clock.  Don’t dress up.  Goodbye.”
Saturday, December 23, 1939
     Bob and I had dinner at the Oyster House.  He confused me terribly with his new attitude.  The last time I was with him, he hardly looked at me the entire evening and acted generally bored.  Now, however, he looked at me frequently.
     Then he pulled out of his jacket pocket an unopened letter I wrote him two months ago and proceeded to read it, much to my discomfort.
     “There are some good thoughts there,” he said. “Is this the real you?  Why don’t you talk as well as you write?”
     “I can’t talk that way.  It would sound strange.”  (Why didn’t I say, “I’d have to consult my Roget’s Thesaurus every five minutes.”)
     We went to a joint called The Paradise, where I had one drink and Bob had several.  (This time I made him sit beside me so he couldn’t look at me, but the proximity was almost as disturbing as his stare.)
     At 11:30 we went to the burlesque at the Old Howard.  I had always longed to go at least once, but Ed, as well as I knew him, refused to take me.  The show wasn’t so terrible -- a lot of half-naked women, a few strip-teases, some comedians.  The dialogue was shocking, but I laughed whenever Bob did.
     We left at about one and spent an hour or so just driving slowly around the city.  Finally he brought the car to a stop in an old square and asked me what I wanted to do. I shrugged my shoulders, and another staring contest took place.  He won again.
     “I don’t stand a chance!” I said, with a double meaning.
     “You can’t win,” he smiled.  After a pause he said, “I wonder how things will work out with us in the future.  It looks pretty futile, doesn’t it?”
     Hardly realizing what I was saying, I groaned, “It’s hopeless!”
     ”Why?” Bob asked.
     “I’m sorry.  I hadn’t meant to talk about this.  But it wouldn’t make any difference to you, anyway.”
     “It might make a lot.”
     He spent the next hour trying to get me to divulge my secret.
     “Please, Bob, I wanted to forget about it while I had my final fling.”
     “Perhaps I could help you.”
     “You’re the last person who could help me!”
     “I guess that puts me in my place.”
     “I didn’t mean it that way.   Anyway, I think you’re looking at all this from a professional standpoint -- sort of like a doctor, impersonally studying an interesting case.”
     “You think there’s nothing personal in my interest?  What can I do to show you you’re wrong?  Do you want me to kiss you?  I will.”      
     I trembled and tried to make a joke of this last offer.  “Not right now.”  (He was driving again.)
     I was sure he must have an idea of what my trouble was -- even in my wretchedness I couldn’t help feeling a certain joy that Bob seemed to care for me a little.  As for me, I fell more and more in love with him every minute.  Finally, in utter misery, I put my head in my hands.
     :”I hope you’re just tired, Barbara.”
     After awhile I lifted my head.  Bob examined my face.  “Are you all right?”
     “Have you got guts?”
     “I have to have guts for this.”
     “Why don’t you tell me?  You have nothing to lose.”
     “I question that.  Besides, I have nothing to gain by telling you.  You’d probably say `So what.’”
     “You’re a pessimist, aren’t you.  Why don’t you gamble?”
     “Because even if you -- even if I had nothing to be pessimistic about, my secret itself would make the gamble pointless.”
     Toward 4 o’clock, I asked Bob to take me home.  When we were nearly there he said, “I wish I were cynic enough to believe this was all just a very neat little trick.”
     “If only it were!”
     We pulled up in front of the house.  “Do you want to see me again?”
     I nodded, unable to trust my voice.
     “How do we part -- friends?”
      Bob said he thought that what I had to tell him would make a change for the better in our relationship.  I was closer to him last night than I have ever been since I got that crush when I was fifteen.  I didn’t dream he would ever reciprocate.
      I just saw Ed at Taffy’s house.  He walked in, nodded to me, and began talking to Taffy about Christmas shopping. 
     When we were alone, I waited for him to tell me what his plans were.  He just sat there and whistled off-key.  Finally I said, “Are you going to marry me or not?”
     “Well, of course I’m going to marry you.. . .“but tell me, do you have any love for me at all?”
     “I don’t feel much at the moment.  I’m terribly disappointed in you.  It seems to me you are behaving in a very selfish manner, worrying about yourself when you should be thinking of me.”
     “I’m not selfish -- I said I’d marry you.”
     [This conversation gets worse.  It’s hard to keep from ripping out these shameful pages.  I perceive everything so differently now.  I think I was half insane with worry about my pregnancy, the too-late discovery that Bob Black seemed to be interested in me . . . and dear, loving Ed was caught in the middle, totally unappreciated. BBM 1980]
[A later marginal note dated 2-22-98: Ed called me from Florida today.  I told him I was once again reading my diaries and was once again horrified by the way I had treated him.  “Ed, I was just awful!”  He gallantly said I was not, I was sweet and lovable.  “No, I was awful, and I’m so sorry.  I’ll tell you this, I wouldn’t have missed our years together for the world.  We had such wonderful times -- the boating, the flying, our kids, our weekend getaways --”
     “I feel the same way, more than I can say.”
     Dear ex-hubby, I do love him so much and am grateful for the memories.]  
Tuesday, December 26                                                           
       “Hello -- Miss Barbara?  Would you still care to go to the theater with me this evening?”
       “I’d love to -- yes.”  (Chuckle on the other end of the line.)
        "I'm not going to take you out to dinner."
      “That’s all right.  I’m having dinner now.”
      “And we’re sitting in the fourth balcony.”   
      “All right.” (Stupid! I should have laughed and said, “I’ll bring my parachute.”) 
       We saw “Mamba’s Daughters,” but Bob was unable to wring any intelligent criticism from me.  After the show, knowing he wanted to get back to the subject of our last conversation, I wracked my brains trying to think of a way to stall for time.  However, the astute Mr. Black saw through my suggestions.
     “We’ll do anything you like now, but before the evening is over, we’re going to talk. I want to get this thing settled tonight.”
     Finally I directed him to the privacy of our island lot on the Charles River.
     “Now, shall I kiss you first or hear your tale of woe first?  I may kiss you later, anyway.”
     “Then there’s a chance I’ll collect two kisses if you kiss me now?” 
     We sat silently looking at each other for a long time.
     At last -- ”I don’t think I’d better, Bob.”
     “What are you trying do -- torture me?”
     Torture him?  Surely there wasn’t a sweeter word in the English language.  My heart reeled between anguish and joy -- anguish at my impending loss, joy that the lost one would give a damn.    
 [2-22-98 What would have happened if Bob had shown this degree of interest a few months -- even one month earlier?  Would I have been motivated to break up with Ed for good?  Would he have let me?  And why am I asking these questions fifty-nine years later?  Everything had to happen exactly as it did or I’d have missed out on four great children, an exciting marriage, an unusual divorce, and Jack, my droll, cuddly lover who kept me laughing for ten years.]

     “You know, I’ve actually liked you the past hour.  That hot dog must have done something for you.  Well, am I going to kiss you?”
     “I’m waiting.”
     He pulled me to him and kissed me.  I buried my head on his shoulder and he caressed my hair.
    At last I got it out.  “September first -- I was married.”
[Everyone over fifty knows this was the kind of subterfuge families resorted to in those prudish times.  A few decades later a pregnant college student could continue to attend classes, have her baby, and go on to graduate, her head held high.] 
     Bob was sitting very still, looking at me.
     “Isn’t that what you expected?”
     “Not exactly.  I didn’t think you were married.”
     “It was a mistake.  And now I find -- I’m going to have a baby.  Bob, I can stand almost anything myself, but how am I going to face my mother?”
     “It always comes down to that, doesn’t it?  Well, I think you’re a very brave girl.”
     “I’m not -- I’m scared to death.”
     “You have guts.  I’ve always liked you, though you probably wouldn’t have guessed it from the way I acted -- but now I like you even more and respect you besides.  I want to be your friend.”
     “How can you?  I won’t be able to see you again,”
     “I’ll stay in the background -- write letters to remind you there is someone who esteems you, someone who thinks you are a fine person.”
     “That will be nice,” I smiled wryly, thinking to myself how much more I wanted than his friendship.  His interest in me had surfaced just one month too late.
July 1988   I recently quoted this last observation to Kathie, while reminiscing about Bob.  She looked at me and raised her eyebrows.  I raised mine back at her and we both laughed.  What a lottery life is!  I had considered trying to find an abortionist, but Ed was violently opposed (“You can’t do it!  You could lose not only the baby but your life!”). I gave up the idea—thank God or whomever.      
    After Bob left me at my house, I found a little box stuck to the door.  In it was the Smith pin I had given Ed.   Too bad I can’t give him back his baby as easily.
                            Except the heaven had come so near,
                            So seemed to choose my door,
                            The distance would not haunt me so;
                             I had not hoped before.
                             But just to hear the grace depart
                             I never thought to see,
                             Afflicts me with a double loss;
                             ‘Tis lost, and lost to me.
                Emily Dickinson

No comments:

Post a Comment