Men became an experiment to help discover who I was, who I wanted to be, and what I wanted in a relationship. I was also curious to see what each had to offer. From very tall to very short, some quiet with little to say, some full of what they wanted to say – often about themselves, some physically appealing and others attractive in different ways. The biggest losers were those that seemed to be fixated on my chest, and the biggest winners had humor at their fingertips. Sometimes the attraction was to what they represented – wild-haired and hippie-cultured, guitar playing with an air of detachment, clean cut and straight as an arrow. I may not have known exactly what I wanted, but I did know what I did not want: no meanness or violence, no one more quiet than me, not a country boy, not someone who wanted only what my body had to offer and, most importantly, no one with a need to control me. It was a confusing year. I technically no longer qualified for that ‘V’ upon my chest, but remained inexperienced in anything that resembled a relationship – physical or otherwise.
I watched quietly out the backseat window as my father drove and my mother sputtered out questions to break the long silences. It was May, time to return home for the summer. Concrete and pavement were gradually replaced with stretches of farmland and forests. As the distance between the car and the small house in the woods diminished, so did the glow I had found in my new life. At home mom was more talkative than I remembered, seemed to paste on a smile each time our paths crossed, and went on about how much she had missed me. But it was hard to understand what had been missed. We had rarely discussed personal likes or dislikes, had never shopped together or gone out to lunch, or even just sat at the kitchen table and shared coffee and conversation. I realized I knew very little about my mother and she knew nothing about me. If anything, the distance between our life experiences now far exceeded the miles that had separated us.
Back at home the rural location and lack of a car left few options for employment. Mom drove me the few miles into town to babysit during the week. I picked strawberries, raspberries and blueberries on the weekends to earn what money I could to supplement the grants, student loans and work-study job that financed my education. Almost every week a letter from Mom had also included $5 for spending money – an amount that actually made a difference in those years.
I ached to laugh or be included in a group of familiar faces my age. My high school friend had remained in New York and I had lost contact with the few friends remaining from high school. There was no extra money to spend on bus fare for trips to see my new friends. The loneliness siphoned away any desire to share my experiences at school, even when mom tried to ask. She wouldn’t understand anyways. At the end of the summer I was relieved to finally repack my towels and sheets and hot pot and notebooks. Resolve that I would do everything in my power to be sure they were never unpacked in this house again slid into my trunk beside them.