Winter Into Spring 1952
For her birthday he gave Susan a monogrammed white cashmere sweater, took her to dinner, and to see the movie Moulin Rouge.
“Whenever we kiss, I worry and wonder,
your lips may be near, but where is your heart?”
And the beautiful theme became their song.
Susan urged him to save money for his own car, so that when he did go to Rochester he’ll be able to drive home whenever possible to see her. He began to put every spare cent into a savings account.
In an effort not to see too much of each other, and possibly—although it seemed impossible—grow tired of what they did to, and with each other, and maybe—more than just maybe—allow their passion to progress further than Susan may want, but was afraid would allow, they saw each other only on Friday or Saturday nights, and then again, usually, during the day on Sunday. Which was all right with Mitchell because between school, cramming for his oh-so-rapidly-approaching entrance exam, and his job at the knob factory, with but one telephone call a night to Susan, each minute of each break was spent poring over his books, and, since meeting Susan in December, five months ago, he had spent every possible minute cramming for the exam.
Having confidence that he would pass it, on Thursday, the twenty-ninth of May, hating the lie, telling Susan that was going for a required orientation and to find living quarters, Mitchell boarded a train in Union Station bound for Rochester, New York.
He returned on Saturday in a highly elated state of mind.
June 12, 1952
“Hi, Mom! The mail come?”
“Yes, Mitchell, it came. I’ve a cake in the oven, don’t slam the d…” Coming from the kitchen, Myra watched as her son anxiously opened the envelope.
“Sue, I’ve got to see you today, as soon as possible.”
Wondering at the tone of his voice, “You know the rules. Can’t you tell me on the phone?”
“No, I can’t, Sue. It’s real important, please.”
“I can’t imagine what could be that important. But okay, when can you be here?”
“My dad left the studio early, and should be home any minute.”
“Okay, but it’s almost dinner, and you know how my mom gets.”
“Yeah, Sue, I know. I’m sorry.”
“…Sue, I’m sorry.” He’d never allowed himself even the thought of this moment. “I’m so sorry.”
Sitting in the Buick in front of her building, “I don’t understand, Mitchie.” fighting back tears of both, disbelief and anger, “How could this happen?”
“Sue… honey, we met each other on a Saturday, and I’ve been studying for that damned test every spare minute I could since that next Monday… And I thought sure I’d pass it.”
“I don’t understand!” she repeated. “If you carried a B-plus average you wouldn’t have a problem getting into almost any college! And you wouldn’t have to take a stupid entrance exam! What happened?”
God, how do I tell her? “Sue, I…” His head hanging dejectedly, not looking at her, “I guess I, uh, lied.”
“Lied?” Disbelieving. “You lied? About what?”
“Sue, on that first night… When I met your folks… I saw how important college was to them…” lifting his head, turning to her, “and you, and…” tears coming to his eyes. “Oh, God, Sue! I knew that if I…” Sighing, “I lied about my average, and even about wanting to go to college.”
“I asked you if you told us the truth that night! Didn’t I?”
“Yes,” his stomach tightening in fear of losing her, “you did.” His voice rising in desperation, “But what was I supposed to do? What was I supposed to say? It wasn’t like I could just walk out of your life, Sue. I loved you the second I saw you! What could I do? I knew if I told the truth it would be over right then! What the hell was I supposed to say? You think we’d be sitting here, now, if I told your folks then? No! You’n’me would never have even gotten started together! You’d have said goodbye to me on that first night and we’d have never happened!” Taking a deep breath, he swiped his hand over his eyes. “Tell me, Sue, what should I have done? Should I have told your mother and father that their A-plus daughter was about to start dating a dummy?”
“Oh, Mitchie,” turning her face aside, she began to cry. “I’d never think you were a dummy.”
“No! I know you’re not saying I’m a dummy! I’m saying I’m a dummy.”
Taking hold of her chin, turning her face in his direction so he might see her eyes, “Sue, right there, right then, when your dad started grilling me about my average and my goals, I promised myself that I’d do anything for you!” Forcing himself to speak slower, to speak softer, “And that’s why I lied, because I’m not a dummy; I’m just lazy. And I thought that if I worked harder than I’d ever worked in my life I’d be able to do it. Shit! I had no plans of going to college before I met you!” His voice rising again, making an effort to bring himself under control, “Hell, Sue, all I ever did was screw around in school before I met you. I never even cared about college before I met you. But then I did meet you, and I knew that if I wanted to be with you, that if I wanted to marry you someday, I have to go to college! And thought if I worked my ass off, really worked my ass off, I’d do it! And also… and I’ve told you this so many times, I really believed—do believe—that God brought us together. And if God would do that—bring us together—then he’d surely help me to get into college so that we would be together… And if I did get into R.I.T., then why would you ever have to know what a complete fuck-up I’ve been?”
Never having used this type of language in front of Susan before, seeing her wince at the word, fighting for control once again, “I love you so much!” Taking her hand, he kissed her palm. You can’t believe how hard I’ve worked! That’s one of the reasons I didn’t care if I saw you on Saturday because on Saturdays I was being tutored. God, Susan, I’d do anything for you, honey! Anything in the world.”
Quiet, concentrating on his every word, “I know you would, Mitch. But what are we going to do about college?”
We! His heart lifting, What are “we” going to do about college! “Look, I’ll have no problem getting into Wright. And I’ll keep working on it, and as soon as I can I’ll reapply to R.I.T.” Lifting her chin, looking into her eyes again, “Please, baby, please don’t let this hurt us. I promise I’ll make it, Sue. I love you so much I don’t know how I’d be able to live without you, if we weren’t together.”
“It’ll be okay, Mitchie.” Caressing his cheek, “I just don’t know what I’m going to tell my parents.”
“Sue, let me do it! I’m the one that lied. Let me talk to them!”
“They think the world of you, Mitchie, and knowing that you lied to them from the start is going to let them down terribly. No, I know how to handle my folks”—though, really, she had no idea of what she was going to tell them—“I’ll do it.”
“Susan,” he asked, “do you love me?”
“Of course I do!” she answered without hesitation.
“Okay, It’s our lives! We love each other and can’t let this come between us. I’ll do everything I can to get into R.I.T.! I promise!”
June 19, 1952
On commencement day, Susan came with Myra, Walter, Lawrence and Morton.
The Thursday evening ceremony took place outside.
As he walked across the stage to receive his diploma, Mitchell searched the audience looking for them. As the scroll was handed to him his eyes met Susan’s. Smiling, she threw him a kiss.
Oh, God! All’s right with the world.
June 21, 1952
“Jambalay’an’a’crawfish pie an’a’fila’gumbo!”
He hadn’t seen Susan since saying goodnight to her after they’d gone to dinner to celebrate his graduation with his family.
Going for dinner at Walter and Myra’s favorite restaurant in downtown Chicago, rather than taking everyone home then driving back with Susan alone, having to be in early that night because she still had school the next day, with his family waiting in the car—at Susan’s urging he hadn’t yet spoken to her parents, so, not wanting to push it, giving Mister and Mrs. Friedman a little longer to cool off—the kiss in the stairwell was…? Perfunctory.
Yesterday evening, when they had spoken on the phone and made plans to spend Saturday at the beach, Susan had told him, “Mitchie, don’t come up. My mom and dad are still really hurt and they don’t care to see you right now.”
“Sue, you know that I like your mom’n’dad, and it bothers me that they’re still mad at me. I think if I can just talk to them, I’d be able to get them to understand why I did it. Why I had to lie.”
“No,” she answered. “I think it’ll be better if you just let it be a while longer.”
“Okay, if you think it’ll be better that way.”
“Whatever you say, baby… Pick you up at eleven, okay?”
“Yes. That’ll be fine.”
“I love you.”
“…I love you, too, Mitchie.”
“Jambalay’an’a’cawfish pie an’a fila’gumbo…”
It was a beautiful Saturday, and taping his hands on the steering wheel, Mitchell sang along with Hank Williams.
As always, his heart quickening at the first sight of her, Susan was there, sitting on the stoop waiting for him.
Pulling to the curb, leaning across the seat, “Hi, beautiful!” he said through the open window.
Standing, Susan walked slowly to the car.
Rather than a bathing suit and a beach robe, she was wearing blue jeans and a blouse.
“Hey,” looking at her face, “where’s your bathing suit?”
Susan’s skin was sallow, the flesh around her eyes puffy and, as though she had been crying, her eyes glassy and bloodshot.
“Susan, what’s wrong?”
Opening the door, “I have to talk to you.” She sat down.
“Sue?” He attempted to put his arms about her, but, resisting, she held both hands, her fists clenched, against his chest. “What’s the matter?”
Staring out the window, she didn’t answer.
“For God’s sake, Sue,” becoming alarmed, “what happened? What’s wrong?”
“Mitchie…” Opening her hand, she looked down.
His eyes follow her eyes. On her palm there was a gold ring. “Sue?” His mind not yet accepting what his eyes saw, lifting her other hand he looked for a like ring, a ring with adhesive tape wrapped around the shank, a ring that looked exactly like this ring… that should be on her finger… but wasn’t. “Oh, God! Susan, no!”
“Mitchie… Mitchell, I…” Her chest heaved. Tears welled in her eyes. “I…” The words catching in her throat, barely able to whisper… “I… Oh, God. Mitchie, I can’t… I…” taking a deep intake of breath, “I can’t see you anymore.” Turning her face forward, she closed her eyes.
“No! Sue, you can’t…!” His eyes stinging, feeling a constricting of his throat, and within his heart, “Susan, you can’t mean that!”
As if afraid to look at him, Susan’s eyes remained closed.
“They did it! Sue, don’t let them! Please, don’t let them do this to us!”
“Mitchie, I’m sorry… Oh, God!” She looked at him. “Mitchie, please, if you love me…”
“If I love you? Oh, God, Sue, I love you more than anything!”
“If you love me like you say, then please don’t try to see me, or call me again.” She stared at him, as though committing his face to memory. “Please, Mitchie… Oh, God!” Putting the ring on the dashboard, Susan stepped out, and without looking back hurried from the car.
Looking at her through the mist of his tears, “Susan!” calling after her, as… “It’s because of college,” she disappeared through the entry door… “isn’t it?”
Susan was gone.
Gone? There was no memory of life before Susan.
(A "Becoming" Excerpt)