June 26 to August 25, 1952
The summer was spent in an eclipse of unbearable loneliness.
Wanting as little time on his hands as possible, Mitchell asked Jim Rogan, “How’s about me working full time this summer?”
As the Korean War was still in process, and as the military, so it seemed, ran on knobs, and as 1952 was an “up year” in the knob business, Mister Rogan told Mitchell, “I got Gus and Duke off on vacation these next two weeks, then Willie and Stan, and then Carlos… Sure, why not.”
But sitting at a drill press eight hours a day doing mindless, monotonous work five days a week was not the way to keep one’s mind off lost love, and after a month, needing something new in his life, closing his—and, so he thought of it, as Susan’s savings account also—after a weekend of shopping around with Norman, Mitchell bought a 1948, gray, two-door Desoto with Fluid Drive, that also came with twelve, twenty-two dollar a-month payments.
Having no doubt that it was the worst thing he could do, but yet, as if drawn by an irresistible force, Mitchell tortured himself by returning to the Walgreen’s where he had first met Susan, where he sat on the same stool he had sat on then. Looking across the counter, he envisioned Susan as he had seen her then down to the slightest detail… But he could only sit for the minute it took for tears to come to his eyes and, to the confusion of the waitress, ran from the store.
July passed into August… And Mitchell passed his eighteenth birthday in black despair.
Refusing to go to out to dinner with his family, he could barely pretend to be thankful for the gifts they had given him and, making an excuse, he even refused to speak to Norman when he called.
Sneaking a half—not in a very optimistic mood—Sneaking a half empty bottle of Canadian Club from Walter’s liquor cabinet, at 11:30 that night he drove to Talman Avenue, parked in a tight, but perfectly situated space directly across the street from the building and shut off the motor.
Though the window shade was three-quarters of the way down to allow a breeze, Susan’s back-lit bedroom window was opaquely visible.
Leaning against the passenger side door with both legs stretched across the seat, opening the bottle of bourbon, Mitchell took a full-mouthed drink… And, grimacing, had to concentrate on keeping it down. Lighting a cigarette, taking another near-gagging swig, putting the bottle between his thighs, he stared up at Susan’s window…
His heart lurched when the bedroom light went on and the shadow of a person he knew was Susan passed back and forth behind the partially drawn shade. Then the light went off and his heart pitched again as the shade was lifted higher to allow the passage of more air.
He imagined Susan pulling the summer quilt back, lying on the bed and closing her eyes…
And the bittersweet memory of that one time—that one time only—when, in the darkness of her bedroom, Susan had allowed her nude breasts to be kissed and a nipple to be suckled and, stretching her hand under the top of his pants, she’d actually touched his bare penis. And knowing where that was leading! And knowing where his next touch would be and, desperately, Oh, God, she had thought, I want him to! Desperately wanting Mitchell to touch her “there,” “Mitchie, no!” Standing, pulling her brassiere over her breasts, Susan had left the room—he remembered that once Susan and he had lain on that bed together, and…
Though the words were for Susan, “Susan,” the words were a prayer, too. “Susan,” he whispered, “do you remember me?” Taking another drink; this time, though, the liquor went down much easier. “Do you think of me, Susan? Damn you! Do you know what you’ve let them do to us, Susan?” Holding back tears, closing his eyes, drawing on the cigarette, taking another drink, fixing his mind, said firmly under his breath, “Think of me, Susan!” Concentrating, willing his thoughts to her mind. Cry for me, too, Susan! His tears came. Miss me like I miss you, Susan, because… “Oh, God,” he said aloud, “how I miss you!”
Crying, his chest heaving with his sobs.
Forcing himself to stop. Trying to force himself to stop crying, at the moment wanting, needing, physical rather than emotional pain, he bit his lower lip until he tasted blood. But still, he cried.
Mixing with blood, giving him a bit more pain than he’d wanted, the bourbon stung his cut lip.
Drawing on the now raggedy end of the Chesterfield he got a mouthful of tobacco and, not knowing if the cigarette was wet from bourbon, his tears, blood or the snot that ran from his nose, he flipped the cigarette out the open window.
Taking his handkerchief from his pocket, Mitchell wiped his eyes, blew his nose, dabbed at the double cut on his lip… and took another swig from the bottle, and his mind, for a blissful minute, left there and went back to the only other time he had ever been this drunk.
He thought of Gina Lambos and, momentarily, their afternoon tryst, and then…
“Oh, God, Frankie!” He hadn’t thought of Frank Rizzo, at least since meeting Susan. But he now remembered. “Frankie, my ol’ pal, you’re dead!” And as if now was the first time that he truly understood, “Really dead!” And once more the pain swelled in his throat, mind and heart. Mumbling to himself, “Frankie, my ol’ pal, I ain’t never gonna see you again. If I live to be a hundred I’ll never, never see you again.”
He envisioned himself at nine years of age, wrestling with Frank on the floor at Baylor. “Oh, Frankie.” Then he saw Susan and himself at the Valentine’s day dance. “Susan! Oh, God, Susan!” And Mitchell Lipensky cried for a friendship killed by a North Korean land mine, and a love killed by a failed entrance exam, and he mourned Frank and he mourned Susan, and he cried for himself, because at age eighteen—he looked at the luminous clock in the dashboard: 12:22; eighteen years and one day—he knew that he was an absolute, complete failure, and the total of his anguish became so excruciatingly painful that he thought that if he had some painless way to do it he would kill himself…
But he didn’t, so he took another drink, then another, until eventually…
Emotionally drained, and thoroughly soused, Mitchell’s eyes closed and his chin dropped onto his chest. Not awake and not asleep, even in this, for him, usually peaceful twilight place he could not escape the ache of his boundless dark depression…
But now, things started to happen: his head began to spin, the car began to spin, the world began to spin, and, oh, yeah, his stomach began to spin. Ulp! Faster. Ullpp! And, “Uh, oh!” faster yet.
Wrenching the door open, staggering to the rear of the car, bracing himself against the right rear fender of the Desoto and the front fender of another car… a white, 1951 Cadillac.
Mitchell Lipensky had done dumb and, oh yeah, even stupid things in his now eighteen years and one day, but he had never been spiteful, and he had never purposely hurt another person or damaged someone else’s property, but now…
Mister and Mrs. Friedman’s 1951 Cadillac.
Mitchell turned his head to the left and….
(A "Becoming" Excerpt)