I am not obsessed with my memories, but
. . . every once in awhile they give me a good haunting. This is a picture of me and Robert at the Columbine High School Homecoming Dance 1979. We met at a speech meet* the winter I turned fourteen (he was fifteen). I gave him my phone number and he called that very night. I think we spent three hours twisting up phone cords and talking about how boring we were, which was, of course, fascinating. Here you see Robert wearing a fashionable Rooster knit tie and Calvin Klein camouflage shirt/jacket combo. I have on a teal velvet skirt and a polyester teal-and-flowers blouse, both made by my mother. (Astonishing, yes, that she actually finished them in time for the dance.) Robert here is thinking, “This is so fucking stupid I can’t believe it.” I am thinking, “Tilt chin down,” because it is two months after having my photo taken by a professional photographer who kept yanking my chin toward my undeveloped chest in order to hide my babyfat under my cheekbones. I still have both copies of this picture because Robert didn’t want his. I tried to be cool about it, but come on. This was the guy who for my sixteenth birthday gave me a copy of Never Mind the Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, and two stuffed monkeys hugging each other.
*Ah, the National Forensics League. Robert was in extemp, where the judges gave you a random topic — oil prices, guinea pigs — and you had five minutes to come up with a two-minute speech about it. It helps if you’re a fantastic bullshitter. I was in the humor division, where you memorized a ten-minute “cutting” — I used mainly Woody Allen or Dorothy Parker short stories — and then performed it in three different rounds in front of a judge and five to ten of your competitors who would try to psych you out by not laughing at the jokes.
Robert and I dated, on and off, for about seven years, but it was by no means an exclusive relationship, and we never went all the way. At one point I remember he picked me up for a date in an unfamiliar car that had a pair of pom poms in the back seat. “Oh, I gave a cheerleader a ride home,” he said. I later found out that it was the cheerleader’s car, and that he was dating her, and that he had the balls to borrow her car to take me out and lie to both of us about it. He also told her that he got me pregnant and I had to have an abortion; he told me pretty much the same story, too, but about a fictional girl at his school. I got it all straightened out when my school played his school in lacrosse and I was on the field defending yet another girl he’d gone out with. It was a slow game so we had a lot of time to talk.
Anyway, I eventually met the cheerleader at a Clash concert and we really hit it off. Robert sat scowling about three rows down from us while we laughed and laughed about all the shit he’d told us. By this time he’d become a blackout drinker, and our dates inevitably ended up in one of several Denver dives — The Cricket and The Mercury Lounge are two that I remember– and he was living in the basement of a friend’s house. The last time I saw him I was dropping him off at Vassar. He was starting his freshman year as I was beginning my senior year at Connecticut College (he’d had a disastrous year in Boulder before dropping out to lay sod and grow up some), and we’d shared the drive from Denver to New York in my Volkswagen. I got a few fucked up, drunken phone calls in my dorm that year, and then nothing until he tracked me down in Brooklyn a few years later. We yakked for a good twenty minutes as though we’d seen each other only yesterday, and then he asked me to meet him and his friends at the Plaza, but it was already late and a weeknight, and knowing I wouldn’t even make it uptown until midnight, and knowing what a disastrous state I’d be in for work the next morning, I said no. I think he went to Seattle after that. Who knows.
On the left is me and Jay, later the same year. My mom made this dress, too. Jay looks like George Hamilton’s bastard son in this photo, but I must say I appreciated the effort of getting a tuxedo and all. He took me to dinner at a restaurant owned by his three older brothers. He brought a little flask of brandy and a blanket for after the prom. I was too shy to dance with him, or anything else with him, and I think the evening ended on a politely early note. I wrote a short story about it in college. I ran into Jay about ten years later as I was walking down Broadway carrying sacks of lunch for my Shakespeare & Co. coworkers. I was in a dykey boots-and-crewcut period, and Jay looked like Stephen Seagal on safari, like a Tom of Finland wet dream, and appeared to be “with” a gorgeous blonde woman who gave me kind of a twisty “who the hell are you?” look. We were genuinely shocked to see each other, I think, and he said to call him, he was living in the village, he was in the book. I did try to call him later but got a machine, and didn’t leave a message because I didn’t really have anything to say besides, “I see you’ve kept up your tan!”