On a bitter March afternoon after my Chinese government seminar at Cornell, I hurry down the hill toward Seneca Street. I stomp up the crooked wooden steps to Vic’s apartment, grateful to be out of the wind. He greets me at the door with a hang-dog expression.
“I’m sorry, Elaine. This is too much, too fast. I don’t want to hurt you.”
My heart clenches, but I know the routine. He puts my suitcase and bag of books on the back seat of his battered black VW bug and drives me to my empty apartment. I spend a night crying instead of studying. Then at 2 am, he calls.
“I made a mistake. Please come back.”
Alone after midnight, Vic has been listening to Buffy Sainte-Marie sing our song.
As usual, Buffy’s love potion fills him with longing and softens his fear, or maybe he’s just horny. Either way, I’m willing.
In early April, he breaks up with me again. I cry until dawn, but he doesn’t call. In the morning, I walk across the Cornell Quad to my favorite study nook in Uris Library and stare out the window overlooking Cayuga Lake. In a few hours, Vic shows up.
“Elaine, come to my apartment?” he whispers, more urgent than apologetic. “We need to talk.”
“I can’t do this,” I whine. “It hurts too much, and besides I’ll flunk out.”
“Come on, Elaine. I need to tell you something. Things have changed.”
I don’t trust him, but go back to his apartment anyway. He proudly shows me a letter he received that morning from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. They agreed to fund his trip to a physics conference in Germany in July. Standing in his tiny kitchen, I lean into his muscular solidity, inhale the smell of Old Spice, and foolishly agree to live with him a few more months. Then he’ll go to Germany and I’ll go to Berkeley for graduate school.
We have scrumptious Golden Delicious apples and juicy sex for dinner.
The closer we get to the date of Vic’s flight, the more I cry. We both cry now, weeping while we make love until sorrow displaces desire with misery. When I board a bus in July, I fear I’ll never see him again.
I visit my grandparents in Ohio before going west. Alarmed by my swollen-eyed grief, Grandma sets me up with an embroidery hoop, a needle, and a candy tin full of colored thread. She sits in her small rocking chair embroidering pink flowers on a pillow case. I sit opposite her embroidering a white square of cloth with two stick figures, one with a red beard and black curls and the other with straight brown hair. The cartoon figures hold hands, smile, and dance. It’s silly and girlish, but I mail it to Vic’s conference address anyway.
After a few weeks of Grandma’s comfort, I fly to San Francisco. I stall out in Palo Alto, move in with my brother, and get a job helping a professor with research—typing and filing mostly. Even though I registered for an intensive semester of Chinese language, I avoid Berkeley. I’m not interested in speaking Chinese. I don’t care about graduate school, haven’t figured out how to pay for it, neglected to apply for a scholarship, and do not have a place to live. I fret and wait.
Safely across the ocean in Germany with no strings attached, the needlework demolishes Vic’s resistance. When he returns to Ithaca, he calls me in Palo Alto.
“Please come back to Ithaca. I miss you.”
“Only if we live together,” I insist. “You’ll have to talk with me when you feel trapped, because there won’t be any place for me to go.”
When my plane leaves San Francisco, I do not look back. I don’t care about missed academic opportunities. I have just turned 22, and I am sure. Absolutely sure.
This love of mine
Had no beginning
It has no end
I was an oak
Now I’m a willow
Now I can bend
And though I’ll never
in my life
see you again
Still I’ll stay
until it’s time for you to go