A 20-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late October, 1971
by Richard Grayson
Monday, October 18, 1971
Things are not going easily. Last night Shelli told Jerry she loved him. And he loves her. And I’m alone. And sad. And sick in body and in heart.
Everyone says it’s the best thing. And that I’ll get over it in a matter of months. I guess I will, but things are tough now, and now is when I’m living. But I do have friends – even Shelli and Jerry.
I didn’t sleep at all last night and things bothered me so. I felt just awful this morning. I went to school and met Shelli and we went to the post office to mail Bobby’s birthday present to Gainesville. On the way there, I got him a card from me.
Then I sat in LaGuardia lobby with Stanley and Shelli. Leon and Steve Katz decided to change a course, so they went to the registrar’s office. On the way Leon said, “Let’s visit Jon Z in Berkeley.”
Steve said, “But we’d have to drop out of school for this term.” And on the spur of the moment, they both took a leave of absence when they went to the registrar’s office and will fly to California later this week.
I felt sad because I sort of needed them both, especially Leon, at this point in my life.
At the Assembly meeting, the budget was discussed, but they’re a bunch of fools when it comes to allocating money. That idiot Lance broke the tie and gave the Jewish Defense League $1,000.
When I talked to Dr. Wouk about the breakup, he said I should take things as they come. “You won’t die,” Dr. Wouk said, even though I feel so scared. He also said it was sadistic of Shelli to tell me she slept with Jerry.
Jerry came over tonight. I met him at the Mill Basin bus stop on Fillmore Avenue and we took a short drive, then came back to my room to talk. I read his poetry and he read my stories and we both liked parts of each.
We talked of simple things unrelated to what’s going on until I said how rotten I’ve been feeling lately. He said we should talk about it and he started telling me how hard it was when he broke up with Elspeth so he knew how hard a breakup could be.
He talked about how Shelli and I hadn’t been getting along for a while and how much better it was that we were breaking up before things got bitter. I drove him to the Junction and said things would be easier if he’d call me once in a while.
Shelli told me she wants to be Jerry’s girlfriend. I’ve got a sore throat, a cold, and a head throbbing with fever.
Wednesday, October 20, 1971
Last night I got more calls that I could handle. First Jill, then Elihu, and by the time Elspeth called, I told her I was falling asleep and that I’d speak to her tonight.
Jill said that I should make up my mind and just not waver afterwards and not to bother myself thinking about the LaGuardia Hall gossip. I told her I realized that both Shelli and Jerry have been lying to me and each repeating every word I say to the other.
Feeling a little better this morning, I decided to brave LaGuardia. I planned to go to Poli Sci although neither Mikey nor Steve was going today.
I told Leon about my supposed crush on him that Jerry mentioned on the phone yesterday. Leon was embarrassed and now it’ll be hard for us to talk to each other anymore. I guess I wouldn’t have had to worry about that if Leon and Steve weren’t just goofing on us the other day about dropping out and going to California.
At least I can talk to Gary. When I said to him, “I’m going on to bigger and better things – well, better things anyway,” alluding to Shelli’s weight, he said, “Now that’s the spirit!” Of all my friends, Gary has proven himself the most loyal, and I don’t care who puts him down, he’s a great guy.
I took a long walk with Steve and we had an intimate talk; I told him everything. He really seemed interested and said he genuinely sympathized with my anxiety attacks, which have been getting worse lately.
Back in LaGuardia, I talked with Scott and Avis; even Avis, Shelli’s friend, is taking my part. Carole came over to us and told me she was sorry in a way that you would have thought my mother had died. That felt creepy.
I was invited to Allan’s Druid Festival party on November 12. Allan always has these imaginative party themes, like last fall’s Flat Earth Party. But I’m sure Shelli will be there with Jerry, and I don’t know if I want to go; it might be too painful.
Scott and Avis asked me to lunch, and so did Jill and Elihu, and so did Mason, but I had a bad cold and decided to go home. Not long after I got here, I got a call from Shelli.
We were both coldly polite and the conversation was abrupt. Her father may have to stay in the mental hospital permanently, she said.
Later I called Alice to ask her to fill me on what happened at this afternoon’s meeting of the magazine staff with Peter Amato. They picked a topic for the first issue: repression.
Alice said she was shocked to hear about my breakup with Shelli and said she thought it would be temporary. But I told Alice that Shelli and I can no longer have a good relationship. Still, deep down I haven’t yet accepted the fact that it’s over. Alice said that Shelli looked “melancholy” at the meeting.
And the word from my brothers in the next room: Marc says I’m better off without Shelli, just as Aunt Sydelle is better out with Monty, and Jonny said, “I never liked Shelli most of the time.”
Thursday, October 21, 1971
Things seem all right now, but I’m sure it’s like the eye of the hurricane and tomorrow will bring more pain and anxiety.
Last night I called Elspeth, who was angry at Shelli. According to Elspeth, it seems that Shelli (1) told her that she and Jerry “went to your [Elspeth’s] favorite restaurant”; (2) asked her to stay in Staten Island with Jerry’s dog while she and Jerry went out of town to visit his brother; and (3) said, “Now I’ll be invited to the Safari Awards for sure.” All of this seems very insensitive, especially since Elspeth is Jerry’s ex-fiancée.
That made me angry and I called Shelli and we had a lot of words, but finally decided to be friends. But then all night all these things tortured me, so this morning I called her a slut.
I was so angry then, but in English, as Merritt and the class discussed “Kubla Khan” (one of my favorite poems, and I wanted to concentrate on it better), my anger turned to hurt and sadness – and sharp stomach pains.
In LaGuardia lobby, Shelli and Elspeth had made up and were friendly again and asked me to go with them for coffee at Sugar Bowl. Shelli returned all my photos but one (I had asked for them back).
I soon left to have lunch at home, where Aunt Sydelle called to ask me if I’d go with her to the Catskills for the long weekend. I was interested, but later she later decided not to go.
Mom spoke to Dr. Wouk this morning and he told her everything was going as smoothly (or roughly) with the breakup as he thought it would.
Back on campus, Kevin told me his only punishment for the fake photo ID was a stern lecture from Dean Wiepert. I’m glad.
Chatting with Elayne, I was grateful she didn’t bring up The Subject and we talked of other things. Perhaps something will soon replace Shelli and me as the new hot flash on the LaGuardia gossip grapevine.
Later, Terry said that Shelli and I can love each other still “if only you can adjust to not solely loving each other.” I knew Shelli had a tennis lesson this afternoon and I arrived at the courts as her lesson had ended.
We sat at a table drinking soda and tacitly agreed not to bring up Jerry’s name or anything about the LaGuardia crowd. We went for a drive and talked of simple things: the Indian summer weather, clothing – I was wearing that great new camel crewneck sweater I got at Campus Closet – or our childhoods.
We no longer say “I love you” but say we’re “bestest friends,” and when we said goodbye, she kissed me on the cheek. But I fear that I’ll turn bitter toward her again, and that’s not what I want. I want to be her friend.
Saturday, October 23, 1971
Things are really hard for me. I cry all the time. This morning I was crying soon after I woke up. Dad walked into my room and said, “Those who try to get sympathy only get contempt.”
That made me feel even worse and I just lay in bed until noon, crying, only softly, muffling myself with my pillow. Dad said I’m too old to cry (“You’re going to be 21”), but I think I’ve just gotten old enough to be hurt badly enough to cry this much.
My cold has now broken out and my nose is all stuffed. I just don’t feel like living anymore. I want to die.
Yesterday I went to Kings Plaza and got my horoscope from a computer. It read: “Your love life will change for the better in all respects . . . Beware of close friends, rainy streets, and extracurricular activities . . . Forget the past: You are on the right track. Stay there.”
It sounds favorable, but I have no desire to see if any of it comes true. I don’t think I’ve ever been this unhappy. Unlike what Dad thought, I’m not crying for sympathy, I’m crying because that’s what I feel like doing.
Get a hold of yourself, I tell myself, and I do, for a couple of hours, and then – pow! – it hits me and I get sick or have an anxiety or just feel so damn lonely. It seems that everyone has someone but me.
I dragged myself to the movies and even saw Boys in the Band for the third time; it does improve with age. Alice called when I arrived home; she’s a good friend. She said there’s nothing I can do about Shelli except leave her alone to make up her mind.
But while cleaning my room, Gisele said I should sleep with Shelli “since you can’t really lose anything anymore.” She laughed when I asked if she knew any voodoo curses and then told me about a spurned wife she knew back in Haiti who put a curse on her husband and another woman so they “stuck together like dogs” when they had sex and couldn’t be pried apart.
Monday, October 25, 1971
I was awake most of the night, thinking. I’ve become dulled to the passage of time: day after day has slipped by, until now, when I’ve been forcefully reminded that life is moving relentlessly on.
In bed last night, I started appraising myself and my life and there were unpleasant truths I needed to face. Unless I work hard and change things, the next year will probably be the same as this one, and I want it to be better.
I thought about the things Shelli had said – that we had been breaking up for months, fighting, unhappy. I know Jerry did not steal her away from me. And I began, finally, to accept the fact that they love each other.
And I thought of last Friday in LaGuardia lobby and the awkwardness and how one nice word or a smile from me could have made things better. And I felt very ashamed – ashamed of falling into the trap of Leon and the LaGuardia gossips, ashamed of being weak.
So this morning I called Jerry and told him all this, that I would try to accept their relationship and move on. Please let me succeed. He said I must stop hurting Shelli and he said he respected me very much for calling.
Later, after hearing from him about our call, Shelli phoned and said she was proud of me. I care what they think, as they are my friends. But what makes me happier than I’ve been in weeks is not that, but that I know I can act like a man. And I’m going to be strong and loving.
I did a lot of studying today, throwing myself into my schoolwork with enthusiasm. When Gary called, we talked about his weekend duty with the Guard and other things.
It’s ironic that Gary, whom Jerry has always despised, has spoken about Jerry more kindly and with more understanding than anyone else, including all of Jerry’s old friends like Leon, Jill, Elihu, and Elayne.
Mom, Marc, Jonny and I went out this afternoon to look for a car that Marc and Mom will share; I’ll get the Pontiac for myself. We went to half a dozen dealers, and they’re undecided between a Torino, a Cougar, and a Monte Carlo.
We ate out at the Floridian, and I ended up having a nice day with my family. I know there’ll be bad times coming up, but I feel (and hope) that I can cope with them better now.
Tuesday, October 26, 1971
I guess that it’s easier to say that you’re going to be strong than to actually do it. I had a bad case of diarrhea last night and I also had a very severe cough.
I’ve not been well physically; I’ve been run-down and haven’t been taking care of myself. I now weigh 143 pounds, about 7 or 8 pounds less than I did a month ago.
Last night I watched the U.S. being defeated in the UN, which voted to oust the Nationalist Chinese as it seated Red China, finally, after so many years. Our sixth grade debate almost ten years ago was about admitting Red China to the UN.
I felt really lousy this morning and decided to skip English, and went to school at about 10 AM. Avis and I went over to Leon and signed up for some EXCO courses. Among the ones I registered for was Campus Cleaning with Prof. Merritt (whose English Lit class I should have been in today); a Sexual Communications Workshop; and Italian Cooking, taught by Rosie Camerlengo at her house on Saturday afternoons. When Shelli arrived, she also signed up for Rosie’s course.
She told me that Jerry went to see his literary agent to day about getting his book of poetry published. Shelli fears that he’s too optimistic and that “his stuff isn’t that good.” I didn’t say anything but I’m afraid I agree with her.
I decided I felt too ill to go to Poli Sci and stayed around and talked with Mason – who’s got this new cute blonde girlfriend Libby now – and Stanley and Russell, who’s teaching an EXCO course on handicapping races.
At noon, Shelli came out of her class and asked me to go with her to get some coffee. She said she cried last night while looking at my picture (the one she kept) and asked if we might date again. I said, “I don’t know, I guess so.”
And she started talking – really, for the first time – about Jerry. He’s sort of pressuring her to marry him. She doesn’t want to, but he says he’ll wait “forever.” And she said he’s “taking control of my life,” that he’s more possessive than I was.
She had another class, and I decided to go home. As Gary and I walked off the campus, he pointed out a JDL sign that announced that Meir Kahane is coming back tomorrow: won’t that be fun.
I felt really sick all day, coughing up blood, and had to cancel with Dr. Wouk. Tonight Shelli called after she got home from seeing her father at the hospital. She said she loved me and I said I loved her.
Monty may go back to Aunt Sydelle, but Merryl and the twins are unwilling to return and may stay with their aunt, uncle and grandmother in Brooklyn.
Wednesday, October 27, 1971
A dark day. I went straight to Poli Sci when I arrived on campus today; Vince again talked about British political parties, and he was in very good form.
After class, I went to LaGuardia and found a bunch of Jewish students clustered about. In the center of the group was Rabbi Meir Kahane, a short dark man who dresses like a tailor.
After Kahane left, President Kneller came out of Dean Gold’s office and said hello to me. I was taken aback by this, that he seemed to know me, and I asked him how he was; he said fine.
I sat down and talked with Ivan, Hal and Elayne for a while. Ivan spent the weekend with this girl in Syracuse and he intimated that he slept with her. Hal said he also signed up for the Sexual Communications Workshop, and so did Teresa, so that sounds like a good group.
When I took Elayne to lunch, she told me about his crazy girl who also hangs out at the Art department, “Tawdry Audrey,” who keeps screaming at Elayne about her and Prof. Sawin. Yesterday she hit Elayne with a tennis racquet, and Elayne lodged a complaint against her.
Richard Pontone suggested we go and listen to the Rabbi, and though it took us awhile, we finally got into the room. Kahane, surrounded by club-carrying Jewish Defense League youths, preached his policy of “Every Jew a .22” and crap.
The crowd was spellbound, and I have to admit he is a magnetic personality. Aaron, Peter and I went to SUBO, and Shelli joined us. We watched Kahane dance the hora at an Israeli Club meeting.
Afterwards, Shelli and I were alone in the elevator when suddenly she leaned over and kissed me. I kissed back and liked it, feeling myself getting an erection.
Our kiss was interrupted when the door opened on the fourth floor and Rabbi Kahane and his JDL followers were in front of us, trying to get on the elevator. It was spooky and weird. Close up, Kahane seems to emanate evil.
I tried to forget the kiss during the magazine meeting and listened to the ideas of Peter and Slade. Alice showed me a photo of Andreas and his sculpture from a recent one-man show.
When Shelli and I returned to LaGuardia, Jerry was waiting for her. I sat down between him and Elspeth and everything was friendly; even Leon came over and talked with everyone.
Shelli, Jerry, Elspeth and I went to Four Kings for lunch. It’s uncomfortable seeing him hold Shelli, but I’ve got to get used to it. It’ll be a lot easier if today’s elevator incident is never repeated.
But when I went to the Flatbush Avenue bus stop outside the restaurant, she hugged me and said things that embarrassed all of us. Why was she doing that in front of her new boyfriend? Until Shelli and I make a clean break, I’ll keep on getting hurt. I don’t like people toying with my emotions.
Thursday, October 28, 1971
An amazingly summery day. This morning I called Shelli. I did not try to snipe at her, but I simply told her she had hurt me very much and that we could not be alone together again, so yesterday’s elevator incident can’t happen again.
I rushed off to BC and arrived just in time for English. Merritt went over Byron’s “Childe Harold”; he’s such a terrific teacher. After class, Stanley and I walked back to LaGuardia, where I saw Shelli and said hello, and then Scott and Susan whooshed in, each grabbing an arm, and they took me off to Poli Sci before I could say anything else to her.
Prof. Berkowitz lectured on and on, but I didn’t pay attention, as I had a terrible anxiety attack.
Scott said he’s been depressed lately. He’s been seeing Dr. Stone, who’s helping him. Scott gets stoned even more than usual these days; his braggadocio is just a front, and he’s just as scared as the rest of us.
Alice caught up with me after class and said Peter Amato told her that I was saying some really brilliant things yesterday at our meeting.
I sat down in LaGuardia and was talking to Carole. She was eating a sandwich when suddenly her hand froze in mid-air, her eyes glazed over, and she was rigid for three minutes – another one of her spells.
I was terrified seeing that, and I urged her to see a neurologist. Poor Carole. I’ll never forgive myself about the childish things we said when we heard about her pregnancy and miscarriage. Sometimes I’m a total idiot.
Outside, I spoke with Mikey, who’s trying to work out a Mugwump coalition with some Left groups. But I don’t think even Mikey could bring that off. Kjell and Gary joined us during a break from their Psych lab, in a course that Gary’s been having a lot of trouble with.
After I came home, I took a haircut this afternoon, getting my hair layered and shortened; it’s now brown as the bleached blond has mostly grown out and been cut. I look different: better, more masculine, maybe.
Shelli told me and she said she went to Peter to ask an older person’s advice today and that I should come over so that she could see my hair. Against my better judgment – sometimes I am an idiot, as I just said – I picked her up and we went to Rockaway to visit Steve Katz, who wasn’t home.
At her house, I couldn’t hold myself back and I kissed her and that led to more heavy petting. But this has got to stop. Jerry told her that he will never see her again if she sleeps with me even once.
Saturday, October 30, 1971
It remained warm and summery today. I had made up my mind I was not going to call Shelli, but this morning I got to reading some of her letters and I dialed her number. Her mother answered. I disguised my voice and pretended to be a wrong number.
So she stayed in Staten Island with Jerry last night. I suppose she tells her mother that she’s sleeping over at Avis’s or perhaps at Melissa’s.
Marc had to take the PSAT today and he had a rough time. Poor kid: he doesn’t know how he’s going to go to college with his grades. I haven’t paid much attention to him lately, but he’s a fine brother.
I got out of the house as soon I could, dressed in dungarees, my new sweater and sneakers; got into the car; rolled down the windows; and headed toward Rockaway. For a while I walked along the boardwalk in Belle Harbor.
I think I’d like to live by the ocean when I get my own place. I can walk on the sand and watch the surf roll in for hours. Now it’s really beautiful: no summer crowds, just the few real diehard beach lovers like me.
I went to have lunch with Grandma Ethel, but I’m afraid I wasn’t in a very good mood and was a bit short-tempered at things she said.
Returning home, I lay down for a while, depressed and lonely. I don’t know if it’s that I love Shelli, or it’s just that I miss having a girlfriend and it could be any girl.
Driving over to Kings Highway, I shopped in the new organic food store, buying rose hips tea, cucumber soap and pumpkin seeds. With my new natural hair color and styling, and my weight loss, I’ve become a new person – almost.
I finally decided to mail my letter to Brad; we’ll see what develops. Across the street from the post office on Nostrand Avenue, I went to Waldbaum’s, checking out my items at Avis’s register. She was cool, but I imagine it was because everything was so frantic and she had to work so hard.
This evening, I was still down, so Marc, before he went out, stopped by my room and said, “I’ve got a gift for you.” It was a great gift: a joint. I smoked the grass, and while I didn’t get stoned, I got a very pleasant buzzed relaxed feeling.
Grandma Sylvia’s brother, Irving Cohen, died last night of a heart attack. The funeral is tomorrow. So it goes.