A 21-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-December, 1972
by Richard Grayson
Wednesday, December 13, 1972
I’m quite well again, ready to plunge into life full-force. Tonight I was driving Ronna home from copy night and she said to me, “Remember how you said if you want something, just ask for it?”
I nodded, and she told me that she had the feeling that I’ve been humoring her. I asked her to provide specific instances, and she couldn’t think of any, or at least she wouldn’t say any, so I told her I’d always be honest with her.
Tonight I wrote her a note, saying I’d never been disingenuous about anything, and I told her I think maybe the problem could be in her head if she thinks a pretty, intelligent, lovely girl isn’t worthy of whatever interest I’ve shown in her.
Because I’ve always been sincere with Ronna. I’m not certain of too many things in life, but I’m completely certain of that.
It was good to be back in school once again. This morning I felt a little funny about going back, but once on campus, I was fine. Vito and some other people didn’t even notice I was gone.
I went to Bio with Scott and Josh, but I felt weak after class and cut the rest of my classes, including the seminar. I’m aware that I’m avoiding reality – but only for today. Tomorrow, when I hope to get my full strength back, I will get into my work.
But for today, having been sick for days, I wanted to enjoy myself with friends. I saw Serena for the first time today, and I now know what Debbie meant when she called her “hard”; my impression was that Scott doesn’t like her all that much.
It makes me feel good now to see Avis and Alan holding each other; their happiness and joy are almost infectious.
Paul came in, with Davey, and I was relieved to hear that they gave him a year’s extension at his induction physical yesterday; the note from the shrink worked.
I had lunch in the Pub with Mikey, Mike, Mandy and Elspeth. Some of us are planning a surprise birthday party for Mikey at Mike’s house on Friday night.
Mason and Libby said they’re really anticipating Hair, especially Mason, who after all has a lead part in the play.
After resting at home this afternoon, I went back to school for copy night. Leroy cut his hair and shaved his beard. Karen came in for a birthday party we had for Melvin; Costas and Sid got a cake and trick candles that wouldn’t blow out, and Bruce stole milk from the mouths of the babes at the Day Care Center.
Thursday, December 14, 1972
This morning, Avis said that she’s been depressed lately. She enjoys things like going hiking with Alan but knows that if she’s going to be a classicist, she’s got to work much harder.
Last night her father refused to give her the car to go to Rockaway – in “punishment” for her sleeping over at Alan’s house one night last week.
In class, I didn’t pay much attention to Kitch’s lecture on Catch-22, a book I find funny, almost hilarious – but ultimately a one-joke book.
Phyllis, who’s the new features editor, came over to me after English and told me to write a funny story about the Kingsman elections and I tried my best.
Outside, I saw Ronna, who was going to lunch with Susan, and I gave her the note I’d written, telling her to open it later.
At the Curriculum meeting, Skip told me that Prof. Cehelsky said we could take “incompletes” if we couldn’t finish our paper this term. I’ll see her tomorrow and we’ll talk it out.
I left the meeting early to get downtown to Dr. Wouk. “I’m a mess,” I told her as I walked in, trying to elicit sympathy and maybe some look-what-you’re-doing-to-me sense of guilt. We talked, and I’ve decided that it’s worth the long, hard work necessary to achieve adulthood.
Dr. Wouk said it’ll be hard without her but that I’ll handle it: “If you couldn’t, I’d bundle you up and take you upstate with me.” She could sit me on her lap and tell me that everything’s going to be all right, she said, but that wouldn’t help me do any growing.
As I left, Dr. Wouk ruffled my hair. When I got out and walked to my car on Henry Street, I felt happier – or at least more self-assured.
It was twilight, and I drove over the Verrazano Bridge to Staten Island and went up to my favorite spot there, high up above the Bay, and I sat there and looked down at the harbor and the city for a while.
Tonight I called Alice, who’s been fine. She tried working for the federal government, but it was a bore and now she’s back at Vandeveer. We agreed to get together over the holidays.
I just finished writing a letter to Grandma Sylvia in Miami. Grandpa Nat’s returning to Florida to join her for a few weeks.
Saturday, December 16, 1972
Last night when I arrived at Mike’s and made my way past his scary German shepherd downstairs, only he and Mandy were there. Mandy said that unfortunately, Debbie, like Marc, caught the flu I had, and felt too ill to come.
The other guests arrived in quick succession: Harris and Bobby with their girlfriends (later Bobby and I were alone and he said how much he liked Ellen, “but I sort of miss her not having big tits”); Marty and Ruth; Timmy and Scott and Teresa.
We hid in the other room, and when Mikey came in with Mike’s friend Larry (who’d driven him over from Rockaway), we all came out and shouted, “Surprise!” – and he was surprised.
Mikey opened his presents: a gas mask from Scott and Timmy, a book from me, a condom (what else?) from Bobby, tinker toys from Teresa, etc. Bill Breitbart arrived late, as did Avis and Alan.
I sensed that Scott was uncomfortable because of the presence of Avis and Alan. In any case, I felt awkward for him; now I know how other people must have felt when they saw me at a party with Shelli and Jerry.
Avis and Alan do seem so natural together, like an old married couple like Marty and Ruth. I noticed that Scott left early with Teresa; before tonight, I didn’t even know they were friends outside of school.
I hung around until 11 PM, shook Mikey’s hand and wished him well on the law boards today, and then left as Mike saw me to the door. Mike is a good friend to go to so much trouble for Mikey.
I didn’t do much today: a little schoolwork, I called Debbie to wish her a speedy recovery and a happy vacation, and spoke to Mikey to see how the law boards had gone.
At 7 PM this evening I went to Ronna’s house to pick her up. As usual, she was late, and as usual, I didn’t mind; it gave me a chance to talk to her mother. Mrs. C is nice, a lot like most of Mom’s friends. And I played with little Billy.
When she came out, Ronna looked beautiful: she really was so lovely and soft-looking. We drove over to the college and went into Whitman to see Fidelio. It was in German, of course, and although the acting, sets and singing were excellent, it was the first opera I’d ever been to and I was pretty much bored out of my mind.
During intermission, we ran into Leroy and Sharon, who were pretty bored, too, so we all decided to leave. I suggested to Ronna that we take a drive and she agreed.
When we got out of the Battery Tunnel and into Manhattan, it had started snowing lightly, and everything looked so pretty. After we drove around for a while, I finally found a parking space near Rockefeller Center.
Holding hands, we walked over to the big Christmas tree. Nearby, a group of people were caroling. Standing out in the 20° cold, we watched the ice skaters and looked at the angel sculptures and walked down Fifth Avenue, going over to St. Patrick’s (which was closed) and the incredible windows in Saks.
We made our way back to the car and returned to Brooklyn, to the Copper Penny, for tea. We talked about so many things, intimate things. I told her things I’ve never told anyone else – about my thinking I was gay (she said she thought the same thing, both about herself and about me) and stuff like that.
Back in my house, we sat in the basement talking. I held her hand and kissed her gently. Taking her home at 3 AM – the time with her had passed so quickly – we both agreed that we had a wonderful time.
It’s almost time to get up on Sunday morning, but this has been one of the most beautiful nights of my life.
Wednesday, December 20, 1972
It’s 10 PM and I’m feeling particularly depressed. My bones ache, and I hope I’m not getting the flu again. I don’t know what it is. I finished my Poli Sci seminar paper on gynecology oppressing women, all 23 pages of it, and I should feel elated.
But instead, I feel grouchy and irritable, ready to jump down someone’s throat. Maybe it’s post-partum depression regarding my seminar paper. Or maybe it’s Ronna Caplan. That stupid girl is ruining my life.
I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t study: I’m always thinking about her and my feelings toward her. She was supposed to call tonight and didn’t, and all sorts of things run through my mind: maybe she hates me and tolerates me hanging around her because she’s just too plain polite to tell me to get lost.
That doesn’t make sense, considering what I read when I accidentally looked in her notebook, but I don’t know: nothing makes any sense any more.
I called Avis and confided in her. She was sympathetic but ultimately she couldn’t help. Avis says she can’t believe how good Alan is to her, doing things for her: “I’m so used to being shitted on.”
But I can’t be like my friend Avis, who always could slip into relationships with much more ease than I.
After my classes today, I went to LaGuardia and gave Mara her birthday present – a doll I’d bought yesterday – and she kissed me on the cheek. I also gave Melvin his birthday present. I enjoy buying gifts for people.
Susan, Ronna and I had lunch, and afterwards Ronna and I went to Prof. Schlissel’s showing of The Grapes of Wrath. It was really beautiful, and in the dark I got enough courage to put my arm on Ronna’s soft shoulder. I felt shy and sexually aroused at the same time.
I left her with a kiss and went to our final Poli Sci seminar, where Ms. Cehelsky summed things up nicely. “Ultimately,” she said, “if we can’t love all aspects of ourselves, we can’t love anyone else. We’ve got to respect our differences; they make life interesting and bearable and rich.”
Back in LaGuardia, I helped quiz Vito for his Speech test and met Robert and Alice on their way to the city, and then I drove Phyllis and Ronna home. I’m a mass of confusion.