A 22-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late July, 1973
by Richard Grayson
Wednesday, July 18, 1973
It’s early evening and I feel a little sad. I’m almost lonely, though I have no lack of people to talk to and do things with.
Even though Mom and Dad are away (and perhaps that foreshadows the fears I have of leaving home), there are still dozens of people I can rely on, not the least of whom is Ronna.
But still there’s that uneasy feeling: it’s a throwback to something in the past, something half-forgotten. Or perhaps I enjoy the feeling.
Ronna and I saw Slaughterhouse-Five last night, where the Tralfamadorian tells Billy Pilgrim, “A pleasant way to spend eternity is to concentrate on the good moments and forget the bad ones.”
That sounds fine, but the bad moments can keep recurring out of habit, and maybe the reason I’m in therapy is to get at those bad moments, the first ones – but there’ll always be bad moments, anyway.
So remembering the good: I picked up Ronna at 7:30 PM last night, and she was punctual and looked terrific. We went to the Quad in the city, and Ronna enjoyed the film.
She’s tired of working at the insurance company, but they would like to keep her on for the whole summer. It was an entirely pleasant evening: Ronna and I are close, and I think that’s great.
This morning Marc drove the rest of the family to the airport, and I had nothing to do, so I went to Brooklyn College. It may be immature for me to keep going back, but at least on campus there are always people to see.
Mike is keeping office hours every day as student government president, but I don’t think there’s really that much for him to do.
I went to the Faculty Dining Room with Vito, Mara, Helen, Alex and Yolanda, and we laughed while Yolanda showed us how to balance a salt shaker on a few grains of salt.
When I saw Wendy, she waved to me; I guess she must feel awkward with Gary’s friends after the breakup.
I hung around for a long time with Vito and Mara: the three of us are almost a unit. Vito told us how he went to the GAA Firehouse with Joey and they met Skip, John and a whole Brooklyn College gay contingent there.
I told them about the movies Ronna and I have seen lately in Manhattan: A Touch of Class, O Lucky Man!, Camelot, Greaser’s Palace and Slaughterhouse-Five last night.
And we talked about other people: how Sid is apparently having a hard time sharing an apartment with Elspeth in Berkeley (Leroy’s girlfriend Becky wrote him that “the two biggest problems in California are forest fires and Elspeth”); about Jerry going to grad school at Northeastern and Shelli transferring to Emerson; about Henry driving Craig up to Syracuse to begin grad school; and the reports of Carole and Irv’s wedding we got variously from Linda, Elspeth, and Ira.
I ran into Kurt, whom I’ve been avoiding every time he calls my house; I just don’t feel like getting involved with his craziness.
But I was glad to come across Josh in the library. We went to lunch at Jentz. He’s getting around okay despite his mono, although he can’t kiss anyone and still is the cynic, trying to outwit teachers and find relief from life’s boredom.
I missed talking with him, although he does have the annoying habit of asking questions like “Why aren’t you having an affair with Mara?” – to which I sputter some feeble response. But Josh is a good kid.
Saturday, July 21, 1973
10 PM. I’m in bed, feeling very calm and placid; it’s a pleasurable kind of tiredness.
I’ve spent most of the past 24 hours with Ronna, and though I’d certainly be lying if I said it was one big romantic idyll, I think it shows that we can get along lovingly and comfortably as two old friends and lovers.
And that’s better than it being perfect, because it’s a reality, a reality we both worked at to create. Last evening, for example, started off on the wrong foot and seemed to be going steadily downhill.
She was late and we arrived at the college too late to see the play there. I was frustrated, but it just got worse as we went to Georgetown, got stuck in a traffic jam, and finally got to the movie box office to be told that there was seating only in the first three rows.
We talked about ending the evening then and there, but we both wanted to work it out, so we took a long drive – through the Five Towns, Long Beach and Rockaway – and talked and we managed to clear everything up.
Ronna has a lot on her mind. First of all, there’s the fear that she’s going blind, or at least losing sight in her bad eye. But now at least she’s frightened enough to see a doctor.
Second, she’s almost sure her mother is going to marry Hiram. At first Ronna said how happy she was about it, but then I started detecting misgivings in the things she was saying.
After only three weeks since Hiram met her mother, he has, in effect, made himself part of the family. He sleeps over all the time, has put them all on his medical plan, uses Ronna’s mother as a hostess at his business parties.
Ronna says that Hiram’s very nice but somehow it all seems too sudden and she’s a bit suspicious. I’m kind of worried about it myself. I’m fond of Mrs. C, of course – but even more, I care about Ronna’s welfare.
I took Ronna home at 1 AM last night, and less than twelve hours later I picked her up. Today was a grey, rainy day, a perfect day to see a matinee. We went to Lincoln Center to see A Streetcar Named Desire, and it was a fine production of that very good play. We really enjoyed Rosemary Harris as Blanche.
Back in Brooklyn, we ate dinner at Kings Plaza and came home to just sit around like a picture of domesticity.
I think the sexual part of our relationship is working out. Last night she came and I didn’t, and tonight I came and she didn’t, which at least shows we’re both getting something. She’s become more aggressive sexually and today we directly stimulated each other.
Tuesday, July 24, 1973
10 PM. I arrived home just now; on the stairs I passed some of Marc’s friends staggering out, totally wrecked. I’m not sure why (probably it’s just a phase), but I haven’t had the slightest desire to smoke grass in months.
Oh, I’ll get stoned at parties when everyone else is doing it and I’d even do it with a friend, but somehow it all seems silly. Perhaps I’m becoming too straight. Pot is okay to relax with occasionally, but flying high is not the greatest feeling in the world.
Gary picked me up at 7 PM tonight and we went to Brookdale Hospital; he’d called me late last night with the news that Sharon had given birth. As Gary will be leaving for London tomorrow, he wanted to see her tonight and I said I’d accompany him.
Sharon looked really well for a girl who’d had a very difficult Caesarean childbirth the day before. With her red hair, freckles, dressed in a pink nightgown, she looked positively beautiful.
Kjell was beaming as a proud father should. He’s put on weight and is not the “rail” he’s always been since P.S. 203; I guess it’s Sharon’s cooking. He brought her a beautiful silver heart-shaped pendant, and you could just see how in love they are.
His mother and hers took Gary and me to see their granddaughter through the screen: Alison Meredith, 7 pounds, 6 ounces. She’s not pretty – I’ve never seen a pretty newborn baby – but it’s so remarkable to see the tiny features: the ears, the fingers, all perfect.
The grandmothers argued jokingly about who the baby looked more like, and all I could think of were inane clichés about “the miracle of life.”
But it’s such a responsibility: it’s not a possession, it’s a separate human being. Still, I think Sharon and Kjell will be good, loving parents.
Gary dropped me off at my house and I wished him a very good vacation; his flight leaves tomorrow evening. I’m glad he decided to make the big trip alone. He’ll be in England and possibly Ireland for three weeks.
Gary’s finally getting to go to Europe and I hope it turns out well for him, with all the bad breaks he’s had lately. The trip should help him avoid any more moping and feeling bad about his breakup with Wendy.
This morning I sat outside listening to the Watergate hearings, the new TV sensation everyone has been watching all summer – but surprisingly, it is fascinating as well as important.
I got the following postcard in the mail from Jonny (original spelling): “We had a great flight. We had the frist seat’s on the plane, Just great. It’s not sunny but it’s hot! I am tied so goodbye. – Love, Jonathan”
I had time to kill before going to Staten Island, so I drove out to the beach to visit Grandma Sylvia and I was very pleased to find her in good spirits.
She’s going for acupuncture treatments every Sunday, and she says the pain is beginning to lessen, that she doesn’t have to rely on the painkillers that caused her hemorrhages.
Bur more than that, Grandma Sylvia now has hope. Her doctor, Ling Sun Chu, flies down to Alabama every Monday after he sees Grandma and his patients at his Park Row office to treat the paralyzed George Wallace. Dr. Chu says that both Governor Wallace and Grandma Sylvia will walk again.
Grandpa Nat and Grandma Sylvia talked about Ronna’s grandparents; our grandmothers know each other from an organization called the Pioneer Women and they were friends in the 50s and 60s. Ronna’s grandmother always says how beautiful “Mrs. Ginsberg” used to be.
In class today, Prof. Cullen began Browning; there’s no class tomorrow, and in two weeks the course will have ended. The other students in the class have all been friendly, but most of them are high school teachers getting their M.S. in education.
I wonder if I made the right decision in going to Richmond, which is really not much of a school. But I am learning a lot from Prof. Cullen. I guess you only get from something what you put into it.
I loved Brooklyn College, but that was because I put my whole self into the school. Anyway, my M.A. program is only one year of classes, and then I can go get a Ph.D. or an M.F.A. or perhaps even start law school, a possibility that has entered my head again.
Ronna was afraid of offending Felicia and Susan, whom she had originally offered to go to see Streetcar with, and she didn’t tell them we’d already seen it.
So where is Ms. Ronna tonight? Seeing Streetcar and making believe she’s doing it for the first time. What a comedy.
Thursday, July 26, 1973
This evening when I went to see Mrs. Ehrlich, I told her I was feeling nostalgic. Earlier, in an attempt to get things organized to begin my term paper on Christina Rossetti, I started cleaning out my drawers.
(How that will help, I’m not certain. Cullen didn’t show up today, so I spent the class time in the library, panicking: the paper is due in less than two weeks and I haven’t done a thing.)
Anyway, from the drawer, I was looking through my old stories and found one I had been planning called “19 Grace Court,” the building in the Heights where Daniel, whom I met in Washington Square in 1969, used to live.
I told Mrs. Ehrlich of the coincidence of the girl’s murder at that address. I said that every time I pick up the Daily News, I seem to see things in it relating to me, and then I told her about an article in the Village Voice talking about the “Mona Morris craze.”
We discussed my fantasy of becoming famous – how then I’d never feel lonely because everywhere I went, people would recognize me – and my fantasy about Mrs. Ehrlich becoming famous and how then I’d feel great about being treated by her, just like Grandma Sylvia feels about her famous acupuncturist.
But there’d be a drawback to Mrs. Ehrlich being a celebrity, because then, like Grandma Sylvia, I’d have to wait for hours to be seen, and then Mrs. Ehrlich wouldn’t give me her undivided attention.
And we struck out from there on two separate tracks that are really unified: How I might be afraid that Mrs. Ehrlich, who lives only a few blocks from Grace Court, could also be murdered, and how I also came across my story for Baumbach’s class, “Jordan Brandeis’ Shrink Is Missing” and my fantasy in that story of being unable to account for the therapist’s disappearance and being the only patient of that therapist.
I discovered how worried I am about Mrs. Ehrlich’s departure; even more than that, how angry I am about it.
I talked of my playing shrink to Ronna and how I even played shrink to myself, thinking of how after every trip my parents make, I usually have a fight with them soon after they come home, probably because I’m furious, deep down, with them for having left.
Since Mom and Dad’s return last night, I’ve been aware of this feeling and that awareness has been affecting my behavior in that I’ve watched myself and prevented myself from provoking an argument.
Mrs. Ehrlich brought up the fact that I could take out my anger on her for leaving on vacation by missing our first appointment after she comes back in September.
I was reminded of the time I called Shelli and threatened suicide because she was leaving me for Jerry and my fantasies of doing that same thing to Mrs. Ehrlich before she leaves.
Funny how that very night Dad said about Shelli, “In a few years, you’ll be laughing about this.” He was right on target. But at the time, Shelli was important to me, just as Mrs. Ehrlich is now.
She suggested that maybe I’ve been a shrink to Ronna, training her to be my shrink, and training myself to be own shrink while Mrs. Ehrlich’s away.
And I discussed how hostile I must have been as a three-year-old toward Marc when he was born and came along and took away Mom and Dad’s attention – just like Ronna’s feeling about Hiram taking away her mother.
So it’s no wonder that in the car yesterday I felt myself a stranger to my own brother.
Tuesday, July 31, 1973
It’s 5 PM, and if anything, I’m feeling even more depressed than I did yesterday.
Last night I suffered with an extremely sore throat and had another virtually sleepless night. I’m certain, however, that the bad cold is merely a symptom or a manifestation of the acute depression I’m going through.
I haven’t felt so down since those days back in December and January after Dr. Rochelle Wouk decided to end her practice in the city or the time I broke up with Shelli.
This depression is not easy to get out of. Having a cold makes me feel sluggish, and I don’t feel like fighting it; I almost want to give in to the misery, which I suppose is the general idea. I am in genuine psychic pain with physical manifestations. I suppose it’s the emptiness of my life facing me head-on.
All my friends, most of them anyway, are away. I got a card from Gary today and he’s enjoying England; Mikey, Scott and Avis aren’t home; Vito will be leaving for Europe on Friday; and Mara’s going to California.
Of course Ronna’s still around, which is a godsend. She told me last night that she won’t be working after this week, and maybe she and I can get away in August – to Washington or Cape Cod or Florida.
I didn’t go to school today, which was probably a mistake, and I have not done any work on the term paper. Worse comes to worst, I’ll hand in a piece of shit and take the final and hope I pass the course.
I don’t think that’s the real worry on my mind, though. It’s more the void facing me until school starts in September, although I’m not at all sure about that yet.
It’s going to be especially difficult with Mrs. Ehrlich away; I’ve come to rely so much on her presence these past few months. I suppose that once I harness my will, I’ll be fighting again, seeing people and doing things, sleeping well and feeling well.
But until then, it’s rough – and I don’t feel I can do anything or go on with the business of living my life.