A 22-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late September, 1973
by Richard Grayson
Friday, September 21, 1973
It’s 5 PM and I’ve just come out of the bathroom, where I took a bath with oil and washed my hair and shaved and rubbed myself down so that I feel new and clean.
I was staring at my naked body and trying to observe it as an objective viewer might. It’s not a bad body, perhaps a bit too rounded in the torso, but my legs are nice; I don’t have much of an ass.
I wish my stomach and hips were slimmer and my chest and shoulders and arms had more muscle to them. Some chest hair might be nice; it bothers me that 16-year-old kids can show off macho tufts of hair and I have only a couple of thin blond strands.
But all in all, I shouldn’t complain. Of course, there’s the penis that men are always supposed to be dissatisfied with, but I figure mine is average size, or maybe a little bigger.
Hm. I think I’m becoming less cerebral with all this body-talk: maybe a Lawrencian influence.
I went to BC today and I decided in the library that I’m going to do my thesis on some comparison of Point Counter Point and Women in Love and the tensions between Huxley, the intellectualist, and Lawrence, the instinctualist.
I’d like to go ask Prof. Ebel to give me some ideas, perhaps a comparison of the way each author fictionalized their friends.
John Middleton Murry and his wife Katherine Mansfield appear in each book as two very different sets of characters. What were they really like and what accounts for each author’s perceptions of them?
While at school, I saw a poster announcing a meeting on Monday of potential volunteers for the Student Government Elections Committee. Perhaps I should go; after all, I was well-served when I did the same thing at Brooklyn three and a half years ago, and I dohave certain experience. We’ll see how I feel next week.
Last evening I paid a call on my grandparents. First the Ginsbergs: Grandpa Nat is working as hard as ever, and Grandma Sylvia is anxious to return to Florida although she hasn’t been in the best of health.
Grandma Sylvia is concerned about Robin and Joel: they’re not really living together and they don’t get along, but Grandma doesn’t think they’re divorcing. Of course, it’s possible that they just haven’t told her what’s going on.
Across the street, Grandpa Herb seemed to be improving; he still has his eye bandaged, and he’s got to go for tests for his diabetes and can’t eat anything with sugar. Grandma Ethel is taking care of him, though.
The three of us watched Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in what was billed as the tennis “battle of the sexes.”
Monday, September 24, 1973
I felt so safe and secure in my bed this morning, it seemed a shame to get out into the world. For at times – and this is one of those times – the world leaves you wondering where everything is going.
I felt bad about missing Mason’s surprise party tonight, and I got such a lovely Jewish New Year’s card from Scott that it made me guilty for not calling him.
This morning I went to Walden Books at Kings Plaza to buy a gift for Mason: a copy of Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. For a long time, I debated whether I should go to the meeting of the Elections Committee at school.
I finally decided to go, but before I did, I called up Mrs. Ehrlich and left the message that I was canceling my appointment for tomorrow because I wanted to attend the meeting of people who are drafting a new Richmond College Student Government constitution.
I told Mrs. Ehrlich to call me back tomorrow night.
Apparently I was the only new face at the meeting; I explained that I did more or less the same thing with elections at Brooklyn College and that I was familiar with the 30% rule and the Honest Ballot Association.
Everyone on the committee seemed nice, especially Dean McCormick, and her assistant, Ed Merritt, and the SG secretary, Andrea Jay. “Soon you will be one of us,” Andrea said.
I want to be with the people who are active, who have power – but I gave it a lot of thought.
I didn’t feel well after dinner, and I knew it couldn’t be the food, which I had at my beloved Bun ‘n’ Burger at the Staten Island Mall. I came to the conclusion that activities can be as much running away from myself as I did when I just stayed in the house five years ago.
Of course, the activities themselves are worthwhile, but it does keep one so busy – along with schoolwork and rushing to see this friend and that one – that it effectively precludes facing one’s own feelings.
And of late, I’ve been having a lot of disturbing thoughts – a lot of homosexual fantasies, maybe stronger than before – and sadistic fantasies, too.
These fantasies make me feel crummy about Ronna. If I loved her less, it wouldn’t matter. But I care for her so much that I don’t want to lose her and I don’t want to hurt her.
Doesn’t she deserve a totally heterosexual boyfriend? She is, after all, so straight that, God love her, she’s a 20-year-old virgin. Could she accept me as bisexual?
So with all that on my mind, why did I cancel my appointment with Mrs. Ehrlich, who logically is the best person to talk to? (Moreover, I canceled to attend a meeting I later decided not to go to.)
It’s obvious: I’m avoiding myself. This all led to an all-too-familiar anxiety attack in Prof. Jochnowitz’s class tonight. I was so nauseated I wanted to puke, I felt dizzy and dry in the mouth, and my heart was beating wildly.
But I managed to fight it off by the end of the period – mostly by realizing why the anxiety attack was occurring and by recognizing the feelings underlying it.
Wednesday, September 26, 1973
Last evening after a rather enjoyable class on Lady’s Chatterley’s Lover, I went to see Mrs. Ehrlich.
In talking to her, I realized that I broke the appointment not so much because I wanted to avoid talking about something, but that I wanted to express my anger at her having scheduled me for a time I didn’t like, and to see how much rebelliousness she’d take without exploding. I am afraid that Mrs. Ehrlich, like Mom, will not love me any more if I go beyond certain boundaries.
I also discussed with her Ivan’s call to Ronna and the whole question of why people hurt one another, and Mrs. Ehrlich felt that it was a question particularly directed towards her.
What I really wanted to know, Mrs. Ehrlich said, is whether she would continue to be calm, patient and understanding if I behave “badly,” as I did when I canceled the appointment.
Because, as I said, Mrs. Ehrlich knows so much about my emotional weaknesses – just the way Ivan played on Ronna’s hangups about her weight – that she could destroy me in no time with some cutting remarks.
Of course, Mrs. Ehrlich said, I had not thought of a second alternative: if she were angry with me, she just might say that she was angry and express why. Which is, of course, the healthy thing to do.
All right, I said, I grant that you’ll do that, but what makes you think other people will be so straight-forward? You’re a psychotherapist dealing with a patient, but there are people out in the world that can really fuck a person up.
Mrs. Ehrlich wondered if I were talking about a specific somebody. I realized it could be the new people I’m meeting at Richmond College.
When I go to BC, as I did this morning, and I see Mason and Mikey and Melvin and Vito, I know that they accept me and that they’ll act predictably. But I don’t know if new people will accept me or if they will destroy me.
Mrs. Ehrlich stared at me, and I had to look away, feeling that she was looking straight into my soul: I felt naked and vulnerable. Also, I was beginning to feel a closeness, a communication, between Mrs. Ehrlich and myself that was so deep as to be embarrassing.
I made a new appointment for Tuesday at 2:15 PM.
When I got home, I called Scott. He said it was a new experience, my calling him, and that made me feel guilty. “How is your woman?” Scott asked.
“Fine,” I said. “How are yours?”
Scott said that Avis’s German friend/lover from her travels out West had arrived, and he was living with Avis and her parents. Scott said the guy, whose name is Helmut, seemed very nice.
Today I went to Richmond to attend the Elections Committee meeting. I’m slowly learning about student government there; apathy, of course, is the biggest problem.
Next week we’re having a meeting with my old friend, Mr. Abrams of the Honest Ballot Association. Except for a few suggestions, I’ve been mostly quiet at these meetings.
I like Dean McCormick and Ed Merritt enormously, and also this couple on the committee, the SG secretary Andrea and her boyfriend John, both of whom seem rather freakily nice and people I want to get to know better.
Rosh Hashona begins at sundown tonight. I think I’ll go to the hospital on Long Island where Aunt Arlyne had her gall bladder surgery today.
Saturday, September 29, 1973
I thought a lot about why I got sick and why I was being obstinate about not going to Ronna’s grandmother’s for dinner (aside from my being ill).
In effect, I held a therapy session with myself. And what I discovered was this:
The week started off with my attempt to enter a new group of people at Richmond. I canceled my appointment with Mrs. Ehrlich because I wanted to avoid facing something, as well as being angry with her – and what I was afraid of was my fear of retreating back into my neurotic shell after a supposed rebuff; it didn’t have so much to do with sexual feelings.
The anxiety attack in class on Monday night was a throwback to the days of high school and my year at home and the first year or so of college.
Then, faced with Ivan’s call to Ronna, I was reminded how the past can still affect you even when you think you’re over it. That night, I stayed awake thinking of past bad times: the breakdown and the breakup, to coin a phrase.
On Tuesday, I was preoccupied with whether getting involved is worth being hurt. And the whole thing jelled when I saw Aunt Arlyne lying in the hospital on Wednesday night. She was made all but helpless by nausea and anxiety: the symptoms I had in common with her.
Like Arlyne, I had Dr. Lipton as a therapist. When she tried in desperation to contact him that night, it led me to think about when I was 15, 16, 17 and used to call him when I was hysterical and shaking with anxiety.
The incident at the hospital traumatized me, and my body’s defenses collapsed – so that night I started developing physical symptoms, as if to test myself, to see if I would go back to my old neurotic self. And I did – not only in lying around the house, but in turning down, in panic so blind I couldn’t see it myself, the invitation from Ronna which I’d accepted earlier in the week.
I tried to explain all this to Ronna last night, but I’m not sure she totally understood me. I don’t know where this leaves our relationship or, in a larger sense, my whole future.
This evening I still felt fairly lousy physically, but tonight Ronna and I had tickets for the Jay and the Americans concert and I fought my fear of getting an anxiety attack to go. I’m glad I did.
When I went to pick up Ronna, I was as nervous as if it were our first date. On the way, I bought six white carnations, and I could see she really liked them and that her anger with me had subsided.
I exchanged small talk with her mother and Hiram, and as soon as Ronna was ready – she had been working hard all day for that legal taskmaster Mr. Fishman – we drove to Brooklyn College.
Our seats were in the balcony, and I thought that might intensify any anxiety I’d have. But none occurred; I even tried to will an anxiety attack to see how I’d cope with it, but I couldn’t summon that awful, world-is-closing-in-on-me feeling.
We sat through a very funny – if a bit sick – opening act by a comedian named Gabriel Kaplan, and then Jay and the Americans came on. They played such old hits as “Only in America, “Walking in the Rain,” and “This Magic Moment.”
Because my view was blocked by three screaming teenyboppers, I gave up on trying to watch the band onstage and instead concentrated on listening to the music and looking at Ronna, who was staring intently with her new glasses.
She looked so pretty and good, I thought of what Helmut called Avis on Thursday – “my talisman” – and I realized that Ronna ismy talisman.
She’s nowhere near being perfect, but she’s human. (Remember what Jerry wrote me from Europe in the summer of 1971?: “Assume as much humanity as possible.”)
We came back to my house to have rose hips tea in the kitchen. My cold has broken out into a stuffed, runny nose, but somehow it became a good feeling, secure and comforting.
We talked until past 1 AM, when I took her home, only giving her a tight squeeze to avoid spreading my germs. Now I need a night of restful sleep and good dreams.