A 22-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late December, 1973
by Richard Grayson
Saturday, December 22, 1973
I feel happy, but I’m almost afraid to admit it to myself lest I give myself a kinnahora, an evil eye.
Last night when I entered Mrs. Ehrlich’s office, I was feeling very low – weary of the world and my problems and myself – and I just uttered something about how depressed I was. I didn’t feel like telling Mrs. Ehrlich the specifics and just said I’d like to be dead.
As perceptive as she usually is, Mrs. Ehrlich suspected that I wanted to hold onto the depressed feelings, that I wanted to worry her and prove she couldn’t help me without my explaining things.
So eventually I realized I was only punishing myself unduly and explored the week’s events with her. Last Sunday I had a temper tantrum to rival Billy’s, but he’s just a little kid. In having Ronna bring him to our house, I wanted to appear a good guy, but instead I showed her I’m a bad guy.
Curiously, I did accomplish one goal: without my explosion, Billy would have wanted to come back to my house again and again; now he certainly won’t want to return.
Lately I’ve been feeling guilty about having feelings: bisexual fantasies of making it with guys or with Spring, a 17-year-old girl, and they’re even involved in my jealousy of Ivan.
I say to myself, “I’m sophisticated; there’s nothing to be jealous about,” thus hiding my head in the sand at the same time, hoping Ronna will hide her head in the sand and ignore any jealousy I might give her cause to feel.
But the only way I can deal with the situation – or any situation – is to be able to see everything that’s going on. In the past month, I’ve been thinking a lot of breaking up with Ronna, so obviously I’m dissatisfied with some aspects of our relationship.
When I left Mrs. Ehrlich, I decided to do something about it, so when I got home I called Ronna at Susan’s house as Susan’s birthday dinner was ending. I suggested she and I take Susan out to the movies to see American Graffiti, and they agreed.
I picked them up at Susan’s at 9 PM, just after Felicia left for a date with Spencer. We all enjoyed the movie very much and I know Susan appreciated my thoughtfulness in asking her to go along with us.
After I dropped Susan off at home, Ronna and I went to my basement, where we had a two-hour talk about our relationship.
It was hard, but I admitted nearly everything: my desire to be independent, to see other girls if I wanted to, my jealousy of Ivan, even some of my homosexual fantasies.
She was upfront with me, too. First she was upset and cried a little, saying I was leaving her up in the air while I made a decision about breaking up that would affect her so much.
But as we brought everything out into the open, she revealed that she too had desires for being “free,” had sexual fantasies she was ashamed of, and even had a great desire to rape Sean on the very day I was thinking about Spring.
As we talked, we realized how much we both like each other. Love, too, but like more, because that’s what keeps us honest with one another. I felt like our relationship was renewed and we sort of sealed the contract by going on the couch and making love.
We were so open, the sex just had to be good, because there was such real feeling behind it. After our orgasms, we lay close to each other, touching and talking, until 4 AM.
If our relationship gets into trouble, I like the ways we fix it up: it changes and evolves, gets deeper and pulls back, and is beautiful.
Wednesday, December 26, 1973
7 PM on a rainy evening. I’m alone in the house, except for Gisele, who is cleaning downstairs. I enjoy the quiet.
Last night I lay awake a long time, my mind still active: ideas for stories, random thoughts about people and the state of the world swam through my mind.
I awoke at 10 AM and tried to get out of the house as quickly as possible. I filled up the car with gas, a substance now more precious than gold (stations were charging a dollar a gallon yesterday!) – although I had to go to two different service stations to do it.
Then I went to Kings Plaza to see if I could take advantage of the post-Christmas bargains. I bought Avis the album Jim Croce made before he died; Mason said she’d probably like it. He’s so good-natured. Of all my friends, Mason is the only one who can comfort me without words, just by his presence.
I wandered around the mall for a while, picking up a few things, then went over to Avis’s. She was alone, barefoot, with her hair up. She did like her birthday gift very much and gave me a big kiss.
Like most of my friends, she is in the midst of a lot of schoolwork even if vacations should be less work, not more.
We talked about a lot of things. She received a card from Helmut, and the feelings there are still very good; she is still planning to go to Germany to live with him after graduation.
Her parents, of course, will freak out, and Helmut’s parents won’t be very enthusiastic either, and she’ll find it hard to get a job and Helmut’s conscientious-objector work doesn’t pay much – so they’ll have a lot of problems. Avis doesn’t even speak German.
But I hope they make it; that would give me hope. And Avis deserves some happiness after a few messy years.
She doesn’t want to hear from Alan Karpoff now that he’s back – too much shit to remember – and her relationship with Carl has floundered since she criticized his brother’s treatment of her and Carl defended Alan, saying Avis was just complaining.
(Moral: don’t criticize someone’s twin, even if both of them were your lovers.)
Shelli and Jerry were over last night, and Avis said they depress her thoroughly. Their apartment in Boston has mice and roaches, they are living on food stamps, and Avis says they’ve grown “acidly bitter, tearing down everything.”
I guess I’m not so mature as to not get any satisfaction from that – but I don’t really care anymore.
Beverly is still doing nothing; Avis’s sister and her boyfriend are always bickering; and Teresa’s still upset about Costas leaving her for Joy and she’s probably not going to graduate this term.
It is so good to have Avis to talk with; I am eternally grateful that I never had the nerve, back in the summer of ’72, to tell her that I was in love with her. Just as Mason never expressed his feelings for Stacy, sometimes not saying you’re in love with someone can be a wonderful blessing in the long run.
From Avis’s, I went to the Floridian for lunch, then came home and typed up my completed Linguistics final: one course down and two to go.
Alice called, sounding terrible. She had a cold, but when I asked her if anything was bothering her emotionally, she said it’s her relationship with Andreas.
They’ll be starting Year Four in February, and Alice is constantly frustrated because he never sees her.
“I’d almost prefer if he had another woman,” Alice said, “but how can you compete with a man’s work?”
She finally told him how upset it was making her, his constant working, and he said he’d make it his New Year’s resolution to “do something about the situation.”
But Alice feels that everything’s now up in the air. She hates vacations because things are so empty and wonders if she’s wasting her life teaching and going to school: “Shouldn’t I go off and write and be a celebrity and be seen at Elaine’s?”
I often feel the same way, but I have felt that for a long time, and the years, they just roll on relentlessly.
Alice also told me about a party Renee had on Monday night to introduce her latest guy. She had described this one as “a Greek god,” but Alice said, “He didn’t measure up to his billing.”
Renee’s party was her usual. “That girl,” Alice said, “should not be let loose with a blender to mix drinks.”
Friday, December 28, 1973
Last night turned out to be one of the most delightful evenings of my life. I met Alice at Hillel Gate. She looked the same as ever, careless about her appearance, earnest (she’d been writing a story in the library), good-humored.
We went to a small Chinese restaurant and had a leisurely dinner, talking about everything under the sun. Alice has taken a cue from me and has been keeping a daily diary.
She is so much fun to be with, a wisecrack coming out of her every so often, as if she were Dorothy Parker. (For example: “Shelli went into her marriage with her eyes closed and her legs open.”)
We agreed to get together again real soon – she is still anxious to meet Ronna – and I drove her back to the college bike rack so she could pedal home.
I drove downtown to Mrs. Ehrlich and we had a fine session, the theme of which was separation anxiety, one of my biggest problems.
I have had trouble with separations from people (Shelli, Dr. Wouk), places (my parents’ house, Brooklyn College), and even my past.
Our session ended on an optimistic note as I told Mrs. Ehrlich I felt I was handling things well. (I was a bit afraid to say that, thinking in the back of my mind that she might think I was too healthy to continue therapy.) I wished her a happy and healthy new year.
Rather than come home, I dropped in at Melvin’s new apartment for the party. Joy opened the door and gave me one of those looks that could kill. (No one around the LaGuardia crowd has ever disliked me so much for no reason whatsoever).
Just behind Joy were Costas, Timmy and Phyllis, explaining they were about to go downstairs and drop in on Jeannette’s party because Hilary Gold and other administrators were there.
I took my coat off, feeling very uncomfortable, as I knew few of the ten or so people there. I chatted with Rupert (in his bowtie) about his law school plans, then managed to get to Spring and ask her how the couples’ romantic crises are going since all the bed-swapping and people leaving one person for another.
Spring said that on Friday night, Teresa and Stefanie had showed up to find the guys they once considered their boyfriends, Costas and Melvin, in bed with Joy and another girl, and both Teresa and Stefanie were very upset.
She and Sean went to Delaware for the weekend to visit his married sister (“With everything happening, I really shouldn’t have gone, but we had a good time”) and she thought Teresa was doing okay but hoped she wouldn’t come to the party – “although she has a right to.”
I was gabbing with Sean and Les when the door opened, and Sid arrived with Corinne and Slade. Slade said he didn’t know many people there, so he was glad to see me.
We sat down in a corner, puffing on a joint Sid gave us, and talked for a long time. Slade is making pin money moving TV sets, is back living with his parents, and is still writing.
We discussed applying to the new MFA program in creative writing at Brooklyn, and Slade says he’s going to talk with Jon Baumbach.
Then Karen and Maddy arrived and sat on the couch with Slade and me. We had a hysterical time reminiscing about the past, swapping stories about people I hadn’t thought about in a long time: the Sindy-Kieran virgin marriage story; the party at Renee’s where Alice seduced Larry; Hannah and Rosie and Jim; Terry’s imaginary boyfriend; Greg’s syphilis.
Slade flipped when he heard about Bill’s job with the movie company, saying, “I guess I’ll have to go butter up No-Talent Buffalo Bill.” Karen and I laughed when we discovered we’d both sent Bill Christmas cards.
We were going on and on about LaGuardia and Kingsman legends when Costas, who’d returned, showed Ethel (apparently Melvin’s new interest) the four of us sitting on the couch and said, “Show respect for these old people.”
Just then, Stefanie came over, took my hand, and got me to dance with her. She seemed like she was pretending to flirt with me so Melvin would notice.
As we were dancing, I saw the door open and noticed that Teresa had shown up, a bit drunk, apparently after a dull date.
Teresa spotted Costas and Joy frantically making out (clearly not the coolest of moves), so Stefanie and I went over to her.
For a long time, Teresa sat on the couch between me and Slade, holding both of our hands for support; she was clearly very upset.
I left the party after 1 AM, patting a beautifully wrecked Sid on the head and giving Slade my number. It was a great night, but I missed Ronna’s presence.
Sunday, December 30, 1973
On Thursday evening Slade and I were talking about all the people that are getting married and how we both didn’t want to join the club.
“Sunday afternoons are what bother me most about getting married,“ Slade said. “They cause more divorces than anything else.”
I am very bored now, after being home nearly the entire day. There were valid reasons for staying around, though; I finally completed my Dostoevsky paper, which ran to twenty pages, and I didn’t want to waste precious gasoline by driving too far.
But I need more activity than that; I need to constantly be stimulated by people, places and events.
Of course, there’s my usual end-of-the-year blues. As I told Mrs. Ehrlich on Thursday, every day I feel a sense of loss; I almost mourn the year.
And each year I fear that the next year will not be as good as the year before – despite the fact that each succeeding year has been better.
Last December, Rochelle Wouk told me not to begrudge myself another good year, and I’m going to try not to do it this year. Mrs. Ehrlich said, and I know – intellectually, at least – that it’s not luck that makes life good; it’s my attitude.
But when I see the year laid out ahead of me, when I see all those blank pages in my new, extra-large diary (to allow me to write all I want without squeezing stuff in), I feel afraid.
I don’t even know why I continue to keep a diary, except that it seems to give my existence a meaning. I know it may be part of my makeup – sometimes I can’t enjoy experiences because I’m already thinking of how I’m going to write about them – but at times I believe that I’m doing something important, chronicling a human life, perhaps even if it’s just a pathological study.
After thinking so much about Dostoevsky and Notes from Underground, I find myself at times to be an Underground Man. Yet I manage to function very well in society, it seems. Still, there remains for me, the permanent scars of my past mental illness.
And whether it was homosexual panic or adolescent anxiety or some collection of severe phobias, it was so very painful to be alone in the house with nothing, nothing but myself to think about in that long, horrible winter of ’68-’69, that I don’t think the scars from that experience will ever go away.
Of course, the paradox is that when I was seventeen, being afraid to leave the house was easier than doing something out in the world. And I’m not that same boy anymore.
The other day, when, to avoid using gas, I took the D train to the Village the way I used to when I first stirred out of the house in the summer of 1969, I was thinking it wasn’t so bad, not driving into the city, and when I looked up at a reflection in the glass across the subway car, I was amazed to find that it was mine: I looked so strong and handsome and confident. I even had to make funny faces so I could be sure it was me.
No, I didn’t see any of those “permanent scars” I just mentioned. I’m not really the same kid I used to be, but I also still am. Cue the violins.
In any case, I just wish we could skip over the next two days and proceed directly to January 2, 1974, when school starts and I can get back into the world again.