A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late February, 1975
by Richard Grayson
Friday, February 21, 1975
8 PM. I’ve just come back from a walk through the neighborhood. I stared at the gibbous moon and the belt of Orion and watched the kids preparing to go on Friday night dates; Marc left to go to the movies with his girlfriend.
And I was trying to write a story in my head and sort things out and get in touch with my feelings, with the truth. But the closer one gets to the truth, the more one wonders if there are several truths, or if there are none.
As painfully honest as I’ve tried to be in this diary, it is only a piece of fiction, as much as any of my short stories. For I pick and choose what to write about and what to leave out – and in another minute, I might feel completely differently than I do now.
I am only just beginning to learn what an ignorant person I am. There are so many things I will never know. I had a vivid dream last night in which Henry saw me in a restaurant and summoned me over to his table (shades of “Summoning Alice Keppel”!). Henry told me that Ronna had read him a letter I wrote to her.
In the dream, somehow I knew I had written Ronna a letter and had said, “You may show this to Henry if you wish.” Henry then said he didn’t think I was an evil person.
Oddly, in real life, about a month ago I had written Avis something to the effect that I imagined that Henry thought badly of me because he’d assumed I’d gotten between him and Ronna back in 1972.
It is indeed hard to get at the truth because of the enormous complexity of life: I don’t believe I could ever succeed in conveying more than .001% of life in my writing. Perhaps that’s why I love soap opera, why I liked Point Counter Point: because it tried to show the complicatedness of living.
I’ve been thinking about rewriting my old story “Coping”; on my walk, I was thinking this out. Suppose I place Helene Crane at Columbia on the Saturday following Kent State. Everyone’s demonstrating in Washington, but she doesn’t go.
I could have her getting Michael Montgomery’s letter. It was such a nice letter although I’m sure its author would now consider it immature. I can’t see making a separate story out of it; I’ve tried, but it doesn’t work.
I can have Helene visit her step-grandfather at his factory, “the place”; then I can place her in her stepsister’s apartment in Queens, reading an anthropology text on tjotjog, repeating the elements of the other story.
And for an ending, I was thinking, What if she becomes so involved in her thoughts, she forgets to take the local and gets on the express train, winding up on the other side of the dangerous Morningside Park? I have to play around with it for a while.
Maybe I’m retreating into fiction because I’m worried and upset about reality. I asked Dad how Grandma Sylvia was, and he said she has to have an operation. Evidently they set her arm incorrectly in the emergency room; Grandpa Nat is flying back to Miami tomorrow.
It looks like Mom and Dad’s much-needed vacation will be postponed. It’s so hard to realize that your upset is really anger.
But I find I am very angry: at Ronna for “leaving” me, thriving without me, and then putting herself in front of me again; at the stupid Miami doctor for botching setting Grandma Sylvia’s broken arm; at Grandma Sylvia herself, for having an accident and causing me worry; even at Rachel because I wanted (needed?) a letter from her today and it never came. I know this sounds irrational.
Last evening I spoke to Alice and she said if I had called her the night before, she’d have told me her life was a shambles: her teaching job, her writing, her relationship with Andreas: none of it was working out.
Yet by last night Alice felt better about things – although teaching and grad school still take up too much time and Andreas still tells her he can’t be a full-time boyfriend and is too old to have children, and Henrietta’s publication is still a week late.
Nothing had changed, but things somehow didn’t look so bleak anymore. On Sunday I didn’t call Alice because I figured she’d have been celebrating her birthday, but she was depressed and went to a movie alone (her third choice; the first two were sold out).
This past weekend Andreas did spend a little time with her, but not enough; Alice said that on her birthday, she cried into her eggplant parmigiana.
She predicts Rachel’s letters to me are the start of something big.
Saturday, February 22, 1975
It’s 11 PM although I’ve already set my clock ahead one hour to midnight. Daylight Savings Time begins tonight. It definitely looks as though spring is almost here. Today was absolutely gorgeous: the first of many nice days, I hope.
I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to spring with more anticipation. And I do feel good inside – because of the weather and seeing old, good friends and working at my job.
But there’s one thing that I’m anxious about, and that’s tomorrow’s scheduled meeting with Ronna. Not till tonight did I realize how much I dread seeing her and how much I want not to go.
Right now she’s at the Billy Joel concert in Passaic with, I suppose, her boyfriend. I don’t love her anymore, and yet I’m still jealous.
Now I can appreciate how poor Ivan felt about me; it wasn’t anything I did, or that he disliked me personally: I had replaced him successfully, and that’s a hard thing for anyone to take.
Well, at least following my strange call to Vicky’s parents, I realized that I must stop inflicting myself on Ivan and his friends and family. And honestly, right now I’d like to sever all ties with Ronna.
All these weeks without a word from her: it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it did. I’ve grown into the habit of being without her, and I don’t want to stir up old feelings. Ronna and I belong to each other’s past now.
I still would be attracted to her – habit again – and I still want to hurt her. Perhaps she wants to hurt me; maybe she wants to flaunt her happiness (and her boyfriend?) in my face. I’m a veteran of too many unhappy experiences with Shelli and Jerry to desire this meeting with Ronna.
Still, if she was the one who canceled on me, I’d be furious. And for once, shouldn’t I confront my past? Isn’t that what seeing her would be good for? Perhaps I can conquer my fear that the past will hurt me and I can stop this awful denial of past reality.
I spent yesterday afternoon with Vito; it was so good to see him. We drove out to Rockaway – I had gotten a notice that Schaeffer’s Anya had been reserved for me at the library there – and generally joked around.
We waited around Beach Channel High, but we didn’t see Nancy come out at 3 PM. She lost her teaching job due to budget cuts, and Nancy is now only an assistant at half her old salary.
Vito is still Vito, which pleases me: he’s my kind of homosexual, if that’s not a condescending thing to say. He’s not into decadence or glitter or S&M. About his friends, Vito said that Joey is back going out with some tramp and John Sweeney is now seeing a lot of Vito’s old boyfriend.
He’s still a film and theater freak, enraged that his teacher is giving a test only one week before the Oscars. I had to get him home early because he was going to see A Doll’s House (alone) and said he didn’t want Liv Ullman to see him with his dirty hair unwashed. It was pleasant to be with Mr. LoGiudice again.
At the library this morning, I learned how to check out books; working at the front desk is a lot of fun. When I got out of work at noon, I drove out to the beach to visit Mikey, who was another sight for sore eyes.
We had some lunch, and when visitors came to see Mikey’s mother, we went outside. Rockaway was cooler and windier than in Brooklyn.
Mikey said he’s been nervous lately, what with all the work for his thesis: he’s decided how to narrow his topic. We shot the breeze for a while. I asked about Harris and Belinda’s wedding and he said he was bored; he didn’t know anyone but Kenny Krutzel, the best man, and Belinda’s sister – who, coincidentally, we saw drive by. I vaguely recall meeting her at the Ram’s Horn last fall.
Mikey says he still gets stuff from the University Student Senate, and he mentioned that Mike is still six credits short of graduation from BC. Mikey saw Stanley, but he didn’t bother to ask if he’s back taking classes. I guess I sometimes forget how many people don’t graduate in four years the way Mikey and I did.
Walking on the Boulevard, I heard someone calling my name. It was Stefanie, walking the other way. She had just come back from the eye doctor on Beach 116th Street, and Mikey and I walked her home and went inside.
I love Stefanie’s room; it’s so like her, cluttered and yet it all seems organic. She gave me another plant; I couldn’t tell her that the first one died in my somewhat neglectful hands.
The three of us sat on her bed talking, and I noticed Stefanie’s eyes are very striking. Somehow Shelli’s name came up, and Stefanie said, “Oh, is she the really. . .?” and Mikey and I said, “Yes,” before she could finish the sentence. It seems that Shelli gave Melvin some trinket that he later gave to Stefanie.
If Stefanie gave me any encouragement, I could fall in love with her. But she doesn’t, and so Mikey and I left her house and walked back to his house via the beach. The ocean looked rougher than I would have thought.
Monday, February 24, 1975
A mild rain fell all day today. Yesterday, as I was lying in bed talking to Ronna, Mom and Dad were getting ready to go to the funeral of Aunt Bessie, Grandpa Nat’s sister, in Far Rockaway. Aunt Bessie had been senile for years. Mom and Dad went to the funeral, I guess, to represent our branch of the family, what with everyone else in Miami.
After they returned, my parents said all of Aunt Bessie’s children and grandchildren were there, as well as Dr. Robbins the chiropractor, and Uncle Harry, of course, and even old Uncle Beryl, who is still spry at 92. One of Dad’s 70-year-old cousins said of Beryl, “He’ll bury us all.”
Today we learned that Grandma Sylvia’s operation apparently went okay. They placed some metal pins in her arm and hope that with therapy she will regain the use of her arm; she needs that strength in her wrist to help her walk with a cane.
Poor Grandma Sylvia is put together with so much metal and plastic and maybe even chewing gum. Still, one has to credit her with enormous will power; realistically, she should have died twenty years ago.
Ever since I can remember, she’s suffered so, what with the cancer that recurred three times, arthritis, stomach trouble; she even broke her arm before this, when she slipped on ice. I sent her off a brief get-well note.
Last night Gary called, telling me of the latest Broadway show he and Kay saw; they go out so much. Apparently they both think I’m in danger of becoming a recluse, and they want me to join them for an evening out soon.
Work at the library went quickly today, but a dream I had kept sticking in my mind: at night, the whole thing seemed so profound, but in the light of day, it just seemed stupid. The dream was about a capsule of Terramycin 500 (I took them recently, for acne and for the stomach virus) that fell and hurt itself.
I knew when I got home from work and opened the front door of our house that a letter from Rachel would be lying on the kitchen table – and there it was. I waited until after doing my RCAF exercises before I allowed myself the treat of reading it.
The other day Alice said that she’s sure “something big” will come out of our relationship. “It was all so crazy,” Alice said, “the way I met her playing paddleball and how Andreas suggested fixing you up and that crazy scene when you got to see her in Sugar Bowl.”
Rachel wrote this letter listening to Ravel’s String Quartet: she finds it so beautiful she wants me to listen to it soon and tell her how I like it. She finds herself wanting “to share the mysterious” with me.
She said she thought of me one evening the week before as she walked home from school on a haunting, windy night. She headed for the cemetery but was too frightened to go in. But she found the moment pleasurable even though it was lonely; it reminded her of my long walks and drives.
Unfortunately, after two days of vigorous practicing, she strained a muscle in her forearm and cannot practice for a while. She’s bored now because of it, with empty afternoons.
Rachel told me more about herself, and I like the way she writes it on paper: she is unable to tell a joke right, she’s a bit of an absent-minded professor, music is very important to her “yet sometimes I worry that I’m lacking or missing out on some other aspect of my life and can’t fill that with music.”
The most important thing to her now is to follow through with the sessions with her counselor. She and her counselor, a woman, keep covering the same ground until it finally penetrates. I can relate to that, and she says she’s glad that I can.
Rachel says she’s Jewish “culturally” but not religiously. She has a married brother, 25, with two kids, a sister my age in Miami, and 16-year-old twin brothers. She closes her letter with “Let’s be friends, Richie.”
As for meeting me during the Easter vacation, she’s still hesitant: “We’ll see.” I feel Rachel and I have an honest, open relationship.
Tonight Colchie didn’t show to teach Comp Lit, so Simon and I went to Sugar Bowl with two girls from our class: Cheryl, whom I met years ago in Katayama’s Soc class (we’ve been getting quite friendly again; I saw her at the library on Saturday) and Megan, a pretty Irish older woman who works as a nursery school teacher; Simon definitely had his eye on her.
We spent ninety minutes in Sugar Bowl, just the four of us, and I was amazed that it was the best time I had in a long time.
Wednesday, February 26, 1975
7 PM. Twilight is settling now; somehow it already seems like spring, and it’s none too soon to me.
Tonight I feel like writing a kind of smorgasbord, little bits of this and that – is that called a pastiche?
That’s the beauty of this diary/journal: it’s for me, and I can make all the rules, there’s no Spielberg waiting to criticize me in class. Here, I can be myself for myself, and that’s such a treat – especially in the last few months without therapy.
Oddly enough – I always write “oddly enough” when things are logically paradoxical – since Sunday I find that my feelings toward Ronna have lessened. Oh, I still smile when I think of her, but there’s little passion or hurt left.
I have to admit that since November, in the back of my skull there’s been a fantasy that after months or years of separation, of doing our own things, seeing other people, that Ronna and I would get back together, and maybe even marry. I think of this less now.
I just went to the bathroom. Why is it when I sit on the toilet seat, I always run the faucet?
The other night I had a craving for a Bonomo’s Turkish taffy. I remember the commercials from my childhood: “B-O, N-O, M-O, that’s Bonomo’s . . .”
This afternoon the larcenist in me finally came out (tsk, tsk, and just a day after moralizing about Shelli and Jerry; well, I’ve always used them as scapegoats for aspects of my own character with which I feel in conflict): I took out three books from other branches of the Brooklyn Public Library with a library card I forged.
I got some blank temporary cards while working at the desk, and today I was feeling bored and I thought the excitement of taking out books under the name of “Kevin Cory” would revive my spirits – the danger of it being an aphrodisiac – but I didn’t enjoy the thrill of getting away with something less than murder.
The books – Roth’s My Life as a Man, James’ The Golden Bowl, and De Vries’ Forever Panting – lie uneasily on my shelf now. I shall not do this again.
I looked at the schedule at work this morning, and I noticed I’ve been putting in extra hours; that’s a switch. Mrs. Higgins must have changed the schedule since Saturday, or else I read it wrong.
Today Mrs. Higgins told me that Miss Speiss wanted the shelves to be of even lengths: “That bitch expects perfection.”
I’ve had an ingrown toenail since Saturday night when I went at my toes with a nail-clipper again. Will I ever learn? After several days of pain and searching around for the trouble spot, it’s still sore.
Yesterday I asked Mom if she thought I should see a podiatrist, and she started in: “Why have you been fooling around with your feet again? Why did you do it? You should not have – etc., etc.”
It struck me as a perfect Transactional Analysis interchange: I had asked an Adult question and got a Parent response. After futilely trying to explain that blame was irrelevant to my situation, that I just was trying to solve the problem, Mom sighed and nastily said, “Go see your father.”
My response was pure Child: “Fuck you.”
But later that evening, when Mom cut her finger deeply while working in the kitchen, I was the only one around, and I tended to her. (And of course I didn’t say, “Why were you fooling around with that knife?”)
Mom seemed grateful for my help in stemming the bleeding. So we have our good moments, too.
This afternoon I tried to write Rachel but wasn’t getting anywhere; perhaps the novelty of our correspondence has worn off or else I just wasn’t in a writing mood.
I’m a bit nervous about Mom and Dad leaving for St. Maarten on Friday. Yes, it’s settled that they’re going and Joel is going to be the one taking over at “the place” while Dad is gone.
While they’re away, I’ve got to make Jonny breakfast and prepare his lunches and do a lot of chauffeuring him around. Also, Marc is planning one of his parties, and I hope things don’t get out of control.
Marc is finishing up his term at his school soon. Today even he noticed Mom’s neurosis: “Look how she shivers over Jonathan,” he said. “And then she wonders why he gets nervous about doing things on his own.”
Tonight I’m going to a meeting at school, to try to revive the Graduate English Student Union and the graduate literary magazine.
The Bursar’s office made a mistake in my tuition and billed me only for the Comp Lit course; they did the same thing with Simon. I’d better go straighten it out.
Thursday, February 27, 1975
I feel totally happy and on top of the world. Today I walked into class feeling very apprehensive about the reaction to “Roman Buildings.” But it was fantastic: the class was unanimous in praising the story, and I feel my judgment of myself as a writer was confirmed.
Instinctively, I knew that it was a great piece, and everyone seemed to agree – including Spielberg. Simon and Josh liked it a lot; both Todd and Sharon felt it was very ambitious, and moreover, in the end it was very effective. Even Denis and Anna both caught the dreamlike mood of the story.
But it was Spielberg’s comments that bowled me over. With praise from all my classmates, I felt prepared to endure his nasty remarks, but amazingly, not one negative comment fell from his lips.
He thought “Roman Buildings” was “totally successful” and gave a good critique of the story. He said the main character was missing something at his center, stemming from a romantic trauma, and he discussed the narrator’s obsession with making connections, which leads to his obsession with Marie.
The references to Di Chirico, Eliot’s The Waste Land, The Odyssey, Rilke – all these Spielberg found compelling and even said that they added a lot to the story. No one caught the pun in the title, and they all laughed when I told them – those that knew what a Bildungsroman is, anyway.
After class, I felt utterly fantastic. I was so high; I could never feel that way with drugs. I had managed to communicate with people, and they understood what I was trying to say.
To celebrate, I went out to dinner with Simon and Denis in a Chinese restaurant on Church and Ocean Avenues. We discussed the way things are going, and we joked around, kept referring to our own stories, and gossiped (as we always do) about the people in the MFA program who weren’t there.
I had a fine time and felt that Simon and Denis, despite their peculiarities or the things about them that get on my nerves, are both fine companions. Denis was stoned and Simon was ravenous, and I just felt totally great.
While Simon walked the block over to his shrink, I drove Denis back to where he’d left his car by the college.
Last night was good, too. I met Barbara and Josh at SUBO and we went to the meeting of the Graduate English Students Union: the first meeting of it, actually. There were eleven of us there, and that seems enough to reactivate it.
Marie, who’s an M.A. student, knows the most, so we unanimously elected her president, although she would have to give up the position if she wins her race for president of the entire Graduate Student Organization.
I’ve admired Marie since her days as Kingsman sports editor and think it would be great to have Marie as president of our student government. I said I didn’t want to be editor of the literary magazine. I’ll leave that to Donny and the others, although I do plan to help out a lot.
Today I had a good day all around. At work I felt super-efficient, taking pleasure in speedily shelving all the books. After work, I threw myself into my RCAF exercises with vigor, and then worked out with the Tensolator. For the first time in my life, I have genuine muscles; I like the shape I’m falling into.
After I showered and dressed, I had pizza at Leo’s and went, for the first time, to the Music Library at school. I got out the record of Ravel’s String Quartet and listened to it.
It’s the same record Rachel listened to while she was writing me the last letter, the same record she listened to all the time last year when she worked in the Music Library.
I wrote Rachel, trying to explain my past. It was difficult, but I tried to define myself by telling her about my childhood and parents and grandparents.
But now all that seems irrelevant. Even before I got to telling her about grade school, I broke off writing the letter to go to class. I feel so close to Rachel now, what does it matter what kind of childhood she or I had?
I just want to let this moment live for me and fully feel the joy. There are times when life is so damn good. Obviously I can’t write well right now – but who cares?