First, although this has nothing to do with today's entry... I'd like to mention that Thursday, May 28th, would have been the 78th birthday of the late Eric Von Schmidt, singer/songwriter and painter who died in 2007. Von Schmidt was the "Rick Von Schmidt" the young Bob Dylan credited with having taught him the song "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down," a song Von Schmidt performed but did not write.
And now, today's chapter:
Previously: The year is 1974. Robert "Eli" Whitney, sexually-overactive high school graduate, and an unpopular albeit attractive sophomore named Karen Hoffman -- known as "Boris Karloff" or simply "Karloff" for no reason other than the fact that high school kids are predominately vicious little creeps -- have become friends.
More or less.
This is actually rather amazing, considering the fact that Eli, basically, is an obnoxious jerk. Most of the time, anyway.
* * * * *
September, 1974. Karen was now a junior.
Or, as Karen herself would have thought of it... Whoopie.
Karen wasn't entirely friendless, although she was still generally regarded as unpopular at school. Most of her handful of school friends -- all female -- were similarly branded as outcasts. They were either too smart, too independent, too unattractive (actually, make that "plain"), or some combination of the three which the "cool" kids found unforgivable.
With her limited social life -- she saw her friends at school, mostly -- Karen was generally available whenever Eli would show up, usually unannounced, to take her out for a few beers and some conversation.
Eli was Karen's only male friend. That, and the fact that he was an "older man," made the subject of "Eli and Karen" irresistible to Karen's friends... all of whom called her "Karrie." "No offense, Karrie... ha, ha... but what does he see in you?" "You two are doin' it, aren't ya?" "Did he really make it with every girl he graduated with?" "Well, if you're not sleeping with him, Karrie, what do you guys do when you get together?"
Karen always laughed at their teasing questions. "We talk a lot, mostly. And he's old enough to buy booze, so we get blitzed, sometimes."
One day, in the school cafeteria, Karen's friend Barbara, an absolutely lovely, green-eyed redhead unfortunate enough to be criminally overweight in the eyes of the popular students, joked "Better watch it, Karrie, or someday he'll get you drunk and have his way with you."
"I doubt it," replied Karen. "In fact, he's never tried anything."
Barbara suddenly became serious. "Not even 'accidentally' feeling you up when he hugs you, something like that? A lotta guys--"
"He doesn't hug me. In fact," she continued, as an uncomfortable feeling dawned on her, "he never touches me at all."
Another friend, petite and bespectacled Joyce, put down her tuna sandwich to join the conversation. "No goodnight kisses? Not even the brother-sister kind?"
"No! He's never kissed me on the cheek, or the forehead, or..."
Barbara laughed. "Or anyplace more interesting?"
Karen blushed. "Quit it. That's not what I was going to say." She looked at the group seriously. "He never touches me at all," she repeated.
"Maybe he's afraid to, 'cause of your age?" offered Joyce.
"Oh, come on!" scoffed Barbara. "Just touching her isn't the same thing as... well, you know."
Joyce looked at Karen pointedly. "It's none of my business, Karrie, but have you ever told him anything about your... ummm... I don't know..."
"What are you trying to say, Joyce?"
"Look, I just mean, have you ever told him about... anything in your past, or...?"
"In my past? Geez, Joyce, you've been spending too much time with your psychology books! I don't have any 'issues,' if that's what you mean!"
"Oh. I thought maybe you'd told him something and he was backing off because of that. I wasn't trying to pry..." Joyce said.
"You weren't. Geez! Stop squirming, will you?" The girls all laughed.
And the subject died.
Later, however, Karen wondered if there had been something she'd said or done to make Eli think she was "untouchable," even in friendly ways... which were the only ways she would have wanted him to touch her.
She wondered if she should come right out and ask him, but she was still walking on eggshells where he was concerned. He didn't share much about himself with her, not his inner feelings, or even many details about his life in general. Ordinarily, this didn't bother her, because most people -- Karen included -- defined a "good conversationalist" as "someone who will let you dump your baggage on their doorstep," so to speak.... and Karen loved to talk about herself.
Now, however, she was wondering about the whys and wherefores of this particular topic, since it directly involved her.
The next time Eli showed up at her home, it was with a full cooler of Heineken. Karen had already promised herself she'd find a way to bring up the subject of "touching" before the night was through.
As usual, Eli was driving merrily along the back roads of various towns near where he and Karen lived. Karen had just finished her third beer before Eli asked her to hand him his fifth. "Wow," she warned, only half-kiddingly, "you should slow down, or you'll wrap this car around a tree."
"No lectures, okay? I'm celebrating tonight."
"Oh, no wonder we're drinking imported beer instead of domestic. What's the occasion? New girlfriend?"
"No. That's never any big deal." He paused. "It's my birthday, actually."
Karen almost choked on her beer. "Oh, my...! You're kidding!"
"No, of course I'm not kidding. Why would I kid about that?"
"It's just that... Today's my birthday, too."
"Now you're kidding, right?"
"Nope. I swear." She laughed. "Huh! So much for astrology!"
"What the hell does that mean?"
"Here we are, born on the very same day -- well, two years apart -- and we're not alike at all."
Eli chuckled. "Oh. Yeah." He burped, and they both laughed. "Hey, why didn't you tell me earlier that your birthday was coming up?"
"I... I didn't think you'd really care."
"Well, I do. And I would have gotten you something."
"And why didn't you tell me about your birthday?"
"It's no big deal."
"Right. Then why the Heineken?"
"I meant, it's no big deal to anyone else. Just me."
"That's not true. It's a big deal to me, too."
He took his eyes off the road for a brief moment, looking at her quizzically. "Really?" She nodded. "Thanks. And, I'll tell you what: I'll get you a present for the next time we go out."
"Umm... I can save you some money."
"If you answer a question for me, a serious question, I'll consider that my present."
"Ooh," said Eli, teasingly. "This must be a biggie!"
"I think so," she agreed, nodding. "I think so, yes."
"Shoot. But this is not your present. I still owe you one."
"Okay, if I can buy you one."
"Sure." Karen didn't speak. Eli laughed. "Well, what's the question?"
She sipped nervously at her Heineken. "We're friends, right?"
"That's the question?"
"No, no! But... We're friends?"
"Then... Why haven't you ever touched me?"
"Touched you? You mean, like, made a pass at you?"
"No! Just like a friend, you know, like when you put your arm around a buddy's shoulders, or..."
"I don't... I'm not a touchy person."
"Sorry. Umm... Does this really bother you?"
"Kind of. You've never touched me, except for when you flopped on top of me to keep me from falling out of the car..."
"After the Denver concert?" Eli laughed. "When you threw up?"
"Yes. That was the only time you ever touched me."
"What do you mean, wrong?"
"Think back to Teddy's party, on graduation night. Remember?"
"I grabbed your hand when I dragged you out of the cellar."
She grinned. "That's right! You held my hand!"
"I didn't 'hold' your hand, I grabbed it so I could pull you out of there before Wendy could jump you!"
Karen was smiling ear to ear. "That's right. That's right."
"You're way too happy about something so simple." She shrugged. "End of conversation?" She nodded again. "Hey, will you answer me?"
"I did. I nodded."
"Well, I'm watching the road! Did you expect me to hear your head rattle?"
She didn't even mind the insulting jest. She really was feeling happy over something so simple.
What happened later could have been a result of the all-around good feelings. It could have been the dual birthdays and the attendant air of celebration. It could have been the fact that, in Karen's mind, Eli had somehow "shared" something with her that brought them closer. It could have been the three six packs of Heineken they'd imbibed by the end of the evening (Eli had eleven to Karen's seven).
More probably, it was the combination of all of the above plus a few other ingredients no one ever factored into the mix.
Whatever the reason(s), the night ended with a sweaty and embarrassed Karen and Eli getting dressed in a little field (only twenty feet or so from the side of a back road where he'd parked his Plymouth) after having made love... or whatever one would call what they'd done.
It never happened again. And they didn't discuss it for a long time.
Not until they had to.
* * * * *
The late November evening was abnormally cold, and the roads were slick with new-fallen snow and ice. Not the best weather for Eli and Karen to be engaged in their usual riding around & drinking ritual, but... they were. Karen was still on her first beer when Eli asked her to hand him his fourth.
"Here you go," she said, after having removed the pull-tab from his can. He sort of grunted as a thank-you. "Hey, can I ask you something?"
"I guess. Shoot."
"If you ever had a kid -- a son, I mean -- would you name him after you?"
"You mean, Eli? Or... Robert?" he said, making one of the few references to his real name that anyone ever made. (Even Eli's high school principal, handing out diplomas at Eli's graduation, had looked at the name "Robert Michael Whitney" on the list of graduates as though he had no idea who that was... although Eli himself was quite well known to students and faculty alike.)
"Robert. Your real name."
"No way. I hate it when people name their kids after them. Parents do that, but then spend the rest of their lives calling the kid something else so nobody will get confused when the kid gets older! You call your friend at home and ask for Jack, and his mom says 'Big Jack or Little Jack?' And you have to think about it, 'cause the so-called Big Jack, the dad, is 5'6" and weighs about 150, but your friend Little Jack, the college football player, is 6'3" and weighs 240..."
"But in your case, you could name a son Robert, and there wouldn't be any confusion like that, because no one calls you Robert! I mean, you could call him Bobby, or Bob, or Robbie, or..."
"Yeah, right, whatever." He laughed. "I could have a boy and a girl and name them both Bobby, only spell the girl's name with an 'I' and an 'E' at the end, like in that John Denver song, 'For Baby (For Bobbie)', right?"
"Oooh, yes! I didn't think of that! I love that song! It's one of the first ones he ever wrote, you know." In reply, Eli grunted again, a grunt which Karen thought might have meant "I know, stupid," or "I didn't know, but I don't really care."
"Anyway, no Roberts or Bobbies for me, okay?"
"I love the name Bobbie for a girl..." Karen said, more to herself than to him.
"Good. You go and have a kid named Bobbie!" He shook his head. "Why the hell are we even talking about this?"
"It really doesn't matter what I'd name a kid. I'm never going to have any."
"Oh, come on, Eli. Sooner or later, one of your bimbos will win that stony heart of yours, and you'll--"
"This has nothing to do with whether or not I find my la-de-da one-and-only. I'm just talking about children. I don't want them. Ever. I don't like them. They start out as smelly little lumps, and grow into the kinds of malicious high school teenagers I finally escaped from last spring!" Eli slowed his Plymouth as a signal light ahead turned from yellow to red. As he stopped the car, he turned to look at Karen.
She was crying silently.
"What's wrong with you?" he asked, rather rudely.
"You... you really hate children that much?"
"Honestly, yes... What the hell is wrong with you?"
"I'm going to be sick. Oh, my God, I'm going to be sick!"
Eli looked ahead, and then in the rear-view mirror. There was no traffic around. "Open the door!" yelled Eli.
She did. She leaned out far enough not to splatter the car with what little she vomited. The light changed, but Eli waited until Karen righted herself and closed the door before he took his foot off the brake. "Damn, girl! Roll down your window... and take a few swallows of beer, if you can. And... do you have any gum, or candy?"
"As a matter of fact, I do. I've been throwing up a lot lately." She paused. "Mostly in the mornings."
Well. Eli didn't need the proverbial house to fall on him. He made a quick mental list of little items from the last few minutes of conversation, and gritted his teeth grimly. He found a place to park, and stopped the car.
"Go ahead," he began. "Say it."
"Don't play games. You're pregnant, right?"
"Yes," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.
"Whose is it?"
"That's a stupid question. It's yours, of course."
"Are you sure?"
"How dare you say that?!? For crying out loud, Eli, have I ever talked about having any other... I mean, any boyfriends? Any boyfriends?"
"No, but... I don't just assume you tell me everything! I don't tell you about all the broads I date..."
"Which is fine, because I don't need to hear all those dirty details." She suddenly slammed her fists against the Fury's dashboard. Fury, she thought, how damned appropriate. "Can we get back to the real subject, here?" she shouted.
"Don't yell at me!" He realized that he was sweating. "God, Karen... How could you let this happen?"
"How could I...? You were there, too, remember?"
He'd slept with more women than he could count in his nineteen years, but most of them were what were still called "bad girls" in that long-ago time, and there was that old chestnut about how only the "good" girls got pregnant, because the "bad" girls knew what to do -- and what not to do -- to avoid pregnancy. So he'd never been faced with this before.
He felt boxed in, cornered. Predictably, he wasn't going to handle this situation well... but everything in his past and everything in his future was reflected in, or affected by, his next four words.
"Get rid of it."
Karen was dumbfounded. She put her hand to the side of her face as if she'd just been slapped... which, of course, she had been, in a very real way.
"What? What did you say?"
Now was his chance to correct things.
Now was his chance.
So he replied "I said... Get rid of it."
"It? That's not... It's not an 'it.' I mean..."
"I know what you mean."
"Look who just turned into Mr. Understanding. This is a child we're talking about. Our child!"
"It's not our child. It's... our mistake."
Karen looked at Eli like she'd never seen him before, which in a way, was quite true. "Wow. You're just going from bad to worse to even worse! Who are you?"
"Look, you need to calm down and think about this logically, not emotionally."
She was crying again... and this time, Karen understood for the first time what people referred to as "tears of rage."
"Take me home," she said. "And don't you say another word to me."
The silent drive to Karen's home was unmercifully lengthy. Part of her wished Eli would realize what an absolute ass he was being, and apologize, or otherwise retract what he'd said...
He said nothing, even when they arrived at her house and he stopped the car.
Her original plan had been to exit the Plymouth in silence, without looking back. However, as she got out, she looked him in the eye. "Maybe having sex that night was a mistake, but I liked you, maybe even loved you as a friend, as someone I trusted, and I felt safe with you. But... I feel so betrayed right now, I don't want anything to do with you, ever again. So that means that I want no part of you, either... not even this poor innocent life we so stupidly created." She wished she could read the expression on his face, but she couldn't. "So congratulations, Eli!" she said, brightly (but sarcastically). "You'll get your wish."
She resisted the urge to slam the car door.
Karen walked along the driveway, toward her house. And Eli simply drove away.
Neither ever called the other again. They never spoke again. They never saw each other, not even in passing, again.
And shortly thereafter, Eli left Massachusetts entirely.
Even so, as mentioned above, everything in Eli's past and everything in his future was reflected in, or affected by, his four words: "Get rid of it."
* * * * *
Next: 2009, roughly thirty-five years after the night it all turned to shit!
I fully expect Part Five-and-Final to be posted at 12:01 AM on Tuesday, June 2. It's already approximately 75% done!
Thanks for your time.