In retrospect, I wasn’t ready to leave home yet. I was full of myself and thought I could handle the wider world that my older siblings had set out to see before me.
But I soon found myself lost, adrift, not knowing how to deal with the many slings and arrows that come flying at you once you set out to make it on your own. I retreated within myself, and became sullen, moody, withdrawn.
“Yer damn right I gargled in the boys’ room!”
I could often be found sitting alone, looking longingly at those who had the self-confidence I lacked. As they went about their business while I was frozen by fear, I turned first to innocent mischief–gargling loudly in the restroom–and then to actual vandalism, acting out my frustrations, my inability to cope, through destructive behavior.
And so it was that I found myself looking furtively about a crowded room as I surreptititously executed a particularly nasty bit of sabotage. Margaret–she wouldn’t deign to be called “Maggie” or “Meg” or “Peg” or “Margie,” she was so mature–approached with a reserved and austere manner and sat down next to me. “I know what you’re doing,” she said as she put her hand on my forearm. She and I looked down together at my fingers–covered with paste that I was smearing under the rim of the table as a trap for unwary kindergarteners when they sat down to work on their arts and crafts projects. “You don’t need to do that to impress me.”
*sniff* How I envied them!
Thus it was through the ministrations of an older woman–she was 4, I was a precocious “early admit” to Miss Swopes’ Kindergarden at the age of 3–that I was diverted from a life of crime to the semi-productive path of 2 years of pre-school, 8 years of grade school, 4 each of high school and college and 3 of grad school that have made me the man I am today.
Caril Ann Fugate
I can only look back and wonder–what would have happened if I had been the elder of the two of us; what if I had played the 18-year-old thrill-killer Charlie Starkweather to her 13-year-old Caril Ann Fugate–adjusted downwards in years? Would I have infused her with my growing sense of nihilism, touched her arm and drawn it tenderly to my paste jar; dipped her fingers in; then spread them . . . slowly, sensuously . . . under the table, implicating her in my crime.
“Yes I spread paste under that table–and I’d do it agin!”
There’s no point in asking, the question answers itself. And so I say, thank God for older women.
Margaret was the first, but she wasn’t the only one. There was 16-year-old Connie, who looked out the rear view mirror of her canary yellow 1967 Plymouth Barracuda and made a gesture so arresting it shocked me at the tender age of 15, and it resonates to this day; her tongue between two fingers, communicating wordlessly to me her favorite form of erotic play. Don’t make me cut and paste a Google image in violation of federal copyright laws and my firm’s Dignity-in-the-Workplace policy–use your imagination, like Barney the Purple Dinosaur!
Of course my career with older women hasn’t been an unbroken string of successes, not by a long shot. There was the woman with the dirty blonde hair who disabused me of my retrograde thinking on the War in Vietnam. Most kids were studiously ignoring the escalating conflict, but I’d learned that Vietnamese Catholics were being repressed by the Commies, just like the early Christians in Rome. I mean, they weren’t thrown to lions, but they would soon be ground beneath the heel of the godless Viet Cong, and so our young, handsome, philandering President John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic to occupy the highest office in the land, had to take a stand. The woman–I can’t use her name for fear of retribution even after all these years, but her initials were Carolyn Willard–would remember my reactionary views when I called her up several summers later when she was a college sophomore back in town for summer vacation. “I don’t think so,” she said icily when I asked her out. “Your politics are like your complexion–immature.”
I have learned so much from older women. There was Arlene Rosenberg, who taught me the hair-splitting differences between the principles of Revolutionary Youth Movement I and Revolutionary Youth Movement II back in the heady days of 70’s college radicalism. I didn’t know a Bolshevik from a Menshevik then, but Arlene–the spit and image of Emma Goldman–set me straight.
Emma Goldman: Cute–in a revolutionary sort of way.
We never made it, Arlene and me; she was 19 and I, just 17 years old, still riding the wave of precocity that I’d climbed aboard when I jump-started my education at the age of 3. Besides, it would have been embarrassing, she was my college roommate’s sister. Somehow it seemed . . . incestuous. And anyway, she was too busy spreading free love all over the South Side of Chicago in the name of revolution.
But still, she taught me, in the way that older women do, the things that younger men need to know. Trotsky was a traitor to the revolution, don’t mix kosher and trayfe, you can take the same course twice taught by different professors, get a better grade the second time and no one will ever know.
I like to think I taught her–and all of the older women in my life–a little something too.
Men your age are immature enough–why do you want to make things worse for yourself by dating somebody younger?