HOW IT WAS
Sexual Liberation in the 60’s came to people in all sorts of experiences. The background of music was one. “It Ain’t Me Babe” the nasally unfamiliar voice filled my room and filled my psyche. Everything I thought I knew about love and sex were never to be the same as I absorbed a whole new way of looking at and feeling life around me through Bob Dylan. It was June, 1969, and I had been deep in despair over the assault on how I had put together what I believed was life. The disparity between what I thought my life was about and how it was left me devastated. I had counted on the things I had seen in the movies, read about in books and heard from girlfriends and family. Life was about getting married, having a family and being a good person. You needed to be pretty enough for someone to fall in love with you, be very interested in making out with you , and yet you maintained your virginity(check). Then they would give you an engagement ring (check) and on your wedding night give you that experience you saw in the movies called sex. Well, that wasn’t what happened exactly. But close enough, and I luxuriated in the orgasms I didn’t even know were part of the deal.
I had looked every time I babysat through the books of the people for whom I sat. I looked for books that might tell me what sex was. We had had the gym instructors show us the diagram of the body parts as we sat stoney and silent in a special gym class. It was all deadly serious was what I gathered from that introduction to not getting pregnant. I had heard the priests talk about the denigration of women by men somehow related to sex. Sex in my family was something mom and dad did we knew but behind closed doors. Occasionally we would hear sounds coming from their room and both my sister and I were totally disdainful and didn’t see how they had sex, since they weren’t gloriously attractive people like in the movies. We worried we were not going to be attractive enough. We knew there were expectations of girls that had to do with not being sexual, that message was everywhere in catechism, in english class, in the gym but at the same time we were supposed to be “sexy” and that that was of value. We also worried we would somehow give away ourselves in a situation that became sexual and out of control. I once had a girlfriend who needed to go to the doctor to find out if she was pregnant. She wasn’t, but she cried all the way home because the doctor she said had her feel so bad about herself. It was a huge relief to be married and safely out of the range of such disasters.
So the bounty of sex and orgasm I enjoyed with my fighter pilot husband who came home after weeks and/or months to a feast of sexual activity that we both enjoyed a lot was unexpected joy. There would be breaks. In the last six weeks of pregnancy and first six weeks after birth, the doctor required you not to have sex. But that somehow just added to the dance, to the jubilee which followed the birth of the babies.
Then when he came back from Viet Nam, our life blew up and he was gone. Going back to college was an inspired move and opening my mind to a whole new world. University of South Florida had a very active anti war movement, and I was exposed to the politics and upheaval of the late 60’s protests. Mind altering ideas came from funny looking people with slashes of paint on their face like Jerry Rubin. It was about the war, but then again it was about being free and I wasn’t sure what that meant but it seemed to be related to breaking down racial barriers in attitudes that included people different from ourselves, and also breaking down sexual barriers we’d acquired just by virtue of growing up in the culture of the 50’s. It all seemed to go together.
I was also deep into my own personal upheaval and trauma with the loss of my marriage and the family I thought we were. I was in psychotherapy and had moved from recognizing the source of pain unexpressed in my childhood that was not to be denied in the loss of my marriage. This was all a time of finding the assumptions and beliefs I had challenged by the reality around me. The door was open suddenly to seeing the world around me and myself in a wholly different way. Sexuality then was also being challenged.
So if sex wasn’t about being with the one, your husband for your lifetime, till death do you part, and having babies, then what was it to be for me. I wanted no part of the “gay divorcee” image that I saw in the few examples around me. Divorce was failure and scandalous. But I was starting to feel good after my first term in college and managing the kids was working out pretty good. I certainly lowered my standards in terms of things like reading to the kids every night after baths. I felt guilty about what they weren’t getting every minute. I was distracted, worried and absent to them I’m pretty sure even if my body was there at that time. I had extreme emotional responses whenever Tom was around. He would drive his VW into the driveway at times I didn’t expect and leave whenever he did. It didn’t seem like I had anything to do with what was happening there, and certainly no control over what he did.
I lived in the neighborhood of the faculty of University of South Florida in Tampa, and the friends who had been our friends were all aware and engaged with me and the kids in this big public spectacle our life had become. The neighborhood was a gift. It might have been a totally different story without the support and encouragement to keep moving forward from those friends. But also, one by one, their husbands came to my door. It was so ironic-the women feeling sorry for me in the daytime, their husbands showing up at my door at night. It made my blood run cold, and just had me feel fearful and confused as I politely turned them away. I think the polite was just because I was so scared about what it said about me that they were there.
I was at a local college hangout-the Collage with my next door neighbors when I met Bobbye. Strobe lights were flashing, Bob Dylan was wailing, “How does it feee-el, to be on your own-with no direction home, a complete unknown…” It was so my inside feeling that hearing Bob Dylan sing that was devastating in that moment. And then there was Bobbye Generone. He had wavy black long hair, and a beard, blue jeans and he made me laugh. The things he said I didn’t quite understand, but it was about freedom, personal freedom-whatever that was. I invited him to my house on Sunday when I was having my neighbors for dinner. He came. We made love. I had never made love like we made love. It wasn’t coming from anywhere else other than enjoyment of the moment and fun. It wasn’t a courtship, it didn’t promise a tomorrow, it didn’t validate yesterday. It just was. And it was great.
That’s how come I was listening to Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones the week that followed, playing the records over and over again. Listening to their words-words that didn’t fall easily into my realm of understanding. But I just listened. “It Ain’t me, babe. No, no, no-it ain’t me, babe.” It changed my life. The words and soul of Bob Dylan changed my feelings about what was happening around me, it changed how I saw what was happening. This tragedy that seemed so personal that I felt so helpless to manage actually wasn’t mine alone, but a human potential. The edge of truth from a source I never would have encountered had my life continued as it had been before the fall of my life blowing up seemed miraculous.
Suddenly I had compassion for men and saw that the design I put around my desire was a package that I thought life was about. Betrayed when it turned out as it did, this opening to seeing the predicament men were in a moment of clarity had the anger and feeling of being a victim to a monster dissipate . In the process of having my life fall apart, new ground and a new perspective on choices I had as a result were now clear. I saw that-the hard cold resentment and hot anger of betrayals were no longer serving me. I saw there was something else even if I didn’t have a handle on it, or know how to talk about it yet.
Turned out this perspective allowed for another good decision as life moved forward, and provided the basis for the move to California.
And best of all, Berkeley.