After her father passed away, Dee found the house belonged to her, free and clear. Was it the lawyer who suggested she sell it? “It’s just a suggestion. You could go away to school, use the money for tuition, for room and board. That way, you’d have no student debt when you graduate.” When the house finally sold, she worked out a budget to take her through graduation and maybe even beyond if she was careful. She moved to Durham, feeling she was going much further than the thirty-five miles registered on her old car’s odometer.
Her three years at UNH Durham were like life on a different planet, compared to freshman year when she lived at home, studying, working, caring for her dad. On campus, everyone seemed to know their way around, which courses to take, where the lectures were. Dee, feeling lost, stayed quiet, listening for hints of where to go, what to wear. She wasn’t used to eating in a cafeteria and found the noise and the crowds unpleasant. Her old car finally broke down. She sold it for parts, glad for the extra money She began to lose weight and took a job in the cafe of the student center as a way of meeting people. Everybody seemed to like Dee, a new experience for her. She was surprised how many confided in her, their worries, their fears. She would never be able to reveal what her deepest feelings were, what she feared. It would make her too vulnerable, give people ammunition – the way all her so-called friends in high school had made fun of her weight, the way Marsha’s mom had looked at the pink dress, knowing it made Dee look like a balloon, not caring about Dee as long as Marsha looked beautiful. And in a way, Dee had not cared either. Marsha was the important one at the wedding, not Dee, not the maid of honor.
Stan was one of the boys she saw most often. Stan was light-hearted, a basketball player, nice, not a jock like most of the boys in the athletic department. But Stan was worried. He would go into long periods of silence, staring at his shoes, seemingly miles away. Dee had seen this with other boys. They tried to work on her sympathy, rouse her maternal feelings hoping vulnerability would get what they wanted. She remained friendly but resolute and usually never saw these boys again. Stan was different. They knew each other so well. She wondered if he had gotten a girl ‘in trouble’.
One Saturday they drove to a beach in Maine. They collected driftwood, built a fire, then sat on the beach and watched the waves roll in. Stan was quiet, watching the flames. Finally, Dee, in her gentlest voice, asked “What’s wrong, Stan?” Suddenly he buried his head in his arms and sobbed. Lifting a tear-stained face he mumbled “It’s the army. I don’t want to go. I’m afraid.” With that he buried his head again. His shoulders shook.
Dee moved in close, laid her arms across his shoulders. Putting her head next to his she murmured, “Hey, don’t worry. It’ll be alright. You won’t be sent out. Everyone goes through this.” She felt helpless. The words echoed in her head – useless phrases, dry comfort. Newspaper pictures – Taiwan, China, Vietnam – flashed through her mind.
Wanting to help somehow, she hugged him with both arms and suddenly they were lying in the sand, holding each other. He raised his head, looked at her – so miserable, so unhappy, so hopeless. Not knowing what else to do, she kissed him. He responded. They rolled in the sand, unbuckling, pulling off, grasping at each other.
Thinking about it afterward as they lay in the sand, looking at the stars, Dee wondered. It hadn’t been earth-shaking, not what she’d heard about. Was everybody exaggerating or maybe it was her. Maybe she was under-sexed. Stan seemed happy. He suddenly smiled a one-sided grin and asked if the stars looked the same in Southeast Asia. She punched him in the side, they began rolling, fake-fighting, laughing. Finally, arm in arm they returned to campus.
The last months on campus were melancholy for Dee. She was nervous, not sure what she should do after graduation. Maybe it was her nervousness that delayed her period. As she counted the days, she suddenly realized how foolish she’d been, sleeping with Stan so impulsively, with no protection. Of course, it was her fault. She’d made it easy and now she was being punished – and for the rest of her life. After a few days, she was relieved to find she wasn’t pregnant after all. Relief flooded over her; a weight lifted. Saved this time. From then on, she always carried a package of rubbers with her.
With her degree almost in hand, Dee took a weekend to visit her old ‘very best friend’ in Cambridge. There were now three children, crawling around the crowded living room when Auntie Dee arrived. After exclaiming over their growth and distributing the gifts she settled in the small kitchen with Marsha for coffee.
The tiny apartment on Inman Square didn’t seem so much better than their ramshackle house in Manchester, but Marsha insisted that Cambridge was bigger and better than it looked. There were so many opportunities here. Dee should try to get a job in Boston, maybe in government. They were always looking for people. It would be security, a civil service job, more exciting in Boston than in Manchester. “Just think of all the students, the social life, ….” Marsha’s voice trailed off. Dee smiled and said “No. There’s no one holding me in Durham or in Manchester.” They knew each other so well she could hear the unspoken question. “And if you get a job, you can sleep here until you find a place.” Marsha went on enthusiastically.
Dee smiled, looked around. “Share a crib with one of the kids, you mean? I don’t think so.”
Although she changed the subject, asking about the kids and Carl ‘s job, Dee continued to think about Marsha’s suggestion. Maybe she could get a job in Boston, working with people. Something with variety. She would research the possibilities when she got back to Durham.
Marsha was chattering, Dee listening with half an ear, not really interested. The pediatrician was pretty good, not as thorough as she wished. Carl was not happy either. He was applying for a job in Chicago, but the competition was fierce. Although they chatted about schoolmates, Dee felt Marsha wasn’t really interested. Her life was full, different now.
As if to prove her right, there was a commotion from the living room. The baby appeared, trying to crawl with a long shawl twisted around his ankle. Marsha jumped, scooping up the screaming baby. Dee was up, out of the kitchen and into her coat by the time the screaming stopped. Smiling, Dee reached around the baby to hug her old friend, promised to keep in touch and fled the chaos.
As she made her way to the Greyhound bus station, she glimpsed the golden dome of the state house. It might be nice to work there, in a real city – the Hub. She decided to explore job offers.