Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My First (and last) Girlfriend




In 1957, when I was 15 years old, I thought it was about time I had a girlfriend. However, I had a "problem", I liked guys.  

Picture this; a very shy, introverted, awkward, 15 year old boy with very low self-esteem (thanks to my father who rarely missed an opportunity to belittle me); growing up in the Fifties in a small town wants to be accepted as "normal."  I knew I had these "urges" (homosexual) but there was no way I knew how or could even conceive acting on those urges.  I was at a crossroads.


Me - 1957 - at a crossroads

I thought my urges for all those male classmates of mine was a phase I would pass through.  Those times when I would get aroused just sitting in at my desk while one of my favorite classmates delivered a book report with a hard on, was a "phase"  I would pass through.  While our fellow classmates would laugh at our classmate who had this predicament standing in front of the class trying to hide his erection, I was about to have a wet mess right at my desk.  Time to get a girlfriend Ron!

About a year earlier I had noticed a girl two grades  ahead of me.  She was a senior, I was a sophomore.  I was struck by her natural beauty.  She reminded me so much of my Mother at that age (16).

My Mom, Betty Hadfield - 1939
Her name was Vivian.  Coincidentally she lived on the same street in Downingtown, (Pennsylvania) where my Mother was born and grew up - Pennsylvania Avenue.  She only lived a few houses away.



My Mom in her only schoolgirl photo - 1939
I was also attracted to Vivian because of her demeanor.  She was quiet and gracious.  She wasn't one of these loud and boisterous girls of that time who used to so intimidate me.  To me, those kinds of girls at that time reminded me of a Venus Flytrap. 



I was SCARED TO DEATH  of them.  

Vivian didn't scare me.  But there was a problem, in addition to the obvious (that I wasn't sexually attracted to her).  At the age of 15 (me) and 17 (her); two years was a BIG AGE difference.  I was a sophomore and she was a SENIOR.  

I made my feelings known to some of my fellow band members.  Someone (I still don't know to this day) got the WORD to Vivian that a tall, skinny, shy sophomore was interested in her.  I don't remember the exact first time we exchanged words but I do remember that after talking to her I felt very comfortable. This girl was no Venus Flytrap.

I felt very comfortable with Vivian.  She liked me because I wasn't one of those loud and boisterous guys of that time.  
Me wrapped up in my Sousaphone - 1959


Vivian - voted "Quietist in her class" - Ironically she's pictured with a Sousaphone, my band instrument - 1957



Now, I had another problem.  I didn't have a car.  Back in the Fifties, unlike today where just about every teenager is presented with a car on his (or her) 16th birthday, I didn't have a car.  A couple years before I got rid of my bicycle (after I quit my paper route).  Besides, back in that day, it wasn't cool for a teenager to have a bike, that was for kids.  


Last picture of me on my bike - 1955

Vivian and I went out on dates but they were always double dates with my friend Larry.  I remember once when we went to the Exton Drive-In.  Larry and his Paramour of the Moment were in the front seat of his '54 Ford steaming up the windows and Viv and I were in the back trying to see the movie through those same steamed up windows.  I think I did slide my arm around her shoulders and she cuddled in a little closer to me but that was as close as we came to petting (look it up) that night.


Vivian - far right - 1957
While dating Vivian I thought I had my "urges" under control.  I thought I was moving past my "phase" of my basic instinct of being attracted to guys.  Oh how did I ever fool myself?  You have to remember back in the Fifties there was a LOT of pressure to conform and I wanted to conform, believe me.  I wanted to be normal. And here I was with a girl who I liked, who was beautiful, who made me feel comfortable and who seemed to enjoy my company and who (and this is important) put no pressure on me to perform.  And I didn't perform, no where close to it.  As I mentioned earlier, an arm around her shoulder and maybe a peck of two of a kiss but no swapping saliva or checking out each other's tonsils with our tongues.

Then came the time of Vivian's senior prom.  Of course I was expected to ask her to her senior prom, since we were boyfriend/girlfriend.  What to do?  I didn't have a car.  I would have to ask my father if I could borrow his car.  He never loaned me his car before and I didn't think he ever would but this was a DATE to the SENIOR PROM.  


My senior prom - 1959

I finally gathered up enough courage to ask him.  Even though this was my father I was always intimidated by him.  Just ask any of my friends, he intimidated them also.  

My dad, The Intimidator - no, this isn't a mug shot - it is his employee ID at Lukenweld when he was 21 years old


I thought I chose a good time to ask him to borrow his car.  Two of his younger brothers were visiting him and they were joking around in the living room.  I was cleaning the bathroom (cleaning our house was my responsibility and I did a great job).  As I exited the bathroom to empty a pail of dirty water I casually asked him "Pop, can I borrow your car to take Vivian to her senior prom?"  He immediately said "No!" and then continued his joking around with his brothers.  I don't know what I said but it was very disrespectful, the most disrespectful I've ever been to him in my life at that point (and since actually).  

As I was returning to the bathroom, he turned me around and gave me a solid punch to my jaw and said "Don't you ever talk to me like that again or I'll kill you!"


I lost my balance and fell part way into the bathtub.  My uncles heard what happened and all went silent in our little ranch style living room.  I was going to cry but decided not to, I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of knowing that he hurt me.  My father had beaten us before (my brothers and I) but never with his fist.  Always with a belt and never any real damage.  More fear and noise of that swinging belt than damage.  He never used the buckle side like his father did on him which left permanent scars on his back.  My father didn't leave a physical scar that day but he left a big emotional scar.  I had embarrassed him in front of his brothers and that was an unforgivable sin.  I never asked him again to borrow his car.

Then I did something for which I have been forever ashamed of myself - I stood up Vivian for her senior prom.  What was I thinking?  How did I think I could get away with doing such a dastardly and cowardly act?  Needless to say I was at my most self-absorbed, selfish, adolescent self at that time, feeling tremendously sorry for myself and not thinking of Vivian's feelings.


Me - 1958 - my Junior year in high school ( I hated this picture)

That Monday when I went back to school I was peppered with questions from some of my bandmates and class members:

"What happened?"
"Where were you?"
"Why didn't you take Vivian to her senior prom?"

I don't remember exactly what I told everyone but I'm sure it was some lame assed excuse.  I think I called Vivian and told her I was sorry but I couldn't get the car.  I know, lame.

Much to Vivian's credit, she didn't hold my selfishness against me.  She said she "understood." 

For the next few months we continued to be boyfriend/girlfriend.  I did take her to her Senior Graduation Party at St. Joseph's Lodge in Downingtown.  

I remember us walking outside on that June night, holding hands.  I informed her that I was going to join the Army because I couldn't find a job.  Now here's the thing, if I could have found a job I would have married Vivian.  Yes, I would.  Remember, this was back in the Fifties when peer and societal pressure was so great there was no alternative for a burgeoning gay guy to come to gripes with is life situation.  Yes, I would have been one of those gay guys who got married and proceeded to ruin two lives by living a lie.  Thank God I couldn't find a job or else I would have traveled down that dead end road.


Ron in the Army! - 1962
During my first year in the Army I continued to write to Vivian but eventually our correspondence fell off and we lost touch with one another.

Fast forward forty years to 2001.  I'm working at First Financial Bank in Downingtown.  One day a man comes into our office to inquire about opening a rollover IRA.  He says his name is "Roland Beale."  I recognize him and his name right away, he is Vivian's older brother!  I tell him who I am.  Of course he knows who I am and asks how am I doing?  I told him fine and I asked about Vivian.  He told me she was married and has SEVEN children!  Also, four grandchildren!  Man oh man, talk about dodging a bullet.  Can you imagine me with SEVEN kids?  How about ONE KID?  Oh my goodness, I am SO GLAD I didn't go down THAT road.  



I asked him to give Vivian my best.  He left and I never heard any more about Vivian until 2007.  That was the date of her 50th class reunion.  I heard from a friend that she was asked to dance at her class reunion.  The still shy Vivian demurred but was finally persuaded her to go out on the dance floor and dance, much to the happiness and enjoyment of her classmates and herself.  



Hearing that story about the sweet and gentle Vivian brought back fond memories.  If I had known, maybe I would have attended her 50th class reunion and asked her to dance to make up for that long ago missed senior prom.  

Since then I've often entertained the idea of contacting her.  Think I should?  I think I will. 

At this time of my life I'm all for tying up loose ends. Besides, we never got a photo of us together.



Me with a Senior Prom date I did keep - Susie - 1958
Only able to keep this date because I double dated with my friend Larry and his date Sonja
Larry drove his 1954 Ford - Don't I look thrilled? Body English folks, body english





19 comments:

  1. Ron,

    First thing I thought when I opened your Blog and saw Vivian's picture was, "Gee, she reminds me of Ron's mom." I remember her as being very nice and very quiet.

    I still get disgusted thinking about your father hitting you. That is something my dad never did. And to Ron's readers, yes, his father was very intimidating to be around.

    When you took Susie to OJR's Senior Prom I wasn't dating Sonja. I didn't date Sonja until after high school. I took Pamela to the prom and at the time I was dating both Pammy and Susie. I asked you to take Sue because both girls wanted me to take them, but I could only take one officially. You had a band concert at Downingtown that same night and it ran later than you said and we were very late picking up Pam. Pam was pretty understanding. She was really understanding, because I even dated her again after Sonja and I broke up and I was also dating Louise then, too and soon after that Pat. But by then you were in the Army.

    Lar

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  2. Lar,

    Thanks for the correction! I was sure you took Sonja to your prom. My mistake. By the way, I don't remember anything about a band concert that night. My mind is a blank. However, what I do remember is that the your prom was an "all night affair." Remember we saw a movie in your high school auditorium. It was a Dorothy Malone movie called "Written on the Wind." I thought that was so cool to see a movie in a high school auditorium. Afterwards we had breakfast. Also very cool but we were so tired from being up all night. I think that showing that movie was the school's way of keeping drunk kids after their prom off the highways. That was so nice of you to ask me to go to your prom. Susie was a great date but of course, no "activity" on my part. She didn't "push" me either, which I appreciated. Did you make out with Pam?

    Ron

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  3. By the way, that was the only time my father ever punched me. He actually punched me in the side of the head. That's why I didn't have a black eye but I did have a sore head for several days.

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  4. You are a good writer Ron and I love the photos! For a moment, I was back in the 50's.
    Lar at a voracious appetite, going from one young woman to the next (lol).

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    1. Thank you Nadege. I'm glad I grew up in the Fifties, although at the time I wasn't too thrilled with that era. Now in retrospect I realize what a wonder and innocent time it was.

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  5. EXTON DRIVE IN - woo hoo!

    nope, can't see you with kids. I never could see myself with kids either; no patience, no maternal instinct, didn't want the responsibility.

    how close did you live to the pennsy railroad tracks?

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  6. Anonymous10:10 PM

    Ron,

    Two days of great "very open" posts. Sure stirred my thoughts last night of my first crush in the second grade. Stevie was very
    protective of me and our friendship. Our mothers and dads became friends so we were at each others houses all the time. Sadly,
    his dad was transferred two years later and we moved across town and I met my second crush - Larry. Larry's dad also got transferred ( to Ohio ). I learned later in 1987 that he had died of aids. After Larry moved I fell for a girl, Jo anne. My dad was my
    Chauffeur. He liked hauling me, my dates and friends and their dates around. I had time before he died to tell him how much I
    appreciated that he was not abusive as so many of my friend's fathers.
    I went so far as to get engaged ( but was fooling around with her younger brother ) but we never followed through with the marriage.
    Always wondered how that would have worked out. Just learned that she is on a waiting list for a heart transplant. Our wedding plans
    got stalled because her dad was having heart problems and then died at a very early age.
    Life does take some strange twists and turns.
    Stuart in FL

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    1. Stuart,

      I don't usually do "very open" posts back to back but I felt these two posts were connected. I've been thinking about putting on record my first two "love affairs". If I didn't do it now, especially the second one about Vivian, I don't think I would ever do it. Thanks for noticing.

      Everyone has a "romantic heart" history. You're right, life does take strange twists. I came so close to getting married. All it would have taken was for me to find a job. Didn't happen and I joined the Army and my life took a whole different direction. I've been meaning to write a post about "Roads Not Taken" but I'm not sure where to start. I think I'll go back to the innocuous posts for a while. My head hurts.

      Thanks for sharing your history.

      Ron

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  7. Sorry to hear about your home situation - but glad you blogged it. I've never personally known a father of anyone like that. And man - look how you turned out - the kind of person I certainly aspire to. There's a nice line in Fun's Some Nights (a song I really like).

    My heart is breaking for my sister and the con that she called "love"
    When I look into my nephew's eyes...
    Man, you wouldn't believe the most amazing things that can come from...
    Some terrible lies... ah...

    I believe that last line belongs to you. Do you know Some Nights? Please youtube it if you don't. Always the best to you Ron.


    Read more: FUN. - SOME NIGHTS LYRICS

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    1. pat888,

      I don't know of that song but I will check it out. Thanks.

      I could of have had a more caring father but my childhood wasn't near as bad as many others. My biggest problem, which I carry to this day, was being subjected to the constant putdowns from my father. I always wanted to please him and have him like me. Never happened. His attitude towards me caused my irreparable damage to my self-esteem which I struggle with to this day. However, I wasn't alone because my brother Isaac also suffered from his disdain. It wasn't until a few years before her death my Mother told me he never wanted children. We were a hinderance. My father was basically a selfish man who had his own self-image problems.

      We all have our challenges in life. I think one of the purposes of life is how we overcome those challenges and bring good.

      Ron

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  8. Anne Marie,

    We lived very near the Pennsy railroad tracks. In fact when the long freight trains went by we couldn't hear the sound on our TV shows.

    No, I'm like you. I'm not the "Dad" type. I think kids are cute, as long as they belong to someone else.

    Ron

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  9. A really touching post, Ron. It brought back memories of my forays into "normal" guy/girl relationships. Including my senior prom that I took a girl to, all the while wishing I could have been with either of about 4 or 5 guys I had crushes on. Siiiigh.

    Peace <3
    Jay

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    1. Thank you Jay. This was a post I've been thinking about for a long time and that I felt I had to post. It was very cathartic. I can't say I was thinking about guys at my senior prom. I did really like all the formality and specialness of the occasion. I liked getting dressed up in a white tux with a carnation. I am a sentimental and romantic fool.

      Delete
  10. A great story and you told it extremely well. I really enjoyed this and, of course, I can strongly identify with it (even though I never dated in high school). I'm sure that a lot of gay men were socially pressured into marriage back then, and - of course - it yielded disasterous results. Wow, it's a good thing you joined the army. I couldn't picture you with seven kids. Vivian did strongly resemble your Mom in the photos.

    I think you should contact Vivian, if it's possible. I'm sure she'd be pleasantly surprised.

    My Dad not only CONSTANTLY used his fists (on me and my Mom), he'd also use anything else he could find. I was attacked with a shovel, a crowbar, a chair, a ladder (I'm not kidding). He fought dirty and aimed to kill.

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    1. Jon,

      I didn't date in high school but I felt I had to go to the proms or else I would "miss something." I enjoyed the dances and all the sentimental hoopla that surrounded those momentous events.

      I think I will contact Vivian. Maybe I can make up for that picture we never had taken of us together.

      After hearing your story of your "relationship" with your father, I realize how fortunate I was to have my father. I can't say he was physically abusive to me and my brothers, no more so than the average Fifties father. I can't imagine what you went through in your childhood.

      Ron

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  11. At 15, gay or straight weren't audible issues. What impressed the young lady was you were a gentleman."Shy...artist" member of "Bible Club" appreciated being treated with decency and respect. You did good, Ron, and gained a place in a good heart. Moving post.

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    1. Geo,.

      Vivian was a very nice girl, just the kind I would have married if I was straight.

      Ron

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  12. Ah, Ron, so much that you describe about you and Vivian mirrors what I went through. There was one girl I hung around with for about three years. I was always on the lookout for occasions that threatened to turn into opportunities for snogging and, what would be even worse, sex, and used all my ingenuity to avoid them. I became very adept at getting her to the bus stop just in time for a quick peck on the cheek before she had to hop on to the bus--no time for any of that other stuff. Looking back, I don't know how I didn't go mad during those years, trapped in a smallish town in the early 1960s with no way that I could see to fall in love with a guy.

    I did make contact with about 30 years later. She'd been married and divorced in the meantime and made one or two awkward remarks which suggested she thought we might still get married; somehow, my telling her I was gay and had a long-term gay partner didn't seem to be obstacles in her mind. I think she may have been, and may still be, pretty a-sexual. She'd become very religious and though we exchange Christmas cards, she seems not to want to send greetings to my partner nor to have him mentioned on my card to her. I can still recapture the fondness I felt -- fondness only -- all those years ago, but I don't think any great opening up of minds is going to happen.

    Another girl I saw for a while back in the early sixties seemed to fall for me precisely because I was not trying to get her into bed. She'd had a pretty torrid time before me, including a child, and seems to have decided: "Here at last is the man I've hoped for--one that won't just pull me into bed and then leave me." Oh dear, oh dear. She, too, had got religion and when I finally came out to her some years later persuaded herself that God was calling upon her to seduce me into heterosexuality. The scene was like something out of a movie comedy, with her rubbing against me and murmuring, "Sometimes it helps if you touch instead of just looking--give me a cuddle," and me replying, "I'd like a cuddle, too, but my boyfriend's not here."

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    1. Paul,

      I find all these personal stories of gay men coping with a heterosexual world so interesting. We all have our "journeys" don't we? Especially for those of us before the Digital Age when more information was available to help us traverse these obstacles to our eventual self acceptance of who we are.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences.

      Ron

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