In November of 1980, I was a college freshman. I had spent the entire summer prior to college working on a congressional campaign. It was exciting work, and I met many "famous" politicians, got to hobnob with political movers and shakers. I was young, and I was adopted by the campaign as the "kid," which should have meant that I made coffee and lots of photocopies. The deal was, however, that I was also intense and well organized, and I wound up being the volunteer coordinator. At 17, I felt as if I had become someone integral to the campaign; among my duties were organizing phone banks and sign parties and envelope-stuffing parties—a lot of what is called “get out the vote,” and the activities that are crucial this year for candidates seeking to reach the many, may voters who have never previously voted.
I also had an enormous crush on one of the campaign coordinators. He was a recent graduate of college, taking a year off before applying to law school, and he rocked my world. I thought about him constantly. Even when I went away to college, every weekend, I'd go back down to campaign headquarters and work with him. And, because I was going to college in the same congressional district, I still got to see everyone when they came up for events. He and I talked all the time. He was a huge Beatles fan, especially Lennon. We talked about music. About politics. About how the world was going to be a better place. We talked about human rights. About how labor unions were important. About how he was going to law school to get involved in international justice. Each day, my crush became more and more of a love. I was blissful in his company. I couldn't help it.
November 4, 1980. For a liberal Democrat, it may reign as one of the worst nights ever. It wasn't just Jimmy Carter getting trounced by Ronald Reagan. It was the liberal Democratic senators who lost their seats that night: Church, Bayh, McGovern, Magnuson. I forget all of them now, but I just remember being despondent. As the election returns came in, it just went from bad to worse to grim. A caravan decided to head south to our main headquarters so our candidate, who had clinched his race, could make his victory speech. It was late. After 11. Nobody noticed that I was pouring myself drinks from the open bar. But by midnight or so, with it hellaciously clear that nothing was ever going to be the same, I was pretty drunk.
My best friend from high school had voted for Reagan. In a blind, drunken fury, I sat down and wrote her a long letter about what her vote would cost us all: it wasn’t just women’s equality and abortion rights, it was such things as a foreign policy that would put us in bed with heinous dictators. Hell, even college student financial aid would be slashed. The list went on and on. (And, 25+ years later, I look at that date as a watershed night of changes that have gradually stripped away from the culture all of the things I hold dear as inalienable rights.)
He was also drunk. He offered me a ride home to my parents' house. My folks had no idea I was in town, of course. I remember we got into his car and he said to me, "Well. You have two choices, I can drive you to your folks, or you can come home with me." Guess which I chose? No longer a virgin, my fantasies about this guy had always included sex. Of course I said yes. And what I needed from him was more than sex. I needed comfort. Some assurance that the world that I thought was collapsing all around my feet wasn't really collapsing. That it wasn't really as bad as it looked. That this country had not really just elected Reagan and a band of such conservative dismal Republicans that certainly, now, Orwell's 1984 was about to manifest itself. He needed that, too. He needed to lose himself in me, to pretend that the world would be blissful.
So that's what we did. We went back to his apartment and we fucked all night long. The things I remember from that night was that it was the first time I ever had a penis in my mouth, and I remember how surprised I was by how it felt. It wasn't slick, as I had somehow imagined. It felt like skin, just softer skin. I can't say as I really had a clue what I was supposed to do with it in my mouth. And I certainly didn't know what to do when he put his mouth between my legs. I was too drunk to appreciate whatever it was I was supposed to be feeling. But I remember being happy that he and I had finally found each other after all these months of tension between us.
The room was light by the time I fell asleep. We slept for a few hours, and then, when he woke up, he said to me, as only a 22-year old male could, "That should not have happened." I don't think I could have been more devastated. He drove me to the bus station, and I remember crying all the way to my college town.
Three weeks later, I'm late. It's just a day or two. No biggie. But I'm getting worried. This is 1980, and they don't sell pregnancy tests in stores. There's a health clinic on campus, but the earliest they'll do a pregnancy test is two weeks after a missed period. Three days. Four. Five. No blood. I call him, tell him the news. He's supposed to be leaving for Europe right after Christmas. He's supposed to be starting law school in the fall. This is not in his plans. He begins to call me every day to ask me one simple question. "Have you gotten your period yet?" And every day, the same answer. "I'm sorry. No. I haven't."
I didn't tell anyone. Who was I going to tell? I just carried myself through my days in a daze. I tried not to think about it. I had heard that stressing out would delay your period, so I tried to tell my body to relax. I went running every day, thinking that the exercise would make me start. Abortion was legal, and it was available in the college town where I lived. But I didn't know what I wanted to do. If I was pregnant, could I go through an abortion? I preferred not to think about it.
I saw my folks. Didn't mention anything going on with me. My father commented that I had gained weight at college, which was true. I seemed always to be eating. Dorm food, and then, late at night, pizza delivered to my dorm. I went to classes, did my school work. Talked to him every night. It was bittersweet. On one hand, he was talking to me and I thought I might be in love with him. On the other, he clearly did not want to be talking to me. He wanted me to go away.
Finally. The first week of December. I went into the health clinic the first thing in the morning. I peed into a jar. I would get my results in the afternoon—after three p.m. they informed me. He had arranged to meet me off-campus at 4:00. I showed up at three in the clinic office. "Negative" the nurse said, and I must admit, my feelings were mixed. I was happy to not be pregnant. But I also knew what it meant for him. He showed up at the café. I told him the news. He was so happy. He grinned, he sighed loudly; I thought he might do some kind of celebratory jig in the coffee shop. He was so happy I wanted to punch him. He was happy because he wouldn't be saddled with me. That he could let me go now. That I could go away and he could go away and that was that.
And he did.
But a few days later, I was sleeping and my mom called me. I thought she was calling because it was her wedding anniversary and I had forgotten. No. She was calling because John Lennon had just been shot to death. It was around 8 pm my time. The only person I could think to call was him.
And so I did.
He was crying, couldn't talk. I don't remember what we said, but the conversation lasted maybe 60 seconds. I wanted so much to hold him, make him feel better. But I couldn't.
It was the last time we ever talked.