My bedroom was narrow, barely seven feet across. It had a window overlooking the street. All the way up the street there were similar houses converted to apartments in a student ghetto. In a fit of self-annihilation, I’d painted the walls and ceiling of my bedroom black, making everything inside stand out against the darkness.
It was the end of summer, 1969. The trees outside were tired. They’d reached that point of exhaustion where the leaves had not yet turned and begun to drop but neither were they flourishing. The head of my bed faced the window and I lay upon it watching Julianne cross the wide asphalt parking lot, then the weedy mottled green and brown patch of lawn. She disappeared then under the eaves.
There were feminine voices coming up from the apartment down below, shrieking, laughing, the whole house rocking, headbanger music vibrating up through the floor. The boys downstairs had for days been dropping acid to keep the party going.
When they were hopped up like that, as more and more often they were, they were very loud and dangerous. A thickly muscled Neanderthal from the football team had just two days before tackled me as I passed by in the foyer. His roommates laughingly told me that was his first time on acid, and I couldn’t help thinking as he tightened his grip around my neck “This is the end of the Summer of Love.”
I jumped to my feet, worried about Julianne, thinking I should rescue her but she had slipped quietly up the staircase and was already at my door. She blew in like a gust of wind, pushed me hard back onto the bed, straddled my body, pinned my arms back on the pillow. I couldn’t push her off but neither did I want to. Her tartan skirt had hiked all the way up to her underpants, and her fine white legs with their blonde silken hairs stood out against the fading daylight and the black painted walls.
Her face pressed down close to mine while I inhaled her sweet vaguely sour breath reminding me of the fading summer and the yellowing trees. “You can’t go. You mustn’t,” she said, with that degree of anguish only the severely wounded possess.
The sky had fallen, she expected me to hold it up, as if I could, as if I were strong enough to push it back up into the heavens. I kissed her once, on each of her eyes, and then her mouth which tasted like the ocean.
“Go to Canada,” she whispered, then said it again more loudly.
“I don’t know anyone in Canada.”
“And you never will if you’re dead.”
“It’s cold in Canada.”
“Not as cold as a grave.”
Julianne was liquid fire, very beautiful, intelligent; she had so much light in her eyes. We made love but it wasn’t the way it usually was. She was strangely detached, completely without passion. I asked her what it was she was holding back from me.
“I’m holding back from saying you are an idiot,” she replied.
“That’s nice of you, Julianne. Leaving would be so much more difficult otherwise.”
“What is it you expect of me?” she cried, tearing at my skin with her fingers.
“Just be normal about it. Like everyone else I know.”
“Ha! Like everyone else? Are you sure? I’m one person. A soloist,” she said. “And you expect me to be a symphony?”
I told Julianne she was a lunatic, that I loved her anyway, that I was sorry, that I would miss her, but that I had to leave just the same.
“Fool!” she cried into my ear, her soft voice wrapping around me like a silken spider web.
I fell back as if struck, my head on the pillow, expecting stars and wisdom to come shining down through the ceiling. But I saw only darkness there, holding my eyes tight shut to the light seeping through the diaphanous white window curtains she’d made of her wedding dress.
She was supposed to marry Freddie, for whom the bell had already tolled. He’d caught the cold you don’t recover from, and he was buried far away in a cemetery with marble trees. She’d told me of him only once and then she never mentioned him again. Though I wished Freddie well in all his future endeavors, I was glad I’d never met him.
“Go to Canada! I’ll meet you there, I promise.” She kissed me feverishly all over my body and on each of my eyes, and when I opened them again, I saw nothing had changed. I would be on the bus tomorrow with plenty of other boys, and then the train, and then the plane.