Going Back

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How could I be? I hardly knew the girl. And in fact, I did not consider her human enough to know, let alone love. That was part of the equation. If I had believed she was of my genus, my species, I would have—well, who knows what I would have. But, you say, this is all so unbelievably childish . Look. I’ve been out of college since before most people were born. Do you suppose I’m going to be distressed because you think I’m childish?

I decided last year I’d find out what Weezie had been up to, these decades, the forty years.

She was a U.W. grad, a Delta Gamma, from Burlington, Iowa. “I love a good hunt,” said Assistant Editor Laura Allen of this magazine. But nothing turned up in the obvious places.

“She may have died, you know,” a friend suggested helpfully.

“Like hell she has! God wouldn’t let Miss Clark die on me!”

Laura Alien called. “She’s living with her husband in Princeton, New Jersey. No connection with the university—I checked there.” Laura had telephoned every library in Burlington, Iowa, got someone who knew someone, got a someone who knew the married name and phone number of the subject of our search. I came down from my upstate-New York home to talk strategy with a huntress no less successful than Diana.

“Call her and ask and answer as few questions as possible,” I said over sushi and sashimi at a restaurant near this magazine’s offices. How open my mouth would have fallen once, this same mouth into which chopsticks were propelling the food, at the idea, the very conception , that one day Japanese delicacies would make me a meal. “Her classmate the historian wants to discuss the old days,” I told Laura. “That’s the whole story.”

“Will she remember you, do you think?”

“Pretty unlikely. If she remembers anything, it’ll be the Bascom Hall accident. But who knows, she may have gone through half a dozen car-totaling accidents since then. Be careful. If she gets it into her bean that an insurance salesman or bond peddler is after her, we’re cooked.”

I wanted to hit her cold and with as few preliminaries as possible, I told a friend. “I hope she weighs three hundred pounds,” his wife said. “I hated those beauty queens at college.” “She’s a drunk,” confidently declared the wife of another friend. “She was brought up to be one of those television dears, so prim and sweet. Then the years come along, and she ages. Now there’s the sherry in the closet, the pills in the bathroom.”

Poor Miss Clark. The world was against her. But talk about working in darkness! All available information, and that of the scantiest conceivable nature, was forty years old. If when we were Wisconsin seniors someone had done what I was doing now, that someone when he was a senior would have grown up surrounded by Civil War veterans. He would not have been able to conceive of a world war. His town’s paved roads would become dirt after the trolley turnaround. Laura called.

“You have a date for luncheon at the Nassau Inn, Princeton, at one on January fifth. Her husband’s not well, and she prefers to meet you outside the house. She’ll see you at the entrance of the Greenhouse.”

I drove down the night of the fourth, took a room, slept, woke up, had coffee in the room, stood staring out the window for a very long while. Really, it’s true what you’ve always read: The years do fly by. We of the fifties who experienced the war as children in the very tiniest and last corridor of our minds remember England as the first nation of the world. I learned it when I was very young and can’t forget. Television—people like us, college students, the well-off, our families, we didn’t have television. It was in bars or for the poor in the slums. Their tenements spouted antennas. We didn’t have sets until years after the factory workers and laborers got theirs.

I headed downstairs in the Nassau Inn for the Greenhouse, passing through the Tap Room. My college roommate’s dead. He shot himself as a Johns Hopkins Medical School resident. It was in 1960, weeks prior to the KennedyNixon election. We played tennis a few days before. I always told myself that if I had a son, I’d name him for my roommate, but I had a daughter. I never think of him as forever young, young enough to be my son now, but as my contemporary.

I entered the Greenhouse antechamber. I’d be paying for this meal, and the hotel room, with a credit card. Of course. What else? Business expense. A tiny part of me says that’s wrong: you shouldn’t have something you can’t instantly pay for. My father never bought a car on what was called the installment plan, and in fact, he was dead before I ever permitted myself to drive a car I didn’t own 100 percent. What a way of doing things! If everyone followed that formula, the country’d grind to a halt. There was a trim woman with short pepperand-salt hair wearing a checkered cloth coat standing in front of the Greenhouse, looking in, her back to me. “Hello!” I said, and Miss Clark turned around.