For the record, I never really had Miss Maine. As relationships go, the time I actually spent with her was short. But for a brief glorious time, she liked me and I liked her. Did I mention she had been a Miss America contestant?
I’m not going to describe her to you. I can’t even remember her name. In a word, she was gorgeous, the kind of woman you can’t help but ogle as she walks across the room. But she was personable and intelligent, not at all like the doe-eyed, dumb stereotype of beauty contestants.
It was late in my senior year at college, and I was grabbing some lunch in the cafeteria when a female friend came up to me and whispered in my ear. “She’s new in our dorm,” pointing at Miss Maine, who for the purpose of this narrative I’ve now decided to call Doris. “She noticed you and wants to be introduced.” Apparently, I was not looking my usual wasted self. I shot a glance across the cafeteria and tried to look cool.
As I recall, we had a couple of dates and that was it. I graduated shortly thereafter and landed a residential teaching job at a private school in Connecticut. In addition to my teaching duties, I had a dorm full of teenage boys to look after. There was a big dinner and dance for all the students, and since faculty members were expected to attend, I decided to give Doris a call and see if she wanted to go. Amazingly enough, she said yes.
I picked her up at my alma mater, where she was now a senior, and brought her back to my school. It was early, so we went up to my room in the boys’ dormitory and had a couple of stiff drinks before dinner. During my senior year, I had taken up drinking in a big way, but now it was a full-blown avocation, especially during awkward social events as this night was turning out to be. A couple of times during the dance, we snuck back to my room for some more refreshments. I did not notice or care that she was not matching my intake.
What happened after the dance remains hazy. Suddenly we were back in my room, where after refusing my offer of a nightcap, she informed me in no uncertain terms that I was too shit-faced to drive her back to campus. Like a drill sergeant, she instructed me to climb into bed. Then she turned off the light and undressed, donning one of my shirts as a nightie. My kind of woman, I thought to myself. Just like that, I had achieved the goal I had long desired.
Alas, my night of passion was not to be. As I tried to snuggle up and put on my best night moves, she pushed me away with surprising strength. “You’re going to sleep it off for a couple of hours,” Doris insisted. There in the darkness, I dimly perceived the absurdity of my situation. Here I was—a lusty twenty-two-year-old lying next to a beautiful woman, and I was powerless to do anything about it. After making one last futile pass, I gave in to sleep. A few hours later, I was sober enough to drive her home in silence.
And what did I learn from this lesson? Nothing. I was still twenty-two and stupid. I confess there were many more such events in my life, though none so poignant as that dark, unfulfilled night. Fortunately, I am here to report that no one died as a result of my wasted youth, including me.
These days, though I still enjoy kicking back with a couple of glasses of wine after dinner, gone is my need to get hammered. Sometimes I catch myself looking back fondly on those old recreational drinking days, while at the same time wincing at the physical and emotional agonies they brought. I think of all the people done in by drinking and driving, and I am quietly thankful. There, partly out of sheer dumb luck but mostly for the grace and good sense of fellow travelers, go I. Thank you, Doris, wherever you are.
(Note: This piece marks the start of my new column “The Absurd Life.” Look for a new piece here every other Friday. If it’s not here, you can send me a polite comment to please get off my ass and write something. We writers need all the help we can get.)