Thursday, December 5, 2013

Changing the world

November 11, 1985

She must be all of twenty five or twenty six by now, having graduated college two years ago, a Connecticut child who came to New Jersey to get away from her more or less privileged life and family to get shocked by the real world she found in the heart of Paterson.
She reminds me of some of the kids I met in the 1960s, who came to the big city when they realized that there was something wrong with the ideal lives they lived in the suburbs or Midwest.
I guess that’s why she insisted on going on this march, appalled by the tales she’d heard about Apartheid.
I went along because I caught the fever again, seeing the old spirit reborn in this young girl.
She really does have charity and hope, a true innocent.
I met her in a speed reading class at the college during my first semester. She was a slightly plump young lady spouting definitive opinions about everything from a few chairs behind mine.
She had an opinion about everything and wasn’t shy about broadcasting them.
Her plumpness actually made her more attractive. She looked like an old fashioned girl, a good ole American girl, the girl next door kind of girl.
Her glasses, I recalled, fogged up each time she came in and out of a building in cold weather, and I remember them fogging up in the Student Center when I saw her there.
I told her I was a poet and gave her a copy of what I thought back then was my best poem.
The poem didn’t hold up, but she did.
She turned up the next semester with another poet from West New York, a poet who I became very close to for a while.
But she outlasted him, and became a brief romance – someone very open and warm, who in my confused state, I hurt deeply.
The other poet, I learned later, hurt her as well – perhaps because he still struggled with his sexual identity. She wanted love – a real love, a last love, and could get neither from either of us since we both were looking to something else, perhaps love of language or art.
Still, when I needed a shoulder to cry on, she was there for me, listening to all my heart break over some other woman when she had suffered a similar heart break over me.
She tried desperately to keep ties with both me and the WNY poet, but the WNY poet grew more reclusive, and I found myself wandering in the underworld’s dark places where a good hearted girl like her would never go.
She envied both of us, me because she thought I had a purpose, and the other poet because had a soul.
But he broke her heart again when he fled school and took up Satanism, and finally decided to embrace his gay side. He had struggled for most of the year with this, and when he gave in, he went far beyond anything she could accept.
I remember how long and hard she cried over his leaving.
She got married to another man, a practical man, a religious man about a year ago, and began working with old people in some of the local nursing homes.
But she maintained her faith, and her outrage about what went on in South Africa, and so when we marched through the streets of Newark, we connected in a strange way that we had not before, brother and sister of revolution, giving me a feeling I hadn’t felt since the campus anti-war protests almost twenty years go.
She truly believes she can change the world.

Maybe I’m too cynical. Maybe down deep I know we can’t. But she makes me want to believe we can, and I guess that’s a start.

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