(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013, all rights reserved)
Towards the end of the summer before her sophomore year, Sandy closed herself in her bedroom in her parents’ house, looked in the mirror that hung above her battered dresser, and, with hand raised high in pledge, rededicated herself to the principles of the Order of the Single Eye. Not just in her body but in her heart and mind she was renouncing men, she vowed, until she found the one the Lord intended her to love. She would wait for him, whoever he was, and meanwhile she would concentrate solely on her work, for Jesus’ sake, amen.
But it was a rare young woman who could live long in the sexualized atmosphere of a 1970s university campus without compromise of either mind or body. By second semester she grew tired of waiting for God to match her with the ideal Christian boy and took up, almost by accident, with a very un-ideal architecture student in her year.
Staring out her apartment window, she shook her head at the name, remembering. He was, in fact, the ex-boyfriend who’d taken her to the party where she’d met Eric. He was Jeff’s polar opposite. He was hollow-chested and thin with long lank hair of no particular color and a spotty face. He had no pretensions to design excellence whatsoever; his real love was specifications writing, and he did the bare minimum in design studio so he could get his degree and get out and write specs.
“That’s where the money is,” he’d tell her. She still put in the effort to do A-level design; she was constitutionally unable to do otherwise. But he’d laugh at her for it, and would count it a victory when he could lure her away for a schooner of beer at the student hangout or get her to go honkytonking with him at some rural roadhouse.
Dreaming of making money and having fun were what Marvin was all about, and for awhile Sandy relaxed into the sheer lack of complication he represented. Or perhaps, as she admitted to herself now, she secretly felt he was exactly what she deserved. She would engage in long make-out sessions with him, out of a sense of obligation, she guessed, while steadfastly putting a curb on his roving hands. She didn’t sleep with him. On the other hand, she didn’t promise herself she never would. Maybe, if she ever convinced herself she really loved him. If her unconscious, self-imposed penance should call for it. Maybe.
She’d held onto that one principle, at least. “Sex as nothing but recreation and blowing off steam, I could never accept that. Not then, not now.” Genuine love of some sort had to be involved, and she could not honestly say to herself or to him that she loved him.
But Marvin made it frankly obvious that for him recreation was what sex was all about. “As far as I’m concerned,” he’d told her one day at the tavern, “a girl is just a trampoline with a hole in it.”
Why she didn’t stop seeing him right then and there she still didn’t know. Maybe because while she liked him well enough to be with him she didn’t intend to be his “trampoline with a hole in it.” Talk like that made it easier not to give in from sheer inertia.
Not that she didn’t nearly sleep with him one night. They’d been to a party and both of them had gotten very drunk, though he was by far the more drunk of the two. They’d made their way back to his apartment where they’d shared a joint or two and fallen into bed together.
But Marvin had been too intoxicated to perform. Sandy had come to herself around 3:30 AM and discovered that she was lying in bed naked next to her unconscious boyfriend, who was snoring away equally unclothed. She knew nothing had happened, and, resolving that nothing was going to happen, she had gingerly slipped out of the bed, put on her scattered garments, and walked all the way across campus to the refuge of the house she shared with two other girls.
Even then she didn’t break up with him. As the relationship continued into her junior year, she found she was taking it for granted, even depending on it. It made her feel good to think Marvin loved and depended on her in his way. And though she couldn’t dignify whatever it was she felt for him with the name of Love, she liked feeling she was needed.
And he did need her, especially as his binge drinking became more frequent and worse. She was always there for him, finding them both a ride home when he passed out in some bar (it was true: she’d never learned to drive a manual transmission), cleaning up after him and apologizing for him when he threw up in the wastebasket at someone’s party, taking notes for him and covering for him when he missed lectures. The one thing she would not do is draw his projects for him. But with that exception, she was there for him. It was gratifying to be there for him. If she had only recognized it at the time, she would have admitted it also gave her a sense of power and control. Sometimes she even told herself it was her Christian duty to stay with him, that if she were faithful and self-sacrificing enough, he would repent and let Jesus turn his life around.
Marvin would not have thanked her for these charitable sentiments. But he wasn’t the type of man who probed beneath the surface, and he had no difficulty accepting her ministrations or telling her how much he enjoyed receiving them.
“Sandy,” he’d said once, “except for not sleeping with me you’re the best old lady a guy could have. Why won’t you sleep with me?”
She’d made some excuse about what if she got pregnant and not being ready for marriage, and he’d said, “Me, neither. But maybe someday, you never know. And I really think you’re the best, with everything you do for me, I really do. That time I was sick, you took such good care of me!”
It had been more like a three-day hangover. Still, she had murmured something comforting like “Of course I took care of you. I’ll always be there for you.”
“Hey, Sandy, you won’t regret it,” Marvin had promised. “You ever get sick, you’re ever in trouble, I’ll be there for you too like white on rice.”
And after all those months of being together, she had believed him.