OK, I WAS “SHOOK” AS we called fellow Marines who were close to cracking up during the Korean War. I survived but no longer knew who I was. Yet it wasn’t the war that almost did me in. It was my wife’s death afterwards. More shook than ever, at aged 26, I decided to go to college and major in psychology to find the answer to this question: “Was I insane or was the human race insane?” Wrong decision, I know now.
As I approached my last semester at State University, I had no answers, just more questions. Then I met Vesta during my last summer session. She was a friend of Betty Lou’s who became close with one of my roommates, “Einstein,” a science major. Vesta and Betty Lou were high school teachers working on master’s degrees.
Actually, I heard them before I met them. I was asleep in my bed in the living room of the house four of us Korean War veterans rented. About 2 a.m. they staggered in. “You’re one hell of a teacher,” a male voice yelled before its owner found a place to pass out on the floor.
“Be quiet and shut up!” Vesta whispered.
Then he yelled wanting to know where the bathroom was. Vesta took him to the bathroom where he threw up.
All over it — I learned the next morning. Jesus, it stank! I decided to wait till I got down to the newspaper where I worked part time as a printer for the Delphi Gazette. I stepped across two strange bodies, one male and one female, getting to the kitchen where I thought I could wash my face and brush my teeth at the sink. A rather plain woman with short black hair, who looked sick and wore no makeup, but had a nice figure, sat at the kitchen table drinking our coffee and smoking a cigarette.
“Who are you?”
“Morning,” she said with a faint smile. “I’m Vesta. Who are you?”
“Mike,” I said turning on the water at the sink that splashed down on a pile of dirty dishes as I washed my face. “I live here. What’s your excuse?”
“Oh, I was too drunk last night to go home,” she said holding her head. “God, I’ve got a hangover.”
“So Einstein said we could sleep on the floor here. That’s my friend Betty Lou and Bob, one of my high school students from East Texas where I teach.”
“The one who threw up all over the bathroom,” I said drying my face. I decided not to brush my teeth. “He said you were ‘one hell of a teacher.’ Or was it ‘a teacher from hell’?”
“I’m Dean Bryant’s daughter!”
“Well, pin a rose on you.”
“My parents live just down the street. My father, Doctor Bryant, is dean of students.”
“No shit,” I said. “Well, Dean of Students’ Daughter, I’m going to work. When I get back that bathroom had better be clean.”
As I walked out I heard her say under her breath, “You sonofabitch!”
When I returned late in the afternoon no one was there but the bathroom was spotless. So was the living room where three of us slept. Even my twin bed was made. I went into the kitchen hoping there was a beer left. It was clean and the dishes washed and put away. Someone took out the garbage. I opened a now sparkling refrigerator and better, still, it held a new case of beer. I opened one and took a good long swig. Then I got my books and notebook and just walked out the door headed for the library when Einstein drove up.
“Hey,” he said. “Stick around if you’re hungry. Betty Lou, Vesta and Bob are coming over with pizzas.”
“Thanks, I haven’t eaten. Who cleaned up the place?”
“They did,” he said. “I supervised and hauled off the garbage.”
“You did a hell of a job. I haven’t seen it this clean since we moved in.”
“Say, what did you say to Vesta?”
I told him. “Well, she thinks you’re mean. Take it easy on her. She’s the dean of students’ daughter.”
“You bet I will,” I thought as a car drove up.
Soon Betty Lou and Vesta entered carrying the pizzas.
“Where’s Bob?” Einstein asked.
“I put him on a bus,” Vesta said. “And sent him back to Texas.”
“Oh, Betty Lou Albright, you haven’t met —.”
“Mean Sonofabitch!” I said looking at Vesta who blushed.
“Mike Baker, a psychology major. We call him, ‘Psycho.’” Einstein said. “Mike, this is Betty Lou.”
“Hello,” I said. “Thanks for cleaning up the place.”
“Einstein said you were a sergeant in the Marine Corps,” Vesta said. “I got the idea that we’d better.”
“Only the bathroom!” I said. “Who cleaned it?”
“I made Bob do it,” Vesta said. “He didn’t want to and got mad. So I put him on the bus and sent him home.”
“Let’s eat,” Einstein said and opened the pizza boxes. Betty Lou began dishing it out while Vesta and I got the beer.
“So, you’re a high school teacher who dates your students and gets them drunk?” I said to Vesta as I handed her two beers.
“You are a sonofabitch!” She said. “I don’t date my students. He just wanted to see Arkansas. I brought him along. He got drunk on his own.”
“I’ll bet,” I said.
“Screw you!” She said as she slammed the beer down and marched out the back door.
Two weeks later on a Saturday afternoon, Einstein and I were playing tennis on the university courts when Betty Lou and Vesta showed up looking for Einstein.
“Can we play with you?” Vesta said.
“Tennis?” I said.
She ignored me and said to Einstein: “I’ve got rackets at my parent’s house. We can go there and dress out.”
He looked at me.
“Sure,” I said playing Mean Sonofabitch. “I guess we deserve a few laughs.”
They left and again Einstein cautioned me to “go easy on Vesta.”
“Of course,” I said.
When they returned Vesta looked very good and trim in tennis shorts. Her legs were tanned and firm and her breasts filled out the T-shirt attractively according to the sperm-brain between my legs. She was the better looking of the two, which wasn’t saying much, and better coordinated.
Vesta suggested she and Einstein be partners, I suspect, because she knew Betty Lou hadn’t played much. We lost every game. Vesta was as good if not better than any of us. I had a rather good serve that I put a lot of english on and usually spun left out of the court near the net when it worked. It worked perfectly the first time I served to Vesta and she couldn’t return it. I looked at her and smiled. The next time I tried it she hit the ball so hard I thought I was going to eat it. Several times.
“Well, Dean’s Daughter,” I said to Vesta after the last set. “You are multi-talented. You know how to clean bathrooms and are one hell of a tennis player. What other talents do you have?”
“You’ll never know!” She said.
“She teaches tennis,” Betty Lou said. “Her degree is in physical education.”
“And I made straight A’s,” Vesta said.
“We know how that goes,” I said sticking to my role. “Among higher education professors, anyway. ‘You give my kid an “A” and I’ll give your kid the same.’ Besides, phys ed is what you take when you don’t have the IQ to pass anything else.”
“I like physical education and it’s important!” Vesta said walking away. “Screw you!”
“You keep saying that,” I yelled at her back. “But you never say ‘when!’”
With that encounter I thought I had seen the last of Vesta, but a few days later Einstein said Betty Lou wanted to see me and told me where she lived.
I really had no desire to see Betty Lou for any reason—but then there was my curiosity. She had rented a room in a private home where everyone except the husband, including kids, was home. After introducing me to the family, Betty Lou invited me into her room where Vesta, who chose to ignore me, lay on the bed reading a book. I returned the favor but couldn’t resist saying, “What’s D-D doing here?”
“D-D?” Betty Lou said.
“Dean’s Daughter,” I said.
“Oh,” Betty Lou laughed. “Reading a book.”
“You mean physical education majors can read?” I said trying to get some reaction from Vesta and wondering why because she never recognized my presence.
“I want you to hypnotize me. Einstein told me about your experiments.” Betty Lou said. “Vesta, scoot over. We can lie on the bed and you can do it here.”
Did those words have a double meaning? I wondered, but decided to keep my mouth shut.
I sat on the bed and just as I started my hypnotic spiel two young kids ran in and out the room. “Forget it,” I said lying down beside her. This is not the proper environment for hypnosis.”
“Well,” she said taking my hand and placing it on her right breast. “Maybe it’s the environment for something else.”
I left my hand there and looked at Vesta who appeared deeply engrossed in the book. “I thought you were Einstein’s girlfriend?” I said fondling her nipple that stood up.
“I am,” she said. “But he’s not here.”
“Neither am I,” I said and left wondering what that was all about.
When classes began at SU that fall, I realized my college career would soon be over because I would have the necessary credits to graduate. For those who said I couldn’t do it, I suppose my above average grades would have been considered a miracle and by going to summer school, night and Saturday classes I did it in three years. To me it had been hard but I enjoyed learning, and while I performed well, academically, my social life was almost nonexistent. With all the nice women there, I was hoping to find another like Corrine. Yet I didn’t even try, but I needed someone to love and to love me.
I was depressed when I came home from Saturday classes and “Cutter” (We called him “Cutter” because he was pre-med and wanted to become a surgeon.) said grinning, “Psycho, your girlfriend was here.”
“What? I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“Well, some gal was looking for you. Not much of a looker, but had one hell of a body. Said to tell you, ‘Dee-Dee’ was here.”
“Oh, her,” I said. “She definitely is not my girlfriend. We can’t even stand one another.”
Then I told him the story.
“Well, maybe she just wants to fuck you,” Cutter, who was married, said. “My prognosis is a good piece of ass would do you a world of good.”
I got to thinking. “Why not?”
A few days later, Einstein, Cutter and I were sitting in a booth in the student union drinking coffee when Betty Lou and Vesta walked in wearing shorts and tight-fitting blouses.
“That’s her, Psycho,” Cutter said. “The gal that was looking for you.”
Aw, shit! I thought, and I suddenly wanted to hide. But they came over to our booth and said, “hello.”
“I want to talk to you, Mike,” Vesta said.
“Well, sit, D-D, and talk,” I said.
“No, not here,” she said. “It’s personal. Let’s take a walk.”
“Oooh, personal!” Cutter said grinning.
“Mind your own damn business!” She said to Cutter. “Come on, Mike. Let’s take a walk.”
“Oooh!” Cutter said.
Somewhat embarrassed, I shrugged my shoulders and went with her outside and down a campus walk to a bench where we sat down.
“To date me!”
“Whaaat?” I said jumping up.
“Father and I checked your academic record,” she said. “He agrees that you can date me.”
“Jesus F. Christ! Who in hell do you think you are? I’ve never considered asking you for a date. We don’t even like each other.”
“I like you.”
“What?” I said. “Why?”
“You’re loyal to your friends. You wouldn’t let Betty Lou put the make on you.”
“Wrong. Betty Lou is not my type.”
“Well, you are a serious student,” she said.
“Wrong. I’m a desperate student looking for something.”
“Hell, I won’t know till I find it.”
“Well, meanwhile, I’m asking you to go on a double date tonight with me, Betty Lou, and Einstein,” she said. “Will you go?”
“Oh, hell, D-D,” I said. “Why not?”
Einstein drove his Chevy with Betty Lou sitting next to him. I felt awkward being in the back seat with Vesta. We were headed for the “First Chance” in a nearby “wet” county where Vesta said she would introduce me to “Thunderbird,” some cheap wine she liked.
“Did you kill anyone in the Korean War?” Vesta asked.
“For God, country and apple pie,” I said. “It was complete insanity, and I soon learned I was one of the insane.”
“Why do you wear that wedding ring on your little finger?” she asked.
I almost said so I would never get involved with someone like you, but instead I told her about Corrine. After my discharge from the Marine Corps, I went to a typesetting school in Dallas on the G.I. bill to supplement my high school vocational printing diploma. There at a nearby church, I met Corrine, my love! She made me feel almost human again. Life was suddenly good! But she was killed in a car accident three months after we were married. God! She was only twenty. I was twenty-five.
“Sorry,” she said, “but I don’t think wearing the ring is a good idea.”
I changed the subject.
“Enlighten me, D-D. You must be at least twenty-four and your father has to approve of your dates? Why is that?”
“I’m twenty-five. And I’ve made such a mess of my life when it comes to men that before my father bailed me out the last time, he made me promise not to date any more SU students without his prior approval.”
“So this mistake will be his fault. Grow up, D-D.”
“I don’t think it will be a mistake.”
“What is your definition of a mistake?”
“My relationship with men so far. I got married at eighteen, had a kid and got divorced before I was twenty. Now my ex-husband has become the son my parents never had. The three of them are raising my daughter. I have no say in her upbringing. How’s that, psychology major, for a dysfunctional family?”
“I think all families are dysfunctional in different ways, D-D,” I said.
“And since my divorce I got pregnant. That’s when I had to make that promise to my father because he arranged for me to have an abortion. Now you don’t like me at all, do you?”
Luckily, I didn’t have to answer because Einstein yelled, “First Chance!” We pooled our money and bought a case of Busch, two bottles of Thunderbird wine and six bottles of Red Top Ale that Einstein liked.
After a few drinks of Thunderbird, Vesta began to look better but I didn’t make a move.
“Vesta is an unusual name,” I said. “What’s its origin?”
“I’m named after a Greek virgin goddess,” she said. “Goddess of the Hearth.”
“I can see the irony in that,” I said laughing.
She tried to slap me and I caught her arm. Suddenly, she was all over me and I enjoyed it. Einstein, who was driving and not as drunk, chastised her from the front seat “to take it easy.”
“I want his body, now!” She said straddling me but she was wearing blue jeans.
“Well, you’re not going to get it in my back seat!”
“Don’t I have any say in this?” I said.
“No,” Einstein said. “Vesta, don’t you have any respect for Betty Lou and me? Behave.”
She got off me and sat down.
“Take me home!” She said. “Now!”
The next night Vesta got my body three times. And after that anytime I wanted to give it to her she was ready. She loved sex. So I intended to indulge while I could.
Early in our relationship she let me know I was not to show up at her parent’s house. This afternoon she had come by in her mother’s new Mercedes and took me for a ride that ended up on a muddy dirt road leading to a bluff overlooking the river—a favorite parking spot for many students. We went over and sat on the grass and looked at the water.
I asked why she wouldn’t introduce me to her parents and pretended to be insulted.
“Oh, it’s not you! I just don’t introduce them to any boyfriend. Or invite a boyfriend to their home.”
“How come, D-D?”
“My ex-husband stays there sometimes. It would be awkward.”
“Well, isn’t that convenient for you,” I said.
“He stays in the guest room!” She yelled.
“I’ll bet,” I said.
“Well, fuck you!” She said running to car.
“You have!” I yelled as she got in the car and sped away hitting deep mud puddles and splashing red dirty water all over the silver paint of the Mercedes.
Now I was stranded about three miles from the university. I knew she would probably be back when she cooled down, but I decided to cut through the woods and walk. It took longer than I thought and when I arrived home Einstein said Vesta was worried and had been up there twice looking for me.
Just for the hell of it, I decided to break the taboo to see what would happen. I walked the five blocks to her house. The Mercedes was parked in the driveway and covered with splashes of red mud. I rang the doorbell.
Vesta’s mother opened the inner door. She wore reading glasses and held a book she must’ve been reading and seemed unhappy with my interruption. She was about 50 and no ravishing beauty either. “Yes?” She said through the screen door.
“I’m Mike Baker.” I said. “Could I speak to D-D?”
“Vesta,” I said.
“Wait.” She said and disappeared into the house, momentarily, and then returned. “She’ll be right out. But why, ‘D-D’?”
“Dean’s Daughter,” I said.
I thought she almost grinned like Vesta did when she saw me and joined me on the front porch.
“D-D, would you go to a movie with me, tonight?”
“You are actually asking me for a date?” She said smiling. “God, I can’t believe it!”
“Sure. I would go with you right now, but I’ve got to wash Mother’s car.”
“Want me to help you?”
“No, that’d be pushing it.”
“OK, I’ll pick you up, here, at seven.”
She prevented that by showing up in her mother’s car at six-thirty. We went to a movie, and then she drove us out to another parking place on the river where she said she hadn’t been to since high school. The car bumped and shook on the narrow dirt and gravel road. Over-grown tree limbs scratched the paint as we neared the river. I wondered how she would explain the scratches to her mother. But not for long because we jumped in the back seat and screwed.
Luckily, I had A’s and B’s in all my subjects at six weeks because, otherwise, as this debauchery continued to the end of my last semester at SU, I would have failed.
Many mornings I went to class with a hangover and without reading the material. Once in my extra French class, I showed up half-drunk but more nauseated. We were reading French playwrights in French, and I almost threw up on the text of Jean Cocteau’s “The Infernal Machine.” I excused myself and ran out embarrassed.
At the next French class I apologized to Miss Morris, who also taught creative writing and helped me find myself. I told her I was “suffering an emotional crisis” and had managed some good hangovers recently. She smiled and said she understood but I had better study the lessons and come to class. I assured her I would if I could just get through my problem.
On the next trip to the nearby “wet” town of Desoto, Vesta and I ran into Hugh Filmore, a printer friend. I told him I would need a job soon because the Delphi Gazette didn’t need another full-time printer.
“Well, you remember Tom Whey, the paper salesman who used to come to the shop, he was asking about you,” Hugh said. “He has a shop, now, down at Texarkana and needs a job pressman. Call him.”
I did and Tom wanted me to come to work right away, but I couldn’t for a month. He said he needed some one now but understood and to check back with him then.
Meanwhile, I still asked myself: “Why can’t I be satisfied like everyone else?” “Am I insane? Who am I? What is the purpose of it all?” I did learn that many philosophers had asked the same questions. Sex and drunkenness helped but some of the hangovers almost canceled out the pleasure.
The last semester I managed to pass all my courses with a “C” and had the necessary credits to graduate that January, but would get my diploma the following June. Since I disliked ceremonies, anyway, and I had no idea where I would be, I told them to mail it to my father’s address.
Tom Whey contacted me the last week of the semester and asked if I were still interested in a job. I said I was.
“Well, get down here,” he said.
“I’ll see you Monday morning,” I said. Because I was already making more money as a printer than a college instructor, the college degree seemed useless and, at the time, I didn’t see any reason in trying anything else.
Then there was Vesta. I didn’t quite know what our relationship was or what she thought it was. We just screwed. I knew it had to end.
So I didn’t say anything to her. I just packed up what little I owned—a small chest of drawers that contained my socks, underwear and bed sheets; a pillow and two blankets; my few clothes; books and a typewriter. I threw it in my ’54 Chevy, and on Sunday afternoon when I knew Vesta was playing mother with her daughter, I left.
After one night in a motel, I found a small furnished apartment that I rented for a month. It was strange living alone again and having privacy. I liked it at first because I could do what I wanted without bothering anyone. I could write or read or try meditation without being disturbed.
But soon I became lonely and went into a depression. However, production at Whey Press was backed up and I worked as much overtime as I could because keeping busy had always kept me sane before. I asked the Linotype operator if he knew anyone who needed type set on weekends by a “beginner.” He did and I began to work Saturday for another printing company that set type for several weekly newspapers. On the second Saturday the owner, after learning I had just graduated from college, offered me more money if I were interested in working for him full time and maybe in time help him run the shop. I said I’d think about it.
Again I had no social life—just work. But a month into my employment, at noon on a Friday, Tom Whey came back to the print shop and said a young lady wanted to see me. I followed him up front to the office.
“Hi,” Vesta said. “Remember me? I’ll take you to lunch.”
I couldn’t believe I was actually glad to see her. I must have shown it because she smiled.
“How’d you find me?” I asked. “And why?”
“Well, the house was locked up until the spring semester started,” she said. “Einstein said he thought you came down here. Then I remembered your conversation with Hugh Filmore. And here I am. I missed you. Are you glad to see me?”
“Sure,” I said. “If you’re buying lunch.”
“Where are you living?” She said.
Since I had an hour for lunch we picked up some fast food and I showed her the bedroom in my apartment.
“That’s what I like about you,” she said. “You don’t waste any time. But your taste in apartments is depressing.”
She said she had talked her mother into driving her down Thursday on a pretense to “visit” an aunt—her mother’s sister—where she was now staying. She didn’t have a car and I lent her mine for the afternoon.
She showed up at five and said she had rented “us” an apartment.
“Us, D-D?” I said. “What do you mean?”
“Well, since I’m going to be living here, too,” she said. “It will be cheaper if we live together. Besides, I love you.”
“What?” I said. “You don’t even like me. You just love to screw me.”
“That, too,” she said. “And I’m going to marry you.”
“What?” I said. “Although I like you better than I did at first, I would never marry you.”
“Yes, you will,” she said.
“Oh, by the way,” Vesta said as she parked my car in front of a large, well kept rambler in a nice neighborhood. “I sorta lied to our landlady. She thinks we just got married. She’s probably some religious fanatic and wouldn’t have rented it to us if we were just shacking up.”
“You lied, D-D,” I said. “Did you use a fictitious name, too?”
“No, I like the sound of ‘Vesta Baker.’ Don’t you?”
“No,” I said but I went along with the charade.
So we shacked up for almost three months letting our landlady, who lived in the other side of the house, think we were husband and wife. Vesta got a job teaching and I continued working six days a week. During that time I learned she was as hyperactive and crazy as I was. I think having sex was her way of relieving stress and I was helping her do that. And I think I was beginning to like her.
She must have realized it because one Saturday after I got home from work she said: “Oh, by the way, I got our blood tests and our marriage license yesterday, in case you want to marry me.” She handed me the documents.
“What?” I said looking at the papers and laughing. “They look official. How did you manage it?”
“Dean’s Daughter,” she said. “They are official. I went to a doctor who went to school with my father and told him what I wanted. I gave him a sample of my blood for you. We both passed.”
“Wasn’t I supposed to sign for the marriage license?”
“Not if you’re marrying ‘D-D.’ I signed for you,” she said. “You see in spite of my mistakes, my father’s reputation is beyond reproach. I take advantage of it when I can.”
“I’ve noticed,” I said laughing.
“Will you marry me tonight?”
“You are strange, D-D. Strange!” I said but I was flattered. “Why on earth would you want to marry me?”
“I just have to,” she said as she grabbed me by my penis and pulled me to our bedroom.
That evening she suggested we go for a drive to Longview, Texas, just to see what it was like. We carried a couple of bottles of Thunderbird with us and sipped it on the way. As we passed through small towns she seemed to be looking for something. Finally she found it, did a U-turn and parked in front of a justice of the peace’s house.
“Now, are you going to marry me, or not?” She asked taking the marriage license and blood test from her purse. She had planned this well by getting the documents on the Texas side of Texarkana.
“I like you,” I said. “But I don’t love you.”
“What’s that got to do with it?” She said. “What is love anyway? I’m a good cook. I’m a college graduate. We have great sex and I’m not pregnant. What else do you want from a wife? Marry me. I even bought the wedding rings, but you will have to take that one off.”
“OK, D-D,” I said. “If that’s what you want.” In retrospect, I would have liked to have blamed it on the wine and say I was drunk out of my mind but that wasn’t true. I did it just to please her and I liked the sex. Not a good enough reason.
Anyway, we were married among strangers by a justice of the peace in a little town somewhere in East Texas and never made it to Longview. Apparently, happy, Vesta turned the car around and we headed for home. By then, when I had sobered up some, I thought: “God, what have I done?”
As it turned out—not much. Strangely enough, Vesta, seemed unhappy now. One week later she said: “I don’t want to be married, any more.”
“What?” I said.
“You shouldn’t have married me!” She said. “It’s not you. I just don’t like the idea of being married.”
“Jesus F. Christ, D-D!” I yelled. “Well, you got us married. You get us unmarried.”
“Don’t be mad at me!” She said. “I couldn’t stand that. I talked with my father today. He’ll get our marriage annulled.”
I guess she lived happily ever after. I know when I left Texarkana for a new life two weeks later, I stopped and threw both wedding rings into the Red River.