I'm Not That Girl
What happened that night would forever change me.
Hands touch, eyes meet
Sudden silence, sudden heat
Hearts leap in a giddy world
He could be that boy
But I’m not that girl
-“He Could Be That Boy”
from the musical Wicked
It was fall of my freshman year in college. I hadn’t dated much, just to the big dances like Prom, when I was a convenient ask for one of the science guys I hung out with. Between my junior and senior years in high school, my parents and I moved to Eau Claire, WI, leaving family and friends behind due to my father’s job transfer. I was 16 and weighed about 175 pounds, a hefty burden for my 5’4” frame. I set out that summer to lose the weight so by the time I started college I was 50 to 60 pounds lighter. I’ve never been beautiful or pretty or cute. I made my way in life with my intelligence and quick wit. I certainly wasn’t the type of girl a guy would just walk up to and ask out on a date. So, when my friends decided to set me up on this blind date for a Friday night fraternity party, I was anxious. Did this guy know what he was getting? What if this is a disaster? It was only one night, I told myself, and besides, I was driving so I could leave if it was awful.
I had a part-time job as a cashier and stocker at a bakery thrift store selling five loaves of bread for a dollar. I always had the closing shift on Fridays. On this particular Friday, I hurried through my duties, washed up in the small restroom at the back of the store, and headed to the address I’d been given on the north side of town. With each minute, my anxiety increased, and the voice in my head asked doubtful questions, “Who would ever want to go out with you?” “What is this guy like that he needs a blind date?” “For cripes sake, why doesn’t he drive?”
He was waiting for me outside his apartment on the poorer side of the city. He was about 5’6” tall, dark black hair and a full black beard. Later, I would come to know the power in his clear blue eyes. He looked and walked like a young Richard Dreyfus. I didn’t recognize him from the 10,000 faces on campus, but he recognized me as that annoying girl from his Calculus class who sat in front and always did her homework. We were off to a great start.
I don’t recall the details of the party. I know we drank beer and watched old movies. What happened that night would forever change me. There was an inexplicable energy between us that was almost palpable, and when he looked at me and our eyes met, there was a connection and attraction between us that was more powerful than anything in a romance novel. The party seemed to dissolve around us, voices and faces faded away leaving the two of us connected by a gaze, a word, a touch.
Bill was strong and muscular and the mere sight of his tan skin and dark hair gave me instant arousal. He had stopped driving after several serious accidents that involved immovable objects and his car when he was drunk. Bill’s dad was Irish, his mother Native American and he was first in the family to go to college. The first time we visited his home, he stopped me as we pulled up in front, “You have to understand,” he said, “we have this weird thing we do with names. At home, I’m Mike, my brother Arnold is Tim, my sister Charlotte is Tina…” With this introduction, I stepped into the world of the King family. They were raucous and brash, ever joking and teasing. When his grandmother came from the reservation to visit, there was always a gathering that rocked the house with energy and quick-witted humor.
Eventually I brought Bill home to meet my parents and to have dinner. My mother hated him. He was Native American and not Catholic or even religious, and he had a beard! “What are you hiding behind all that hair?” she asked him at dinner. I died a thousand deaths wondering what she would do to him – to us. I can’t remember his reply, but it became a question she asked every time she saw him – implying he was a criminal, or self-conscious, or ugly. I knew this was her way of destroying the relationship bit by bit. I’d seen her do it to my brother and sister years before. Bill was good to my parents, mowing their lawn, moving furniture, helping carry things up the stairs. My father was too ill by this time to work around the house. Eventually, Bill gave in and shaved his beard, hoping to silence my mother’s taunts. He trimmed his hair, too, because he knew it bothered Dad. Mother saw him without the beard, and gave no recognition of what he’d done. He grew it back.
I think we began sleeping together on about our second or third date. Being the “good little Catholic girl,” I didn’t use birth control and had been told after a childhood accident that I would probably never have children, but I still worried constantly I’d get pregnant. Our love-making was electric, intense, tender, compelling. He was always offering to ravish me at the drop of a hat. He made me laugh. The more we were together; the more I wanted and needed him. Bill loved me and wanted to marry me. It scared the hell out of me. When he told me he loved me, I would remain silent and distant. When he wrote me poems and love letters, I was unable to respond.
There was a cartoon in the Eau Claire newspaper at the time – one of those one frame strips with cute little people and messages about love and friendship. When Bill asked me to marry him, he brought me a collage of those cartoons; he’d been saving his favorites for weeks. When he gave it to me, I couldn’t respond and eventually tore it to shreds. When things like this happened, the voices in my head would take over: “Don’t say anything, you might get hurt.” “He doesn’t really love you, nobody can.” “If you marry him, there will be hell to pay with Mother. She probably won’t ever talk to you again. What would she ever do with little ‘Indians' for grandchildren?” “You don’t want to go through what your brother and sister have been through. Mother hates who they married, and look how miserable she’s made things for them?”
During my junior year in college, I had to take some psychological tests. One of the tests was a list of sentences to complete. They said things like, “I was angry once when…” or “I was jealous once when…” There was a list of twenty or so statements. I remember answering only one; to each of the others I wrote that I didn’t remember ever feeling that way. I had learned how to survive by blocking out all emotions and all connections to others. I had a terrific brain, but I had lost my soul.
I could never have told Bill I loved him. Embarrassed and frustrated that he cared about me so much, when I knew it could never work, that Mother would do everything in her power to make our lives miserable and to undermine our happiness, I broke off my relationship with him and did the only thing I thought would be acceptable at home; I joined a convent.
Bill was devastated, my friends couldn’t understand what I was doing or why, and I couldn’t explain. We tried for a while to continue meeting our friends at the student union, but soon found we couldn’t be there together. Once or twice, Bill and I registered for the same class. The electricity between us still existed, and we had to sit as far apart as possible in the room and make sure we walked opposite directions when we left. Bill married on the rebound - my friends told me she could have been my double – a few months after the wedding Bill came home to find her in bed with someone else.
After graduation, Bill moved to Rochester, MN and took a job in a convenience store, since there were no teaching jobs to be had. I sought him out when the sisters assigned me to teach in La Crosse, WI. The powerful attraction was still there, and I almost stayed with him. A few weeks later, he came to see me, but I could only entertain him in the guest parlor of the convent where I lived. He left after that visit knowing I couldn’t bring myself to go with him, and he was gone forever.