An old woman visits a place after 43 years bringing back memories of love, sex, anger and guilt. The story is inspired from a real life event.
Dec. 12, 2012 was a dreary uninspired winter day, and also the day I returned to relive the beginning of the lie. It was 43 years ago when I first came here at the tender age of 23 in high spirits… high on life, high on being young; and I have returned a battle weary 66 year old crone, no longer high, but still functional. I had returned to Woodstock or to be more precise, the Woodstock Music Festival Museum in Bethel Woods, NY.
In early June of this year, the Museum Administrator called and asked me to come to the museum in December to have my photograph taken standing next to the photograph of me taken those many years ago.
They were going to be exhibiting photographs taken that weekend that “made history”, so to speak, and there was a picture of me coming out of the first aid tent with my cut hand wrapped in bandages. Her enthusiasm was palpable as she went on and on about how terrific it would be to take my picture standing next to that photo taken so long ago. I couldn’t help but muse how cruel it was to put an old woman next to a photograph of herself when she was still young and fresh. I declined at first, having no wish to relive the memory of that time, having made my own personal history that weekend, one that still haunts me to this day; but they were persistent and I relented.
It was summer, and I was on vacation from work the week of the festival. My boyfriend Drew and I were staying at his getaway farm located on route 30 about 1/2 hr. past Hunter Mountain, between the towns of Grand Gorge and Stamford, NY. It was 50 acres and the previous owner still kept yearling cows on the land in consideration of other favors, like supplying us with wood for the stoves from his charcoal briquette business. The house was old and damp without central heat, insulation, or hot water. There were huge ornate wood burning stoves and grates in the ceilings for the heat to rise to the upstairs bedrooms. We had an electric heater in the bathroom to warm the detached toilet seat before utilizing it. We heated the water in an old milk can on top of the wood burning stove to fill the tub for baths. During snow storms, the wind blew snow through the walls and there would be a pile of snow on the floor all along the walls of the front rooms of the house. It was cold to say the least. I bought footed one-piece pajamas like babies wear, and slept in a sleeping bag that was rated for ten below under the covers on the bed, and still found that the metal snaps of my P.J.’s got so cold that I had to wear Drew’s t-shirt under them.
Drew and I had been seeing each other exclusively for the past 2 years, and we were discussing marriage. Since being with him, I haven’t seen a movie, gone to a play or a concert, or even seen any of my friends. In the beginning I tried to bring him around my friends; but he behaved so badly that I was embarrassed and stopped trying. It wasn’t that I didn’t like hunting, target and skeet shooting, camping, hiking and generally macho stuff (although I did dislike sitting around bars and drinking), but I was so much more and this wasn’t my life, it was his…his friends….his choices. Sometimes, if I really wanted to do something, I would insist and he would give in; but reluctantly; and I knew he’d make sure I didn’t enjoy myself. He agreed to go to the Woodstock Music Festival with me and we had bought tickets. The festival was originally planned to be in Woodstock, NY, which was only about an hour’s drive from the farm; but then the location was changed to Bethel, NY and the driving time was doubled. We readied the camping gear and loaded the car Wednesday night so that when we woke up Thursday morning we could get an early start. Thursday morning arrived and that was when Drew told me he didn’t want to drive that far and “we” weren’t going.
That’s when I lost it, I was furious, I grabbed my purse and car keys, and left the house, slamming the door behind me. He didn’t stop me, didn’t even try, didn’t give an inch, and that made me even angrier. I guess I had reached the limit of the amount of crap I would take from him, knowing I deserved better, deserved some respect and consideration. In my mind, I was through with him, and his ugly drunken rages. During the drive, I had time to think about how a right wing hawk like Drew would have fared among the left wing war protesters, and knew I had been foolish to try to get him to go with me. I was determined to have a good time without him. As I got closer, the traffic started to back up and then crawled along. Just before we stopped completely, I was feeling reckless and generous, and picked up a hitchhiker, who it turned out was a local resident and knew a back way in, and that is how I got lucky and was able to avoid the traffic jam completely. My hitchhiker was also tall, good looking, well-muscled and tan, so maybe I wasn’t being generous at all, maybe I was just being reckless.
We didn’t bother to exchange names and barely talked, just listened to the music on the radio and sang along. He took out a joint and lit it, then passed it to me. It had been awhile since I indulged, and I coughed on the harsh smoke on the first take; but then settled down and drew the smoke deep into my lungs, held my breath and felt the radiating pleasure spreading through my body. Everybody reacts differently to pot, some get paranoid; but not me, I get happy, almost euphoric, and of course since pot tends to amplify our senses, I had a tendency to have amplification in localized parts of my body. Then there was that moment when everything got quiet…we looked at each other and both knew what was to come. I pulled over into a copse of trees along the side of the road and we indulged our amplified body parts that were now screaming for attention. I woke up about an hour later and my hitchhiker was gone, I shrugged my shoulders, started the car and went the rest of the way to the festival on my own.
43 years can erase a lot of memories, and yet some stand out like bold print on a typewritten page. I remember mud, losing my shoes in the mud and spending the rest of the weekend barefoot. If my memory is sketchy, perhaps it can be blamed on the fact that I was stoned for 3 days, even though I didn’t bring my own, everyone was so happy to share. I remember naked bodies, a couple lying on a blanket, running out of food, and toddlers running around with no diapers on. I remember a few men and a lot of sex. Had I been sober, I probably would have felt depressed at the shallow emptiness of it all; but I was high and euphorically happy, and thought I was having a good time. I remember listening to the lyrics from the Grateful Dead song “High Time”, and they spoke to me; made me wonder if I really wanted to end things with Drew, or was I just testing him, to see if he cared.
“You told me goodbye…How was I to know…You didn’t mean goodbye…You meant please don’t let me go?”
I thought about Drew and tried to remember the good times…there weren’t any…then I knew I was done with him, I knew I deserved better, so I never looked back. About a month later, I found out I was pregnant. Can you imagine what a rude awakening that was…not to know who of the few was the father, or even what their names were. It was about 6 months later that I found out that Drew had enlisted and was killed in Viet Nam, and that is when I concocted the lie. Most people assumed the baby was Drew’s anyway, so; I told my son, “your father and I were going to get married when he got back from Nam; but he didn’t make it back”. I was punished for my lie years later when my son, my love and my light, went to war like his “father” and was killed in action, way too young. Only the cruelest of fates would have a parent outlive their child…..
As I stand here posing next to my photo waiting for the photographer to snap my picture, the tears start to fall, and I cry uncontrollably. The Caption Reads: “Nostalgic Woman, She Was Part of History.”