My first set of classes the next day was actually worse than before but I didn’t mind. I had something to look forward to. I knew what two o’clock would bring. Perhaps that was what prompted me to be more meticulous with my makeup. I spent a half an hour looking for an outfit. I even woke Julie up so she could do my hair in the ungodly, yet strangely popular, beehive. Of course I told myself that my psych professor had nothing to do with any of it. But there was no denying that the thought of his class got me through the rest of my shit day.
At lunch Julie teased me incessantly about what she insisted on calling my first school girl crush. I told her she had smoked too much grass in Venice. Then finally the time came and once again we all sat waiting on our tardy professor. Eventually he arrived and upon his desk he sat giving us an animated speech on human behavior. Not the way the text book outlined, of course, but as he saw things. Convention was lost on this man. I was sure of that by the time the bell rang but unlike the alienation I felt at Venice there was something I could connect with in him. When class ended, I was almost reluctant to leave and just when I was about to walk out I heard Brian say casually, “Liz, your hair…”
“Yeah?” I asked, confused.
“Um, why did you pin it up like that? I mean, it’s so long and it looks so free when it’s loose. Anyway, have a good day.” Brian said all this without actually looking up from the papers he was shuffling into his case.
Despite my shock I said only, “Well, thanks, Professor…Brian. You have a good day, too.”
That night Julie was too persistent to be kept at bay. “Look at you, Liz. I have never seen you like this! Who is he? Someone in your psych class? A little surfer perhaps? Come on, don’t keep me in the dark!”
“No, he’s not a damned surfer! Jesus, I can’t even believe I am about to tell you this…it’s my professor, Brian. He’s just…he’s amazing! It’s not just his looks, Jules, it’s his mind. I’ve never known someone like him before.”
The next day Julie announced at lunch that she had transferred out of one of her classes and into Brian’s seventh period psych class. Just to observe, she said. However, I knew by the things she said after that first week that it wasn’t observing she was interested in. By her own admission everything Brian said she would challenge. I doubted he appreciated that and frankly either did I. I simply couldn’t see the point in it and she couldn’t give a real reason for it. At the end of the second week Brian asked me to stay behind. “I need to talk to you in private. It won’t take long. I’m sure you’ve got better things to do than hang around here.”
“Not really.” I admitted, giggling nervously. When the bell rang I was wringing my hands. Had I ever been so nervous, I wondered, as I watched my professor pack up his papers. I was confused by this but I remained silent.
Finally he turned to me and smiled, saying playfully, “You don’t have to look so terrified, Elizabeth. I only want to talk. I think we could both relax better if we went into my office. I’ve got the best leather chairs.” When I still sat there like a scared duck, he said softly, “Come on, follow me.”
With every step I took my heart threatened to pound out of my chest. I was sure he could hear it thudding against my ribs. But if he did, he never said a word. His office looked as if it might have been a storage closet at one time. Inside was a desk with a worn leather chair and two brown leather chairs on the opposite side. In the right corner of the room there stood a filing cabinet. All of this seemed ordinary enough. What was oddly out of place, though, was the record player and the stack of records on the floor. Papers were tossed carelessly across the old pine of the desk and it seemed unreal to think that the surface had ever been cleared off.
“You can have a seat across from me if you want. Don’t pay attention to the mess. Clutter is my way of keeping things straight. I can’t stand organization.” I looked up at Brian and it seemed bizarre that he had his hands crammed into his jeans pockets. Even worse, he was chewing on his bottom lip as if he were as nervous as I was.
Without anymore prompting I took a seat and I watched Brian as he, too, sat down and began fidgeting with a pen. "So Julie, she’s your best friend? The one that you left Ohio with and all that?” I nodded. “Well, I don’t mean to sound crass but what the hell is her problem? Did she transfer into my class simply to argue?”
I laughed. “I honestly don’t know, Professor.”
“Brian.” He corrected. “Anyway, that’s not all I wanted to discuss with you. I was wondering what it is that you really want to do. Don’t get me wrong, you are an exceptional student in my class and I have no doubt that you could be very good in this field but I get the feeling this isn’t really what you want to do. What is your real passion?” He leaned forward and narrowed his eyes waiting for my response.
I had never had someone ask me that before. My parents always assumed I would grow up to be the proper June Cleaver type. My friends were all too absorbed in themselves to care. Swallowing hard I answered softly, “I used to write. Actually I used to write every day. I wrote stories, poem, diaries, anything.”
“So why didn’t you major in creative writing, Liz?” He asked. I was stunned, not so much by the question but by his honest interest in the subject.
“I guess I was afraid. If you major in psychology you know there is a good chance you’ll have a career and a way to pay the bills. You’ll have a means to live in the long run. With creative writing all you can depend on is your ability to write and I am not so sure that I’m good enough to take that risk.” There it was said aloud, the truth I kept from everyone.
Nodding as if he truly understood, he leaned back in his chair. He put his hands on the back of his head and he put his feet up on the desk. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He was just too great to be real, I thought as I gawked at him. No one person should be so close to perfect. “Have you got a job? After school, I mean?” He asked as if he were on to some idea.
“No. I write my parents a letter every month and in exchange they send me money along with a list of the many ways I am fucking up my life. It’s like a job only more exciting. I learn new things about myself with every reply which to me is the real pay off.”
Now it was his turn to laugh. “Well then I will make you a deal. If you want to help me with some of these papers I will look over some of the stuff you’ve written and when I’m through I’ll tell you if I think you’re good enough. I promise to be perfectly honest with you about my opinion. I’m a bookworm and I value great literature. Of course Professor Wright would probably be more qualified but…”
“No, that’s…” I searched for the right words to say. “That is the greatest thing anyone has ever offered to me. I brought all of my old notebooks with me when I left home. I was going to burn them but I just couldn’t do it. I’ll find them tonight and I’ll bring them with me to class tomorrow. I should probably tell you, though, that I have never graded papers before. I’m not sure I’ll be much help but I’ll give it a shot.” I was brimming with excitement.
“You pay close attention in class and you listen to what I say. I think you’ll do fine. I’ll be here with you so if you have any questions all you have to do is ask” He was smiling at me. He had the most unforgettable smile! For a few precious moments we sat there in silence. Finally he broke the spell, saying softly, “Well that’s settled then. I won’t keep you any longer. I will see you in class tomorrow. Talk to your friend for me and see if you can’t get her to loosen up a bit.”
“Yeah, I’ll do that. Have a nice day, Brian.”
Walking out of his office I had the most surreal feeling. This little arrangement was more than I could have hoped for. It was like he read my mind to see all that I desired and for some reason he wanted to provide me with it.
Julie was not nearly as enthused. “So what did your professor want, Mary Anne?” She asked, toking on a joint she had stashed away from the summer.
I knew she could tell I was excited and it pissed me off that she could be so sarcastic. “Well, for starters he wanted to know why you joined his class if all you wanted was to a bitch. I had no answer for that. I hardly ever know why you’re a bitch. We talked a little and he offered to read my old stories for me.”
“What? Why the hell would he want to do that? And why would he come to you and ask why I’m such a bitch?” Suddenly her eyes narrowed and suspicion took over her expression. “Are you fucking him, Liz? Is that what all of this bullshit is about?”
I could not believe her nerve! “No, Julie, I am not fucking him. Despite your thoughts since ninth grade, letting someone fuck you is not the only way you can get someone to like you. At least it’s not for me. I wish I could say the same for you!”
Without another harsh word passing between us I left. There was nothing else to say. My mind was already heavy with the events of the day and all I wanted was a drink. My fake I.D. was forever kept in my back pocket in case I needed it but it was 1964. People simply didn’t care as much if an eighteen year old wanted to get loaded. Only the finest establishments bothered to ask questions. It wasn’t a classy joint that I was looking for. About two blocks from the campus there was a hole in the wall place called Willie’s. It was opened during prohibition by a blind black man who the kids now referred to as Blind Willie. The way the kids at school talked, no one in that place gave a damn if you were thirteen or thirty. If you had the money for the drinks they served them. That was where I needed to be.
Smoke and stale beer assaulted my senses but it was the sound of old time blues that invited me in. Taking a seat at the bar I was instantly greeted by a young guy, no older than me, who asked what I wanted. Knowing a shot or two would never do and knowing I had twenty dollars to spare I ordered a fifth of Jack Daniels and a shot glass.
“All that for a little girl like you? Come on, that’s too much.” The guy replied in his slow southern drawl.
“No, man. It’s never enough.” I said, pouring my first shot and drinking it down straight. I reveled in the burning warmth it provided from my throat to my belly.
Eight shots later I sank deep into the music and the dull hum of the liquor as it filled my brain. I wasn’t exactly drunk but with any luck I soon would be. The young guy who served me introduced himself as Tyrone and it seemed that every five minutes he was beside me trying to test his limits. After my tenth shot he tried to kiss me. That was the final straw. “Listen, buddy, I’m not that kind of girl so you’d better just get the hell off it!”
Instantly he became enraged. “Oh, you aint that kinda girl huh? So if I was some white bartender trying to pick you up you’d be alright with going to my bedroom but because I’m just some working class nigger you aint that kinda girl? You little white bitches are all the same! Let me pour you another shot and let’s see how easy it is for me to make you that kind of girl.”
“Tyrone, I think you had better back off, got it?”
Turning around I saw Professor McVie standing right behind me looking less friendly than usual. However his attitude got my overzealous admirer off my back. Once Tyrone walked away Brian took a seat beside of me as I downed another shot. Suddenly it hit me that my psychology professor was at my side watching as I drank whiskey as if it were soda. “This isn’t what it looks like.” I tried to explain.
“Really because from where I’m sitting it looks a lot like you are getting loaded.” He replied, taking a generous swig from my bottle.
“Alright, you win. This is exactly what it looks like. I needed a drink. What’s the harm in that?” I shrugged as if to say that it was no big deal at all.
“There is no harm except for the fact that you have had a lot more than one drink, you are underage, and if any of this gets back to the dean your ass is headed straight back to Ohio. Not only that, Miss Sanders, this place happens to be the seediest joint in town and you are an eighteen-year-old girl. I get that girls can do whatever boys can. I’ve read the Feminine Mystique and I’m all for liberation but take a good look at Tyrone and look at yourself. He is twice your size and he’s sober. It does not take a brilliant mind to figure out that if he wanted to he could overpower and you would be at his mercy. He could make you do whatever he wanted. That goes for any man, black or white, that you might encounter on your walk back. You have no idea how it would change you if you woke up tomorrow morning and realized you had been…” Brian lowered his eyes, unable to finish his sentence.
He had a point, though I hated to admit it. “So what do you propose I do, Professor?” I asked sarcastically.
“Let me walk you back to the university so I know that you’re alright and swear to me you will never pull any shit like this again. Next time you go out take someone with you. Use your damned head, alright?” Suddenly he seemed angry with me and being young and naive about the world, I didn’t understand it.
Grabbing what was left of my bottle I began to leave the bar with Brian scrambling after me. When he caught up with me it was my bottle that bore the brunt of his anger. He grabbed it out of my hand and smashed it up against the side of a building while mumbling something about public intoxication. I wanted to laugh in my drunken state but I thought it best not to. I was a little thrilled to realize that for the first time since I met him I was able to be around him without my nerves harassing me. “Do you want to tell me what this is all about, Elizabeth?”
“Don’t call me Elizabeth, Professor. You sound like my damned mother. Besides, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” I responded a little belligerently. I was certainly too drunk for my own good if I had enough nerve to talk to him like that.
“Fine, Liz.” He emphasized my name sarcastically. “I will explain it a little better for you. What happened between the time you left my office and the time I caught you getting wasted? What upset you so much that you ended up in a seedy bar on the worst end of town? Was that clear enough?” Brian spat out, apparently not enjoying my attitude. I wasn’t in control enough to care.
“You know what, I am not asking you why the hell you were there, am I? That would be prying and prying is rude! I just wanted a goddamned drink!” I barked out at him fearlessly.
For once Brian didn’t protest of push. In fact he said nothing for the remainder of the walk back to campus. For once I was fine with the silence between us. My mind was trying to run through too many things at one time and the end result was a dilemma. I was torn between hysterical laughter and tears. In the end I started to sing. It was a song I had memorized over the summer by Big Mama Thornton and it was called Ball ‘N Chain. I didn’t care that the most amazing man I would ever meet was right there listening. I didn’t care that my ‘performance’ was less than perfect. I just sang my heart out until Brian grabbed my arm and said softly, “If I am going to sneak you in here you need to shut up!”
Instantly I did what he had said pondering the fact that I hadn’t even noticed we were outside the school until he said something. He all but dragged me by my arm, apparently content to treat me like a wayward child. I suppose I was lucky that the place was as dead as the night itself. The only sounds I could here were our faint footsteps and us breathing. Perhaps I had started to sober up or maybe I was simply regaining a bit of my lost senses. All of a sudden I seemed to realize that Brian was touching me. That’s when the trembling began. I had no control over it. It was as if all the muscles in my body had a mind of their own and I couldn’t stop their movement. Too soon, I thought, we were outside the room I shared with Julie and it was time to say goodbye. In my state it never occurred to me to wonder how Brian found it so easily. I didn’t care. “Well…ummm…thanks for everything. I guess I really owe you one, huh?” There came that damned nervous giggle. Schoolgirl crush indeed!
“Yes you do. Tomorrow when you are sober I intend to give you one hell of a speech about the way you talked to me tonight. Try not to forget those notebooks of yours…” I couldn’t help but notice he was chewing his full bottom lip again. “Now go and get some sleep because six a.m. tends to come pretty early, Liz.” With that he just walked away. No more words and not even one look back. He left me with no other option but to go inside and sleep.
“Where the hell did you go last night?” Julie asked as she sipped a bottle of Coca-Cola at lunch.
“I managed to find the worst bar in Northern California. Can’t you tell? I have never been so hung over!” I replied, trying to ignore the pain in my head as I took a drag off my Lucky Strike.
Julie laughed, apparently delighted that our fight drove me to go to a bar, which caused the worst morning after state of my life. “ I’m going with a couple of chicks from my art class to a place in Frisco tonight. Want to come?”
“I can’t. It will take me hours to grade papers for Brian but maybe we can do something tomorrow.” Julie appeared less than happy with my answer but she only shrugged. I was grateful to her for that. My system wasn’t ready of another fight.
When I walked to my psychology class I was surprised to see Brian was already there. He had never been on time, much less early, since the beginning of school. Because I was always early to class there were only two people seated at their desks and when I walked in my professor’s eyes met with mine. A knowing smile spread across his lips when I sat down. “Miss Sanders, can you come here a minuet?”
Standing up I made my way slowly to the front of the room. “Yes?” I asked softly.
“You look better today than I expected considering the shape you were in last night. How do you feel?” He asked, still grinning from ear to ear.
“I feel hung over, Professor McVie.” He laughed at that one.
“Did you remember to bring the notebooks?” I nodded. “Bring them to me then.” Reluctantly I did what I was told as my head throbbed a little more with each step. When I handed them to him he put them aside and said with a devious glint in his eyes, “I think you are going to love class today. You inspired it really. Now take your seat.”
What the hell did he mean by that, I wondered as I made my way back to my desk. When class began Brian stood up and came around his desk to face us, proclaiming excitedly, “Today, boys and girls, we are going to discuss the effects of sound on the human mind. You are all going to be my lab rats for this and over the weekend I would appreciate it if you would write down your personal observations so please take notes. We’ll be listening to an array of different types of music as well as laughter, clapping, and of course, shouting. We will compare your mood before a new sound and your mood after. Any questions?”
I wanted to die! For the entire hour the room was filled with noise. I knew someday I would look back on that moment and I would laugh but at that moment I wanted to strangle Professor McVie. When class ended I was relieved. “Now remember to write you papers, children. See you all on Monday.”
I sat there watching him as he ushered his faithful followers out the door. All of the girls in class wanted to chat with their attractive professor and for the most part he indulged them. I listened to him answer stupid questions and whenever one of them would break out in a girlish giggle he would laugh out right. Yes he knew what they were doing. It’s not as though they were subtle about it. As I spied all of this I couldn’t help but think of the envy they would feel if they knew I was about to spend the afternoon in Brian’s office. That thought led to another bout of bad nerves so that by the time everyone had gone I was trembling again. “Well, are you ready?” He asked, breaking into my thoughts.
Without a word I stood and followed him out of the room and just down the hall. As I walked a few paces behind him I realized I had no idea what to expect. When it was only a thought the concept of being alone with this incredible professor was pretty amazing. But as we entered his office the small space felt like a prison cell, a place where keeping my strange desires a secret could be impossible. “You can take a seat unless you prefer to spend the next few hours standing.”
I looked over to see that Brian had already taken his seat and the gaze he directed at me was much like one you might direct at a simpleton. Immediately I sat down. Laying a pile of papers in front of me, he asked, “Do you like The Beatles?” I nodded. I watched him pick an album out of his tremendous stack and put it on the turntable. After he put the needle to the vinyl he smiled and explained. “I like to listen to music while I do this. It seems to help the time pass quicker if the mind isn’t actually on the papers. That’s why I have the player in here.”
At least with music on, I mused, it won’t be easy for him to hear my heart pounding. With a red pen in hand I silently went about the task before me. Because Brian rarely referred to the textbook there was no answer key for our papers. Instead I had only what I remembered from class for reference. Going over answers was almost like a refresher course in The World According to Brian 101 and you know what? I loved it. Seeing all of his well thought out concepts before me in black and white produced a pleasure in me that was almost frightening. When I came across something I was unsure about I would ask him but for the most part I found it easy to go it alone. So lost was I in what I was doing I didn’t realize the time. Three hours had passed without me even realizing it until Brian said, “Well, it’s getting late. I’m sure you have something else to do with your Friday night that’s better than hanging around here.”
Clearing my throat nervously, I replied, “Actually I don’ t. Julie’s gone. She had plans with some girls from one of her classes. I’m going to spend the rest of my night alone in my room reading or listening to music. Exciting huh? But if you have to go…”
“You want to just sit here and shoot the shit for a while? As it turns out I am not a very popular guy around here. You have to conform and kiss ass before you’re invited to go out and drink with the other professors. I usually don’t leave here until around midnight. It couldn’t hurt to have some company for awhile I guess.” With that last line he sounded as if he were assuring himself.
“I have nothing better to do. I guess I’m just not social anymore. Back home I had this little group of people that sort of followed Julie and me around, always watching for our next move. We were strange compared with everyone else in town. We were trendsetters. Those who were not completely terrified by our drinking and cussing and Julie’s fucking around seemed to admire us because we didn’t blend in with the scenery. Here I am just another out of town kid who was too hip for home and not nearly hip enough for California. Does that make any sense?” I asked. It felt so good to just get it all out. I found myself wondering why I always wound up spilling my guts to him.
“It makes perfect sense except I don’t think it has anything to do with being straight. I believe you became intimidated after you stayed in L.A. There was something about that whole scene that spooked you and it made you withdraw. It attacked your senses and you were negatively affected because you were not expecting it at all. Now when you walk down the halls you see these people and they remind you of all that turned you off in Venice Beach so you stay clear of them. You simply didn’t get what you expected from California and now you are faced with a dilemma. You have to decide whether you are going to fight all of these new experiences and stay stuck the way you were in Ohio or if you are going to surrender to it and see where all of this takes you. I think you are stalling because you want to feel more liberated but you are afraid you are going to change so much you won’t know yourself anymore. You do not want to become all of the things you disliked about the people at the beach.”
I was actually close to tears by the time he finished. Finally, I wanted to shout, finally I have met someone who gets me! “It’s almost as if you read my mind, Brian. It’s like you unlocked all of the secret thoughts I’ve been hiding since July and you’re not persecuting me for it. If Julie knew what you have just figured out she would laugh and taunt me and she would feel superior to me because she is melting in with everyone else and I am scared to death.”
“You may not believe this but I have been there. I know how you feel. You want my opinion? I think Julie doesn’t understand because she came here prepared to do whatever it took no matter the cost just for the benefit of saying she fits in. I can tell that about her. It’s almost like a badge of honor for her to say that she is in California acting like the freaks and the reefer heads. You have a different mind. You came to find freedom and after a life of repression freedom can be as terrifying as jumping off a bridge without a cord. Someday you will wonder what you were ever afraid of, I promise that. I know that’s no comfort to you right now, though.” The look on his face was absolutely captivating. It, above all else, convinced me that he did truly get it.
A long time passed in silence. Brian must have continued to flip the record while I was lost in work because it was only half way through side one. The music did seem to fill up the silence and for a while it was enough. We could hide behind the simple tunes as we fell into our thoughts. Then Brian asked simply, “So who’s your favorite Beatle?”
I laughed hard. I didn’t realize that he was capable of asking such a simple unimpressive question. “John, definitely John. I’ve got a feeling about him. I think he’s got something…I can’t quite put my finger on it but I believe he has the power to really transform their music into something deeper than what it is now. The Beatles are going to affect music more than anyone could have imagined and I’m sure John will be the one to take it all further.”
For two hours we just sat there rapping like old friends. I forgot to be nervous, I forgot to think about how to act, and I just talked to him. When it got late and I knew I had to go I was sorry to leave. As I was walking out he told me to come prepared to work on Monday. He couldn’t have known how much I would look forward to that just as he couldn’t have known how much his understanding words had helped me. Since leaving my childhood home I had felt an alienation from everyone around me. When I went to sleep that night I felt at ease for the first time in months. I also knew beyond a doubt that I had fallen in love with Brian