After Brian dropped me off that night he stayed away for a week or so until Christmas Eve. That night I sat writing a letter to my parents when I heard knocking on my door. Julie, who had been reading on her bed, just looked at me and I at her. When the second knock came I threw up my hands as if to say there was no way I was answering it. If it was bad news I felt it better to hear it second hand. Julie rolled her eyes but she answered it nonetheless. Before I saw whom it was I heard her say, “Christ!” followed by, “It’s for you, Liz. Apparently he makes house calls now.”
Standing up I went over to see a soaked Professor McVie in my doorway. Julie dismissed herself wisely leaving me there to ask the obvious. “Brian, it’s Christmas Eve. What are you doing here?”
“Oh I didn’t mean to bother you…” He was drunk. I had suspected it at first but now I was sure.
“No, you aren’t bothering me. Do you want to come in?” I felt horrible for almost turning him away.
“Yeah that would be great.” Walking in, he continued with, “The happy hour at Willie’s was fun at first but, man, I don’t want to spend another holiday at that damned bar! Every year it turns out the same. Everyone drinks until midnight when Willie throws us all out on the street. Then Christmas morning I wake up with a hangover and a nightmare in my bed. I just didn’t want to go through all that this year, you know?”
“So you came here?” I asked, gesturing for him to sit down. “You know what will happen if anyone finds out. The dean will have your ass for sure!”
“Nope, not my ass, just my job.” He replied, grinning. “It could be worse. You should have seen the woman I almost took home tonight!” Rolling his eyes he reached into his pocket and pulled out what I knew immediately was a joint. Just as he did in came Julie who had given up all hope on finding something to do. I saw her eyes light up as Brian’s match brought life to her drug of choice.
Taking a drag he tried to pass it to me. Of course I refused. Julie accepted it gratefully as she laughed. “A little grass for Liz? No way, man! She might like it and where would we be then?” When she wrapped her lips around the joint I was glad. At least her mouth was closed.
“You don’t smoke? Really?” I shook my head at Brian’s question. “Why the hell not? It’s much better for you than that poison you drink! It’s natural, a perfectly safe high, you know? The Indians smoked it for centuries. It makes you see things and understand things you can’t when you’re straight. Come on, hit it.” He demanded.
In protest I shook my head. “No way! You two might as well give up because there is no way I’m doing it!”
Once again Julie laughed at me. “Yes, Liz, we know. It’s bad and our little girl from Ohio is much too straight to be bad.”
As my best friend she always knew which buttons to push to get to me. Still I was determined not to give in. When I declined the invitation once again Brian stood up and came to me. There I was, sitting cross-legged on the floor looking up at my beautiful professor resisting temptation for all it was worth. That is, until he sat down beside me and put his arm around my shoulder. Waving the joint in front of my face he whispered into my ear, “Come on, Liz. There are things in life much more dangerous than grass that you would give into in a heartbeat. This is the next step in your liberation. Smoke it for me, for Julie, for yourself.”
Just like that my resolve failed me. Because my hand was shaking so bad Brian put it to my lips instructing me to hold the smoke in for as long as I could. After I exhaled he repeated this again and again. Before long my mind was floating, my limbs were useless, and my laughter seemed to be the only thing that wasn’t numb. At some point I realized that Brian was still sitting with his arm around me and he was talking to me but I couldn’t hear his words for the sound of my own laughter. When he realized this he too began to laugh in a way that I had never heard him indulge in before. It wasn’t tense or cautious. It was an honest full out bought of hysterical laughter. Even Julie was giggling. It was just really great fun.
“So how do you feel about it now, Lizzy? You still think our drugs are bad?” Brian asked, hugging me closer.
“Think? Do I still think your drugs are…?” Another fit of laughter. “…bad? I can’t think at all, Brian! My mind is gone, man! Like, right now, I can’t decide whether I should focus on your eyes and count the shades of blue and green or on your voice…or your laugh. Do you ever sing, Mr. McVie? I’ve never heard you sing before.”
Smiling down at me he said softly, “Yeah I sing from time to time. When I’m alone I sing. I used to sing in a church choir. Now I sing the Beatles, Dylan…”
“Dylan? Who is that?” I asked, high and curious.
“You mean all the time you were in Venice Beach you never heard of Bob Dylan? He’s amazing, man! His lyrics, his views, the music…I’ve got a few of his albums at home. Got ‘em half priced. Two dollars apiece. Next time I come over I’ll bring them but…” He looked around as if searching for something. “Where is your record player?”
“Back in Ohio. I was in a major hurry when I left there, man!” I tried to defend myself but I ended up laughing again instead.
“Tomorrow when we all wake up we are going to Frisco. You too, Julie. I don’t care if we do hate each other. Anyway, I am getting you a record player and some Dylan albums for Christmas. I don’t want to hear any bullshit protests either. That’s the end of discussion.”
At that Julie and I both began to giggle until we were rolling on the floor with tears streaming from our eyes. Had I ever felt like this, I wondered. Brian was wrong about me seeing the world differently through stoned eyes. It wasn’t the world that concerned me. As I sat there composed once more watching Julie pass out on her bed it was my life I saw differently. I hadn’t made a mistake in leaving my home behind. I belonged in California at Berkeley and I belonged with Professor Brian McVie.
When only snoring could be heard around us I looked up at Brian. He no longer touched me but he sat so close that his clammy skin sent shivers down my spine. His eyes had lost their mirth and he looked so sad. He put me in mind of a lost little boy. Because I was high and he was cold, because he looked so lonely just then, I took his hand. Looking over at me as if he just realized I was there, he said softly, “If you knew the kind of man I really am, if you knew the things I had done and can do, you would know that I am hopeless. I don’t know how to love you like you deserve to be loved. I am only a lost cause cloaked in clever wit.”
Smiling at him I squeezed his hand a little tighter, whispering, “Brian, you captivate me.”
“Of course I do. Moths are always captivated by a flame but does that mean they should get too close?” He asked.
Standing up I grabbed a pillow and my grandmother’s quilt for him. After tossing them at his side I climbed into bed and wrapped the covers tight around me. “Brian, I don’t know who it was that told you that you were bad. Maybe it was everyone. I don’t know. But when I look into your eyes it isn’t evil I see there. Someday I hope you come to realize the magic that passes inside of you. Goodnight.” He said nothing as I switched off the bedside lamp and drifted off to sleep.
The next morning I was the last to wake up. Julie was getting ready to take a shower. Brian, she informed me, had gone home to shower, change, and get us all some coffee. “So you are going to go with us today?” I asked as she searched for clean clothes.
Shrugging she replied, “Well I’m sure as hell not going to spend Christmas day by myself and Frisco sounds like fun. What the hell? How bad could it be, right?”
When I came in from bathing, freshly cleaned and dressed, Brian was sitting sprawled out on my bed. Julie had busied herself with her hair, no doubt as soon as he walked in. As I shut the door he looked at me and grinned. “Not only is she alive and unharmed, she smells fabulously fresh too! Amazing, isn’t it. Julie?”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s a fucking wonder.” She retorted. I couldn’t help but giggle, which made her smile.
“Well, Miss Sanders, it looks like you are one of us now. The stoned, the enlightened, the misplaced. We all knew you had it in you. So how do you feel?” My god he is chipper, I thought, annoyed.
“I feel like my psych professor is doing me more harm than good. If you keep it up I might have to drop your class just to protect my sanity.”
Laughing, Brian proclaimed boldly, “You wouldn’t dare. I think we can see that you would miss me much more than you would your precious sanity.”
At that even Julie looked at him and then at me. This time when she grinned she didn’t bother to cover it up. Nothing was said about this little remark but it seemed to weigh on my mind as we piled into his half dead ford. In fact I could hardly think of anything else. He knew too much but wasn’t that noone’s fault but my own? Trying to divert my mind away from it all I attempted to make conversation. “You know, Professor, it is Christmas day. What makes you think any of the shops in Frisco are open?”
“Elizabeth, if you went to any of the shops we are about to go to and you asked the owners what day it is the only reply you would get would be something like, ‘It’s the day to free your mind, man.’” His impression of a stoned hippy was right on target. “Trust me, they’ll be open.”
He was right about that assumption. San Francisco was just as alive and busy as ever. Because we were not sightseeing this time, we parked outside the record store that also doubled as a head shop. Brian and Julie walked in fearlessly but I was amazed. We hadn’t actually gone into a place like this the last time so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Tabs of acid were being sold right along with beads and records. The place reeked of weed and incense as people who were stoned out of their minds milled about. As strange as it was I soon began to enjoy it all. I looked at everything around me as if it were exotic treasures until Brian came over to announce that we were leaving. “That’s a lot of bags for just a few records.” I announced as the three of us walked out.
“Yeah well, Julie also told me you left your Beatles albums back home so…”He grinned like there was something more but I didn’t bother to ask.
When we went to the thrift store the same thing happened. Brian bought a record player but he also purchased something large that was wrapped in brown paper and when I asked he only laughed saying, “Surprises are the spice of life, Miss Sanders, and patience is a virtue.”
On the drive back to campus, Julie fell asleep in the back seat and the radio grew boring so once more I tried to resort to conversation for amusement. “You know, you never really talk about your family or your past. Only once have you really said anything about them.”
“Yes. The last time we went to Frisco you attempted this line of conversation. You aren’t going to hear any more now than I told you then. There is nothing to talk about.”
“But I’ve been in your office and you have no pictures of them up at all. You never say anything about letters from your parents or your friends back home. Why not?” I asked, narrowing my eyes. I was looking for some clue as to why he said what he said the night before. What had he done that would make me not want to love him?
“Liz, why don’t you have any pictures of your parents around your dorm room?” He asked, his tone bordering on angry.
That question took me by surprise. I hadn’t ever made a conscious decision not to put out pictures but alas there were none adorning my desk or the walls. “I guess they remind me of home and I don’t want to think about home.”
“Exactly. Now, I am in a decent mood today. I’ve had a pretty good Christmas so far. Please do not ruin this for us, all right? Let’s not get depressed.” With that he took one of my Lucky Strikes and he lit it up. Then he began to sing. It wasn’t the Beatles or Dylan that he belted out but rather Christmas carols. Loudly, booming, and surprisingly well he belted out everything from We Three Kings to the more modern Rocking Around the Christmas Tree. I had never seen him like that. It warmed me up, really, to bear witness to such a change. The calm, cool Professor McVie singing carols and acting foolishly happy. It was quite a wonder.
When we got back Julie got straight out of the car and proclaimed that it had been fun but she needed to go for a walk. Helping Brian with all of his bags was quite an adventure but we managed it all right. When we got in I couldn’t take the suspense of waiting any more. “Ok, what is all this shit? I was patient now surprise me.”
“Jesus, you just can’t stand to be in the dark, can you? Well since this is your first Christmas away from home I wanted to make it kind of special for you. It’s sort of like another thank you for your help. So I picked you up some stuff you would never get yourself. Dig in.” He declared, sweeping his hand around to say it was all mine.
Picking up the bags I sat on the bed dumbfounded by what he had done. “You shouldn’t have done this. I didn’t get you anything and I really don’t deserve all of this.”
In the first bag there were four Bob Dylan albums, one that had just been released, along with four Beatles albums and John Lennon’s book of poetry. “Oh god, you really shouldn’t have!” I exclaimed when I had it all out in front of me. The second bag was full of clothes, beads, and a very groovy pair of boots. These were things I would have never thought to wear. What must have been one of the first pair of bell-bottoms caught my eye immediately. The belt he had purchased matched so well with the pants and shirt that I knew Julie had to have helped him pick them out. The third bag made me laugh so hard I nearly fell off the bed. A bong, an incense holder shaped like Buddha, more incense than a person could burn in a lifetime, and last but not least, a sheet of acid. “You must be joking, Bri!” I exclaimed.
Smiling broadly he replied, “Well, you know, being one of us isn’t easy. You need the tools of the trade and in those three bags I’ve got all you need. Now you can dress like you smoke grass, you’ve got music to play and a book to read while you smoke grass, and, most importantly you have a way to smoke it and a way to cover the stench. The acid I threw in as an extra. You know, for when grass just isn’t enough anymore.” He then added, “I like that by the way.”
“What?” I asked, confused.
“Bri. It has a nice ring to it.”
Had I called him that? My god, was I going insane? Looking around I decided that if I was at least I wasn’t traveling the road alone. Suddenly I remembered the brown-papered mystery object. “Where’s the bulky package from the thrift store? What else have you done?”
He was absolutely beaming when he brought it from the corner he had sat it in. “This is the present that really means something. An ode to your dream, if you will.”
Nervously I accepted it, tearing at the paper until a beautiful black typewriter was revealed. I almost cried just looking at it. “Oh, Brian…I have never had a better Christmas or a more thoughtful gift in my life! I’ll never be able to make this up to you! I just…thank you.” Unable to resist it anymore I hugged him. I wasn’t prepared for my body’s reaction to the close feel of him but I just let it wash over me.
“Hey, don’t mention it. You are wrong, by the way, you do deserve this. You really do.” He said softly against my ear.
Pulling away I sat back on the bed. Beside me Brian did the same. Looking at him I asked softly, “Why? What have I done that’s so extraordinary?”
“You treat me like a person…like a friend even. Everyone else around here either thinks of me as a god or the devil himself depending on their age and their hormone levels. You don’t see me as I see myself but you understand that I am less than perfect and more than evil. You are so smart, so insightful, and you make…”
“I make what?” I prodded gently when only silence followed.
“You make my dreadful life here a little more bearable. You stuck up for me and that means a lot. You are a great friend. Someday you will also be a great writer and I want you to know that I believe in you, all right?” I nodded because I was too stunned to speak. “The outfit has stipulations attached to it.” He was grinning when I looked over at him, like he had a secret joke.
“What kind of stipulations?” I questioned, confused.
“Willie’s has the biggest and the best New Years Eve party around. I want you to come with me and wear that.” Was he asking me out on a date? When my eyebrow shot straight up he quickly added, “Julie’s coming too I guess. It’ll be fun for all of us.”
That night after Julie came back we all went out for pizza and I agreed to get high “one last time”. I learned a few things on Christmas day, 1964. The first was that it’s families that make holidays so damned stressful. The second was that Brian McVie had the potential to be good beyond what I could imagine, the third was that Bob Dylan was a great companion to grass, and the fourth was that John Lennon was truly the most brilliant mind of my generation…actually I already suspected that. The fourth thing I learned was that it was possible for me to be happy and live my life so far away from my parent’s well built home. That might have been the most important lesson. That night my psychology professor crashed once again on the floor of my dorm room wrapped up in grandma’s quilt. Just before I succumbed to sleep I heard him whisper, “Merry Christmas, Lizzy.” I had never been so happy in all my life.
The next morning when I awoke Brian was gone. In his place he left behind a note saying he had to leave town but he would be back in time for New Years Eve, that I was to meet him at ten p.m. at Willie’s, and that I had to wear my new outfit. He also left me half a joint. I couldn’t help but laugh at that. It was sitting on the note, an arrow below it pointing up, and beside the arrow he wrote, ‘Just in case’. New Years Eve has always been the worst holiday of the year for me. As a child I would listen to my parents and their friends announce when it was midnight and I would cry. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I hate endings. At any rate, I learned at age fourteen that if I am drunk when midnight comes I don’t get depressed. Therefore the party at Willie’s was a great way to spend the time.
By the time we got to the bar we had put so much effort into our hair and makeup that neither Julie nor I wanted to move. Of course when you are at a bar on New Year’s Eve and some of the best music of all time is coming from the jukebox it is kind of hard to keep from dancing. That’s exactly what we were doing when our dear professor showed up, fifteen minutes late as usual. I didn’t even know he came in until Little Richard stopped playing but as soon as I spotted him my face lit up. I had missed him the whole week he had been gone. “Go to him, Liz! Christ, he’s over there waiting for you isn’t he?” Julie chided me. She was right.
“Wow, you wore the beads and all! You look far out, little mama!” Brian laughed, taking a sip of his drink. “Sorry. I just got back from L.A. A week with the hippies, you know? If I don’t watch it I’ll be declaring Freud ‘far out’ and I’ll be asking you all if you dig me. So how have you been?” Something was different about him somehow. Maybe there was a hint of something different in his voice but something wasn’t right.
“Oh, I’ve been fine…Bored to death but otherwise fine. I finished Lennon’s book in one day so I read it again. I even got so desperate that I actually read the extra credit thing for Professor Smith.” I tried to sound upbeat, like I couldn’t see the worry in his eyes.
“How bad could that have been?” He asked, trying hard just to smile. My god, what was wrong with him?
“It was a book on the history of women in journalism. I swear that half of that shit was…” I stopped because I could tell that Brian wasn’t hearing a thing I said. “All right, Brian, am I allowed to ask you what’s wrong with you?”
Looking at me he shook his head and said in the calmest tone, “No, you’re not. I mean, you could but it would do you no good because I wouldn’t answer you. Now, I am going to go to the bathroom and when I come back I am going to be in a better mood. Excuse me for just a minute.”
Sure enough, he got up and went to the bathroom where he stayed for about ten minutes and when he returned he was absolutely fine. Right after he came back someone played ‘Lonely Teardrops’ on the jukebox and without so much as asking first he took my hand and forced me onto the floor to dance. It amazed me that after all the time I had spent around him my pulse could still jump because of one little dance. But the nervous flutter only got worse when he pressed his mouth to my ear and said softly, “What do you think the dean would say about this? A girl and her professor dancing in a bar, said girl looking gorgeous in an outfit Mr. Professor bought her at a head shop? How many rules do you suppose we’ve broken since break began?”
In a moment of irrational thinking I blurted out, “I’m afraid we haven’t broken any of the good ones, Mr. Professor.”
At that he laughed knowing all too well what I meant. For the next half an hour we drank and we laughed. We made bets on which guys would try to take Julie home and which guys she would scare away. Then the bar tender called out, “Get your drinks ready people! It’s almost time! Ten…nine…”
Throughout that countdown I held my breath thinking of all I had done in a year. When shouts of “Happy New Year!” rang out all over the bar Brian grabbed me and kissed me. This wasn’t just some act of tradition. This was a passionate kiss. When he let me go my head was spinning. My whole body seemed to be one raw nerve and if he touched me anymore… “Happy New Year, Liz. You really do look great tonight and I had a lot of fun but…umm…I have to go. I’ll see you at school on Monday, ok?” All I could do was nod as he walked away leaving only my imagination to finish what Brian had started within me.