It was in April of 1970 that the University I attended was shut down in the wake of the Kent State murders. Endless fire alarms, bomb threats and sit-ins totally disrupted the operation of Boston University. As a senior it meant no goodbyes, no finals, no ritual graduation, no closure. In collective indignation, shock and horror we were all banished in a 24 hour period. Not being able to process the massacre of students in Ohio was a painful twist to the abrupt ending of the semester.
Big Al picked me up at my high-rise dorm and loaded the trunk of his red Caddy Convertible with my belongings. We barely said a word. His displeasure, however, was embedded in his tense body language and sour facial expression. Sweat poured down from his dark brow and he was out of breath. It was as if I had been the one who made the decision to close the University and put the kibosh on the Graduation exercises he so looked forward to. My dad was a sentimental ritualist who really craved pomp and circumstance at any cost.
As we sped on 90 East and listened to the Muzak on the radio I knew that I could not go home again. In the absence of the usual small talk about the weather, my Grandma’s health and my dating patterns I surmised that something huge was brewing in his greying head. Breaking the silence would only open Pandora’s Box. It didn’t help that I was in shock about Kent State and in nicotine withdrawal mode.
We had our usual encounter with a State Trooper on I-84 South who was not appeased by my father’s offer of Christmas tree ornaments in exchange for the quashing of a big fat speeding ticket. Big Al was the VP of Bradford Novelty Company- manufacturers of unbreakable Christmas ornaments. Timing is everything and this “Statie” had no visions of Sugar Plums in his head in late April. My dad was fuming but thankfully, clamped his mouth shut and took the ticket. As the trooper walked slowly to his car I thought my Dad would lose it, but he didn’t. He called him a “schmendrick” under his breath and our oath of silence continued at a more reasonable 65 miles an hour.
It was on my favorite stretch of the Wilber Cross Parkway that my father popped the question that had been on his mind.
“Can you tell me one good reason why you are not in your yearbook?”
He had me. No way would he want to hear the truth and learn a little bit more about who I really was and who I was becoming. The man still saw me as the little girl who loved the color purple and family trips to Miami Beach. He detested my political leanings and was a confirmed hawk when it came to matters of the war.
“I don’t know, Dad.”
“That’s crap. You know. Why don’t you tell me?”
Spinning lies for my parents became a way of life as I grew older and became a more independent thinker. Conflict -avoidant I preferred lies over true disclosure.
“I slept through the photo shoot.”
“Baloney.” Big Al took his big brown eyes off of the road and swung his head around to meet my eyes. I looked away.
“I did, Dad. Really..”
“$30,000 I pay to send you to the useless Commie dump and no god damn picture of my daughter in the year book?”
“You’re not sorry. How could you do this to Mother and me? Don’t you love us anymore?”
The big man began to sob and I thought I would lose it. As the Wilber Cross became the Merritt and brought us closer to our exit on the Hutch, I felt the gulf widen between us and knew there was no turning back. It was beginning to feel tragic. I longed to put my arms around the man I once adored and tell him that I loved him.