I opened the door to my dorm room that early Thursday October morning and there she was, naked, lying on top of the comforter, staring up at me. Her long, grey fur coat, thin pink sweater, ragged jeans, underwear, and leather boots were scattered on the floor. She was a petite, black-haired stranger whose melancholy eyes dripped with an erotic sense of wanting. For a second I wondered if I was even in the right room. I felt an unordinary chill seep into my skin and a cramp in my chest, followed by a deep breath and a wave of panic. When she wiggled her way to the edge of the bed, her hair fell over one eye. That’s when she started to massage her thigh. In a moment’s squint, her face became a blur. I froze, not knowing what to do, or how to talk myself out of this mess. There was a faint cigarette smell and the glare from a bedlight above my pillow highlighted her weather-worn skin. The rest of the room was dark. It was 1AM.
“You, uh, took off your cl-…”
“You’ve done this before, right?” she whispered, pursing her lips.
Moments earlier I’d been leaning over a men’s room sink pondering my dilemma, my hands trembling. This was unlike me. It was the first time I’d ever met someone and brought them back to the dorm. Now that “someone” wasn’t even a student here, and in my dorm room, sitting on my bed.
“How did this happen?” I thought. “What am I supposed to tell everyone tomorrow? Wait, it is tomorrow, right? That gives me even less time to…”
I let out a sigh, splashed my face, and looked in the mirror. “Is this what she’s seeing now?” I wondered. My eyes were bloodshot, the light hair on my face was spotty, and my thick frizzy mop needed a good trim. At 5’9” I wasn’t active on the diamond or hard court in high-school or college because of my bad eyesight, but I did work out regularly. Friends and relatives still considered me thin and underweight, but toned.
“Maybe no one will find out,” I speculated.
Seconds later I wandered down a quiet dimly lit hallway toward my room, the last one on the left, right before the student lounge.
“Uh, sure,” I replied apprehensively. “I just didn’t think you’d take off…” I exhaled through my nose and stopped mid-sentence.
After being accepted to several boutique colleges up and down the east coast and in the mid-west, the second I’d seen the picturesque Baldwin-Wallace College campus from a stoplight on Bagley Road in Berea, OH, I envisioned myself there. I was in the back seat of my father’s car when I glanced out the opened window and proclaimed, “This is it!” A tour of the campus wasn’t needed that day. I had a gut feeling that this would be my home for the next four years. It was a storybook setting. In this live painting were long brick modern dorms with white shutters and antique pillars. There were Victorian buildings made of stone, some with steeples, surrounded by burly maple and oak trees. Some leaves were bright green, others a cool blend of apple and olive. Above this work of art were clear cobalt blue skies. Below were newly cut lawns whose sweet scent I sniffed from inside the car.
It was 1981. I was 19 and partly through the first tri-mester of my sophomore year. For the previous month I’d been living on the first floor of a two story dorm on campus with brothers from my fraternity, Pi Lambda Phi. I had cherry-picked my roommate. He was a character I’d met in a weight-lifting class the year before named Ed Kramer. Ed was an only child from Parma, who had transferred to BW from the College of Wooster. He was a 6’1”, husky, blonde-haired quipster with wire rimmed glasses and a raspy voice, who majored in sociology, and minored in spreading fibs about his pop’s line of work. His father was a foreman, a vice-president, and a CEO, with two different companies in two weeks. I remember him telling me that the only classes he was able to matriculate over were Led Zeppelin for Beginners and the Advanced Techniques of Plagiarism. He insisted his dress boots were cut from real rattlesnake skin and that only a few hundred existed in the nation. I quickly came to realize that fast Eddie’s anecdotes were a compilation of fabricated nonsense. Nevertheless, I admired his loyalty and we’d agreed to be bunkmates.
As I began to undress that night Ed’s gruff tone startled me.
“Hey, Migdale, is that you?” he asked from his dark corner.
“Shhh, Kramer, what the…? I stuttered.
“You got a girl here?”
I glanced at my naked acquaintance and then spoke.
“Girl?” I questioned. “I’m not with…”
“Who’s with you?”
She and I looked at each other, then the butterflies circled my insides. “I’m, uh, with a friend, why?”
“Bambi’s asleep,” he babbled in his hoarse tone.
“With you, in your bed?” I asked.
“That’s right, bitch. Hey…”
“Why is it so cold in here?” I stammered.
“We’re fine,” I hinted. “Go back to sleep.”
I looked at the stranger and whispered, “You cold?”
Ed had a habit of nicknaming every girl he slept with. He’d introduce them, we’d smile, nod, and then run into someone else’s room in a state of silent hysteria. I’d seen “Bambi”, a slender brunette, with him on campus a few times but never paid much attention to her. She’d eaten with us in the student union as well but had never said much. Now I had to worry that “Bambi” would awaken suddenly and catch me in some awkward position with the girl in my bed.
“Are you OK?” the girl asked as I disrobed down to my underwear. A surge of ambivalence shot through my veins.
I swallowed and sighed. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,”
Our room was narrow with a window at the far end and two beds planted vertically on the left, a sizeable stationary dresser in-between. My twin mattress was closest to the door. Above our beds were beat up wooden shelves upon which I’d propped family photos, and Kramer showcased his unopened protein powders and vitamin collection. The desks, which were bolted into the wall on the right, had barely been used in the brief time we had lived together. We had scotch-taped black light posters to the walls and had brought in a small rug to cover the tiled floor. I’d lugged a 13” color television with me from my bedroom in Jersey which sat on a coffee table beneath the window.
“You look scared,” she breathed as our noses touched. “If you want, we can leave and you can walk me home.”
Within seconds, she pulled off my briefs and was on top of me. She guided me into her, thrusting her pelvis with a soft moan of ecstasy. I held my breath, clutched her hips, then let out a sigh of relief as my penis began to tingle. It wasn’t long before strands of her hair hung down and brushed my chest as she slithered out, then in. She leaned over and pressed her mouth against mine, her tongue stroking my teeth, then the inside of my cheeks. She licked my earlobes, then my neck. It was a sensation I’d never felt before. Her scent was offensively musty, as if she’d inhaled a carton of Marlboro’s, but that didn’t faze me. I had to do everything I could to keep from screaming out, “Oh God!.” She closed her eyes and her moan got louder. A soft whimper of pleasure became an intense cry of excitement. I palmed her chest and felt her nipples stiff with elation, then her back, wet with passion. She slid me in and out, harder and harder, faster and faster.
“Oh, Tom, it feels so good.” she whispered into my ear.
“I’m there,” I told her as I lifted her tiny body out of me and exhaled as intense gratification poured out of me.
After cleaning me off, she smiled and fell to the side. Her nicotine scent faded into the stillness as she rubbed my stomach, then closed her eyes. The anxiety from the evening was still in my bloodstream. I reached up, flicked off the bedlight, and lay there with my eyes open in the dark. I’d wondered if Kramer was lying awake as well.
Four hours earlier I’d met 5 foot, 1 inch, Corethia Downs in the middle of a sidewalk on my way to the Berea Café, a local pub in town. It was a brisk night as a friend, Carl Hazenstab, and I, strolled across campus and into town to meet up with a few friends. A freshman, Carl was scrawny with sandy brown hair and glasses. His trademark was a forest green Parka he never zippered and never took off, coupled with peach fuzz, and an artificial grin. Tan moccasins of faded deerskin completed his somewhat disheveled appearance. He had latched onto me the minute I helped him move into his dorm room a month earlier, showing me boxes of needles filled with insulin. I was alarmed the first time I saw them and had no idea what diabetes was back then. Whatever he was doing to his skin didn’t make any sense to me. He’d shoot up once a day, usually in his forearm, and then fling the used needle like a dart into the wall of his room. Eventually it would fall out and he’d chuck it into an old shoe box he kept on the floor of his closet. I never inquired about his hideous collection or medical issues. We just chatted about other things. Carl pledged the fraternity and selected me as his Big Brother, a mentor. I’d nicknamed him “Food” for the large quantity of greasy cafeteria grub he’d consume daily. He was anything but overweight which made it more ironic. “The man of a thousand trays!” I’d yell out. Carl had spent his childhood in and out of foster homes and was now living with his grandmother. His bizarre obsession with MASH and The Jeffersons defined his character– comical, yet determined. As we made our way toward Front Street, and in view of the bar, we heard someone in the distance.
“Do you have the time?” the female voice called out.
We turned to each other.
“She talking to you?” I asked him.
He smirked, “Me? You don’t know her?”
“I can’t see anything.”
We inched our way closer to get a peek at the lady whose random question was a bit peculiar. I vaguely saw the long fur, leather boots, shoulder purse, and several textbooks she’d saddled in both arms.
I leaned into Carl and whispered, “How would I know her?”
“You know everybody,” he asserted.
“Does she even go to school here?”
“We could ignore her and keep walking,” he said.
“Yeah, we could, but…”
A few seconds later the three of us lightly collided underneath a pallid glow of a streetlamp. She introduced herself as Berea native, Corethia Downs. We smiled and explained that we were B-W students on our way to the Berea Café. She claimed she was on her way home after visiting a friend in downtown Cleveland, had night classes before that. It seemed legitimate. I reached my hand out and told her that we had people waiting at the bar.
“Nice meeting you Ca-…I’m sorry what was…”
“Corethia, yes, nice name,” I snickered. “Oh, and, if I wore a watch, I’d give you the time. It was around 9 when we left the…”
She glared at me. It was a somber gaze. I sensed sorrow when she squeezed my hand. The timing of this odd situation intrigued me. It was almost as if I’d been drawn into her isolated state of emotion.
“C’mon Tom, let’s go,” Carl insisted.
After a few hundred feet, I stopped and looked back. In the midst of a deep sigh and a smile, she waved. There was no hesitation and very little discussion. Altruistic thoughts entered my mind and the notion of going back made perfect sense. We never made it to the Berea Café.
After we strolled into the Pizza Stop three blocks away, Corethia slid her stuff into a booth. She then left for the ladies room. The joint was empty. There was a zesty meatball aroma in the air and low but audible music overhead. Behind the counter, a young man motioned that he’d be with us in a minute. I was disturbed by Carl’s lack of enthusiasm. We sat motionless, across from each other in silence until he flapped his tongue,
“Are you out of your mind?” he muttered.
“Out of my…”
“Did you see her?” he pointed toward the restrooms.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with me? That girl is…”
“Is what, a hooker?” I nodded and questioned.
“You said it, not me” he gestured.
“She’s a college girl, who lives at home, that we met, on the…”
“Don’t you find it, I don’t know, weird?
“Yeah, weird. A woman, not even a girl, a woman, carrying schoolbooks, stops two guys, out of nowhere, and asks…”
“Are you insinuating that she makes a little cheese to support her…”
“Who wears a full length fur coat in October? It’s not even that cold. What’s up with the skin-tight short sleeve sweater, knee-high leather boots? Is that make-up all over her face or paint? Shouldn’t we be at the Berea Café having fun?”
“We are having fun.”
“Fun? This is your idea of fun? This woman could be a…”
“A what? Serial killer, drug dealer? You’re talking out of your ass, Hazenstab. You didn’t have to come. Oh, and, take off that putrid jacket. You’re making me nervous.”
When Corethia rejoined us, the conversation segued into my year long journey into the fraternity. She chuckled at some lines but kept to herself. Carl managed to spit out a few memorable all-night junk food tales filled with sugar despite his obvious animosity. We banged the table and high-fived. Sixty minutes later, after we’d scarfed down a cheese pizza and a basket of garlic knots, I invited the mystery lady back to our dorm for a cold beer. Carl looked puzzled but just sat there and didn’t say anything. His eyes bugged and face stiffened. He turned to me and forced out a smile. Corethia had told us that she lived near the pizzeria and she’d return home later in the evening. She’d call her mother from my room when we got there.
After twenty minutes of small talk on the hard cushions in the empty student lounge, Carl said that he needed to sack out and bid us both a goodnight. It was 11:30 and Corethia seemed to have no intention of going home. When Carl left, our conversation turned personal. Corethia was 22, turning 23 on New Year’s Eve. She was the oldest of three, and planned to enter the Army in May. It was a call of duty she’d dreamed of since high-school. She’d serve her country. Basic training would be in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
I was shocked. “Army?! You can’t be serious.”
Her lips disappeared from her face and she let out a sigh through her nose.
“What about college?” I asked.
She nudged her way next to me, reached for my hand, and raised her eyebrows.
“Will you write to me?”
I was a bit perplexed. “Write, to you? I know you less than three hours.”
“I felt this instant connection with you though, on the sidewalk, when we met, and besides, by then I’ll know you seven…”
I couldn’t imagine this small sultry body with black locks and magnetic charm inside army barracks taking orders. What was she thinking? It was almost midnight and I began to worry. Somehow Corethia would have to get home. I had the jitters thinking about the walk back to the dorm in the dark from an area I knew nothing about.
“It’s late. I’m sure your mother is concerned. And your boyfriend must be…”
“There’s no boyfriend.”
“No boyfriend?!” I asked.
“I do have friends in Cleveland that I see often, and an aunt.”
The minutes ticked. At a quarter to 1, Corethia asked me if she could stay the night, on the floor, and go home in the morning. My eyelashes were glued to my lids, and tears leaked from the corners of my eyes with each yawn. I crept to my room and checked the door. I peeked in and saw the fuzzy yellow glow of my roommate’s bed light and felt a draft before closing the door.
“Listen, we need to call your mother,” I said quietly. “My roommate is still…”
“It’s OK. She won’t care.”
“Really? It’s so late. You sure?”
“Never mind the phone call, really.”
“I have classes in the morning,” I explained.
“It’s fine. I’ll be gone when you get back,” she told me.
Ed’s light was off by the time we tiptoed into the room. A dismal ray of hall light shone in and I found my bed light. I turned it on and pointed to my chest, then the bathroom. She sat on the edge of the bed while I brought down an extra blanket from the closet shelf. I quietly told her that I’d be right back. The evening’s sequence of events up to this point was ludicrous, but for some reason I found myself relishing the moment. “What’s one night?” I thought. I had a foxy female gypsy in my dorm room on a weeknight at 1AM who had a crush on me. As I made my way to the men’s room all I could do was pound my fist into the air and loudly whisper, “Yes!”
I returned from class later the next morning to find Corethia perched in a desk chair rummaging through her purse. Make-up containers were spread out on the wood and one was on the floor under the chair. I didn’t see the coat right away or the text books strewn on the bed. She jumped up, threw her arms around my neck and almost knocked me over. I wasn’t angry that she was still there, just surprised. Our room stunk like a well-used ashtray even though the window had been open all night. She did call her mother though and hinted that she wanted to spend the day with me.
“Did Ed see you?” I asked her.
“He’s funny,” she giggled.
“No, did he, you know, see you?”
“He did get a good look at my ass,” she laughed. “The girl was also nice but she…”
“You saw Bambi?!”
When she loosened her grip I told her I had afternoon classes. Part of me wanted her to stay. I was confused.
“You want me to leave?”
I sat on the bed, sighed, leaned over, then rubbed my forehead.
“I don’t know. I…just, I don’t know.”
It was almost lunchtime. I handed Corethia a dark brown flannel shirt that she put on over the rancid sweater she’d been wearing from the day before. It was too warm for a full-length fur. Inside the cafeteria, the noise was deafening. When we approached our table the first person to stand up and say “hello” to the mystery lady was Al Donaldson, the best dressed brother of our fraternity. A Lakewood native with a jet black feather cut parted to the side, thick eyebrows, and a distinct nasal inflection, he invited Corethia to sit down. Al’s passion was fine outerwear, personal hygiene, and the rock group Styx. He’d brag about his eleven name-brand suits, four watches, and unique collection of designer cologne. I had hoped he was wearing something that would drown out the smoky aroma of Corethia. He acted as if he’d known her for years. That was Al’s persona. He made you feel comfortable and calm when he wasn’t obsessing about the latest Dennis DeYoung solo. Carl grinned, dipped his head, and pointed his index and middle finger as if to acknowledge us. Kramer continued to shovel mashed potatoes into his mouth and never looked up. I saw Steve McLain, the first friend I’d made as a freshman. We’d met the third day of school in the men’s room as he was popping in his contact lenses. He was ultra-thin with happy eyes, a sloppy hairdo, and had an unbridled obsession with Kiss, Heart, and his electric bass. Steve lived next door with Scott Maxwell, a well-mannered, studious guy who had a hand-washing neurosis. He’d wash his hands before and after every meal, in-between classes, and before bed. If he was down to his last bar of soap, he’d have anxiety attacks. He was a Bob Segar fanatic who never said much and acknowledged Corethia’s presence that afternoon with a gaze of curiosity.
McLain and Kramer waited until I was on the food line to take a poke at my eccentric house guest.
“What the hell are you doing?” hammered Kramer.
“What am I doing?”
“Her crap is all over my desk!”
Then Steve chimed in, “She looks like a…”
“A what, slut?” I barked.
“Hazenstab told us the story,” he added.
“Oh, he did, huh? Figures…”
“Take her home today.”
“Get her out of here!”
“Why? I kind of, I don’t know, like her.” I told them.
“Cause you got laid?” Steve wanted to know.
“She’s holed up in our room!” Kramer continued.
“Why are you two so…”
Kramer interrupted, “Why would you waste your time with that…”
In unison they both uttered, “skank” before walking away.
Corethia left before dawn the following morning. Light drizzle stung our faces as we shuffled outside into the chilly autumn air. I wasn’t sure of her destination. She hugged me and said she’d be back. I slipped my phone number inside her purse and she was off, the gray fur fading beneath a hazy sky.
That day was difficult. My concentration was off kilter. I spent my morning flooded with daydreams. I saw the long fur coat, sadness in those eyes that made me melt. I saw her face beaming at me as she lay on my bed. “You’ve done this before, right?” I couldn’t get her out of my head. The professors who called on me got a blank stare. I saw Kelly Oh, a girl I’d dated casually at the beginning of sophomore year. She ran up to me in the cafeteria during lunch. A recent admission to B-W, Kelly had milky smooth skin, shiny straight, long black hair, and a high-pitched cackle that made me squirm. She’d seen me with an older woman on campus, she said, and wanted to know where I’d met her. Rather than humor her and get a chuckle, I just smiled and told her we’d met at the Berea Café.
The previous afternoon I’d skipped classes to give Corethia a tour of the institution I’d someday refer to as my alma mater. Now my mind was clogged with uncertainty. I needed advice. A vent with a fraternity brother was useless. They had already voiced their opinions. Steve had even stood in my doorway with his guitar singing,
“She’s playin’ all night, cause the music’s alright, Corethia’s got a squeeze box, Tommy never sleeps at night.”
I called my parents every Wednesday and Sunday at 5PM. That was the ritual. It was a five minute touch-base session. They’d ask questions and I had one word answers.
“How are your friends?”
I couldn’t open up a can of worms and say, “Hey, I met an older woman off campus one night. We jumped in the sack, things are good. She sleeps here now. I’m getting used to her stained teeth and raunchy breath.”
My father would drill me about this woman. He’d ask question after question, even stretching himself to ask, “What’s she studying?” My mother, on the other hand, would go right for the jugular just to annoy the crap out of me, “Is she Jewish? What kind of nonsense is this? You’re a nice Jewish boy mixed up with this filth, this shiksa?”
And then I’d say, “I’m in Ohio, it’s a Methodist college! Give me a break.”
Rather than sit and ponder this mental anguish any further, I sat on top of my desk Saturday morning and called the only person I knew I could trust, my sister, Sue. She had just started her senior year of high school in my hometown of Wayne, NJ. We were 19 months apart and spoke frequently. She knew about my romances; the letters, poetry, short stories, left inside a dusty three ring binder that still sat underneath my bed at home. It was different now. I wasn’t able to knock on her bedroom door.
“She was just there, on the street…”
“And you slept with her?”
“It was more than that and…”
“Oh my…more than that?”
“No, what I meant was…she’s smart, we talk, and…”
“How long do you know her?”
“Not sure, two, three days I guess.”
“And she’s staying, in your room?”
“She left yesterday morning, but she’s coming back…”
She sighed and there was silence on the other end for a few seconds.
“Please be careful.”
“Where does she live?”
“In Berea, close by.”
“And that’s all you know?”
“She is going into the Army in May.”
“Oh dear God!”
“What should I do?”
“Don’t get thrown off campus for something this stupid.”
She urged me to proceed with caution.
Corethia returned Sunday afternoon wearing a denim jacket with a powder blue silk button down underneath, extra-tight gray parachute pants with pink leg warmers and black heels. She’d exchanged her tobacco odor for a cherry-blossom scent this time. Around her shoulder was a Nike duffle bag. I didn’t ask where she had been for 2 ½ days but I was happy she’d returned. Al was lying on Kramer’s bed when she walked in. He jumped up and gave her a hug. We had just learned that our fraternity would be trick or treating for UNICEF in five days and were mapping out a route. The weather had dropped five degrees since Corethia had left two days earlier and we wondered how cold it would be on Halloween.
Several people had quickly heard that the mystery lady was back. Some had never met her. Now that she was in my room, they wanted a peek at this exotic miss. One brother, Wally Thompson, waltzed in puffing his pipe. He sat on my bed, smoked, and stared. I’d met Wally shortly after Steve. The three of us were the first to express our interest, two weeks after school started, in the smallest fraternity on campus which had six members. One word that described Wally was hair. It covered him from head to toe, including his back. I wouldn’t have recognized him without the hair. From Jamestown, NY, Wally wore cut-off t-shirts and baggy jeans. He was stocky, quiet, and craved the drink a bit too often. We roomed together for one semester freshman year. He’d pack it in and swig it down like no one I’d seen and, in his stupors, pass out to Neil Young or Steely Dan. He signaled me into the student lounge and wanted to know why Corethia had returned. I had no answers. My thoughts were cluttered. He said it gave our fraternity a bad image and felt it was in everyone’s best interest if she left, permanently. I had to walk her home and break the news. My stomach was in knots. Instead of walking her directly home hours later, we stopped into the pizza place and slipped into a booth. It was there that Corethia told me that she wanted me to meet her parents.
Tuesday afternoon, two days later, I was in Corethia’s spacious bedroom thumbing through crates of record albums and comic books that sat on her parquet floor. She had a twin bed with a black comforter and a white pine wood dresser. In the corner was a tiny stereo with two speakers. I noticed that the walls were bare and there was a lemon perfume scent.
We’d spent the last day and a half in my dorm room with the door locked. Kramer was shacked up with Bambi somewhere on campus thus allowing my lengthy slumber party. I’d bring back food from the cafeteria and we’d have our own picnic on the rug. My friends were consumed with exams, essays, and homework. Classes didn’t exist, only sex, beer, and late-night television. I continued my emotional descent into her well and had no desire to climb out.
Corethia slid open the closet door, bent down, and began emptying a small box. The first item she took out was a white envelope with some photos. She handed me ten.
“What are these?” I asked.
“So you don’t forget me when I’m gone.”
“You’re still thinking about the Army?”
“I leave soon,” she told me.
“Not until next year.”
After I scanned through pictures of her family, she handed me a royal blue bic lighter. The flame shot up like a torch when I flicked it.
“Whoa. What am I going to do with this?”
“I brought it to the last concert.”
“Judas Priest, you’ve heard of them?”
She took a long thin white handkerchief-like scarf out of the box and gave me that also. It read Judas Priest in red script across the cloth. Then she stood up and snatched a small card in a sealed envelope from on top of her dresser along with a large beige pouch with a string and gave it to me. I placed the items in the pouch, tied it up, and told her I’d seen Diana Ross in her collection. Once the needle was set on the vinyl, she smiled, came in close, and kissed me. The music played, we danced.
“Once we were standing still in time, chasing the fantasies that filled our minds. You knew how I loved you but my spirit was free, laughing at the questions that you once asked of me…”
That night I had dinner in the kitchen surrounded by her family. I found out that they were southerners. Corethia had been born and raised in Alabama before her family re-located to the mid-west. I sat across from her two younger brothers and next to her mother. She was a thin lady with short blond hair above the ears, big green eyes, and a soft voice. I don’t remember her father being there. There was little said. Corethia sat next to me. At one instance she winked. I smiled. Dinner was served.
On the walk back to the dorm, Corethia stated that she had night classes the following evening and she had to visit some people on the weekend. She wanted to come back for our small Halloween party in the student union on Thursday. My schoolroom focus was gone. I needed to get myself back to classes. It would be difficult. When we entered the dorm, a few brothers pulled me into another room and said they had the perfect way to get Corethia to never come back.
“A cult-like ritual,” said Kramer.
“We’ll light up some candles, say some shit…” Steve’s voice fading as I yelled,
“Are you insane?!”
“A fake ceremony,” said Hazenstab.
“Fake what? This is gone way too far…”
“We’ve asked you a number of times and you keep ignoring…”
“That’s because I can’t. OK?”
“You paying her?” Steve laughed.
“Get the fuck outta here! Paying her, to do what?”
“Do you want to get thrown out of school, for having a whore on the floor?!” Kramer cackled.
“Thursday night, after the union shindig, we’ll come back and have one of our own,” uttered Wally.
Corethia’s extended stay had grated on my friends. She had clothes in my closet, books on my shelves, shoes and boots on my closet floor, nail-polish on our desks, cigarette cartons in the drawer beneath the bed, and purse items everywhere. Sometimes she’d pack up and take the junk with her. She’d always manage to leave something behind. Sometimes she’d take showers in the ladies bathroom, eat with us at our table, wander in and out of our rooms, and sit in my desk chair to use the phone.
My sister called me Wednesday night after I’d hung up with my parents. I had mentioned that Corethia was still around. I felt invincible when she was with me, lonely when she wasn’t. Whatever she did in her spare time besides attending school didn’t concern me as it did everyone else. I never asked and maybe I should have. The one night fling had turned into a seven day blind-sided romance.
I handed her a brush as she towel dried her hair near the side entrance of the dorm. Streaks of shaving cream embedded into her waves, she sniffed and wiped her eyes. The powder-blue silk button down she’d worn two days earlier was soaked. I ran it to the washroom and threw it in the dryer. She rifled through her Nike bag in the student lounge to find that snug short-sleeve pink sweater, the one that she was wearing when I’d met her. I held up the brown flannel shirt as she continued to towel dry her hair and get rid of every ounce of lather.
Earlier my frat brothers had called us into my room. It had been transformed into a candle lit chamber. After relentless pressure from my friends I caved and reluctantly told Corethia about this weekly bogus customary tradition; to gather in someone’s room and beseech forgiveness to a higher power for our sins. She would be ordered to confess her wrongdoings, to reveal her secrets. Deep inside I felt terrible. This would be a hoax I’d regret. After a short lecture from Kramer, the floor was given to Wally who raised a candle in front of a black-light skull poster on the wall and started spewing some nonsense. Within seconds the jig was up. There was a snort, giggle, burst of laughter. Someone reached into a plastic bag and pulled out a shaving cream can and squirted. Two cans, three, then four. Foam was splattered everywhere. Corethia opened the door and sprinted down the hall to the bathroom where she dunked her head under the sink, then rinsed in the shower. Seconds later my room emptied.
“Why (sniff) do they hate me?” Corethia sobbed, fluffing her hair.
“They don’t hate you C, it’s just that…”
Her dark blue eyes welling with sadness, she inquired, “This, whatever it was, was pretty much bullshit, right?”
“You (sniff) didn’t try to stop it?”
“This is a college fraternity and…”
“Where was Al? He was probably asked but would never…”
“I don’t know Corethia.”
“You should hang out with him, not these other…”
“They’re my brothers, my friends. I’m sorry.”
We smiled, hugged. I caressed her face and wiped away the sorrow.
I watched her walk away into the pitch black of an October morning, Friday, the day before Halloween. It was hard to believe I had only known her nine days. She scooped up her items and crammed them all into her duffle bag.
“You take care handsome,” she said. “I’ll call you Sunday. Come over for dinner. I’m going to miss you.”
In a flash, she was gone, her black waves fading into the frosty dark Berea atmosphere. I would never see her again.
Corethia Mae Downs was killed two days later, hit by a Rapid Transit train in downtown Cleveland. From the platform, with two full bags of groceries in her arms, she realized she was on the wrong side. She jumped down onto the tracks to run across instead of climbing down the stairs that would have taken her to the other platform.
I didn’t find out until after lunch on Monday afternoon, November 2nd. I never read the paper or paid attention to any current events. In college, sports and social activities came before anything else. It was quiet at our table. Scott Maxwell patted my shoulder and said, “Migs, you’re a good guy.” The silence wasn’t out of the ordinary. It had been an exhausting weekend. As I walked out of the student union, they followed, seven of them, down the sidewalk.
Jim Ashmun, a fraternity brother, stepped in front of me and said, “We need to tell you something.”
I stopped and said, “OK. What?”
He paused and stayed silent for a few seconds.
“Your friend, Corethia, she was killed yesterday afternoon by a…”
All I heard were the words “Corethia” and “killed” in that sentence. Any other sounds that came out of his mouth at that instant were muffled. The sky turned dark. Their faces were grim. The mood was dismal. “Corethia, killed, Corethia, killed.” It was like a scene from a major motion picture, in slow motion. “Corethia, killed.” I couldn’t breathe for a second and started choking on my own saliva.
“I heard it this morning on WMMS,” he continued. “She was hit by a train, the Rapid Transit.”
It didn’t make any sense. I thought, “Hit by a train? No.”
Then Kramer moved in, put his arm around me and said, “This isn’t one of our pranks Migs, this is real.”
I thought I was dreaming until I phoned her home. Her mother was hysterical, could barely speak through the hiccups. Corethia was on her way to Berea to see me. She had called her mother to let her know. For weeks I was a mess, my head in a fog. Ten of us went to the funeral. I was never the same.
Corethia Downs walked in and out of my life in eleven days. In that short time she tugged open a door to a part of my heart I didn’t know existed. I kept the items she’d given me for over a decade, including the newspaper article of her death I clipped from the Plain Dealer. A short time later, I opened the Hallmark card she had slipped into the pouch a week earlier. I was sitting at Kramer’s desk chair. He was lying on his bed. This was how the escapade had started and ended, the two of us, in our dorm room. In the card on the left were two stickers, a female rabbit making eyes at a male one. On the right was written, “I’ll never forget you.” She had signed the card, “Love always, Corethia.” It was almost as if she’d known.
*This piece is dedicated to Alan S. Donaldson who passed away on November 15th, 2012. We roomed together junior year on the second floor of Constitution Hall. I kept in touch with Al up until the summer of 2009. He was my friend and my brother. Miss you Doc. 7//31/62-11/15/12.
*In memory of Corethia Mae Downs. 12/31/58 to 11/1/81.
*In memory of Carl Hazenstab, my little brother, my friend. Carl passed away in June of 2001 at the age of 39. I never spoke with him after I graduated from B-W.
*Thank you to Stephen McLain for his permission in letting me use his name. Steve is married with 3 kids and lives in Massillon, OH. He’s the National Sales Manager for United Titanium. We have never lost touch and have remained friends since college.
*Thank you to Wally Thompson for his permission in letting me use his name. He’s a Physical Therapist Assistant, is married and lives in scenic Russell, PA. We have never lost touch and have remained friends since college.
*Thank you to my sister, Susan West, for her permission in letting me use her name. Sue is a school teacher in Kinnelon, NJ and is married with 3 kids. She ended up at the University of Cincinnati so we did see eachother during college. She lives in Wayne, NJ.
*And to fast Eddie Kramer, wherever you are, hope this brings back some memories.
**Not 4 Years But A Lifetime**