I was 21 and I wore bell bottoms and peasant dresses. I listened to Cat Stevens and James Taylor. I read “Henry IV, Part One,” “Motivation and Personality,” and “The Female Eunuch” by Germaine Greer. At parties, I drank Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, smoked pot, and ate chips with French onion dip. In the Student Union, I hung out in the Carnation Room with the other theater majors. I drank coffee, puffed Virginia Slim Menthols, and laughed, performing my part in the show.
I got a temp job waiting tables at the Dutch Pantry Restaurant, costumed in a pinafore apron and white winged hat. I served vacuum-packed meals revived in boiling water — meatloaf, pot roast, chicken and dumplings. Fake fresh food.”
I shared a one-bedroom apartment with Donna and Kathy and walked six blocks to campus, the acrid, red odor from the Heinz Tomato Factory stewing in the air.
In my journal, I wrote “I’m determined to be the real me.”
I played Paula Frothingham in “End of Summer,” my hair coiffed in a 1940s style that Donna said looked like a rat sitting on my head. The theater majors dubbed the show “End of Theater.”
I auditioned for “Hail Scrawdyke.” Rejected. And “Henry IV.” Rejected again.
I played the daughter in “Tomorrow Through Any Window.” In a bed downstage left, I simulated masturbation and orgasm. I’d never had an orgasm. The theater majors said it was my best work ever.
I declared a second major in psychology because I was no longer sure I wanted to be an actress because I was fascinated with the world of the mind because I was fascinated with my Personality Theory professor because I was afraid to graduate two quarters early and face the “real world.”
I applied to grad school in theater because I did want to be an actress and was afraid to face the “real world.”
I decided to be an actress and a psychologist. Or, at least to marry a psychologist.
I had a fight with Donna and Kathy about who knows what and didn’t speak to them for weeks.
In my journal, I quoted Germaine Greer: “. . . emotional security . . . is the achievement of the individual.”
I fell in love for the first time with a future rabbi even though I’d rejected Judaism and knew he was moving to Israel. I fell in love for the second time with a PhD student in psychology even though he was married. He was unhappy, he said, and I hoped he’d leave his wife. I almost fell in love for the third time, with the Personality Theory professor. In his office, I sat on his lap and smoked his cigarettes, my hands shaking. “You should think about the control you exert in our relationship,” he said. He was 49 and also married.
I had sex in the wood-paneled family room of my parents’ house with the first man I loved; on the floor of the living room of my apartment with the guy who played my brother in play number two; in the apartment of a PhD student in philosophy who said I looked like Barbra Streisand and convinced me to study Transcendental Meditation to calm my mind (it didn’t work.) I had sex in the Holiday Inn with my married lover and sex with him in the sublet I rented for the summer, so I could be close to him until I left for grad school.
My insides burned from acid reflux.
I couldn’t sleep.
I wept and wept and wept.
I tried on experiences as if they were new clothes on a rack.
In my journal, I wrote “I wonder if anything means anything.”
I got a temp job waiting tables at the Dutch Pantry Restaurant, costumed in a pinafore apron and white winged hat. I served vacuum-packed meals revived in boiling water — meatloaf, pot roast, chicken and dumplings. Fake fresh food. When I refused to work late one night because my love affair was crashing, and I was crashing, and I wanted only to go back to the apartment and wait for my lover to call — to PLEASE CALL — the manager yelled, “You’re fired.”
I didn’t care. The job was shit. My relationship was doomed. I was flying to grad school in three weeks, conflicted or not. I whipped off my apron and threw it at her. The customers watched. I stomped out — a grand exit.
I didn’t stick around for the reviews.
Sharon Goldberg is a Seattle writer whose work has appeared in New Letters, The Gettysburg Review, The Louisville Review, Cold Mountain Review, Under the Sun, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Dalhousie Review, Gold Man Review and three fiction anthologies.
Photo by R. Mac Wheeler