“Come on, Mandy... don’t be so hard on me. I don’t need that right now,” Becky Carson pleaded tiredly. She squeezed her eyes shut and ran her free hand through the long blond hair spilling across the shoulder of her faded blue tee-shirt. She felt the immediate, all too familiar, bittersweet sting of tears behind her closed lids. “I know you have my best interest at heart, Man, and really... I do love you for it, but I don’t need your preaching right now. I need your strength, your support.”
“Okay, Becky. I guess you know best.” Mandy groaned in resignation, once again feeling the sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach. She shook her head.
This wasn’t the first time Mandy had tried to get Becky to see the light. She had long since lost track of the number of times they had shared this very same conversation. It was beyond her how Becky could be so damned naïve. Why couldn’t she get through to her? Why couldn’t she make Becky see that she was only throwing her life away on that worthless boyfriend of hers, Bradley Ames?
“I apologize, Becky,” she said. “I just don’t like seeing Brad hurting you the way he is.”
Becky felt herself cringe as she listened to the bitter sarcasm in Mandy’s voice coming through the line. She gripped the receiver tighter to her ear. “Look, Mandy…” she snapped. “I can’t sit here all day and listen to you argue about my life with Brad. I know you think he’s a jerk, and I can’t help the way you feel. But I love him, and we’re happy together, and besides. . .” She paused a moment and sucked in a fresh breath of air. She hated it that she had to defend herself to the one person in all the world who should know her better than any other living soul. They had known each other for far too long. It just wasn’t fair. So what if she and Brad were having a few bad times right now? Didn’t most young couples go through a similar adjustment period? She and Brad would work everything out, things would get back to normal. She was sure of it.
“And besides, what?”
The sound of Mandy’s nagging interrupted the hopeful thoughts filling Becky’s head. “Mandy, please”, she heard herself pleading again. “I’ve got to get off the phone and get ready for work or I’ll be late.”
Becky knew that was a lie---and she knew, too, Mandy probably knew it was as well. She had stopped working on Sunday nights over a month ago. But for right now, for at least this one more minute, she just didn’t feel like arguing anymore. Her head ached as it always did when she was trapped into having this same conversation with Mandy. A deep pulsing throb that started from behind her eyes. She knew it was only tension, but she knew, too, how to make it stop. She had to get off the phone. She had to put an end to all this stupid arguing.
“Can’t we just drop it for now?” Becky groaned. “We’ll talk more tomorrow, okay?”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll drop it if you want me to. But please... don’t forget,” Mandy paused a moment, hating to go on, yet knowing she had to try one more time. She switched the phone to her other ear and pulled a hopeful grin to her lips. “Just remember though,” she added carefully, her voice barely loud enough to be heard on the other end, “You can always move back into the dorm with me if you need to.”
Becky smiled in quiet resignation. There was no hope for Mandy, she would never change. She would always be a ‘mother-hen’ to anyone she ever loved---or for that matter, to anyone she ever cared about. And that was that. She could be exasperating at times, especially times like right now; never knowing when to drop it. Yet, strange as Mandy’s ways were, Becky mused, she couldn’t help but love her nonetheless.
Her next words came with a gentle smile of her own, “I know I can, Mandy, but really, I’m fine right where I’m at. Now,” Becky sat up straighter and slid her legs off the sofa where she had, had them folded beneath her. She reached for the base of the phone. “I’ve got to get a move on it before I’m late. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Sure. No problem. I understand,” Mandy answered, sounding as if she really did understand; as if she really did see that Becky and Brad had their own lives to live. And truly, it was one of the things she wanted most in all the world. She wanted to understand... but something deep inside her heart, intuition maybe, simply wouldn’t let her. She had seen Brad hurt her best friend too many times already. “Just remember, though,” she answered with a timid smile, “if you need me, you’ve got a friend.”
“Thanks, Man. I will.” Becky breathed a sigh of relief and tossed her head, sending her straying hair back across her shoulder. She didn’t mean to sound gruff and sarcastic, she really cared about Mandy’s feelings, but for now, she just felt too tired. She said “good-bye,” and then abruptly, even before Mandy had the chance to open her mouth one last time, Becky slid the receiver back into its cradle and lifted the phone from her lap. She reached up with her free hand, absently rubbing the numbness from her left ear, as she set the phone back in its place on the coffee table before her.
* * *
Becky tried, without much success, to quell the nagging echo of Mandy’s words that kept darting back and forth through her mind as she made her way into the small kitchen of her and Brad’s apartment. She glanced at the table with a heavy heart, and for the second time in just this one day, she felt her eyes filling with fresh tears.
She had been busy all afternoon preparing one of Brad’s favorite dishes. Homemade lasagna. And now, Becky slumped tiredly into the chair closest to her side, and stared through the dampness of her tears at the delicious looking dinner that lay before her on the neatly laid table. The slanting rays of the late afternoon sun spilled across the table from the window above the sink. Sparkling glints of light danced across the wall behind her head in a glorious kaleidoscope of colors as it bounced off the cut-glass candle holders and highly polished stainless silverware, she had worked so hard on shining to perfection. Everything looked so perfect. Everything looked so delicious. But, Becky thought with a heavy heart, reaching out and stroking the folded napkin on the nearest plate; looks could be ever so deceiving.
Everything might have been delicious two hours ago, but now... it looked doubtful. The fresh garden salad seemed to be wilting, leaf by leaf, and minute by minute, before her very eyes. And the lasagna and French bread had no doubt grown far too cold to come anywhere even close to ever being called edible again.
At long last, Becky pulled herself to her feet, and with hands that felt almost as heavy as the heart she felt beating within her breast, she started clearing the table. She knew it would be a waste of time to wait for Brad any longer. He should have been home over two hours ago already. Who did he think he was fooling? She knew what time he got off work.
And then, a short twenty minutes later, as she wiped the last plate dry and stacked it with the others on the lowest shelf of the cabinet, she knew something else. This wasn’t the first time Brad had done this to her... and no doubt it probably wouldn’t be the last.
Becky reached for the switch by the door and flipped the overhead light off as she stepped from the room. And as she did, and as the dark shadows from the kitchen seemed to follow her out into the hall, the sudden ache in her heart reminded her of the one thing she wanted most in all the world not to ever have to be reminded of again... It didn’t look like Brad would be coming home tonight either!
Berkeley College: September, 1967
Neither of them, Becky Carson nor Mandy Powers, had ever had any great aspirations of going to college. But since the both of them had been raised to be nothing less than obedient, and each of them being a child of the sixties and respecting their parents’ wishes---even though they knew in their own hearts they had far better, and definitely more worthwhile plans for their futures---they ended up at Berkeley College in the fall of 1967. Starry-eyed, young and naive as the two of them had been back then, frightened of all that surrounded them in the outside world; Becky and Mandy began their futures on the same long pathway.
It was a bright and sunny day in early September in California when Becky and Mandy first bumped into each other. As they climbed the steps to the women’s dorm, each of them completely unaware of the others’ presence, and single-mindedly trying to navigate their own heavy suitcases and bags and boxes up the steep stairway---both their struggles looking all but in vain as they tugged and shoved, trying desperately to prevent their awkward burdens from slipping back down; they ran smack into each other. Their eyes met and held for a long moment. They stood still, each of them still breathing heavy from their labors, and both wearing red flushing cheeks from their strenuous efforts in the afternoon heat, and then---at almost the exact same instant---they looked back down the steep incline they had barely just managed to safely traverse. An instant later, they burst out laughing, the sounds of their happy giggles growing louder as each lilting decibel seemed to echo off the rust colored brick walls on either side of them. They watched, almost in shock, as two of their largest suitcases, both of which had but a moment earlier somehow managed to slip from their cramped fingers, and end up ramming into each other. And then slowly, as if each of the over-packed bags were moving in slow motion like some gigantic, ancient shelled turtle trying to surmount a mighty obstacle; they slid the full length back down the steep stairway. The resounding echo of the crash rose up and met their ears as the bags hit the ground with a thunderous Kaboom!
Becky and Mandy stood frozen, staring with open mouths, at the vast assortment of brightly colored lacy panties and bras, and various other quite feminine---totally unmentionable looking pieces of clothing sprawled across the sidewalk and well-manicured lawn far below. The loud commotion caused several of the other newly arriving college kids to stop in their tracks, oblivious for the moment as to where they themselves might be going and stare. They saw the onlookers stop and laugh, but neither of them, Becky nor Mandy, seemed to mind. They were too busy laughing themselves.
When they looked back up, and their eyes met again, they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. It seemed almost creepy. It was as if they were looking into a full-length mirror. Anyone could easily see that they were sisters---everyone who ever saw them thought that---and yet, they weren’t. Both wore their blond hair hanging long and straight, parted down the middle and tucked behind each ear, and letting the rest fall in a gentle cascade around their shoulders. Each of them wanting to look like every other smartly dressed girl of the day and blend in with the crowd. Becky’s legs looked a bit longer than Mandy’s, but only because she chose to wear her miniskirts a few inches shorter… and their pale blue eyes seemed almost identical. The same exact color as a cloudless summer sky after a gentle cleansing rain.
And then, they met again, the second time in one day, when they both struggled into the same dorm room on the second floor of the largest of the women’s dormitories. When their eyes touched, and the realization of what was happening struck the both of them; they couldn’t stop the giggles that rose once again to nearly choke them. Could this be fate? Destiny had obviously led them to be together.
The tiny room they shared in the west wing of the brick colonial dormitory seemed a far cry from the frilly, comfortable rooms they had both left behind in their respective childhood homes. The furniture, if you could call it that, looked as if it had been rescued from the salvage yard by someone who had an eye for something other than interior decorating. Nothing seemed to match.
Pushing the door open, but not yet entering the small room, Becky and Mandy got their first look at their new home. Along the wall to the left, they saw two narrow single beds, separated by an ugly, uncomfortable looking avocado green loveseat, which had no doubt survived an extremely hard life by the looks of its many patches and cigarette burns. It sat atop a well-worn oval braided rug that seemed to be held together at the seams by nothing more than mere memory. On the other side of the room, one old and heavily scarred blond desk sat below the single window that was the rooms only outside view. “Oh look…” Mandy bounced from foot to foot as she peeked around the still opened door. “We even have a small fridge and a hotplate. Just like home, huh?”
“Yeah… just like home.” Becky followed Mandy into the room, taking it all in. There were a few pictures, none of which either of them would ever have chosen for themselves, due to their obvious ugliness, and several rock-and-roll posters hanging here and there on the sandy beige walls.
Becky and Mandy looked at each other, and once again they had a good laugh.
It was a struggle, a job they had never dreamed would take so long, but finally, they were through. Mandy plopped down on the loveseat with a heavy sigh, patting the cushion at her side. “Come on, girl. Have a seat. I think we’re through.”
Becky forced a tired smile to her lips as she pulled the last record album from the last box to be emptied and placed it with the others she had stacked on the floor beside the desk. This was one day she was more than glad to see coming to a close. “Do I look as tired as I feel?” she asked, kicking the now empty cardboard box out of her way, and coming to take her place next to her new roommate.
But Mandy was exhausted, too. Her blond hair had long since managed to slip from her scarf-bound ponytail, and now hung in limp and lifeless strands against her flushed cheeks. She looked down at her own rumpled shirt, her dust and grime covered jeans. “I’m afraid I’d have to say we both look a little less than perfect.”
Becky couldn’t help but laugh as she nodded in agreement. She knew that was the understatement of the year. She had already managed a quick glimpse of her own rag-tailed reflection in the mirror by the door a short while ago. “Oh well,” she groaned, leaning forward and grabbing her lukewarm soda off the coffee table. She glanced around the crowded room, “At least we’re finally all moved in.”
“Thank, God.” Mandy answered, a broad grin lifting her lips, and lighting up her entire face.
The long day was coming to an end, the last dying rays of the setting sun barely reaching through the lonely window, and lending any brightness to the drab carpet at their feet. And, tired as they were, they both couldn’t help but feel excited. Today was the first day of the four year journey that lay ahead of them here at Berkeley College.
Their new ‘home’ was filled to almost overflowing with all their clothes, and books, and records. All the many personal things a young girl needed for survival. Yet, crowded and, small as it was, that tiny room had more than enough space for their friendship to grow and blossom into a thing of such a rare and wonderful beauty, that everyone who ever met and knew them, seemed to be jealous. Becky and Mandy seemed almost inseparable from that very first day.
They attended many of the same classes, helped each other study and cram for finals, swapped their favorite miniskirts and tight fitting sweaters, shared their deepest and darkest and wildest secret dreams, and occasionally, they sometimes even traded boyfriends. It wasn’t long before they became even closer than ‘mere’ friends. They truly became the sisters that everyone on campus already assumed them to be.
* * *
“Hi…” Mandy groaned as she stepped into the sunny living room and leaned back, pushing the door closed with her hip. She was too tired to go a step further. Her arms had started to feel cramped and sore even before she had finished climbing the first flight of stairs, and now, after having struggled all the way up to the second landing, without dropping even one book from her heavy load, she looked as if she might collapse at any moment.
“Oh my goodness, girl.” Becky jumped up and hurried across the crowded room. She placed a hand on Mandy’s elbow and pulled her back towards the lumpy loveseat. “Let me help you with that.”
Mandy gladly accepted the offered assistance and flopped down with a heavy groan, the mountain of books piled high on the lap of her crumpled skirt. She looked up, her eyes barely clearing the rim of the enormous bookkeeping book that was on top of the stack.
“Thanks a million,” she answered, her eyes scanning the room for her rescuer. “You’re a real lifesaver, Bec. Hey, where did you go?”
“Thanks a million,” she answered, her eyes scanning the room for her rescuer. “You’re a real lifesaver, Bec. Hey, where did you go?”
“Here, you look like you could use this,” Becky said, returning to Mandy’s side and offering her the cold soda she had grabbed from the tiny fridge. Mandy was squirming, trying to adjust her load and take the soda, and Becky couldn’t help but laugh. She reached over and slowly began lifting the books from Mandy’s lap.
“Oh, God… I can finally breathe.”
Becky eyes filled with curiosity as she lifted one heavy book after another, and started stacking them on the floor at their feet. She tried to read the titles; typing, shorthand, Bookkeeping, math, and several others that slipped past before she could scan the covers. “For heaven’s sake, girl,” Becky said, glancing back at the stack of books towering even higher than the top of their rickety coffee table. “How many years are you planning on staying here? Or are you planning on living here forever? There’s no way you can learn all this stuff in just four years you know.”
“Sure I can,” Mandy answered in earnest. “I happen to be very intelligent.”
“You might be that, but I think you would have to be a real genius to accomplish this much learning.” Becky looked away from the mountain of knowledge that loomed up between them, her eyes playful, as she reached for her own soda. She tucked her legs up and under the hem of her ankle-length peasant skirt, and faced Mandy with a smug look. “And besides,” she teased, “I thought you said you only came here to get a husband. Who are you planning on nabbing, a true blue Einstein?”
“You’re cruel, girl. You’re really cruel.”
* * *
And then, by the time they were beginning their second month of school, Becky had her friend, Mandy, all figured out. It was true; she was indeed here to find a husband for herself. And she was in no way going about it like a dummy. She threw herself into her studies with a vengeance. It wasn’t good enough to find just any ‘husband’. Mandy wanted to latch onto a smart one, someone who, like herself, was going to be somebody someday.
And that was the one dream the two of them shared. Becky had her sights on a career in the entertainment field. It didn’t matter, acting or singing, or maybe even directing if she found she lacked enough talent to pursue any of her other leads. All that mattered to her, too, was that someday she was definitely going to be ‘somebody’. Somebody big.
She kept pretty much to herself, her books and her classes were the most important thing in her life these days. And unlike, Mandy, Becky didn’t want to coast to the top on the shirt-tails of any man. Making it 'big’ was a dream she wanted to fulfill all on her ‘own’.
Mandy seemed to know everyone on campus. She was having a wonderful time, laughing and meeting people, and going out nearly every night of the week. And at the same time, and much to Becky’s surprise and astonishment, she seemed to be breezing through all her classes. She hadn’t yet found her perfect man, her one and only ‘husband-to-be’, but she didn’t seem worried.
“I’ve still got plenty of time left for that, Becky.” She would tease. And then a moment later, she would throw a light sweater over her shoulder and hurry out the front door.
“Don’t wait up for me. I’m going out with Jake Petrie tonight, you know… the cute guy with all that wavy blond hair I told you about, he’s in my bookkeeping class. And anyway,” she gushed, “we might be pretty late… we’re going to the drive-in.”
And then, just this last summer---the summer of 1968, and only one short year after their first meeting---after sharing that first burst of laughter together watching their suitcases spill across the lawn in front of their dormitory; life, as Becky and Mandy knew it to be then, ceased to exist.
Becky’s whole life seemed to do a somersault. It happened so quickly… almost overnight, and taking everyone by surprise. It was then that, Bradley Ames, the star player on the college basketball team, stepped into Becky’s life.
She had gone out on dates before. In fact, she had been out on lots of them. And she had even managed to enjoy a few of them, but in the end… she had always managed to keep a level head; not allowing herself to get too serious about any one boy. But then again… Becky had never been out on a date with someone quite like Bradley Ames either.
Becky noticed Brad right away; as did nearly every other girl on campus. But Becky knew better. She didn’t dare to let herself even think he might return the favor. And then she felt honored when a few weeks later, she realized that he had done far more than merely taking notice of her, too. Brad followed her everywhere. The library. The cafeteria. The pep rallies. It seemed as if this same, handsome, debonair Bradley Ames, hero of all the basketball teams, had chosen her over all the other girls that were so readily available to be ‘his’ girl.
Brad was handsome and bright, so much fun to be with. His laughter always so ready, his manner, carefree and jovial and incredibly happy. And more important than anything else---this same, Bradley Ames, made Becky Carson feel happier than she had ever felt in her entire life.
Within a month after their first awkward and nervous meeting, Brad and Becky fell hopelessly in love, and thinking of no one else---they rented a small apartment off-campus and moved in together. It tore Mandy’s heart out the day Becky packed her things with a bright and happy smile, and moved from the beloved dorm room the two of them had shared for so long.
* * *
Mandy sat cross-legged in the middle of the single bed on her side of the tiny dorm room. She frowned as she watched Becky pulling her clothes from the narrow closet, and shook her head in dismay. It seemed inconceivable that Becky could do this to her. How could it be happening? They had been together for too long for one of them to just up and move like this.
“But how do you know he won’t turn out to be a jerk like that other guy…?” Mandy’s words stopped in mid-sentence, and Becky looked up from her packing in time to see her tapping her forehead with one finger. “Oh well,” Mandy went on, “I can’t remember his name right this minute, but you know the guy I’m talking about. The one with the frizzy blond hair and that stupid looking little mustache that barely showed at all unless he turned sideways in a bright light.”
“His name was Thomas… something-or-other.” Becky’s words faltered to a stop. She spun around and picked up another sweater from the pile she had tossed across the foot of the bed. Her hands wavered as she pretended to be busy folding it, but hopefully Mandy wouldn’t notice that she, too, had so easily forgotten Thomas’ last name. “And anyway,” Becky continued, her hands tucking one arm of the sweater over the other. “I don’t recall Thomas being a jerk. I just got tired of going out with him after a while.”
“A while?” Mandy snorted, her eyes widening in disbelief. “You dated that guy nearly every night for almost two months. And if I remember right…” She turned then, and with a wicked grin, wagged an admonishing finger in Becky’s face. “You were trying awfully hard to convince me for the first few weeks of that steamy little affair that he was none other than your one and only ‘true love’.”
Becky placed the half-folded sweater in the suitcase and reached for another. She cocked her head to one side and batted her sky blue eyes in Mandy’s direction. “Okay,” she grumbled. “I owe you that one… you’re right. But don’t you see?” she asked. “Brad’s not anything like Thomas. He’s such a sweet and honest man. He would never dump me just so he could go out with some dumb bimbo on the cheerleading squad who has more looks than brains.”
Mandy had to think about that for a minute. Becky’s words did make sense. She tried to picture Brad, the all-star superhero of the basketball team, going out with anyone quite as bubble-headed as most of the cheerleaders she had seen around campus. No. Becky had to be right. Surely Brad had more class than that. But all the same . . . Mandy still thought he was a jerk, and she wasn’t going to just sit here and twiddle her thumbs while her best friend got herself into something over her head.
“You might think Brad’s sweet and honest,” she added, her eyebrows arching. “But have you ever heard any of the rumors floating around about his past?”
“No, I haven’t,” Becky snapped. “And even if I did, I wouldn’t listen.”
Mandy swung her legs over the edge of the bed and wiggled her way into the narrow space between Becky’s two suitcases. She draped her arms over their raised lids, her hands waving to stress the importance of her words. “I was in bookkeeping class the other day and I heard Stephanie and Barbara talking about some girl Brad supposedly dated last semester, and…”
“But, Becky,” she said. “You’ve just got to hear this.”
“I’ve got to hear what?” Becky slammed the first suitcase shut and slid it to the floor at her feet. She sat down on the edge of the bed and turned to face Mandy with a solemn stare. “You’re a little late if you’re trying to tell me the story about the girl he was supposed to have gotten pregnant and then left at the altar. I’ve already heard all about it…” She paused in mid-sentence, confident she had said enough to put Mandy in her place, and then she changed her mind. “And in answer to that shocked look I see on your face right now,” she added even before Mandy had the time to interrupt, “I heard all about it from Brad himself.”
Mandy couldn’t believe her own ears. “Do what?” she asked, her mouth hanging open, her words spilling out unhindered. “You mean he already told you?”
“Yes, Man, I don’t think you were listening when I told you a minute ago.” Becky flashed a triumphant grin, “But, Brad is very honest. He has nothing to hide, especially from me.”
“Well…” Mandy paused then, the bluntness of Becky’s statement catching her off guard. She felt her eyes growing wide in astonishment. How could Becky say such a thing? Didn’t she have any better sense?
And then, almost as suddenly as the shock had overtaken her a moment before, Mandy tossed her head in defiance. She remembered one more thing---the one thing that had to be worse than any so-called rumor anyone had ever told about anyone else. She was certain it was the one thing that Brad would never in a million years admit to anyone; especially to Becky. He would never tell her, he wasn’t a complete idiot. “But, do you know?”
But Becky wasn’t listening. She cut Mandy short. “Look, Man, I already told you I don’t want to hear it. I don’t care what it is… I don’t want to hear it.” Becky got to her feet and reached to close the second suitcase. Her eyes bore into Mandy’s. “You know yourself that people who live boring lives are the ones to start rumors. It’s all the excitement they get out of life, and I am simply not interested. Period.”
There was no more talking about it. The subject was closed. Mandy didn’t like it, but she held her tongue. For the rest of the afternoon, and until Becky had finished emptying the dorm room of all her personal belongings, Mandy never said another word; she only listened. And listened, and listened. And to her it felt like the end of the world. She knew this was their last hour alone together---Becky, her dearest friend, was moving out tonight.
Everything would surely change. Mandy was sure of it.
* * *
Becky and Brad had so much fun setting up housekeeping in their little one bedroom apartment off Pecan Avenue. During the day they spent most of their time with their studies so as to keep their grades up to par, but their nights… Their nights were something very special. They made love for hours on end. As soon as they came in from their last class, after dinner, and so many nights while watching the late show on television. They talked and dreamed and loved each other with a perfect passion. Their funds being limited, they furnished their small apartment with used furniture they gleaned from second hand shops around town, and soon, their little ‘love nest’, as they had laughed and called it back then, started looking like a real home. Their future together seemed bright and happy, and was filled with such high hopes.
* * *
The war was still going on in Viet Nam---and protesters carried their banners high, their shouts of disapproval ringing out loud and clear---not only in Berkeley, California, but on college campuses all across the nation. There were ‘flower children’ everywhere. And ‘love-in’ became the word of the day. Drugs like LSD and acid and pot flowed as freely as water. It was a pretty scary time to be out in the world, so far from home---but as long as you kept your head straight, and as long as you had real ‘friends’ you could count on, you could do okay.
And life went on.
Becky and Brad and Mandy studied a lot, sometimes they even played a lot, but for the most part, they dreamed their dreams a lot. And somewhere along the way, they even managed to grow up a lot.
At least… some of them did.