No Picnic

On Monday, Nov. 17, 1980, my calendar-planner’s entry read: “Meet Jim @ theatre entrance @ 1:30 to go to River Falls until approx. 6 or 7pm. See Kristi.”Picnic1

I have no idea who these people were.

My best guess is former high school newspaper editor Jim Borgheiinck, meeting me at Lakewood to drive to the University of Wisconsin to visit my old high school girlfriend Kristi Peterson.

But why those two?

And why then?

Not having a journal or diary to corroborate has been a frustrating exercise in personal archaeology. But due to a fastidious nature, I was able to unearth copies of letters I wrote to friends while I was at school in White Bear Lake.

On that Monday I wrote a letter to high school friend Terry Hollingsworth. Apparently we’d talked on the phone the previous Friday night, and promised to write letters going forward.

But something happened that Friday that totally knocked me off my feet.

I had to tell someone about it, so it’s likely I called Terry, then followed up with that letter, just so I could better understand my thinking. I’m grateful I kept a copy:

“I went to the Lakewood Community College’s Theater Department’s production of Picnic, set in Kansas, circa 1950. …I was fascinated by one of the leading characters, Millie, played by this Angelette girl who really knew how to smile. She was beautiful, in both character and obvious self. I wanted to know her, find her out, be present during the offstage moments of her life, witness her finesse in pure smiling. I hope to meet her sometime. But I am again doubtful that any relationship I imagine could form. After the performance that night, I was standing outside the auditorium talking with a friend of mine when she flew up out of nowhere, still in costume, and said hello to my friend. I wanted to congratulate her on the show, say something, anything to her, but I stood there nodding and listening like a fool whose eyes possibly betray more than anything his surprise and anxiety and compunction.”

Her name was Angelette McCusker. The letter continues:

“I saw her again today in the hall as I was going down to the cafeteria, and I … thought I caught a look from her, and continued on my way. She seems bubbly and composed at the same time, a girlish mixture of mature lightheartedness and deliberation. So today this is how things stand: I wish I had the same decisiveness that my friends here at Lakewood seem to have in meeting girls. I am directly by nature too shy, and self-conscious of my appearance and mannerisms in a situation of first meeting.”

So, I wrapped up that first letter with the sign-off “Brothers in words, Mike,” and that was that.

After two weeks, I hadn’t heard from Terry, so I wrote a second letter on Monday, Dec. 1, 1980. Four paragraphs in, this:

“I met her today. I met the girl, Angel, I told you about in the last letter, yes, the actress that has stolen my heart. This is what happened: Pat, a friend of mine, and I had just walked upstairs from the first level of the school … when we passed the Business Office upstairs and both of us spotted Angel with two of her friends. One of the girls knew Pat, because on Halloween day he had dressed up very realistically as Bruce Springsteen, and she called to him: “Oh, Bruce!” We both did a kind of about-face and went over to talk to them. Terry, now is when everything in my memory goes just a little hazy. You know when I told you in the last letter about First Meetings? Well it all applies. The general conversation was set on Pat, he was indeed the reason for the meeting at all. The girl who called him over, and who by the way also appeared in the play with Angel, roughly introduced us… I ventured to say to Angel that she was very good in the play (I thought I did pretty good for someone who was nervous as hell and almost in pieces just seeing the girl at a distance), and she replied: “You remember me from that long ago?”

Gulp. Busted.

The letter reports I blathered “something inconsequential” to her, then later went on to muse to Terry about the feeling of being newly in love:

“Have you ever noticed how you act when you’re infatuated/in love? Besides being forever red, hot and all flushed in the face, your love seems to pop up everywhere and the surprise is always fresh and complete. She seems a little different every day; wasn’t her hair dark, chocolate brown? No, now it seems much lighter, with shades and tints of blonde. She is the popular one in a bunch; then she is the lonely one just around the corner. She seems to watch you from afar, and then all of a sudden it seems she sees you the same way you see a crowd, all at once. She is beauty in a glance; frightening to face eye-to-eye. Perhaps most of all she thrives as your beloved object greatest in the lonely hours of your imagination, your momentary flights and touch-downs of fantasy. Her greatest impact on you is out of your sight. Your loved one is about as close as you could come to calling something a Real Ghost.”

Then, on Saturday, Dec. 20—the last letter of 1980—no further mention of Angel. I’d already been home on winter break for nine days. I was feeling lonely and anxious about the forthcoming year. And Terry finally responded to the slew of letters he was receiving.

Picnic2Of course there’s no letter or journal entry to confirm these things, but Angel and I did start seeing one another.

I recall only one date off-campus, with Mark Luebker and his girlfriend Susan, at an Italian restaurant just down the road from the college.

Angel and I held hands, and kissed a couple times in quiet nooks at school. All the while I was burning with desire to take it further.

But after winter quarter began, Angel handed me that dreaded of all things, the Dear John letter: “Mike, I refuse to hurt you any longer by leading you to believe my feelings are more than what they really are. I value your friendship too highly.”

Wham!—color me crushed.

She’d also sent an early draft of the note, signing it: “Millie.”

I quickly realized that the winter of 1981—my last year at Lakewood—was going to be, well, no picnic.

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~ by completelyinthedark on August 1, 2014.

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