Garden of Eden, 1961

Snapshots in Prose - Garden of Eden, 1961In January of 1961, I was fifteen and a sophomore at St. Edmund’s, and tomorrow morning, the principal was going to expel me. Our mid-term examinations would begin on Wednesday. Two a day-for three days. It was Monday night, and when I wasn’t staring at my Latin spiral notebook, I was staring at the telephone next to me. It was going to ring. Brother Shaye, my principal, was going to call my mother.

When I wasn’t staring at the notebook or the phone, I watched my mother set the table in our small kitchen. Every day, she came home from work at six o’clock and prepared a meal for our family of two. I felt awful.

If you sat at one corner of our studio, you could see the entire apartment. And that’s where I sat. Near the phone. If you wanted privacy, you shut the kitchen door—or sat in the bathroom. Those rare times I called a girl, I’d ask my mother to sit in the kitchen with the door closed. Not for long. Just long enough for me to stutter through a written script of questions.

“Do you have homework tonight?” We always had homework. I hadn’t mastered open-ended questions, yet.

“Would you like to see West Side Story Saturday night?”

I always had a backup movie. Movie marquees changed frequently back then, so there was a good chance I wouldn’t need Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

If my mother was busy in the living room, I’d go to the corner drugstore and use the phone booth. I’d sit on the small seat, close the accordion door, place my script and dime—and a few optimistic nickels—on the shelf under the phone for a longer conversation, take a deep breath, and blow through tight lips for several seconds.

With script in hand, I’d dial. Of course, I never got past the dime and one nickel. To this day, I have trouble speaking on the phone with strangers. If I called a girl for a date, she was a stranger. As a result, I knew very little about the opposite sex. I knew almost nothing.

Brother Shaye would find my admission about the opposite sex incredible. Pure fiction. But it wasn’t fiction and—considering my transgression—his disbelief was well-founded. I was guilty as sin. Brother Delaney, my English teacher, would call me a paradox.

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