There was a knock at the front door. I opened the door to see two of the scruffiest looking girls I could imagine - straight out of my nightmares - dirty Levis, heavy boots, stocky build, shirts, sweaters - And, before I could tell them they were in the wrong place, my roommate, Carol, had come and was embracing them warmly. They moved through a very silent living room to the back of the apartment where I could hear happy voices echoing to a living room now filled with heavy goodbyes and raised eyebrows.
My feelings of importance and suitable impressions were gone - wiped away by two ruffians who invaded my home, wrecking a carefully constructed life and future.
I stormed back to the kitchen and Carol jumped up and began apologizing for her friends. Their apologies followed quickly and were so sincere that I simply sat down. Carol got me a cup of tea, and I began to hear the story.
They had been in the Navy together. All three discharged for homosexuality even though their discharges read differently. All three had been stationed at the Naval Air Station at Millington, Tenn. Carol had stayed in Memphis. Wanda had gone home to Arkansas and then to her grandparents in Phoenix. Dusty had gone home to Phoenix. Somehow, Dusty and Wanda had connected and moved back to Arkansas. Now, here they all were - in my apartment, scaring away my friends, drinking my tea, and making my life miserable.
The apartment was small, and I had nowhere to escape but I felt I must get out. They followed me. We walked around the corner to a restaurant where we sat and drank tea all afternoon.. Night began to crowd into the restaurant, and I was cold as we walked back to the apartment. Wanda wrapped her jacket around me.
Dusty and Wanda visited almost every weekend for a couple of months. Then they broke up and Dusty went back to Phoenix.
Carol and I moved to a larger better apartment where I had a getaway in the attic. We took in all kinds of strays. The same Naval officer who had helped them through their discharges now asked if we would help others discharged also for being homosexuals. They shared our apartment, our beds, our food. Some stayed a few days, some stayed a month, some stayed several months. All moved on.
And, my life moved on. Wanda still visited on weekends, and we had lots of fun doing crazy things - walking in the park, rolling on the grass, driving to Arkansas in the middle of the night, swimming in the Mississippi after I got off work. Wanda batted around from job to job for a while, then finally went back to Phoenix herself. A huge thunderstorm moved into Memphis just after Wanda drove away and I huddled on the porch in the rain and cried. My playmate had gone.
Then my magazine was reorganized, and my job was eliminated because they did not want a woman editor. I was frightened by the loss of my income and I went home to Mama. I enrolled in school, got a job with the local newspaper writing society news, and tried to settle back into my old life. I began dating one of the Air Force guys that I had known before I left. But, it was bleak. Mom and I didn’t get along any better this time than we had before, and I found myself driving to Memphis for the weekend. Wanda returned and moved in with Carol in our apartment. So, they planned a big party for my 20th birthday.
I drove to Memphis, and the apartment was filled with people. We drank lots of beer and had a very good time, but finally everyone left. Carol and Wanda and I drove to Arkansas because Wanda wanted to get me a very special birthday present she said. She crept into her parents’ house and came back with a grocery bag - my present, she said. A few miles down the road, she let me open the bag - and a beautiful fur stole fell into my lap. Silky soft, I buried my face in the richness of it. Then I began to ask questions: Where did you get it? How did you get it? Why did you have it stuffed in this paper bag? Why didn’t you give it to your mother? Why me?
Very gently, Wanda said, “I love you.”
Fur does shed water. I know because I cried all over that fur stole. Later I slept on the way back to Memphis with my head in Wanda’s lap and the fur clutched in my arms.
I don’t remember how we came to make love the first time (or the last time a couple of years later), but we moved into the attic that had been my refuge until winter was deep set, and days and nights were freezing there. She bought me lots of gifts, using a new charge card for a jewelry store that was next door to the dental office where she worked downtown. A tiny diamond in a dome ring, lots of bright reddish orange pottery, blown glass figures, negligees. And, I began to move into the gay society of Memphis, mostly underground for vice squads still raided gay bars. I don’t know what the arrested people for, but the paddy wagons would drive away filled with people. I was underage; so I was quickly spirited away when the vice squad appeared - secret doors that led to apartment s upstairs, hidden closets, cubby holes.
Someone began a gay club out near a state park, and we’d all drive 40 miles to party on the weekends. Wanda always wore blue jeans and button-down collar shirts. I dressed in black sexy dresses with heels. Needless to say, I danced every dance and never lacked for a drink. And, I could drink a lot back then.
It’s hard to remember how and when things changed. Wanda and I moved to Mississippi and lived with my mother (who asked, "Is Wanda your boyfriend now?") for a while. Then we went to Phoenix where we lived with her friend Jacque and her two children. We moved back and forth from Memphis to Mississippi to Phoenix several times before I finally realized that Wanda was having sex with Jacque and that I was working to support all of them.
My car was in Wanda’s name because I was too young to own a car in Arizona. When I finally turned 21, I asked Wanda to sign the car over to me. She asked me to buy her a car, and I did. However, I decided to leave, and she refused to sign the title over to me. She said she didn’t want me driving so far alone. The car was in the shop having its ball joints replaced. The mechanic said he would get his money out of her, and I should go. So I got on a plane and left.
Story begins in 1964, ends in 1967, written in 1998. This is copyrighted by Margaret Moore Holmberg