The Treehouse, or HOW I MET MY SOULMATE
By sophomore year, I had been at PLUMLY for one year and thought I knew my way around. My pack of girl buddies crashed the orientation meeting to check out the new blood of incoming males. One guy had long blond hair that hung like a sheet over his handsome face. Nice body to match. I thought he looked like Rupert Brooke, cut out his picture and pasted it in my diary. Walking behind him, I became hypnotized by rhythmic flashes of bare skin and platinum hair through the holes in his jeans. He wore oil of cloves on his shirt collars and I have been hypnotized by it ever since.
But when we talked, we clashed. He was bossy and I was accustomed to being the bossy one. It took three full years for him to soften up enough to date me. He worked his way through the most intelligent girls in our class, but I had a different reputation than simple intelligence. I was considered dangerously sexy; “a handful” and with a tendency to bring in outside men. We appeared in Hamlet as husband and wife; he was The Ghost and I was Gertrude. After his death he came back as an underling to help carry my sizable dead body offstage. As he did so, he commented favorably on my thigh muscles. He offered to buy me a peach ice cream cone and while we strolled the Granolithic, he invited me to Class Day Dinner, a long and depressing awards ceremony (I won the Class of 1914 Reading Prize for reading the most books in the library) and where we were treated to good food and coffee. (Only seniors were allowed coffee.)
For such a bossy person, he was surprisingly interesting to talk to. All our important conversations were painfully truncated by frustrating interruptions for stupid things like studying and exams. One night I heard him calling softly beneath my window – he had a sleeping bag and we snuggled up in the dark woods. He had terrific self-control so kissing, touching and being touched by him were the highlights of my teenage years. We became particularly fond of a certain field of barley and on one occasion he had to give me his shirt to wear to my music exam because mine was so embarrassingly grass-stained. He loved the barley field; I preferred a treehouse lost in the woods.
Somehow we passed our exams and graduated. Then came the enormous pleasure of each other’s company at Senior Parties – endless pool and dance bashes at a series of big local houses that went all night and all weekend. I felt like I was wandering through novels by Fitzgerald, stories by Cheever, poems by Plath. He appreciated all my literary references, unlike all previous boyfriends who were bored and irritated by my “unreal” world. Also, he liked to dance which was considered déclassé by most of the Plumly intellectuals. We wound up at his house, a gated, half-timbered Main Line basilica with pool and guest house where a railroad baron used up his extra railroad ties to reinforce a kitchen wall. His parents were having far too bad a marriage to supervise us and we spent the night together in such a narrow bed we had to sleep on top of each other, which was fine. Toss declared love, surprising me; another déclassé “de-powering” move according to all my previous boyfriends. His mother was actively hostile and his father looked like a “Missing” poster. Toss showed me his dark room where he produced gorgeous arty black and white photos. He sold me on the magic of cameras but I could not reproduce his stripped-down visions since my art was all about development, pentimento and adding on. Toss’s folks signed him up for driving and speedreading classes, to keep him busy, while I was supposed to be preparing at Pendle Hill for my graduation trip to Europe. To make things harder, we were not on the same train line but had to travel into the city and back out on the Paoli local or to Chestnut Hill; even using different train terminals. Mine was at Reading Market with all the cheese, ice cream and sandwich pleasures imaginable. Toss took me to dinner at The Peale Club which was supposed to be a Big Deal although it seemed to me the staff despised the dues-paying members. I preferred the Market.
One night we were swimming in his pool and his father came home unexpectedly. I hid under the sofa and listened to them discuss me until Toss felt safe enough to introduce me. Far from angry, his father was visibly envious as he drove me home. Then I was off for Europe, but mentally I was in the pool house with Toss. He sent me a photo taken by a friend of himself, shirtless, eating cherries directly from a fallen tree. I thought it was the most erotic thing I had ever seen and took the next plane home.
Toss and his family drove me to their farm in the Berkshires, a family-owned, four house, six hundred acre spread. He taught me target shooting in the barn while I tried to argue him into losing our virginities. He didn’t feel right about it in a location stalked by venomous mothers, raging aunts and disapproving grandmas. Toss’s father set up an easel on the dam and painted a portrait of the pond while we swam and lazed on giant inner tubes.
On the way home the Mercedes experienced a vapor lock just as Toss’s mother was bragging about what wonderful cars they were and we were all trapped together while the engine cooled down. Toss had been accepted at Williams but he told me it wasn’t far enough away, he planned to attend Reed College in Oregon. I planned a short story in which a college-bound boy murders his parents to get free of them.
My parents were in Europe and our big house was empty; a perfect locale for the night of passion I envisioned. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t stop bleeding, and because Toss couldn’t yet drive, he had to get the college girl from across the street to take me to the hospital, where I required stitches. Trying to get permission for surgery I called my aunt, a noted blabbermouth. (She told me afterwards that I had almost certainly “turned” Toss gay.) Worst of all my parents arrived home to a bloody bathtub and a pair of Toss’s underpants with his phone number helpfully labeled inside. Toss told them I was at Lankenau Hospital, where I was shaved and given a rubber pillow to sit on. My father was very understanding, my mother less so. This situation forced me and Toss to take things much more slowly to our enormous mutual pleasure.
Toss’s mother sent him to an uncle in Ohio to get him away from me. She was afraid his political future would be imperiled if he listened to my father and became a conscientious objector. Toss’s father disappeared to California where he had discovered a warm, supportive girlfriend.
My uncle offered me a plane ticket to visit him in California; I jumped at the chance. Because isn’t California practically Oregon? I surprised Toss at Reed with my red coat and matching red luggage. He hastily evicted his high school-age girlfriend and welcomed me with open arms but it was not the same. I really disliked Reed where everyone seemed to be into drugs. We attended a psilocybin wedding in the chapel which I considered the far side of stupid.
We both flew down to visit my uncle in Hollywood; he took us up in his plane and showed us the sights. Toss fled, and I was stuck alone with this guy who was handsy and weird. I spent my nineteenth birthday at Caesar’s Hotel in Tijuana eating oysters Rockefeller. Luckily I was able to keep my uncle out of my bed. I came home, considerably crestfallen, and enrolled at the Philadelphia Academy of Dance for lack of any better plan.
When Toss returned home in May I drove our huge wood-paneled station wagon over to Merion to give him a birthday surprise. Making out with him I managed to lose my contacts and had to spend the night; one more ecstatic night; rewarded in the morning with a Dear Jane letter in which he said he was off to Maine to spread his wild oats. I didn’t hear from him again until I was engaged to Bruce. He sent me a long, irritating letter about graduating from Reed with a thesis on H. L. Mencken (of course! A woman hater!) and I was able to smugly respond that I was totally over him and on to someone new who REALLY appreciated me.
Dead silence for eight years until the Plumly alumni directory came out and I rushed to look Toss up. UNMARRIED! I thought so! I wrote a poem in exultation. In the spring of 1979 I got a letter. He also had looked me up and knew I was divorced. He was enrolled at Chase College of Law and would be spending the summer interning with Ralph Nader in Washington D.C. a mere ten miles from the house I’d just bought in West Hyattsville. He asked for my number; what was I doing? Did I want to see him? Could he call me?
I said Yes and Sure although I was nervous about telling him I was a dancer because that conversation hadn’t gone well with any of his competition. Luckily, I could arrange my schedule around him, if I chose. I invited him to dinner at the glamorous new 5 bedroom, 3 bath house I had just bought. He brought a friend to meet the sister who shared my quarters. As the time approached I got more and more nervous until I was lying on the floor begging my sister: “WHAT DOES HE LOOK LIKE?” And Avril said, “He looks exactly the same.” I jumped up and served everyone goblets of bourbon. He was still beautiful, but to me he did look different. Thinner, sadder, but still fascinating. We cooked swordfish on the outdoor gas grill as I showed off my house. He told me he had also bought a 5 bedroom house in Covington, Kentucky (he called it the Hermes Hilton.)
We reminisced about Plumly, but when I reminded him about the treehouse he insisted it must have been someone else. I read him my poem about it; he STILL didn’t remember! Angrily I hauled the trunk of diaries out from beneath my four-poster bed and showed him the relevant passage. He was awestruck by my mastery of memory. At that moment I realized, “This might work” and we tumbled into bed together. Since then there hasn’t been anyone else for either of us. Ten days later he confessed he had never loved anyone but me and asked me to marry him. We got so excited we called up the blabbermouth aunt. (She asked, “Are you SURE he’s not gay?” Her husband WAS.) We decided to have two children, a boy and a girl, and to name them Shasta and Shane. He ordered a case of Moet Chandon and we took off up the coast to tell our parents.
But first we had to stop at Plumly, to find the treehouse. It wasn’t there. We were wandering around the woods when a man stopped us and asked what we were looking for. We explained we were two Plumlies who’d just gotten engaged and hadn’t there been a treehouse? Yes, but it had fallen down long since. He showed us the tragic rubble, then invited us into his beautiful new home where he offered us sherry by the fire and introduced himself as the new headmaster. From the way he looked at us I could tell he knew we were soulmates. And we knew it too.