Monday, June 11, 2012

Looking for Susan's House

A couple of weeks ago I went on one of my long distance bike rides. I rode past a couple of the dumps where I had lived after college and Europe. And as a lark, I thought I’d go looking for Susan’s house; an allegory in which a young man searches for life’s truths and finds another human being instead who is also seeking answers that can’t easily be found.

I did and didn’t find what I was looking for.

It wasn’t so much a search and discovery mission as it was retracing my old life steps in a rundown neighborhood I called home for several years. This time as an old man on a bicycle instead of a kid in a VW, not certain what I was looking for or sure I’d recognize it if I found it.

‘It’ was the house where Susan lived with her mother and brother in a working class neighborhood just north of Dinkytown, hear the University of Minnesota. It was just one of several landmarks for me like my ghetto dwelling on University Avenue, Dinkytown pizza, the Triangle Bar on West Bank, U of M Health Department, and KTCA Television down Como Avenue. A virtual map of the Lost and Found.

Susan, we called her Sue S, was a Mexican American woman I was involved with for a couple of years during my lost years. She was unlike a lot of the women I had known before her. She was significant in my life for several reasons, not the least of which was that we were both seekers.

It was a collision of my time and space with hers. For a long time we were in the same orbit, thinking and living life alike, and traveling that strange road to maturity. We were both hungry. And with similar family backgrounds, we both found ourselves struggling to grab a handhold on that slippery ring called a career

I was going through my hippie wannabe stage when I first meet Susan. A young naive man looking for creativity in all the wrong places. We would go to the folk mass at the Newman Center and spend our Sunday afternoons ruminating on, exchanging all kinds of esoteric thoughts and ideas. Mental meanderings that a little weed could invoke on a virgin mind. It was like getting trashed on ‘what ifs’ that only the next day’s reality would dismiss as nice ideas but they didn’t pay the rent. Yet there was still a common-ality of purpose that bonded us together for a long time.

A lot of my poetry was started during that period with Susan. Instances and reflections on our time together and the ones who came before her.

But the reality of my world collided with hers after I came home one night after stopping
by my house with Sue before we went out. Afterwards, my mother met me at the door with the words: “What were you doing with that nigger?”

I moved out of the house the next day and never moved back except for visits. It was sad and shocking to think of my mother could be so blind. But with a sixth grade education and a social-economic background that bordered on the poverty level, it perhaps wasn’t too surprising. Very very sad but not surprising. She could only see the color of Susan’s skin and not the warm and wonderful human being Susan really was.

But deep down I think Susan and I both knew that our relationship could only go so far. With my mother’s inflexible, narrow-minded insistence that the women in my life had to be white and Catholic, it never would have worked out between us.

So while the bike ride didn’t bring up any tangible evidence of my being there in the first
place, it did open a Pandora’s box of mainly pleasant memories of that stage in my life. A brief period where I connected with another human being and we shared some of life’s pleasantries framed as a snapshot of our existence. Susan was a footnote to my history back then but a very memorable one nevertheless.

I never did find Susan’s house. I suppose after 40 years, it just went away as the old neighborhood gentrified and matured. I guess we probably did too.

Maybe I’ll meet her again in some fictional world of my choosing.


Jerry Hoffman said...

So have you tried to find out what happened to Susan? Googled her perhaps? I looked for Sharon and found her in Arizona where she had died. Reading her obituary was sobering, but so now I know.

anonymous said...

I agree! I found myself wishing I knew Susan's last name so that I could do a quick Facebook search... and did your Mother ever change her tune on the race issue - later in life, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story, I can totally see grandma saying that too. I remember grandpa always saying that about colored people. Funny how times have changed and skin color doesn't matter any more.

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