the mad motorcycle days of 1966 I first saw Lorin the way a mariner who
is lost at sea might see the figure on the bow a distant ship. It wasn't
merely that, in the vast emptiness, I had suddenly found another human
being within my reach. It wasn't just her beauty (though my 17-year-old
heart arrested at those hard-running black rapids that were Lorin's hair,
and her figure, which I'd already planned to steal from the Art Institute
of Chicago when I was able to become a professional--instead of just an
amateur--thief and take the statue of my dreams). It was more my sense
that here, finally, was someone who was as driven as I was, some deep sea
diver who was in the hunt, pulling for a distant finish, when all the others
at our age were not even on the scent of their quarry. Bent to winds that
had not yet filled our sails, we could see them white on the waves and
hear their whistling music in the sheets. We lit out together, Lorin and
I, because we were the only two who understood. Or so we thought.
To turn my world on end, Lorin gave me a piece of carpeting, framed neatly and expensively in black teak, and I hung it on my wall and stared at it for nights on end until I finally got it: The floor is on the wall. The world is on its ear. That was life with Lorin: She didn't want you to cheat off her exam, but she gave you hints and then took joy in watching you work the puzzle and then applauded you at the end.
Late one night we made for St. Louis in a rainstorm, six or seven hours from Chicago in an Austin Healey Bug-eye Sprite with a slashed top. Dripping wet, shivering, monoxide woozy, barreling arm-in-arm up the gleaming cobbles of a dark boulevard to a darker hotel, we found a street fair where we could get a battered guitar for twelve dollars. Already, auguries of our world in the glowing eyes of newly-minted hippies, lurked in doorways, begging and smoking, speaking in tongues.
I bought that guitar to impress her and played it as she sat on the bed and smiled politely. She didn't have heart to tell me--she dared not to show me--the voice and fingers she possessed. If I had known her gift, her poetry and music, it would have struck me dumb with shame. But she played the mute for my sake, knowing more about me than I knew myself, and all on instinct.
I can see now that while those around us spewed their souls, decked out as knights and jesters in Halloween fright wigs, while the whole culture lit up the night like a freighter full of fireworks burning to the waterline, Lorin kept her secret, and not just from me, from everyone, even herself. I thought to coax it from her, and when she resisted, gently, steadfastly, I tried I'd rip it out. How could I have known her dark gestation, that canny inkling of her own greatness, which sealed her powers in so they could incubate? I'm sure she was moved along her path on instinct, not intellect or plan. She didn't know what it was she was keeping, not anymore than a creature in a chrysalis can show you its colors like a hand of cards. I made it my mission to steal her pennant and carpet my walls with it. Lorin's tragedy was that, full ready for men at 18, she found herself condemned to a world gone wild with children.
She took me to Times Square for my 18th birthday and bought me a bottle of J&B Scotch, which we drank in hilarious gulps from the brown paper bag on the street. Snow descended like bolts of fabric and gathered in the gutters where we sat, gloveless and freezing in our motorcycle boots and jeans, and listened to the music of the street. Drunk among drunks, we found the last train at Grand Central and took it to Connecticut. There we found Lorin's mother living in a fairyland of cedars saddened by icicles and snow. We curled up there before the fire and drank cider and talked about poetry. I knew nothing about poetry except the words. And that night I began to suspect that she knew so much more and that she simply wasn't telling me.
That night we slept on the couch with the birch logs blazing and awoke to a world of sunlight. The cars were buried like animals in gleaming snowdrifts. Connecticut was not New York.
I tried to demand what she was hiding: Don't you write poetry? Don't you draw? Paint? Sing? Dance? What it is? I know it's there, you're just keeping it from me. I held her up at gunpoint, knifepoint, any point at all. But Lorin just smiled, mystified, amused, here eyes confused with compassion, her empty hands held open in appeasement. Her hands were larger than mind. Her hands were beautiful.
Back in Chicago I played my entire record collection for her, "Chimes of Freedom," Coletrane, and Miles. We made love in the basement, love in the attic, love in the car, and while I chased her, I never even noticed how hard she was chasing me. Blinded by the mirrors of that mad season, we were lost in the funhouse, but often it was no fun at all, and eventually it became a desperate grope for meaning. Knowledge was power, and the more occult it was, the more powerful. We'd stay up all night attempting to plumb the mystery of a new Bob Dylan lyric. We'd endlessly discuss a semeingly insignificant event as if it were a message from a distant star. Time after time we solved the Kennedy assassination and found keys to the future in Four Quartets.
Dylan was coming to Chicago. We were keyed up to go together, as if in that singular event we would finally find the focus of our world. But I was angry and frustrated that I could not yank her out into the light by the sheer force of my personality and will. I was too callow to know that a creature such as Lorin could never break out until she was complete. Too impatient and arrogant to stand by and watch, to care and not to care, I took what I wanted, did what I wanted, and didn't know enough to notice who I was talking to. I couldn't leave her alone, so I left her on the steps. She refused to let me see her cry, and what I didn't see could not be real.
A month later I picked her up on my motorcycle and dropped her off within a block, telling her to go away. She did. Maybe that's the way it had to be. Maybe I'm letting myself off the hook.