Adapted from the memoir
HOME FREE: Adventures of a Child of the Sixties
By Rifka Kreiter
to be published May 16, 2017
I took a break from political activism when I fell in love with Alan Rosenfeld in the summer of ‘68. We met through my ex-roommate, who had been friends with Alan at NYU. He was 29, about 5’9” and slightly rotund, with wavy brown hair and cornflower blue eyes. He was funny, warm, attentive –and straight as an arrow. I found him attractive despite the fact that he fit too well my stereotype of “a nice Jewish boy.” Politically and culturally, he was so much more conservative than I was. He didn’t even smoke dope.
Alan had a Masters in Communications from UCLA and was looking for work in television. When we met he had just returned to New York from Pittsburgh where he’d directed an award-winning series for teenagers on public television. He told me he was recovering from a broken engagement; he was sad. In fact, he said, he had two previous relationships in which he wanted to get married but the girl had ended it. I didn’t pay much attention. I was—unexpectedly—having fun dating him. I admired the fact that he was principled about his career. He was determined not to take purely commercial jobs, so his search was taking a long time. I was going into my senior year at CCNY, taking two interesting courses in summer school and temping as a secretary.
I remember that summer as warm and leisurely, full of trips to upstate lakes and dinners on restaurant patios. Alan was surviving courtesy of American Express, pending future employment. We ate at better restaurants since, in those days, only the finer restaurants took credit cards. This was a welcome change—Jim and I almost never ate out.
Alan taught me how to drive a stick-shift in his convertible sports car, a little red Triumph which he loved unnaturally. I was touched by the way he kept his mouth shut, one afternoon in the country, when I almost sideswiped an oncoming car while passing on a two-lane road. His face turned deep purple with the effort not to cry out.
He had a lusty sensuality as well as a boyish romanticism. He called me “my honey,” and brought me little stuffed animals, which I hated and told him so. He also played the guitar and wrote a pretty love song for me. I was flattered and touched, and told him so. We spent a lot of time with Alan’s two best friends from UCLA, Russ Aldrich and Peter Brown. Russ, tall, slender and fastidious, was a director of commercials for a big ad agency. He was dating Astrid, a very blond Lufthansa stewardess who lived down the hall in Russ’s elegant eastside brownstone. (From Astrid I learned that, if you do not want to drink at a party but wish to appear to be drinking, you can put an olive in a glass of water and everyone will think it is a martini. For my part, I always preferred the real thing.)
My favorite dinner partners were Peter and his fiancée, Veronica. Our well-lubricated soirées were always fun and often raucous, whether in one of our favorite restaurants, like Martell’s on Third Avenue, or in Peter’s bachelor pad. We spent one intense evening there doing a reading of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Alan and I read George and Martha, though our affectionate relations resembled theirs not at all. Alan loved the theater and supported my dream of becoming an actress after graduation. I felt I had found a man who would not disappoint me, whose love I could count on. Life was a round of delightful pleasures.
Then, in July, Alan asked me to marry him.
I had never wanted to get married. After all, the unions with which I was most familiar were my parents’ marriages, and I certainly didn’t want anything like that. More to the point, I was afraid of being trapped in a relationship with no escape, as I had felt trapped in my life with my mother. As much as I loved Alan and wanted to be with him, I told him I just wanted to live together. But cohabitation without benefit of wedlock was still somewhat scandalous to mainstream America in 1968 and Alan was determined to do it the traditional way. When I said no to his proposals, he just said OK in a way that meant he was not going to give up. His motto was, “He conquers who endures.” Secretly, the way he wanted me so much turned me soft inside.
* * * * * *
It is August and the late afternoon sun is warming my suntanned body, still wet from our last swim. Alan lies on the woven plastic lounge chair beside me, droplets of water glistening in the hair on his chest. We have the pool all to ourselves. Alan’s grandmother has lent us her cabin in a Catskill Mountain bungalow colony for the weekend.
My eyes are closed but I am keenly aware of the maleness of Alan’s presence. I love knowing I can touch his body any time I want. A feeling of languid well-being envelops me. When the sun finally goes down, we will shower and go out for dinner. Later I know we’ll make love and fall asleep, our bodies purring with satisfaction, in each other’s arms.
I am utterly content.
Just then Alan says, for the umpteenth time, “So when are we going to get married?” His eyes are still closed.
Without thinking I answer, “I bet if I said yes you’d drop your teeth.” This is a line straight out of the movie Love with the Proper Stranger starring Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen.
“Try me,” says Alan, without turning his head from the sun.
And I say, though shocked to hear it come out of my mouth, “Yes.”
From that moment on, I’m swept along in a flow of events which seem to unfold with a life of their own.
* * * * * *
We were engaged and somehow this changed everything.
At first, I was filled with a joyful sense that at last I had found a safe harbor. But my happiness began to ebb as I noticed that everyone started behaving differently towards me. I was surprised and saddened when Noni and Bill, the aunt and uncle who loved me like a daughter, acted as if I were somehow a more legitimate person now. I expected this from my father, but not from the Singers who knew me so well and had always treated me as a respected individual. Of course, Bonnie, my mother, was thrilled when I called her in Vegas to tell her the news. To Bonnie, getting married was the be-all and end-all for a woman. My discomfort began to grow.
At a small engagement party in his apartment, Russ and Astrid gave me The New York Times Cook Book as a gift. I loved to cook but this frightened me. Into what kind of a pigeon-hole were they all trying to squeeze me?
In September I took a full program of fifteen credits at City. Alan finally got a good job as a director for an independent production company outside Washington. During the fall semester I went down there on weekends and school breaks. We drove around D.C. and all its suburbs hunting for an apartment for Alan, the place where we would live when we got married. We finally found a modest one-bedroom in one of the big post-war complexes of boxy brick buildings in Alexandria, Virginia.
We shopped for furniture. For the bedroom, however, Alan insisted we use his parents’ old bed, in storage since his widowed father had remarried. The Freudian implications of sharing his dead mother’s bed were a bit much for me. I argued vociferously against it. But once Alan set his mind to something, he was stubborn. He conquers who endures. Telling myself it wasn’t that important, I gave in. On the other hand, Alan encouraged me in my plan to apply to the apprenticeship program at the newly-formed Arena Stage Repertory Company after we got married. So he certainly didn’t expect me to play the role of housewife, I kept assuring myself.
We explored Washington together—I hadn’t visited there since JFK’s funeral. We went to all the tourist sights, which was fun, but Alan kept insisting that his beloved red TR4 be in every picture. “Me and my car in front of the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House.” Despite the fact that I amuse myself by indulging silly fetishes of my own, I started feeling turned off by these inanities. It seemed that the closer I felt to Alan, the less tolerant I became. With increasing urgency, I analyzed my fear of intimacy in therapy with Dr. Heimarck.
At first, Alan agreed to have a simple wedding at City Hall. No fuss, no muss, no bother. A month later, he decided we must be married by his childhood rabbi from the Bronx. Reluctantly, I said OK. Though I refused to admit it to myself, part of me found comfort in Alan’s traditionalism. It made me trust him—as much as I was able to trust any man. We went to visit this gentle, caring rabbi in his musty old apartment on the Grand Concourse. After talking for a little while we set a date: June 15, 1969.
As the weeks went on, Alan thought of more and more people in his life who would drop dead if they weren’t invited to his wedding. This wedding kept getting bigger, looming like a huge boulder rolling down a hill, straight at me. A small, insistent voice started up in my head, saying, “Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it….” This terrified me more than anything. Was I going to sabotage my chance for a healthy, loving relationship because of my neurotic fears?
As winter deepened, new anxieties gripped me. I began to imagine people were following me down the street as I walked home after dark. I discussed this endlessly in therapy, where I could hardly keep up with the fast-breaking events in my fervid psyche. In spring, I started to get migraines and by the end of March, I had one constant headache. Dr. Heimarck and I talked about all the possible causes: my anxiety about graduating from college, my fear of intimacy and its childhood roots, etc., etc., etc. Once, Alan came to a therapy session with me to talk about it. But the voice in my head only became more insistent: “Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it….”
The headache got worse.
The last straw came when Alan’s aunt and stepmother called, sorry for me because my own family (knowing I would hate it) was not planning a bridal shower. Kindly, they offered to give one for me. The velvet-gloved vise of bourgeois convention was closing around my temples.
* * * * * *
I’m making dinner in my tiny kitchen, referring often to the recipe in my New York Times Cook Book. The headache makes it hard to concentrate. I’m nervous, but my mind is made up. Lady Flea is standing at my feet, gazing up expectantly. By the time I fill her bowl from the can of Friskies Tuna the downstairs bell is already buzzing. Weekend traffic from D.C. must have been light.
“Hi, honey,” chirps Alan as he walks in, perspiring after climbing the five flights to my door. I’m annoyed by his everlasting cheeriness. But I don’t want to be annoyed; I want to be kind.
“Hi,” I answer without turning around as he hangs his jacket in the closet. He comes up behind me, circling my waist with his arms and peering over my shoulder. “Looks good. What is it?”
“Carbonnade à la flamande.”
“You put beer in it?”
“Yes, it’s Belgian—you know, ‘flamande’, Flemish.” Can’t miss a chance to lecture, can you Riqui? (I was called Riqui then.) Give him a break, at least tonight.
“See, I knew you’d use that cookbook. You got so freaked out when Russ gave it to you.”
“Well, that was because of them seeing me as a housewife. Don’t you understand that yet?” Hold on, Riqui, hold on. “Anyway, I think it’s gonna be good. Why don’t you relax—it’ll be ready in a few minutes.”
Alan goes into the main room and sits on the turquoise daybed, stroking Lady Flea until we eat. She stays put, purring ecstatically—she loves his touch as much as I do. At dinner, I ask him a lot of questions about work, avoiding any talk of the wedding. Afterwards, I bring out my “psychedelic” Peter Max mugs and we sit on the couch sipping coffee.
“I have to talk to you,” I say, quavering a little.
“Uh-oh, what is it?” He’s using that affectionate, patronizing tone that pisses me off.
“I can’t marry you.”
“Mm-hmm. How come?” He doesn’t believe me.
“You know I never wanted to get married. I can’t stand being shoe horned into a bourgeois convention I don’t believe in. I feel like I’m suffocating.”
“Have you talked to Dr. Heimarck about it?” He’s looking at me with cocked head, a hint of uncertainty in his voice.
“Of course I’ve talked to Dr. Heimarck about it. I’ve talked and talked.” Lower your voice, Riqui. I swallow and resist the temptation to touch his arm. “You know I love you—it’s not that. It’s just I can’t marry you and move to Washington.”
His face grows paler; he’s holding his half-full mug at a dangerous angle.
“Look, I know you’re scared. We don’t have to get married right away. We can wait a while.”
My headache is at a crescendo. Am I doing the right thing or ruining my best chance for happiness? I don’t know, I don’t know. But I feel there’s no way out.
“No. I need to break up. I’m sorry, I can’t really explain it I just do. We have to end it.”
I feel as if I’m amputating my own arm, without anesthesia.
“Honey, you can’t be serious,” he says, putting his cup on the coffee table. “This is nuts! Where is this coming from all of a sudden?”
“It’s not all of a sudden. You know I’ve been having these horrible headaches; and now this wedding shower, I hate wedding showers…”
“So tell them you don’t want the stupid shower!” He’s starting to tear up.
“… and the rabbi and all the people and your mother’s bed. I can’t do it! We have to end it.” Tears wet my cheeks.
“So we’ll cancel the wedding and get married at City Hall. Riqui, please…I can’t believe this.” He pauses. “What about acting? You’re going to try out for the Arena Stage.” Tears fill his blue eyes and spill through his thick lashes. We are both crying now. I reach over and put my arms around him, holding him awkwardly as he sobs.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” I wail. “I can’t help it. I know you must be angry. I can’t blame you for being angry.”
In a small voice Alan says, “We’ll just live together, then.”
“No.” We have gone too far for that, somehow. I have to do what I have to do. I feel so hot and my head is pounding.
“Why not?” I’m relieved to hear the truculence in his voice. Anything is better than seeing how much I am hurting him.
“You’ll just resent me, and be passive aggressive, the way you get. It won’t work.”
“I will not resent you. I love you. You know how much I love you.”
“I know, I know. But we’re so different, we have such different values. You want a straight middle class life and I don’t. I feel like I’m suffocating…”
We’re silent for a while—the tears have stopped. None of this is news. We’ve known it all along. It seems so unfair to Alan.
“I’m sorry,” I repeat. He leans into me and we lie back together on my single bed. At first, I think he’s fallen asleep; his body weighs heavily on my side. It seems like hours lying here; I just wish he would leave already and this would be over. I can’t believe I’m thinking this—I’ve just blindsided him in the worst possible way…
I shift my weight and Alan stirs.
“I know you must be angry. It’s important to express your anger.” His anger would be such a relief—for both of us, I think.
“What makes me angry is when you keep telling me I’m angry,” he spits, sitting up and picking up his cold coffee. Suddenly, a thought occurs to him. “Why didn’t you tell me before we had that whole dinner?”
This confounds me. “Well, I wanted you to have a good dinner after your trip,” I stammer. “I didn’t want to just throw it at you right away.”
“Well, you should have,” he snaps, as he stands up, raises the coffee mug and slams it to the floor, where it shatters into garishly colored pieces.
Lady Flea darts under the bed. Alan goes to the closet, yanks his jacket from the hanger and stalks out of the apartment slamming the door behind him.
I stay seated on the couch for a long while. In the ensuing silence my headache vanishes.
* * * * * *
In all the years since, I’ve never had a migraine again.