By Melinda Ginne
In 1967, it was mandatory for students to live in the dorms in their first year at San Diego State University. It was also mandatory for dorm dwelling women to wear a skirt or dress on campus; pants were not allowed. Furthermore, your skirt had to be sufficiently long, never above the knee. If you ran into a dorm official on campus they could make you kneel on the ground—“Hit the ground dormie!” It could even be a dorm official from another dorm, someone you didn’t know or recognize, who would issue the humiliating command.
Once kneeling, the hem of your skirt had to touch the pavement. If it didn’t, you could be cited and punished by having to do extra chores or by being grounded. Since freedom was life’s breath for college co-eds, most everyone I knew complied with the strict dorm dress code, including me and my college roomie, one of my best friends from high school, Lana Gold.
Lana was the richest girl in our friendship group. Her dad had started a chain of markets that competed with Ralph’s, Safeway, and Von’s. Her house was in an area of very elegant older homes. They had white shag carpeting, a built-in wet bar in the living room, and a Lincoln Continental with suicide doors.
I remember going over to Lana’s one Friday night. Her mom was in the living room having a highball, or two. She was dressed in a white form fitting gown, and her white fur stole was draped over the sofa. Lana’s dad was serving up the drinks in his custom made tux. I’m pretty sure both of her parents were alcoholics, and it was never fun to see Lana’s mom getting sloshed.
They were getting ready to join their friends at a benefit gala. They were the most elegant couple I knew. I doubted that my Democrat parents ever socialized with people like them.
Whenever I went to the Gold’s house I felt like an outsider, like the horribly self-conscious and awkward George Eastman in the uber-rich Charles Eastman home from the 1951 movie A Place in the Sun.
Many post-war Jews like the Golds were nouveau riche, so they unwittingly played it a bit over the top. Mrs. Gold was a ten on the va-va-voom scale. She had platinum blonde hair, sexy high heels, low cut dresses, and a touch too much make-up.
Lana took after her mom. She also had dyed platinum hair, a beautiful figure, a not-so-good nose job, and lots of dark black eye make-up that smeared around her eyes as the night wore on.
The kind of blatant sexuality that both Lana and her mom exuded intimidated me. Although I was very LA hip and trendy, I was also extremely modest. I was interested in boys in high school and always had one guy or another that I was dating. But I also had a fiery crush on my English teacher, Miss Elena Hernandez, and I didn’t know how to talk about that to my girlfriends. So while my sexuality was confusing to me and hidden from everyone I knew, the Gold women were right out there for the world to see, nothing equivocal about their sexual natures.
I spent a lot of time with Lana. We had a similar interest in and tolerance for smoking pot and then cruising around in our Chevys. Lana also liked barbiturates, “reds,” and alcohol. We didn’t know anything about the dangers of combining these drugs, but whenever Lana got loaded I did all the driving. Lana’s boyfriends tended to be wilder than any guys I would date, but we double-dated all of the time.
In our senior year of high school we both fell hopelessly in love with our boyfriends. Lana’s boyfriend, Steve, was her male counterpart. He was unfathomably handsome and he loved sedating drugs. My boyfriend Pat was into smoking pot and going to see live jazz; we spent many weekends at the various jazz clubs in LA. He came from a working class Catholic family and he wasn’t able to go away to college because he had to stay home and help support his family. He ended up going to community college and later UCLA. In my first year of college at San Diego State, I flew home several times a month to see him, but I grew out of this habit as my social life in San Diego solidified.
Lana however never got over Steve and she was homesick all of the time during our freshman year. Finally she threw in the towel, quit school, and moved back to LA to live with him. We kept in touch at first, but then the connection grew cold. On one of my trips home I dropped in to see her. She was pale and haggard, and she had lost quite a bit of weight, going from an athletic size six to an emaciated size two. She opened the door just a few inches: it was two in the afternoon, but she was still wearing her shorty pajamas. I could see Steve on a folding chair in their sparely furnished apartment. He was wearing jeans and a tank top, his head was falling onto his chest, he looked loaded.
Where was her mother while all of this was going on? Why wasn’t anyone trying to save her? She had clearly fallen into the gutter.
I felt helpless to do anything, but I cared about her almost more than I could bear. I left my heart on her door step that day.
At the end of the week I went back to school. A few months later I heard the tragic story. Lana and Steve were alone at her parent’s house one night. They were high on some drug or other. Steve went into Lana’s bedroom while Lana stayed in the living room, nodding off in a drug induced haze. All of a sudden she heard a window-rattling crack followed by a gut-wrenching whine. She stumbled toward the sound. Steve was lying in a pool of blood. He had shot himself in the head. Somehow Lana had the presence of mind to call 911. The paramedics arrived within minutes to find her giving mouth to mouth resuscitation to his lifeless body.
I didn’t go to the funeral, and I never saw Lana again. She had a lot of work to do, pulling her life back together, and I threw myself into my studies. After many years of sorting herself out. Lana married a guy from our high school. His family was in the trash collecting business and they were very wealthy: the closest thing we had to a Mafia family. They were married for about five years. After the divorce Lana moved to Austin, Texas and started her life over. She got involved in her local synagogue and within a few years met a man who was totally devoted to her. He had three pre-teen children, so Lana became an instant mom. He was a few years older than her and died of cancer before they could celebrate their 10th anniversary. She continued raising the family she had inherited, the sole owner, now, of a life she had built for herself in Texas.
Melinda Ginne is a psychologist recently retired from a 35-year career specializing in treating the psychological aspects of major medical illnesses. Her favorite writers include Oliver Sacks, Amy Bloom, and Sharon Olds. She grew up in the San Fernando Valley: her family migrated there after a generation in the Jewish-Latino ghetto of Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, where taco stands were kosher and the Shul was right across the street from the Catholic Church. The Lingua Franca of her family was English, Spanish, and Yiddish. They celebrated religious holidays as Jews; but personal holidays such as birthdays, weddings, and funerals all had a Latin flavor.
Copyright Melinda Ginne, 2016. All rights reserved