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Adventures in Dissociation
By Jane Meredith Adams

A few years ago in San Francisco, I was robbed on the sidewalk and when the police arrived, the officer asked me questions that presumed I had a mind for facts: How tall was the guy? How old? Any distinguishing features? I was fully prepared to describe the emotional turmoil I'd experienced, but the officer didn't seem interested to learn that my first thought had been, "I saw you, thug, lurking in the stairwell, but I was hoping you were an innocent and misunderstood young man." The officer closed his notepad and put it in his back pocket. As a witness, I felt like a failure. Identifying what was right in front of me: this was my weakness.

Like most people, I received my first exposure to criminal behavior at home. Although my parents' house lacked a plain black detective's car out front, The Pink Panther's Inspector Clouseau and I wore the same expression: something odd was going on here, something very odd. The Mystery of the Broken Lock Diary remains ongoing, while the Case of the Cat's Premature Death -- Why did Mom take Whiskers to the pound? -- bore my signature investigatory technique, the desire not to know.

"I dropped off Whiskers at the Angel Memorial," my mother said, sponging down the kitchen counter. She said this in a matter-of-fact voice, the way she often said, "Your father's working late tonight."

Executing the cat, having a dad who worked late: these were things that happened. If I'd been the kind of person who wanted to know the truth, I might have asked, "What the hell is going on here?" But that was a sentence I wasn't able to speak.

The Case of the Ex High School Girlfriend, my most difficult probe, began when I was a senior in high school and madly in love with a girl named Nancy. All breakups are mysterious, but the rationale for this one eluded me for thirty-two years, which is perhaps the outer limit for deconstructing a high school romance. And then, last month, I solved it.

We were living in Darien, Connecticut and even without asking, we knew that our parents would be happier to hear we'd joined Hitler Youth than the announcement that we were lesbians. At least Hitler Youth dressed neatly and had goals for the future. The future for lesbians seemed to involve crew cuts, bitter unhappiness, and man-hating. As it happened, my mother was often bitter and not always fond of men, particularly the man she married, but that was different because she wore lipstick and regularly had her hair coiffed.

Besotted with each other, Nancy and I cleverly applied to the same rural New England college, which Nancy had selected because the school color was purple, her favorite. Whatever she wanted was fine by me, as long as the possibility existed that the two of us would someday be alone in a dorm room. In December, we signed our letters of early decision acceptance, vowing that we wouldn't even think of applying to another college. We planned to join the college field hockey team together, trading our blue high school hockey kilts for purple ones.

Two months later, we spent a week with Nancy's parents at their ski condo in Vermont. After a day of skiing, it was our habit to retire to the downstairs bedroom, close the door, shut off the light and "rest" while her parents threw back cocktails in the living room upstairs. Her father, a brooding hulk in a beige parka, was a Wall Street big shot with a deep voice that terrified me. From the bedroom, we could hear his bellow rising and falling, mixed with her mother's chirpy tones. In the dark, we carried on with the advanced level of dissociation that makes it possible for two Darien girls to lie on a bed and make out. It never occurred to us that someone might notice what we were doing.

A week after the vacation, on a Saturday night while we watched TV in her den, Nancy said, "My father says we have to stop."

I looked at her stupidly.

"I think we should stop," she said.

The thing about a secret relationship is that when it ends, no one notices. I spent an afternoon with the French Toast Fling planning committee and even as I listed maple syrup, 1 gal., enough? I thought, You carefree kids have no idea what I'm going through. It occurred to me that I had no idea what they were going through, either, and that for all I knew, they were sniffing glue in their bedrooms or singeing their forearms with cigarette butts. Why don't you people admit who you are? I wanted to say, but instead I mentally scrolled through the boys in my class to see which one I'd force to be my boyfriend.

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