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Spearfish Lake Tales
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Joe/Joan book cover

by Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Part II: Joan and Cat

Chapter 9

The old Joanie had visited Venable College with Mom and Dad, and from her diary I knew she had liked the place. On the other hand, I had never been there as either Joanie or Joe, so I wasn’t exactly sure about what to expect.

Venable College, located not surprisingly in the town of the same name, had been started a hundred and twenty years before. It was a nicely wooded campus with several picturesque old buildings, but some not very pretty modern looking new ones were being added in the years that I was to spend there. It was a Methodist College, which meant that it was pretty conservative for that day and age, one in which old conventions were falling rapidly with the onset of the baby boomers.

After Mom’s buying binge I had several bags of clothes and a couple of boxes of other stuff loaded into Mom’s car. Mom and Dad were in it – Dad had actually taken the day off to celebrate this big day in his little girl’s life – while I trailed along behind in the Corvair-Ghia. Originally Joey had not planned to go along on this trip, but at the last minute he’d decided to come along for the ride, and supposedly to drive my hot rod VW back home. In actuality I planned to leave it at the gas station like we had talked about; Dad had already set it up for me.

It was really no big deal to me – I could have loaded everything into the Karmann Ghia and frequently did so in my trips to and from college in years to come. But it was a big deal for my folks, neither of whom had ever been to college, and I couldn’t deny them the privilege. I was actually looking forward to the experience; although my college career as Joe had not been a happy one (and I knew would not be a happy one for Joey) I was approaching this with a much different attitude. I did not intend to spend my life as a truck driver in this new life, and it seemed logical that going to college would open doors for me.

I had already known I was going to be housed in Murphy Hall right on the main campus, and the place was busy with other girls moving in. In that day and age it was an all-girl dormitory, and guys were normally not allowed, although moving-in days were an exception to the rule. It did not take long for me to check in with the housemother, who was being run ragged, and I found I was to be assigned room 317, a semi-private room three stories up on the top floor. Once that was done, we all grabbed bags and boxes and headed for the stairs, along with another family group heading the same direction.

I was a little surprised when the other family turned into 317 as well, led by a slender girl about my size, with long dark hair. “Well, I guess this is the place,” I said as I walked into the room, which was not large. It had a pair of twin beds, dressers, and desks, as well as a pair of small closets – not much else.

“Guess so,” the other girl said. “I guess we’re going to be roomies. Hi, my name is Cat.”

“I’m Joan,” I told her. “I guess I should say ‘welcome to our room’ but I think you beat me to it by a few seconds.”

“That was just the way it worked out. What are you studying?”

“I haven’t made my mind up yet. Have you?”

“Not really. I hope to know more in a year.”

“Same here.”

We quickly introduced everyone around: her folks, my folks, and Joey. Cat proved to be from a small town about as far away from Venable in the opposite direction as Simsville. Introductions completed we started hauling stuff up the stairs. Joey wound up doing the brunt of my stuff – brothers are useful for something, after all.

My intention of not bringing much was proved wise right from that moment, since it all had to be hand carried up three flights of stairs in the older building, which I guessed must have been around forty years old. Somewhat surprisingly, Cat had come to much the same conclusion, so in only a few minutes we were putting stuff away in the midst of a great deal of confusion, mostly caused because our mothers wanted to do everything. Fortunately, it was not long before everything was done, and it was time to say good-bye. Soon, the taillights of their cars were heading down the street.

“Well,” I said to Cat, “I suppose I’d better get my car off campus before someone gets nosy about it.”

“Car? You have a car? We’re not supposed to have cars on campus.”

“Right, and that’s why I’m going to get it off campus. Want to ride along?”


We got into the Karmann Ghia, and rather than drive directly to the gas station we spent a little time exploring the town. There were no stores or anything close to the campus, so without my little hot rod, getting around would require a lot of walking, and the wisdom of having it was immediately obvious. Somewhere along the way we decided to stop off at an A&W drive-in for a root beer, and to get to know each other a little better.

I don’t want to say Cat’s family was wealthy, but they were better off than Dad and Mom. He was some kind of an executive at a furniture factory – I never did fully understand it since there was never any need to.

Looking back, I suppose that having the car was one of the things that set up a good relationship between Cat and me, and not just because it gave her the opportunity to ride somewhere instead of walking. I think that having the car said right from the beginning that I was going to be a little unconventional, and that I wasn’t afraid to go around a rule if it suited me. Cat felt constricted by some of the rules women were supposed to follow in those days, more the unwritten rules than the written ones. It was an era in which kids our age, boys and girls, were starting to break the rules and be a little unconventional – or, in a few years, a lot unconventional – often to the dismay of our parents. She and I were no exception, but we didn’t always run with the crowd either.

It cost me $50 to leave the Karmann Ghia at the gas station for the semester – the price had gone up since the guy Dad knew had attended Venable. By then Cat and I were fast friends, and we would remain so. We got into a lot of mischief together and had a lot of fun, but we usually managed to avoid getting into trouble from some of the things we did. We supported each other in many ways, traded our clothes back and forth, along with our class notes and occasionally our boyfriends, all in good friendship.

I just ought to say that while Cat and I often had our disagreements, we never had an argument, never had a fight. We were always able to talk our way through things and usually to both our advantages. There were roommates on the floor who couldn’t stand the sight of each other from the first minute, and there were some real knock-down, drag-out, screaming, yelling, scratching and hair-pulling fights to prove it; Cat and I had to break up several of them. Often we were the voices of calm and reason around the dorm.

We had our differences. For obvious reasons I tended to take a more mature, balanced outlook to things, where Cat could be on the impetuous side, the one with the big, if sometimes impractical ideas. On the other hand, I was pretty straight, and, let’s face it, still had a lot to learn about being a woman, stuff I should have learned from Mom, things the old Joanie certainly had known. Cat taught me most of what I needed to know and just assumed that I was inhibited from coming from a straight family. In the beginning she was much the more outgoing of the two of us, in part because I was still covering up the Joe/Joan connection in my own mind, but she helped me outgrow that, or at least get it into perspective.

I don’t think she ever knew that she helped me to grow from mostly being Joe and a little bit Joanie to become Joan; I certainly never told her, but she was the biggest influence I had in shaping my new life.

It took us a while to get settled into campus; everything was new to us, we had new experiences to live, and new people to meet, but after a few days things started to make sense. One of the things we had to do right away was to go over and confirm our class schedules. I was a little trapped with this since Joanie had selected my courses before I came along. While most of the courses were the usual freshman things that everyone had to take, there were a couple that I was less than pleased with.

One of these courses was an “Introduction to Christianity” class that was all but required of freshmen. This wasn’t surprising, as Venable was a Methodist college, after all. As Joe, I had never been very religious, and I never had noticed much of an interest around the rest of my family. There were a couple of alternatives, and since I had to take at least one class in that department, I decided to see if I could take an Introduction to Philosophy class that was also in the department, but apparently more generalist. That actually had some appeal to me, since, let’s face it, some strange things had been happening in my life for the last few months, and while the philosophy class might not directly explain anything, I felt like it could help organize my thinking.

It turned out that Joanie had originally signed up for the philosophy class, but there had been some last minute schedule changes, and she’d gotten kicked over to the Christianity class when the philosophy class couldn’t be held in the original time period, for whatever reason. Since I thought that was rather arrogant of the college, I insisted on being allowed to take the philosophy class in a different time period.

It turned out that the only philosophy class that had an opening would conflict with my physical education class, which was titled “Organized Recreational Athletics for Women,” which told me nothing. After a little investigation I discovered that this meant field hockey, volleyball, or basketball, depending on the season.

I had nothing against athletics, per se – after all, although I had recovered from the accident, I still didn’t think I was in the shape I wanted to be in. But those kinds of team sports just didn’t appeal to me for some reason, at least partly because I had no experience with them. This was in the days before Title IX decreed that there had to be equal sports opportunities for women; girls had no interscholastic team sports at Simsville High School, and they didn’t have them at Venable College, either. There was a Girls Athletic Club in high school, but Joanie hadn’t participated in it; in my other life as a guy at the school, I had avoided the jocks like the plague, so I hadn’t been involved in sports then either. I think it was more Joe’s experience than Joanie’s that made me reluctant to get involved in team sports. Whatever her reasons, Cat agreed with me.

I still had the physical education requirement I had to get in, but there were not very many options that were open to women. I scanned over the list and discovered there was really only one possibility – a course entitled, “Bouldering and Climbing.” A little to my surprise, it was co-ed, just about the only course on the list open to both men and women.

“What’s this all about?” I asked the woman behind the desk.

“Oh, that’s Professor Norton’s class,” she smirked. “He’s a nut about rock climbing, and talked the administration into offering it experimentally this year.”

“Rock climbing?” I frowned. “Where are there any rocks to climb around here?” That part of the state couldn’t be called flatlands but the best you could call it was “rolling.” There certainly was nothing like the mountains Tom and I had driven the truck through when we were on the northern route to and from the coast. I had occasionally thought that it might be fun to explore on some of those real mountains a little since the views might be tremendous. But to do it? We had never climbed out of the cab, much less up any mountains.

“Beats me,” the woman shook her head. “He must have something in mind, but if so I have no idea what it could be.”

“Could I get into it?” I asked, figuring that it couldn’t be very serious and would most likely be more interesting than being thumped in the head with a volleyball.

“Sure, there are plenty of openings,” the woman smiled. “No one else can quite make sense of it, either.”

“If I decide I don’t like it, can I still transfer back to the other class?”

“Sure, but you have to remember that you only have two weeks to make up your mind.”

“All right, let’s do it.”

“Can I get in on the deal, too?” Cat asked.

“That won’t be any problem,” the woman smiled.

It only took a couple of minutes to make the change. As we walked away I had second thoughts. “What have I gotten us into?” I asked Cat.

“I have no idea,” she smiled. “But just remember one thing.”


“If I wind up falling screaming to my death, keep in mind that this was your bright idea.”

With that settled, we hiked on over to the bookstore, which was crowded with other students, both new and returning. In something of a mob scene, we were quickly relieved of a lot of money, and had a heavy bag of books each to lug back to Murphy Hall.

We had a few other things to do around campus that afternoon, but we took a few minutes to glance through some of the books. “Looks like a lot of reading,” Cat commented.

“It does to me, too,” I agreed. “I guess there’s not much we can do but read it.”

“True. It looks to me like we’re not going to lack for things to do.”

That stack of books looked pretty daunting to me. I couldn’t tell Cat, of course, how long it had been since I had been in high school – the little bit back in the spring didn’t really count, since I’d never actually been in a classroom, being stuck in the wheelchair. While Joe had been smart enough way back then, he had a problem with paying attention in class, and all I could do was hope that somehow the problem had gone away over the years. I was used to learning from my own reading, but this would be something different. If it didn’t work out, I was going to be in a real fix, but the only way to find out would be to try it and see what happened.

Eventually we wound up having dinner in the dining hall partway across campus. The food was adequate, if not spectacular; I didn’t think that keeping my weight down was going to be all that big a trick. The dining hall was filled with students, of course, and there were a lot of new people to meet.

“Wow, there are sure a lot of cute boys around, aren’t there?” Cat commented as we sat at a table with our dinners, doing more looking around than we were eating.

“Yes, there are,” I replied automatically. I could tell that there were some guys I considered good-looking, and some who probably wouldn’t have much problem finding some girl to hang out with, and more. But my reaction was really more intellectual than anything else, since I was still checking the guys out with Joe’s mind more than I was with Joan’s. Let’s face it, I had spent over half a century checking out girls, so I knew what I liked and knew what I didn’t. I hadn’t really approached the question as a girl looking at guys so it was a very new experience for me, although once again it was something I couldn’t tell Cat.

As in many things, this was a period of transition from the more staid, formal ways of the fifties and early sixties, and this was true in dress and styles as much as it was in anything else. In hairstyles, for example, the updo and bouffant hair of the period for girls was giving way to the long, straight hair that was to come in the next few years. Guy’s hair was just getting longer, although we didn’t see much of it around Venable College right then.

To be honest, I was busier checking out the girls than I was the guys. Some seemed very appealing to me, well, at least to Joe. Just coming at the guy-girl thing from a girl’s viewpoint was going to be a major lesson for me to learn. I think if Cat had asked me right then I would have admitted to being a lesbian, since I really couldn’t build up that much interest in guys but could really appreciate some of the girls. There was a girl at the next table, a blonde with big breasts, a tiny waist, and a nice bubble butt from what I could make out from how it filled out her skirt. Take off her clothes, and she could have been on a Playboy centerfold. At that age Joe would have his tongue hanging out, and I had to really keep myself from staring at her. I had more or less perceived that this was a problem that I was going to have to work out, and do it by myself, but right now it seemed like it would be a tough one.

“I don’t think I’m going to have much problem getting dates,” Cat commented after gazing on one guy that even I thought women would like to fall over themselves about. “It sure would be nice to get close with that guy, wouldn’t it?”

“Maybe so,” I replied noncommittally. “But Cat, I’m not going to go crazy over it. I have other things to do here than chase guys.”

“Yeah, like studying and stuff, but it would be a shame to let the chances go by. I mean, being at college is the best chance we’re going to have to meet a really good guy to marry.”

“Cat, I’m going to come clean on this. I’m not real sure how badly I want to get married, have kids, and be a housewife along with all those other hassles. I would bet a lot of girls here have that as a goal. Given a chance, I’d bet that a lot of them aren’t interested in a career at all, but in finding some guy who will give them those things so that they don’t even have to work for a living. Now I suppose that’s all well and good for them if that’s what they want, and if it’s what you’re looking for, well, that’s fine with me.”

“Then what do you want?”

“I can’t tell you because I don’t know yet. I can tell you what I don’t want, because that’s what I just did. I want to have some fun out of life, and especially life after college. I don’t want to be tied down to a husband and two kids and all of that other stuff, because it takes away the opportunity to do other things I would like to do, whatever they are. The only way to avoid getting dragged into that trap too soon is to start avoiding it early.”

“Are you telling me you don’t want a guy?” she replied incredulously. “You don’t want to get married?”

Right at the moment I really wasn’t interested in it at all, although I could see that I didn’t want to tell her that. After all, after forty years of marriage as a man, I had difficulty comprehending what it would be like to be married as a woman. “I’m not saying that,” I temporized. “I’m just saying that I don’t want it soon, and definitely not in college, or right out of college. Ask me in a few years, and I might tell you something different.”

She frowned, shook her head, then said slowly, “That sounds strange.”

“Of course it sounds strange to you,” I shrugged. “Look, you’ve mostly been brought up to believe that your real goal in life is to get married, be a mommy and a housewife, right? I mean, you can talk about wanting to be a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher or something, but that’s almost secondary to being a housewife and a mommy, right?”

“Well, yeah, when you put it that way,” she replied, wrestling with the concept a little. “I guess it’s what we’re supposed to do.”

“What would you want to bet that most of the girls in this room have something like that as their real goal in life? In ten years, even five years, how many girls here are going to have kids? I’ll bet that it’s probably most of them. They may or may not have a job, but if they do, it may be the only job they’ll have before they get pregnant. Once they have kids, their real job comes out, and there isn’t much quitting or turning back when that happens.”

“Yeah, I can see that. Once you start having kids, it cuts down on the other things you could do. But aren’t things supposed to be that way?”

“Biologically speaking, yes,” I smiled, grateful for some of the things I’d read in the sleeper cab over the years. “Be fruitful and multiply, and all of that. Especially at our age, we have hormones that are telling us to do that, so most girls give into the desire sooner or later and miss the chance to do some of the other things they could have done. I want to do some of those other things first is all.”

“Wow, you’ve really thought this through.”

Well, no, I hadn’t – but again, I had the advantage of a much greater age in Joe’s body, and the advantage of some of the things he had learned along the way over the course of that time. “Some,” I admitted. “Look, even the college probably understands the drive toward mating of kids our age. If the way things are supposed to work means that a lot of girls won’t have the kind of meaningful careers college is supposed to prepare them for, why are we even here? It’s not to prepare for a career; it’s to look for a better mate. The college has to have girls here so they can draw the guys who are the ones supposed to have the careers.”

“That sounds pretty cynical to me.”

“It is, if you look at it that way. But consider what I’ve just said, and tell me if it’s not true, at least for a lot of people. I don’t want to get caught in that trap. Like I said, there are other things to do.”

“You know,” she said thoughtfully. “You might have something there.”

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To be continued . . .

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