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Spearfish Lake Tales
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Joe/Joan book cover

by Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Chapter 12

Things settled down after that as we settled into a routine of classes, studying, and having a little fun on the side.

I felt like I was picking up French better than I’d picked up German when Joe had been in high school long before. It was still pretty basic, but included the mechanics and phonics behind the language not just rote memorization of useful phrases, so that helped a lot. The English composition class continued to be boring, but it was something I knew I needed so I tried to pay close attention to it, rather than just zoning out like I would have done had I still been Joe. The American government class would have been just as sleep inducing if it had not had a little more interesting material to work with. The only problem with Western Civilization was that there was only so much time to get through a lot of history so the professor had to make a low pass through it. Philosophy proved to be interesting and thought provoking, which made it my favorite academic class.

But to my surprise, the climbing class proved to be my hands-down favorite.

It was fun and it was challenging. Professor Norton pushed us hard, but we were learning new things every session, and gaining strength and agility. Once we had worked through the basics on the climbing wall in the field house, we moved out to an abandoned marble quarry a few miles away. Although the walls were just as artificial as the one in the field house, they did a much better job of representing the real world; it was there that we began to learn rope work and the use of pitons and carabiners. A top rope was not belaying us anymore; it was real climbing, with the second climber on a rope belaying the leader from below. Several times we went to an old stone-arch railroad bridge, where unknown to the railroad Professor Norton had installed expansion bolts we could slip carabiners through. The bridge was a more challenging climb, because while there were more holds, they were tiny by comparison to others we had used.

Since none of us were supposed to have cars, Professor Norton usually took us in his big but battered old station wagon. He often took his wife Sue along; she was a climber too, so sometimes six of us were working various lines at the same time while he or Sue kibitzed from the ground. With six or seven of us and our gear the station wagon got crowded if we had to go more than a few miles, so Cat and I usually tagged along behind in the Karmann Ghia.

As the weather got colder we dressed up more, but kept climbing, sometimes farther afield. There was a town a hundred miles or so away that had a small but totally natural cliff, just about the only one in the region. It was much too far to go for a class period, so we only went there on Saturdays. We occasionally ran into other climbers there, and we all agreed we were a bit out of step with the rest of the world, but that it was good to know that there were other crazies like us out there.

If the weather was bad when class time rolled around, we often worked out in the field house. Sometimes it was weight training; Ed urged us to pursue it, but not overdo it. Sometimes he would tape off some of the holds on the climbing wall and tell us we weren’t allowed to use them, and that made getting up the wall a lot more challenging – and taught us to work harder.

By now, we all had become pretty good friends. I was closer with every one of the group than I was with anyone else on the campus, with the exception of Cat, of course. That included the professor and his wife; we were more climbing buddies than we were teacher and student. By the third or fourth session we were all calling him “Ed” or even just “Norton” and cracking Honeymooners jokes, which seemed to be all right in the climbing class but not in the English classes I had with him later on. He would sometimes make a particularly funny or disparaging statement, all in fun, and sometimes one of us would reply “Straight to the moon, Norton, straight to the moon.” In return, he would often call Cat or me “Alice” or “Trixie” although it was never clear which one of us was supposed to be which. There were times when it was amazing that none of us fell from laughing.

As time went by, especially as the weather got colder, we occasionally hung out with Ed and Sue at their home on Saturday. We’d sit, shoot the bull, tell stories (not all of them about climbing), and occasionally Ed would pull out some slides he’d taken of various climbing trips. Some of those mountains looked breathtaking. One time he managed to come up with a 16-mm film version of the story of the first successful climb of Mount Everest back in 1953. It was awesome to think that people could be that crazy.

It was all a refreshing break from the normal starchy formality we found around campus.

The little group of us climbers often hung out together in the dining hall or elsewhere on campus. After his rough start, Andy soon was climbing with the best of us, even surpassing us on occasion – he just had to get over his initial reservations, but once he’d done it, he proved to be a pretty neat guy.

Climbing and talking about climbing wasn’t the only thing we did for fun outside of class. About twice a week there was some special event held in the college auditorium. Sometimes these were plays, put on by the drama classes and drama club; sometimes there were lectures or presentations of various sorts, including a monthly travelogue series, which always seemed fascinating since they went to many parts of the world we hadn’t considered before.

If nothing else was scheduled, Saturday night was movie night. The college was fully aware that guys and girls wanted to have something to do for a date, but something where nothing could get out of hand, and the movies were always a good chance to do just that. Considering that Venable was a Methodist College, there was nothing salacious or with excessive violence, but it still left us with some pretty good movies. They were never first-run films, but fairly recent. My Fair Lady, Becket, Seven Days in May, The Sound of Music, The Ballad of Cat Ballou, A Patch of Blue, and Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines all come to mind, and I’m sure there were others I don’t remember. Usually us crazy climbers all went as a group, and sometime Ed and Susie would be with us.

That wasn’t all there was to do outside of class. On some Saturday afternoons there were football games, and if they were home games the group of us often went to them rather than being out climbing somewhere, even though none of us had much of any interest in football. The Venable College football team in those days was not very good and I seem to recall that they won only one home game that fall, but it was something different for us to do.

As the semester went on, Cat and Mark started hanging out together a little more often than when the group got together; their getting together was clearly dating. I doubt if anything very serious went on between the two, at least in the first semester – mostly because there was no place they could go to be by themselves, except to go for a walk or something. Before long it was getting too cold for that to be a lot of fun. The school recognized that sometimes guys and girls needed to get together to study, and there was the library and a student lounge that could be used for that, but they were never private and there were always staff members hanging around to make sure nothing untoward was going on. Most of us were under twenty-one, the age of majority in those days, and the school took their assumed parental responsibility seriously.

Andy and I also hung out by ourselves once in a while, but there was nothing serious going on there, either. He was a nice guy and fun to be with, but I was still too much of a tomboy – or still hadn’t transitioned from Joe enough – to let it get anywhere past that. Oh, I suppose we could have gotten into my car and gone somewhere, but we didn’t.

Hanging out with Andy, and watching Cat hang out with Mark, got me to thinking about how I wanted to approach guys in the first place. I had not fully worked out how I wanted to handle guys, mostly because I was still mentally partially a guy, and an older one at that. But I had to make up my mind that I was in a girl’s body, and, let’s face it, all those female hormones were doing things to me that I really didn’t understand.

It was not that I hadn’t thought about sex – and what it would be like as a girl – because I had. In fact, I had done so a lot. Almost from the beginning I had desire to try out the new equipment, but so far I hadn’t done much about it.

I will be honest and admit that I started exploring the new equipment clear back when I had been in the hospital but had to wait until I got home to really see how it would react. It proved to be rather different than I remembered, but I couldn’t do much more than occasionally explore myself while I had been home, struggling to try to be Joanie. Now, at college, I had a little more freedom to explore the concept even if I didn’t have the opportunity to do much about it even if I had been willing to press ahead further than I wanted to just then.

I knew darn well that it was going to be different to have sex as a girl than it had been as a guy, and the guy part of me was causing me some problems with coming to grips with it. On the other side of the coin, I still liked girls, if for no more reason than that. This was obviously not anything I could go to Cat for advice on, either, so it was clear that I was going to have to keep things slow and make my first explorations on the tentative side. If I was going to do it, and lose Joanie’s virginity at the same time, I at least wanted to do it right the first time, not some cramped and uncomfortable squirming in the not very large back seat of the Karmann Ghia.

I had already had some more talks with Cat about wanting to get married and be a mother. At that point in time I was still interested in neither, although those female hormones I just mentioned were starting to give me second thoughts. I had learned the hard way, as Joe, that parenthood really tied a person down, and I wanted to explore the new freedom that my second chance at life had given me. I realized that the options for both marriage and parenthood were there for me, and in the end I decided I wouldn’t pursue them any time soon. If things happened to work out that way in the future, well, so be it – but hopefully not soon.

However, I was also curious enough to want to give the new equipment a tryout with a guy, if only to see what it was like. I hoped I would like it, but until I was more comfortable with being a woman there was a good chance I wouldn’t care for it. So that argued against allowing a serious emotional attachment to be developed with the guy – things could clearly get sticky if it turned out that once was enough for me.

At the same time, I didn’t want to be too easy and get the reputation of a slut around campus, either. That argued against getting involved with anyone from Venable College, and since I was only meeting guys from on campus, that really put the issue off for a while. Eventually I decided that I would have sex sometime sooner or later, but only when there was a good reason to do it – and just simple hormone-driven horniness wasn’t a good enough reason. There was enough of that going around as it was, and I suspected Cat was going to be trying it out well before I did.

Dr. Alta proved to be right – I got hit on fairly often, usually by jocks who thought that my being a life model meant that I was going to be easy. While most of the time I tried to be a fairly demure girl around campus, I could still remember how to talk like a trucker, so word got out pretty quickly that when I said no, I meant not just no but hell no. Cat actually had to give me some lessons in how to let a guy down a little more easily but just as firmly.

I probably ought to point out that I never got hit on, or even any static, from the guys who saw me nude for forty-five minutes three times a week. It may have been because they respected and appreciated what I was doing for them, but I figured that it was more likely that Dr. Alta laid down the law to them well before I was even in the classroom. I was absolutely correct on that, but I didn’t find out for sure until the next year.

Being a model in the art class went fairly smoothly. While what I was doing was no secret around campus I didn’t make a big deal out of it, either. Cat may have initially been shocked, but she soon got over it, and soon it was no big deal to either of us – it was just something I did. The money was good, though, and once a month I had to get in the Karmann Ghia and go down to the nearest bank branch, where I had set up a savings account. That money was going to come in useful sometime, whether or not Cat and I went to Europe the next summer like we occasionally talked about.

A little to my surprise, I didn’t use the car very much. After the weather got cooler Cat and I would walk down to the gas station as soon as we got out of class on Wednesday mornings and spend the next hour or so trying out the coffee in various places around town. Sometimes we would go to the Kresge store downtown, which had a lunch counter with pretty good coffee. It gave us a chance to get most of the little odds and ends we needed at a better price than we would have had to pay in the campus bookstore, if the bookstore even carried the items we needed at all.

Since I had the car, I had the option of going home most weekends if I happened to feel like it – which I never did, even though it was less than a two-hour drive. I was still into the process of developing Joan, rather than the Joanie my folks expected me to be, so it was easier to just stay on campus and be Joan, or Jo as Cat had often called me from the beginning. I tried to break her of that, since I often heard “Joe” when she did it, but I was never very successful and finally just got used to it. I did send letters or cards home once a week or so, and occasionally called home, but I was trying to loosen the strings my parents had on me, too.

So it was Thanksgiving before I finally had to go home. Cat’s parents came to pick her up, and we had a nice talk before they dropped me off at the gas station, along with a single overnight bag that would be all the clothes I would need to wear back in Simsville. It was a pleasant drive back home in the Karmann-Ghia; although I was a little negative about going home for the weekend, it was pleasant to be off campus for a while.

My folks were glad to see me. Even though I had been in regular contact with them, they had missed me. Of course, I had to sit down and give them the chapter and verse of what had happened the last few weeks, and I mostly told the truth, leaving out only a few things, like what my part-time job in the art department entailed. I told them it mostly involved cleaning up and paperwork, but that it was fairly easy. That may have been a lie and I think Mom knew it, but she didn’t push me on it, either.

I also wasn’t very straight about the climbing class; I couldn’t deny that it involved climbing, but I sort of insinuated that we mostly used a top rope so there was no real danger of falling. In fact, by that time we rarely used them, and then only if there was some tricky technique Professor Norton wanted us to learn.

“It’s mostly over with anyway,” I told her. “The weather is getting too cold to do much of it outside. But it’s really been fun and I think it’s built my muscles up quite a bit.” In fact, we had been out to the railroad bridge the previous Saturday, when it had been cold and blowing a little snow. We’d climb up the wall, working on our moves, rappel back down, and warm our hands by a little fire that Susie had built, then climb up and do it all over again. It was fun, and something enjoyable to do with friends.

Of course, Joey was at home, too. They didn’t have dorms at WCC, so he drove back and forth each day. He didn’t tell me a lot about it, at least not in front of the folks, but I got the impression he wasn’t very thrilled with the whole thing, which was a fact I knew well, since I had literally been in his shoes in my previous life on Timeline One.

It wasn’t until Friday that he and I got to talk without the folks around, and then he was a lot more open about it with me. “Joanie, it’s just not working out for me,” he said. “I sit through those classes and I’m just about bored to tears. None of them mean anything to me and I doubt that I’ll ever have any use for them. I’m mostly going because the folks want me to go, not because I want to.”

“Are you going to give it up, then?”

“Well, I’m going to finish out the semester, I pretty well promised them that I’d do that. I really don’t want to go next semester, but I’m signed up for a couple of classes that might be a bit more interesting. If that doesn’t work out, I don’t think I’ll go back soon, if at all.”

Although I knew exactly how he felt – more than he could ever believe – I decided to take a crack at breaking Rule Four, just because I knew what he would be doing this time next year, which is to say attending a truck driving school at Ft. Eustis, Virginia. “Joey, I hate to point this out, but this stuff in Vietnam is heating up a lot, and I think it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better. If you quit school, there goes your student status and the draft board will be after you so fast it won’t be funny.”

“I know that,” he nodded. “Right now, I’m not sure I mind. I really don’t want to be carrying a rifle out in some jungle in Vietnam, but I keep thinking that if I go ahead and join for three years I might be able to get into some job where being out in the mud isn’t quite as likely.”

“It sounds good,” I told him, trying to figure out a way of telling him what I wanted to tell him without letting him know that I already knew. “What happens if you train to be oh, a truck driver, then when you get to Vietnam they’ve got all the truck drivers they need, but it turns out they really need people carrying rifles out in the jungle?”

“Then I guess I wind up carrying a rifle,” he shrugged. “Maybe that wouldn’t be all that bad. It wouldn’t be sitting in a classroom at WCC bored to tears.”

“Yeah, right, sitting in a foxhole somewhere scared to tears,” I pointed out. “I think I could take any amount of boredom compared to that.”

“So you’re different than me, Sis. You seem to like that classroom stuff. I never liked it and I don’t like it now. Like I said, if this next semester doesn’t work out, and it will surprise the hell out of me if it does, I might as well evade the draft by enlisting. You’re lucky that you don’t have to worry about getting drafted. It doesn’t work that way for me. I’m not going to do it right away, but I think when we’re off for Christmas I’ll go down to the recruiting office and get an idea of what’s involved.”

I had been pretty sure that my attempt to get him to change his mind wasn’t going to work. It wouldn’t have worked for me if I’d had a sister when I had been Joe, but at least I’d tried. “You know,” I told him, “sometimes it stinks to be a girl, but there are times that it stinks to be a guy. This is one of them.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that,” he agreed. “I wish there was some other way, but I’ll be damned if I’ll burn my draft card and sneak off to Canada or something. What would the folks think of me?”

“You might have a point on that.” The same thought had occurred to me more than fifty years of my lifetime before. “Look, if you feel you have to do it, then I guess you have to do it. But Joey, please talk to me about it again before you sign on the dotted line.”

“I will, Sis,” he promised. “But I’m going to do what I have to do.”

“That’s the way it works, isn’t it?” I shook my head.

We didn’t talk about it again that weekend, but I was dead sure my efforts had gone for nothing. Rule Four – you can’t change things, so don’t try – seemed pretty solid to me just then. I was disappointed but not surprised that I hadn’t been able to change Joey’s mind, but then, I knew it was a hopeless cause when I made the attempt.

Then the thought struck me: I might not be able to do much about the history Joe knew about, but what about the history Joe didn’t know about? It was an interesting question, and not one I could bring up in my philosophy class either. I was going to be on my own for that one.

I had a pretty good time the rest of the weekend, considering that I really wanted to get back to college and quit playing at being Joanie. It was an act, I knew it, and I thought I was doing pretty well at it. Maybe I ought to join the drama club at college, I thought as I motored north in the Karmann Ghia, back to Venable College where Joan was beginning to feel at home.

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To be continued . . .

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