It was late January in 1974.
I was a sophomore attending a small liberal arts college in Ashland, Oregon. My major was Sociology. It was a popular major for the era. To make a difference in the lives of those in need — that really spoke to the tenor of the time on the Southern Oregon College campus. The “establishment” was failing us all.
One Friday night found me alone in the house enjoying a date with my new Singer sewing machine. While sewing a hippie-esque skirt, I reluctantly answered the telephone’s ring. It was not cool to be alone on a party night. I hated outing myself.
The caller was my sister Leslie, still in high school though dating and partying with men of my age set. She wanted me to get my butt up to Forest Hall, a dorm known for its Olympia-fueled community of all things male. Leslie was in a room filled with guys and wanted me to leave my sewing and solitude behind to come meet “Mr. Oregon.”
It seemed a less-than-great idea, but the lure of meeting the brother of the current reigning Miss Oregon (as in Miss America Pageant royalty), Nancy Jean Jackson, piqued my interest. I acquiesced and drove my ’66 Ford Mustang up to Forest Hall.
It became abundantly clear that Leslie’s currency with the group was procuring someone who had a car that actually worked. Unwittingly, I was to be the pilot for the beer run. And my co-pilot with the ID to buy alcohol was Bruce. It didn’t take me long to note his age, 22, and his piercing blue eyes, his sweet smile and his lovely hands. How was I to know that I was attracted to men’s hands?
We bought beer, lots and lots of beer. As it turned out, Bruce and I were both painfully shy. Beer was lugged up three flights of stairs and delivered. I hung out for a while, getting a contact high. I headed home. And I believed that the awkward evening would be a soon-forgotten memory. But I didn’t forget those eyes, those hands.
My roommate, Nancy, bet me a bottle of Boone’s Farm watermelon wine that Leslie and her boyfriend and Mr. Oregon would ask me to join them for a day in the snow up on Mt. Ashland. The stakes were high, but I took the bait. And I lost the bet. Bruce and I had our first official double date not long after, and I was eager to pony up Boone’s Farm money for the pleasure of his company.
Our second date found us watching “Kung Fu” on my television, my four roommates sitting in the kitchen drinking watermelon wine — four pairs of eyes checking out the new guy. Bruce cautiously entered the den of nosey and opinionated young women and gave me a crash course on all things Kwai Chang Caine and Master Po. He loved the show, and I loved getting to know this quietly intriguing young man.
Bruce was a year-and-a-half out of the Navy, having served two years of active duty on a ship off the coast of Vietnam. He was considered the wise and all-knowing guy in his dormitory. And his 22 years, his legal-to-buy-alcohol ID and his knowledge and access to all things drug-related, elevated his status in the often torturous caste system of dorm life.
I had an English Lit class two evenings a week winter term. I soon started walking back to Bruce’s dorm room after each class and began “getting to know” my new boyfriend. I was falling into something but kept questioning whether this attraction was love.,
Lust and drugs and rock and roll. If you weren’t studying, the music was loud, cigarette smoke created a purple haze and pot, patchouli oil and incense filled the air. I was a prodigious beer drinker, and that was my drug of choice. Bruce did, or had done, it all. I didn’t judge his use of drugs. Live in the moment, no worries, life is groovy.
But to be honest, I had one worry: Why was I attracted to this man … beyond the physical, beyond the fun? Why was I meant to eke out moments to be with him and capture small bits of getting to know him like trapping fireflies in a jar for their illumination? I would tell my friends that some larger force was compelling me to be with Bruce. And my best friends were confounded by my choice. “He’s quiet. He’s mysterious. He’s high a lot.”
One Sunday found me driving home to Medford to visit my family. As I turned the corner, there was Bruce, hands in pockets, head down, walking alone. He had the most erect posture but looked like the saddest man on earth. My surreptitious viewing haunted me.
That night, I raced up to his dorm to check in and learned that his oldest sister had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was only in her late 20s. He started crying. Men who cry just undo me. It is such a window into their souls. I spent the evening holding him. No words. Just bearing witness.
Spring vacation loomed ahead and we both noted that a week apart might be hard. I had plans to go on vacation with my family to Disneyland — kind of a big-deal trip with all six of us on an airplane. Yeah, I would miss Bruce, but I was off to sunny California.
Friday of Spring Break found me back from the land of Disney, picking up the phone to hear Bruce’s voice ask if I wanted to meet him at the college. Dormitories were closed that week, but he’d found a way to sneak in.
Somewhere between walking through the rock-propped door and into his room, it hit me: I was totally, over-the-moon, freakin’ in love. And so, he professed, was he.
We shared classes that spring. He would ace tests without taking notes. I would take notes but study him instead. I had stopped wondering why I was with him and couldn’t imagine a day or night not being by his side.
The first Thursday night in May, we had his room for the entire night. We slept little, whispered much. There was a touch of wistful wonder about how far we had traveled in our relationship. I dozed. Bruce left the room and walked through the night for an hour. I suppose his hands were in his pockets, his head was down and his heart was working overtime. He came back to the room as the sun was rising. Bruce sat down on the bed, sober as a judge, and softly asked me to marry him. I cried. He cried. And yes seemed the only word we used for the next hour. My name would be Allison Jackson.
Love became our intoxicant of choice. We were married 16 months later. My handsome father took my arm in a church filled to overflowing and handed me over to my equally handsome betrothed. We will celebrate our 37th anniversary this August. We have worn marriage well.
Bruce still has those beautiful hands. They have rocked his newborn baby daughter, held her hand as she walked her first days to school, hugged his girls (Jenny and me), prepared food for his family with a need to provide. He still has lovely eyes, a wonderful smile and a heart that carries an abundance of love and thoughtful, steadfast devotion.
Our love was born in a time when longevity of relationship was not cool, when you just “loved the one you’re with.” It was a time of following your bliss and hanging loose, being cool, staying high, mellowing out.
We bucked the trend.
Allison Jackson writes from Medford, Oregon…usually at the urging of her daughter. And her daughter wishes she’d do more of it.
Now read Love, Part II written by Allison’s daughter Jen.