I first saw Katja across the Morgan Hall lawn at the mixer during freshman orientation week at Antioch College in September 1955. She was wearing a white dress, and she flitted to and fro throughout the crowd, engaging each new person she met in animated talk. Believe it or not, I fell in love with her that very moment and told myself that she was the girl I was destined to marry.
I was painfully shy at this time (in contrast to my current state of being unpainfully shy), and I not only avoided contact with Katja, but with every other woman on campus. I saw her from a distance from time to time during my freshman year, in the cafeteria or walking across campus. One night I walked through the common room in South Hall, the women’s dorm, and she was playing the piano and looking melancholy. Another time I went to a French surrealist play on campus, and she had a bit part as a nanny. In my view, she stole the show. Given my lack of action, I had by then decided that I would either marry Katja or an attractive blonde named Aurora (to whom I also had never spoken).
The next year I took my first coop job at Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin. My Uncle Karl arranged for me to live in a pharmacy student fraternity house, but I was very lonely nonetheless. Two of my freshmen hallmates, Dave (“Newt”) Sears and Art French, had coop jobs in Milwaukee, and I took a Greyhound bus down to visit them on a cold January weekend. A third Antioch student was also working at Milwaukee Sanitarium, and, miracle of miracles, it was Katja. She hung out every day with Newt and Art, and consequently I got to meet the girl of my dreams by complete happenstance.
Art was madly in love with Katja, but she had made it clear that he was not an eligible suitor. I asked Newt if he thought I had a chance, and he said who knows (though he was obviously unimpressed with my romantic skills). After a second visit to Milwaukee, I asked Katja if she would like to come and see the University of Wisconsin. To my amazement, she wanted to. She stayed in a dorm in Madison with one of my high school friends, Sally Henes, and I showed her around the campus. We drank some beer in a UW bar, and I told her about seeing her for the first time and believing that I would marry her one day. Katja got furious. She told me that was the worst line she had ever heard. Back at the dorm, though, she kissed me goodnight at the front steps. It was the most thrilling kiss I had ever had.
I returned to Milwaukee a couple of weeks later, and we walked around the freezing streets of the city. Katja lived in a tiny one-room apartment, the size of a large closet, and later we spent some time there kissing and hugging. I went back to Newt and Art’s place for the night. They had one double bed. As the visitor, I got to sleep in the bed with Art while Newt made do with some cushions on the floor.
In the middle of the night Art screamed out, “What are you doing? What are you doing?” Suddenly wakened, I asked, “What?” Art said, “You kissed me! What the hell are you doing?” Still groggy, I was in a state of shock. I tried to explain to Art that Katja and I had been at her apartment earlier, and that we had been kissing, and that I was dreaming of her, and I thought that’s who was lying next to me. This explanation only made things a lot worse for Art. He didn’t want to be kissed in the first place, and he definitely didn’t want to hear about anybody kissing Katja. Newt started laughing, and Art grumbled, “Forget it!” He turned over, put his pillow between us, and went back to sleep. I myself, profoundly embarrassed, lay there in a cold sweat for most of the night. I told Katja about it the next day. She wasn’t that amused. Art looked at me funny from that point on. I made several more trips to Milwaukee that winter, but I was never again invited to share the bed.
*This story uses some pseudonyms