Al in Minneapolis
My work at Fargo Clinic finished at 9 p.m. but instead of going back to the dorm I went right to the train depot and sat alone, reading, until the train left for Minneapolis about midnight. We were due to arrive in the city about 7 in the morning and the play wasn't until 7:30 in the evening, so I intended to wander around the town, window shopping, going to museums, etc. to pass the time.
I couldn't sleep on the train due to my nervous tension, excitement and fear of what I was doing. I was worn out when we arrived and the prospect of filling in 12 hours was rather daunting. I'd taken a small overnight case with me and carried my light coat. I sat in the coffee bar at the train station until 9 - and then walked the not-inconsiderable distance to the big stores in the center of the city. Before long I had to make a purchase - some comfortable shoes. My feet were swollen and blistered. My fancy dress shoes were not meant for pounding sidewalks in a big city for hours.
I was so worn out by lunchtime that I couldn't resist the opportunity to go into a movie theatre and see an afternoon movie. Tom Jones was on and as it was a very long movie would kill a great deal of time. I hadn't seen it, although I had heard a lot about it, so I was pleased to be able to go to it and rest my feet at the same time. After the first chicken-devouring scene, I fell asleep and stayed asleep until it was all over and the people were filing out. I had a quick snack and then got a cab to take me to Augustana College. It was about 6:30 by then and not knowing where the theater was, I decided I needed to allow lots of
But the cab ride was quick and I found the theater with no trouble at all. It was far too early but I decided to go in anyway and find a seat. The door was
unlocked and I went into the lobby. There was an older man there, probably the director, I thought, and he didn't pay any attention to me, but went on getting some props out of a box. I opened the swing doors and walked softly into the auditorium. It had seats for about 500 people but it was empty except for the actors who were on stage getting things organized. Al was there with three or four others, trying out the lighting effects. I walked slowly down the aisle, and
kept looking up at him. He seemed to be looking right at me too, but he didn't say a word, and gave no sign of recognition. I thought maybe he was embarrassed to see me there or annoyed and didn't want to let on to anyone that he knew me, so I turned around and rushed out again, without saying anything to anyone.
I was so choked with emotion that I couldn't think straight. I ran down the street not knowing or caring where I was going. I had spent a whole day waiting
for this experience and now I couldn't cope. I found myself wandering around as if in a daze. Then I came to a huge building which was labeled as a hospital. I went in and almost without knowing what I was doing, I got into the elevator and out on the fifth floor which was listed as the maternity department. I went down the corridor to the nursery. I just stood there for maybe five minutes, looking at the tiny newborn babies, and somehow it calmed me down. Luckily
nobody asked me what I was doing there for surely I couldn't have told them as I didn't know myself.
I left the hospital and made my way back to the auditorium which was now nearly full and the play was about to start. I found a seat about half way down and sat down with my coat, shoe-bag and overnight case all balanced on my
The play began - it was Stringberg's The Strangers. It was a good play, and it was well done. Al had the male lead. I just looked at him most of the time. When the scene came near the end where he had to take the female lead into his arms and kiss her, I didn't mean to flinch, but suddenly all my bags fell on the floor creating what seemed to me like a deafening racket. I was red-faced and apologetic as I regathered my belongings. When the play ended I left in a hurry. I still had one and a half hours to kill before my train back so I retraced my steps to the hospital, but this time went to a phone box and called an aunt of mine who lived nearby. When I'd explained to her why I was in Minneapolis, she didn't scold or laugh or do any of the things I'd expected her to do. She said, "Did you go to see him after the play?” I admitted that I hadn’t. “If he saw you
before, he'll be expecting to see you, and if he didn't, he may well be pleased anyway. Tell him how much you liked the play."
So I thought, why not. I had come all this way and could hardly be hurt much more. So once again I walked back to Augustana's auditorium, shaking now - ready for the ultimate humiliation. The front door locked, I went around to the stage door and knocked but that was locked too, and it was dark inside. Then as I turned to go, I saw an Iowa license plate on a car parked outside in front. He must be somewhere nearby, I thought. So I got an old scrap of paper out of my purse and wrote, “To Al - Enjoyed your play. Jean" and put his name on the outside and stuck it under the windshield wiper on the car. Then I called a cab to take me to the train station. It was over. Such a relief. I'd seen him. I'd seen his play. He was well. He was happy. He still existed. That was enough. I'd said that I only wanted to see him and now maybe I'd believe it myself. The train was lulling and comforting now - not exciting. I slept well and awoke in the morning in my town and to another sunny day. Life could now begin to get.
back to normal.
Why was it that each time I accepted the end of our relationship, something happened to rekindle my hope? That Sunday I was doing my part-time job of manning the switchboard at the dormitory when he called. I got somebody else
to take over the switchboard so I could talk to him with some degree of privacy.
“You fink!” he said. “You rat fink! Why didn’t you stick around? Why didn’t
you tell me you were going to see the play? How did you find out about it anyway? I spent all morning before we left calling all the colleges in Minneapolis trying to find you, because I expected you were there for some reason. I was so frustrated that I started to cry.”
I couldn’t believe it. He’d cried because he'd missed seeing me. He must care for me after all.
“I found out about the play from your college newspaper,” I said, not telling him that I had it sent specially just to me, rather than just happening to pick it up at our college library.
"But why, if you went there to see me, didn't you come to tell me that you were there?”
"I went in early and you acted as if you didn't want to admit you knew me."
"Before the play - when you were arranging the lights," I said.
“You must know enough about stage lighting to know that when the lights are on on stage you can’t see into the auditorium,” he said, exasperated.
"Oh," I said feebly, "I didn't think of that."
"John, the director, told me somebody had come in and then left again in a
hurry, but. I didn't know it was you, honestly. I wouldn't have cold-shouldered you. You should know that."
Well the call had gone on to a great expense by that stage so Al said, "I'll call
you when we're both home for summer vacation and I'll come to see you and we can get to know each other all over again."