Al and the Hernia
A week went by and I had no letter from Al. I was very disappointed and then thought I'd write to him anyway. But before my letter had a chance to reach him, I received one from him. We had both been waiting for the other to
I wrote every week, long letters full of how much I missed him. His letters were cooler, full of his activities and life at college. Soon I was writing two to
every one of his, and his became shorter. Then came the early October day when I got a note with just two lines on it. "I'm sorry, but I think you are too serious. Can't we just be friends?" I didn't want to be just friends. I was hurt and angry. I cried about it and prayed about it. I wrote back a nasty letter followed by an apologetic pleading one. But I heard nothing.
Two weeks later as I was just about to go to my 10 o'clock class my buzzer rang, indicating that I had a visitor. I went into the lobby of the dorm and there stood Al. He looked as wonderful and handsome as ever, and I knew I loved him as much as I had before. I agreed to skip my classes for the day to be with him, something I'd never done before.
He'd driven all through the night from Iowa to come to see me. He was
so tired and I just wanted to comfort him and tell him how much I cared. "I'm so sorry I hurt you," he said, "I wanted to come to talk to you in person and in fact I started driving here one day, but then went back."
“Why did you come now?” I asked. I wanted to hear him say he couldn't stand life without me.
"I've got to go into the hospital for a hernia operation. I've known I had to have it done," he said, "but they decided it couldn’t wait any longer. I’m going into the hospital in Bismarck on Monday .”
I didn't know what a hernia was. I imagined it to be some sort of growth, like a mole or lump somewhere. "In Africa they worship people with hernias,” I said, quoting some piece of partial information I'd picked up from some magazine I'd read. Al looked very embarrassed and didn't say anything more about his medical condition.
We drove into the country and parked the car on a side road. He took me in his arms and kissed me with an urgency and thoroughness he had never used before. I realized that this was a new dimension in romance, and it scared me. Some farmers were driving their tractors in the nearby fields and they obviously thought we were having a good time and honked their horns and waved. Then Al said, "Will you come to a hotel with me, right now?”
My mind wasn't working very quickly just then and I said, "You must be very tired and need a sleep before you drive on to Bismarck. It would do you a lot of good.”
"I didn't mean to go there to sleep,” he said, and I suddenly twigged. But I
wasn't ready for full-blown sex. I knew sex before marriage was against all my religious standards, but mostly I didn't any longer trust him.
"I’ll come with you if you just want my company but not for anything more."
He accepted my refusal, and almost looked relieved.
“Will you drive with me back to Bismarck? I might fall asleep on the road, I'm so tired, and you could spend the weekend with your folks and come back
by bus on Sunday night.”
But I had just started my evening job at the clinic and knew my employers would not approve of my taking a night off after only a few days of work.
“I just can't do that,” I said. It occurred to me much much later that despite my constant declaration of my love for him, I had for the first time refused to do what he asked me. And the two things he had asked of me on that day, if I had really loved him, I should have done.
Al drove off soon after but promised that he'd call me when he got home so that I'd know that he was safe. I wrote to him each day that he was in the hospital, sent him my picture, asked my Dad to visit him and take some games up to him.
Two weeks later, Al stopped again on his way back to college. The operation was over and he was well enough again, but this time, he only stayed a short time and seemed remote. He kissed me goodbye and said he'd write but I felt that something had changed in our relationship.
He did write a few times and again my letters were full of romance - his were about his friends. In early November, I picked up my mail on the way to class
where we were to have an important exam . I opened the letter from Al just before class began. It. was a card with a pretty picture on the front. He had hand written the verse.
"I shook her hand, and tore my heart asunder - And went with half my life about my ways.” I think he was trying to tell me something, like, goodbye and this time for good. The effort of checking my tears was tremendous and I had no hope whatsoever of concentrating on the exam.
I wrote back - an angry letter - then an apologetic one. I had found a picture of a man with a hernia in a medical book and seeing the poor man with the swollen scrotum made me feel like a fool for suggesting to Al that he might have been worshiped for his hernia in Africa. I then sort of understood his need to go to the hotel with me that day the previous month. He must have been very worried about the effect of the operation on his manhood. I felt I had to tell Al all these things. I wrote three or four letters, but no replies came.
That Christmas no card or calls came from him. But I just couldn't give him up. I thought of a way to hear about him, even if not from him. I wrote to his college pretending to be thinking of transferring there, and asked if they'd send me a copy of their newspaper, knowing that if he did anything newsworthy, his name would be in it. They gladly sent me the monthly paper, without even charging me for it. Months went by and there was no mention of him at all in it.
Then in the April addition, there was a paragraph about a play that was being presented at Augustana College in Minneapolis and Al was in the cast. Minneapolis is about halfway between the town where I was at college and Wartberg, his college. I made up my mind to go to the play. I wrote to Augustana for a ticket and was told that there was no charge, just to go along.
So Joyce, my co-worker at the li knew the background of who Al was, and why I wanted to go to see him in Minneapolis. "He doesn't sound your sort of man at all," she said. "You must be able to see how self-centered he is. He was just using you when he was feeling bad because his girlfriend had dumped him in the first place. He tried to drop you and then changed his mind when he thought he could take advantage of your feelings for him by getting you to have sex with him before his operation.”
"Oh, no, he isn't like that. He didn't mean to hurt me. He enjoyed being with me, I just know he did," I defended him.
"Well, go if you must," she said, "and tell me all about it afterwards.
But you'd better be prepared to be hurt again."