When I was in college, I dated a boy who was an artist. I still have two of his sketches hanging on my walls (EE calls it the wall of honor, or something). When we hung new art by a friend, EE mentioned that we now have art done by two actual artists on our walls — artists who we know, that is.
I was a freshman in college when I met DL, and he was dating a floor mate. By the spring of my second year, DL and my floor mate had broken up, and then in the summer of that year, we both lived in Grinnell, he “doing his art” while I worked two jobs. I took this photograph of DL doing his art, and he had the good sense to present me the sketch he did this night as a birthday gift, with much fanfare.
We argued that dusky summer night while he worked on the sketch. I was exhausted from my two jobs, but he was just getting going with his “work.” That night, I wanted to get home, get some sleep, and I was resentful about hanging around on that empty road while he worked.
During most of the summer days, I worked at my research job or waiting tables. DL painted, sketched, and sometimes even made cookies. He also sent me cute drawings of collembola — the ubiquitous insects that I was studying with a professor — that I discovered in my campus mailbox. I might still have the sketches.
That summer, despite my job and DL’s constant making of art, we found time to go camping in Wisconsin, and we canoed on the Kickapoo River. However, that trip also garnered serious parental disapproval. This trip led to my dad’s infamous line about premarital sex. When my parents discovered that DL and I had gone camping, my dad asked me where we’d slept. “That’s what brought about the decline of the Roman Empire,” he intoned when I admitted that yes, DL and I had camped together in the same tent.
DL and I continued our relationship into the fall of my third year. When DL’s birthday was around the corner, DL’s mom sent me a letter, telling me what to buy DL for his birthday, from me, of course (since she was sending a separate present), with the enclosed cash! If email was available then, I might have sent her a nasty and sarcastic letter informing her that I actually had a job, unlike her son, and had cash to purchase whatever gift I deemed appropriate. Her letter to me noted that she understood that my family was not “well-off” but she wanted to be sure that DL got an appropriate birthday gift from me. I didn’t write her a response, but inside I seethed.
DL and I had a bond, there is no doubt, but we had tensions, too. He thought of himself as a liberal “man of the people” and I suppose I was his evidence. Nothing like dating a working class girl to earn your countercultural progressive status. His family was wealthy, and he had a car at school (virtually unheard of in those days, and a Mazda RX 7, to boot). The RX 7 was my introduction to driving a car with a stick shift, but still, he was just a kid with his daddy’s sports car. And I was a girl who worked two jobs to pay my tuition.
I should have known it would come to no good, but when you are young and in love, common sense is nowhere to be found.
That winter, DL told me that he needed to branch out, find other friends, stop dating me. I was inconsolable — I thought this was love, and I thought that he had figured out what I already knew — how special we were together.
In addition to his RX7, DL also had a lovely Raleigh road bike, and I had used it all through the fall to go to my job and to my volunteer work at the local middle school. He didn’t mind that I used it, and he never locked it up. That was the funny thing about going to college in a small town, at a small liberal arts college in the 80s — nothing was locked. Not our rooms, our dorms, our bikes, our cars, nothing. People borrowed stuff, and they put it back. The few kids who had cars left keys in the ignition so friends could borrow them. Nothing, and I mean, nothing, was ever locked up.
When DL broke up with me, after my initial shock, I was determined to do something about it. It became obvious that the bike was the thing. I stole it. It was easy. I brought it to my dorm room, and for the only time in my college career, locked my door. My floor mates were not happy, as the throw line for the floor dart game was inside my room. (I finally relented and unlocked the door, with the agreement that they’d cover my hidden bike). For a couple of months, I held the bike hostage, while DL posted signs around campus, seeking the safe return of his beloved bike. I waited for his mom to buy him a new bike.
Finally, in the spring, I ran into DL at the Forum, and we chatted. He complained about his bike — about how nothing was ever stolen on campus, about how he just didn’t understand who would take it and not return it. As it happened, I had brought the bike to the library with me that night (after a couple of months, I’d become quite bold about using the bike), and it was sitting, unlocked, just over one hundred yards from where we were talking. I said in my most innocent and unassuming voice, “I think I might have seen it just now outside Burling.”
DL sprang into action, running out of the forum, up the ramp, to rescue his beloved orange Raleigh. DL had also run ads in the campus newspaper, offering a reward for the return of his bike. When he returned, brimming with happiness at recovering his bike, I actually felt like a hero for alerting him to its whereabouts, rather than the thief that I was. I didn’t even begin to think about claiming the reward, though he offered it. I wanted to pretend to be the hero in this moment, even if it was a sham.
I don’t know if DL ever figured out that I was the bicycle thief — he was a smart enough kid, so perhaps he put two and two together. He had the grace never to mention if he did. I wonder if he still has that orange Raleigh, and if he knows how instrumental it was at teaching me speed and stealth on a bike.