Richard Moore

Princeton Dreaming

My stepfather, Bud, pushed me across the kitchen, slamming my shoulder into the sharp corner of a hanging kitchen cabinet. I held my breath as pain seared through my shoulder and back. I knew I’d been hurt, but I didn’t want him to know it, so I didn’t cry out. Bud had been “showing” me boxing moves and wrestling holds since my mother ushered him into my life at age fourteen. I hated it, but he was much bigger than me and I didn’t know how to stop him. 

“Come on,” he said, “I’ll show you a police hold we use. Might come in handy sometime.”“No,” I said, “I don’t want to, not now.” Ignoring me, he proceeded, maintaining a neutral look on his face as he pushed and wrestled me about: no frowns, no tight mouth or squint eyes. Other than us, the house was quiet. I suspected that my mother—I always called her Gladys—was listening from the next room.

By the time she met Bud, Gladys had already been married and divorced several times. I was two or three when my dad, Dutch, abandoned us for the glamorous life of a professional baseball player, after which Gladys began working her way through a string of bad marriages. During these years, I was farmed out to various relatives, all of whom were big on self-reliance and independence, even for the kids in the family. As a consequence, I was used to doing pretty much what I wanted by the time Gladys and Bud shanghaied me to a dusty cornfield in the San Fernando Valley in 1948. I helped Bud build our home while we lived in a ramshackle garage, tended the pigs on Bud’s Valley Farm, and made the best of it at a brand-new high school, but I never had any intention of sticking around. That spring, I’d been accepted to the University of Colorado, and I was one month away from leaving home. But suddenly, as I held my shoulder and stared up at Bud, a month felt like an impossibly long time.

Without a word, I left the kitchen and went to my room in the attic. I packed my army surplus B4 Bag, then carried it downstairs and out to my car. Back in the kitchen, I found Gladys, ashen-faced, sitting alone at the table, looking out the window. “I just can’t deal with this anymore,” I said. “I’m going to Aunt Jean’s. I’ll call you.” She said nothing, just looked at me, but I knew her heart was full of turmoil. There was no hugging, no kissing, no tears. That was the austere way we dealt with emotion in our family, the way she and I had grown up. I walked to my car and drove away to LA. I didn’t see Bud on my way out.

I arrived in Boulder after a thirty-hour bus ride, dressed in Levis and a T-shirt with a nylon bomber jacket and a few sweaters jammed in my army surplus bag. The town seemed quiet and empty. A sign in the bus station led me to the University of Colorado housing office, which found a room for me on Grant Place, at the edge of town. To get to my rooming house, I walked up the hill towards the university and turned onto College Avenue, which began at the campus and ended at the foot of the dramatic red Flatirons. College Avenue was lined with large but rather plain houses and huge old trees that shaded the street. The trees were just starting to take on their fall colors, a change I had never seen before.

I passed a series of big Georgian-style mansions. On the lawns I saw well-dressed young men playing catch with baseballs and footballs. One wore white wool trousers and white suede shoes, while another wore a deep-blue knit polo shirt with a monogram, a beautiful sweater draped ever so casually over his shoulders, his sunglasses tipped back on top of his head. They were shouting and laughing, cavorting around, flashing their per