Time Has Come

In Issue 65 by Julie May

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Photo by Alexander Ant on Unsplash
Synopsis

Time Has Come is set in the mid 1970s at a New England liberal arts college at a moment when the gains made by the progressive movements of the 1960s are being challenged and dismantled. The story alternates between the voices of two students who are swept up in the student movement against cutbacks in Financial Aid and Affirmative Action programs.

Tony is a book- and street-smart Black man and co-host of the controversial school radio show, “Compared to What,” a call-in show featuring music and politics. He is undeterred by the conservatives who call the show and enjoys skewering them in debates. Another side of him feels excluded and alienated on the largely white campus.

Jessie is an idealistic child of the 60s who is infuriated by the hypocrisy and decadence in society. She longs to connect with others who want to change the world. Everyone seems to be out for themselves, like her deadbeat boyfriend, Gary. She’s been living with him off-campus surrounded by his family and friends, local losers she has dubbed the “Hippie Mafia.”

Both characters become activist leaders in a movement that culminates in a strike and building takeover. The story delves into their dreams, hopes, and fears about class, race, and identity as a relationship develops between them.

Chapter One

Jessie woke up from a dead slumber and reached for the alarm clock — 10:30.  She would be late for class again. She sat up and looked at the empty space beside her in the queen-sized bed. She lay back, relieved to be alone. Before she could gather her thoughts about anything, the pungent smell of hashish invaded her nostrils.

She rolled over and buried her head in the pillow. The idea of going into the kitchen sickened her. Eating breakfast shrouded by another cloud of smoke revolted her. The idea of a conversation with Gary was even less appetizing. She wished she could get out of the house without going through the kitchen. She could grab all her stuff and never come back.

She hoped Gary wouldn’t come into the bedroom right now. If he did, she’d pretend to be asleep. She’d pretend to be dead. What the fuck was she doing here?

Gary was older and had been at college for a while. It was as if he’d been waiting for her to arrive. She had been attracted by his curly blonde hair, his boyish looks. She also liked the fact that he seemed to be a big shot on campus. He played guitar in a band. One night he brought the band up to play on her floor in the dorm. It was his way of introducing himself.

Things got serious fast. After about a month, they moved in together to a tiny house right next door to Gary’s sister, Tori, a wild and earthy soul who was married to a drug dealer but lived her own life. Jessie loved playing poker with Tori and meeting the assorted characters coming and going next door.

Jessie was set up like a little housewife in a New England cottage. She could prepare meals and discuss baby clothes with Tori in this rock and roll world where drug dealing supported them.

She thought about Gary’s words yesterday. He’d been thinking about marriage. More than that he’d been thinking about having a child. “I want it to be with you, Jessie.”  She was too stunned to respond. No way was she ready to have a child. She might never be ready. Everything in this picture was wrong.

She shivered at the thought that Gary might come back to bed. He was always trying to get her to do something, usually something that involved sex, drugs or his friends and family. He didn’t seem to have a personality without them. Her mind scrambled for a way out. She looked at the one window in the room wistfully.

She wasn’t going to let herself be seduced by him anymore. She got up, threw on some jeans, a tee shirt and a pair of boots. She grabbed her book bag and stuffed it with some more clothes and a few books.

A small marijuana plant was growing on the window ledge. She had the urge to toss it out, but she set it down on the table next to the bed. She climbed up on a chair, opened the window and tossed her book bag out onto the grass. Then she pushed herself through, feet first, and landed in a low hedge in the back of the house.

She took a path into the woods, a shortcut to campus. The path curved through a forest of tall pines. The towering trees covered the sky creating a shady world where sounds were muffled by the mossy forest floor. Now and then, streaks of sunlight illuminated a clump of wood or tangled emerald leaves.

The stillness of the woods was an instant cure-all. Like diving into a crystal pond, it was cleansing and helped to calm her.

She loved it when decisions were made. Today she had just made one. This chapter of her life was over. She didn’t question her decision for one second, and she didn’t worry about what was next.

Jessie was a sophomore. Luckily, before moving in with Gary, she had made some friends at school. Rachel, her roommate from the freshman dorm, was living in a house off campus. She had no idea how to get there. She’d just have to head over to school and look for Rachel there.

She stepped out of the wooded path onto a grassy hill where the campus of Brannoch was spread out before her. She stood on the hill and marveled at the scene beyond. The campus was nestled below her in a valley dotted with spreading trees and surrounded by rolling hills. In the distance, as far as the eye could see, loomed a mountain range.

Jessie inhaled the fresh air, fragrant with newly mown hay. She looked down on the school with a feeling of longing. She had screwed up, wasting all that time with a deadbeat. But it wasn’t too late.

She had a sudden urge to get back to campus. The quickest way was to cut through the field instead of taking the winding path. She took off her boots and ran barefoot through the grass. She breathed in the morning air as her toes sank into the cool, moist earth. Her long hair flew in the wind behind her.

Rachel had to be somewhere. Maybe at the student center cafe. The campus was divided into quads with a dorm on each one. Each dorm had its own cafeteria. Students who lived off campus got their meals at Kushner Hall, an enormous building that housed a lounge, meeting rooms and a cafeteria downstairs. The small cafe at Kushner was Jessie’s preferred hangout spot. It was a place to grab a hotdog on the go or sit with friends over endless cups of coffee.

She took a seat near the window and lit a cigarette. A deep bass beat sounded from the jukebox. Otis Redding singing "Dock of the Bay." It seemed like every time she came here she heard that song. It had been released several years before, but it still felt like a song of the moment. She could picture Otis Redding throwing on a backpack, sticking out his thumb, and hopping a semi from Georgia all the way to the Frisco Bay. To Jessie, the song was about being on the move, being young and having the whole world in front of you. Running three thousand miles toward a dream with lungs full and arms outstretched.

It wasn’t the 60s anymore, but Jessie could still feel the drumbeat of the movement pounding in her veins. She felt a powerful sense of belonging with her generation. In middle school Jessie and her friends considered themselves Beatniks. Beatniks were cool, wore bell bottoms and boots and listened to rock and roll. They were rebels in school, argued with the teachers and marched in anti-war demonstrations. There was a feeling in the air, and everybody lived and breathed this sense of freshness and change. It wasn’t so clear when the Beatniks became the Hippies, but the Hippie thing had completely taken over. At first the word Hippie sounded false to Jessie. Beatniks were more serious, kind of dark and political. Hippies were all about love and flower power. “Hippies” were something American media could sink their teeth into and commercialize. Of course, they did, but it seemed to backfire. Even though there was a silliness to the Hippie cliché, it wasn’t about that for Jessie and her generation. Hippies were for love and against war. They craved freedom. They valued nature and honesty and hated hypocrisy. She couldn’t remember a moment when she became a Hippie. It was a transformation that just happened. At school there was a demarcation between the Hippies and everyone else. The most obvious change was boys who started growing their hair long. She remembered some of the boys in her class in seventh grade whose hair started to fall over their collars. It was a refreshing feeling, a sense of recognition, “these are my people.”

“Looks like nothing’s gonna change, everything still remains the same...” Jessie pondered the meaning of those words. She thought about the Watergate scandal, three years earlier. Nixon resigned, but had things really changed?  Not for young men who were still getting drafted or poor people and minorities who couldn’t find a job. The government claimed the economy was a mess and the only solution would be “cutbacks.” Jessie understood this as getting rid of everything people had fought for in the 1960s. No wonder Otis Redding felt nothing was ever going to change.

Jessie looked around the café. Mostly, they were white kids from middle-class families like Jessie herself. Sprinkled into the group were a few Black kids and some Asians and Latinos. All the boys had long hair. Some of them had beards and mustaches. The girls’ hair was longer but here and there it was cropped short, a pixie cut.

Nothing about this group of students was muted or somber. They were animated by the same spirit that had bloomed in the 1960s and was still alive and going strong. Clothes sort of draped over you and didn’t fit too tight. Bras were often dispensed with because who needed them?  There was a flow to a long skirt or a tie-dyed poncho.  Most of all, there was color. Colors were not to be toned down or hidden. They were bold, full blast in your face. Colors danced on vibrant Indian prints and Mexican embroidery. All cultures were celebrated.

Sunlight streamed into the café. Students milled around, but Jessie was lost in thought. “Two thousand miles I roamed just to make this dock my home...”

There was laughter at the door as a group of guys walked in. They were a mixed group, one white and another who might have been Latino, but it was the Black one, in dark shades, who drew Jessie’s gaze. He was taller than the others and wore jeans and a school tee shirt. His hair was in a short afro that gave him a sleek look next to the bushy long-haired boys around him. The shades gave him a look of ultimate cool as he surveyed the room like he owned the joint.

 Jessie watched him as he moved across the room, supreme confidence in his every step. Godlike. He sat down a few tables away, and his friends joined him. She was suddenly aware of her looks. Her hair was a mess. Her clothes were disheveled if not grimy. Her jeans were frayed, the shirt a bit short. She cared about her looks but didn’t want it to show. Did she look good? Sometimes she felt she did. At other times she felt plain, practically invisible. She became self-conscious, aware of her every move. She took a sip of coffee. She flicked the ashes from her cigarette and looked at her fingers, long and slender, stained with nicotine. Thank God for cigarettes, a constant companion.

“Jessie!”

Rachel flew into the opposite seat.

“Rache! I am so glad to see you.”

“Jessie, what’s happening?”

They grabbed some food from the cafeteria line and went back to the table.

“God am I hungry!” Jessie groaned.

 They dug into burgers and fries taking breaths for gulps of coke. Jessie felt like she hadn’t eaten in months. She sat back happily and looked at her friend. Rachel had an olive complexion and sparkly green eyes. Her hair was thick, long and dark auburn.

“So what’s going on, Jessie?  Are you still living with Gary?”

Jessie almost spit out her food.

“I left there today. So, I guess the answer is no.”

“You just left? Why?”

Jessie took a gulp of coke.

“Gary’s in-laws, the Stones, are not good people. In the local area the family controls the real estate market. They basically keep the minorities out. And this doesn’t bother Gary at all. We’re completely different. Rock and roll and drugs, that whole scene is narrow-minded and selfish. I mean, I love music but I’m not about to be someone’s groupie.”

Rachel nodded.

“I was starting to see how I could end up in a situation like Gary’s sister,” Jessie said. “Trapped, with a kid to take care of. Giving up my whole life.”

“Kids, I can’t even imagine it,” Rachel said. “That’s so far from my mind right now. I’m glad you’re out of there.”

“Now I just need a place to live.”

Rachel’s eyes brightened. “I know, come to my place. Dina just left so you can have her room.”

“I love you, Rachel!”

Jessie sat back smiling. What she’d done today was a bit crazy, she knew that. But she also knew it was right for her.

She played with her pack of Marlboros.

“Give me one of those, I’m dying for a smoke,” Rachel said.

Jessie passed her a cigarette. “I’m out of matches.”

She watched as Rachel walked over to the rowdy table across the room. She spoke to the guy Jessie had been watching before. He still had his shades on, and it seemed to Jessie like he was looking right at her. He snapped a lighter and lit Rachel’s cigarette. She took a drag and came back to the table.

“Of all the people in this café, who the hell is that guy?” Jessie whispered.

“Tony Pearson. He’s in my writing seminar.”

Jessie wanted to know more. Tony Pearson. She liked the name. She wanted to ask Rachel more questions, but she let it go.

There was a lot to catch up on. Jessie was excited about moving in with Rachel and having her own room. She started to imagine how she’d fix it up. Her thoughts were interrupted by a new song on the jukebox. The sound of a plaintive falsetto followed by crashing guitar chords ripped through the calm of the café.

Without turning around, Jessie sensed Gary’s presence. Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused" was his favorite song. Her impulse was to run. She had a sinking feeling she could never escape him.

Before she could stand up, the table was surrounded. Gary stood there looking at her with a sheepish grin. His face was childlike with ruddy cheeks and a few sparse tufts of a beard, his hair in unruly curls. It looked like he’d dressed for the occasion with brand new Wranglers, cowboy boots and a clean red tee shirt, his pale hairy arms hanging down by his sides.

He was flanked by Manny and Dave Stone, his brothers-in-law. Gary would never have been able to pull off a stunt like this without leaning on his buddies.

Manny was tall and skinny with greasy brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. His skintight black pants and clingy tee shirt gave him a skeletal look. He was the loudest and most arrogant of the Stones, completely full of himself. He walked over to Jessie as if they were good friends.

“Jessie.”

He said her name like a statement, asserting his dominance.

“Gary asked me to help him out and bring you back home. Come on, the family belongs together.”

She ignored Manny and stared at Gary, who looked at the floor.

“What are you trying to do, Gary?” she asked.

“Jess, I just want you to come home.”

“I’m done, Gary. It’s over.”

“But I love you. I need you, baby.”

Jessie was embarrassed. Manny reached over and grabbed her arm.

“Jessie, I woke up out of a sound sleep to come up here this morning. Now come on, the Land Rover’s outside.”

Jessie wrenched her arm away. She looked up at Manny.

“You’re such an asshole. I’m not going anywhere.”

It got suddenly quiet. Manny stood there, a twisted grin on his face.

Jessie heard scraping chairs. She was vaguely aware of Tony Pearson and his crew moving across the room towards her. They faced Gary and Manny.

“Maybe you should leave them alone,” Tony said.

Jessie felt her face getting red.

Manny put his hands on his hips and stuck out his neck, trying to look tough.

“Who the hell are you, the Mod Squad?  Do you know who you’re talking to?”

A group had gathered around, and Jessie felt like she was onstage. She wanted to disappear. This was nobody’s business. Did these swaggering fools really think she was their property?

Gary put his hand on Manny's arm and looked at Tony, trying to smile.

“She’s with us, my man,” he said.

Jessie felt like punching him.

“I’m not with them. I’m not with anyone,” she said.

Gary looked toward Manny for support, but he was looking down, slouching towards the door. All his bravado had melted away.

“Let’s get out of here, Manny,” Gary said.

Jessie stood up and yelled after them, "Don’t come back. Take your sad-ass hippie mafia and go home.”

About the Author

Julie May

Julie May has spent most of her life in Brooklyn, New York where she maintains a psychotherapy practice. Over the years she has worked in factories, clinics, schools and a shipyard. These experiences have provided much of the inspiration for her poetry, essays and short stories. Her work dances with the action of politics and relationships while diving below to explore unconscious thoughts and buried dreams. Time Has Come is her first novel.