The Escape Artist 2

by Gabriel Urbina


Soon after his return from Vietnam, Ben is discharged from the Army. His plan is to apply to a local state university, to study French. His bid to be admitted is successful.

I was discharged from the Army in early June, and I returned to Indianapolis. I moved in with my brother Patrick temporarily, until I knew I had been admitted to a local state university. Then, I would look for a place to live near campus. In view of my less than stellar performance in high school, and my low tests scores, I was admitted on a conditional basis. That meant I had to get good grades during my freshman year, or else I would be booted out. Also in my favor was the fact I was going to be a French major. There was a place for me, no doubt because prospective students are not exactly lining up to study French. If I had declared a major in more demand, such as business or accounting, I doubt it I would have been accepted. I believe the clincher was the essay I had to write, as part of my application package: "How I became interested in the French language."

I had yet to set foot in a classroom, and right away I got six semester credits. That was a good start. I went to the Testing Office, and I took a standard test in French. My self-study paid off, and I was given credit for elementary French. So, I would start my formal study of my favorite subject at the intermediate level.

I didn't have to worry about money, about getting a loan or financial aid. When I was overseas, Patrick, who is a banker, opened a savings account for me.I would send him all of my "hazardous duty" pay, and most of my regular pay. I only kept money for incidentals. So, I had a respectable amount of savings. I also had my G. I. Bill benefits. Additionally, I had the backing of my brothers. Raymond is a pilot, with no "banker's hours" like Pat, so It took almost a week before I saw him. When all three of us got together, my brothers pledged to take care of any budgetary deficit of mine. For the time being, I wouldn't need financial backing, but it was nice to know it was there. I told them how much I appreciated their support with what I was trying to do. I told them I wasn't going to work. My plan was to immerse myself into this new world of academia; new to me, anyway.

It was time to look for a place to live near campus. I didn't appeal to me to live in the dorms. Large groups of students, noise, parties, and shared facilities were not my cup of tea. I began to check the listings at the Housing Office, and the bulletin boards. I wasn't finding what I wanted. Many of the set ups were a smaller scale of dormitory life. Finally, looking at a bulletin board, a small index card, neatly printed, caught my eye. It said, Roommate wanted. Prefer serious, non-smoking, graduate student. Please call R.R. at,,,then a number. I called the number and a female voice answered.I mentioned the index card. She said she was looking for someone who wanted to concentrate on studying. She said she had to kick out her previous roommate, because she was a party girl, and there were a bunch of freeloaders hanging around with her. She said it was all right I was guy, and not a graduate student. What she wanted was a quiet place. She asked my name, and she gave me hers, and her address. Could I come right away? Yes.

When I arrived at the apartment, I was taken aback because I was greeted with a hug.

"Don't you remember me, Ben? I'm Ruth, one of your movie dates in high school."

"Of course, Ruth Rosenberg, I remember you. What a nice surprise!"

"So, you're out of the Army. I have been in school, during the time you were away. I'm a junior already. I know you a little bit. I think you are probably going to be the most studious freshman ever!"

Ruth told me she had a heavy coursework load. She wanted to graduate early, and go into the Master's degree program right away. She wanted to get her Master's in one year. She was majoring in English as a Second Language. Then find a job. I told her I had similar plans. Get my Bachelor's degree in French in three years, then see about getting a job. I was going to be busy just like her.

Ruth said I could move in right away, and I did. I couldn't wait for the beginning of the semester. Things were working nicely.

For my first semester, I took two required courses, two easy electives, and I was allowed to take the two Intermediate French courses concurrently. This meant I would start with upper division French courses in my second semester. This is basically what I was going to do every semester. I would also take summer courses. I was very serious about getting my degree in three years, This is the reason I got along with Ruth so well. She was doing basically the same, at a more advanced level. We were two college students in a hurry.

One Friday evening, during my second semester, I was totally exhausted and I went to bed early. During the week I had been staying up until two or three in the morning, reading, studying, and completing assignments. I slept soundly for about four hours. I was half-asleep when I heard someone get into my bed. It was Ruth, of course; who else? I thought, "Poor baby she is so tired she cannot find her own bed" Evidently she was very tired also and she went to sleep right away. When I woke up, Ms. Rosenberg was kissing me, and caressing my body gently. She performed a careful forensic examination of my body, and she determined I was alive. She proceeded to a friendly takeover of my anatomy. We stayed in bed until mid-morning, went out for pizza, and then it was back to our studies,at home and at the library.

Ruth began to make it a habit of scheduling herself for field trips to my bedroom. We didn't talk much, but one morning she was in the mood to converse.

"Say, Ben, I have a question for you."

"Really? You have behaved repeatedly like a liberated cave woman, and now you want post-coital conversation?"

"I guess you are making me more civilized. Thanks."

"Yeah, right. What's the question?"

"When we were in high school, how many other girls went on movie dates with you?"

"Quite a few. It was because most of them lost interest, when they realized movies was the only thing with me. Looks like they had other expectations. But you were a film buff, and you were okay with my limited social scope. With you I leaned to carry a conversation; how to talk with a woman, and how to analyze a film. That why I went out with you many times. Now I have a question. How did you become a cave woman?"

"Hey, I'm human. You know, I cried when I learned you had been drafted. I don't talk much because I'm really busy with school. I'm sure you understand that. And to use your 'cave woman' label, I think I became one when I went on a tour of Mexico with a girlfriend. We couldn't get the time of day in the States, but in Mexico we were overwhelmed by all that male attention. Yes, we were changed by our 'travel study.' We felt like we were born in the wrong country, or something."

"I know exactly what you mean," I said.

I grew very fond of Ruth, We graduated at the same time. I marched with the undergraduates, and Ruth marched with the graduates. Ray and Patrick came to the commencement ceremonies. They met Ruth, whose parents did not attend. She said they had attended her graduation as an undergraduate, but they were busy with family business at the time.

Days later, when we were cleaning our apartment, soon to be vacated, Ruth told me she already had a teaching position In Greece. I still had to look for a job,, and I had an appointment to see a counselor at the Placement Office.

I said, "Will we see each other again Ruth? You are coming back home eventually, right?"

"It's going to be problematic, Ben. My entire family has moved to Israel, so "home" is going to be there. But I'd love to keep in touch with you. I'll give you my parents' address in Tel Aviv. I don't have a place in Athens, yet."

"OK, I'll give you my brother Patrick's address, as I don't know where I'm going to be either."

We went out several times before we had to say farewell. We kept in touch through the years. She never came back to the United States.

It was time for me to get a job! As it turned out, I would find a position teaching French. How I managed to do that, without any experience or teaching credential is another story that I will have to tell you later.

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