His name was Reggie and I had never known anyone like him.
It was early 1978. I was 21 years old and living in Fullerton, California. Away from home for the first time, my college work was not going very well. I was having a lot of new and unique experiences, but they were definitely not the kind my parents wanted me to have. Although I left Lodi in the fall of 1977 and was residing in Fullerton to study at the California State University campus situated there, I was doing very little that resembled studying and amassing few units toward my then-declared major: Marketing.
My very first night in Fullerton, I met one of my upstairs neighbors at the local Ralph’s store. His name was Dave and he was from San Jose. A communications major, he lived on the third floor of our quasi-dormitory building with three roommates. I had been assigned to a first floor apartment with three other girls, none of whom had yet arrived. Dave was very tall, had an extremely outgoing personality, and I was instantly smitten. Unfortunately, it was the late 1970’s. And Dave, like so many other young men I knew during that time period, knew exactly who he was, but he wasn’t yet able to reveal his true self to the world. In other words, Dave was gay.
As the months passed, my crush on Dave intensified. We were extremely good friends — or so I thought — but he had a faux crush on a blonde sorority member who also lived in our building. I can still picture her. She was a quintessential Southern California surfer’s dream girl. And I was . . . well . . . me. She served as a perfect decoy for a young man desperate to prove to everyone that he was straight. I never got to know her, although I would see her walk by our apartment every day with her equally well-coiffed, well-dressed friends. I actually watched Dave escort her past our living room window en route to the Christmas party to which he invited her at the Anaheim hospital where he worked part-time as a switchboard operator.
Dave encouraged me to apply for a job at that hospital and, in fact, provided me a reference. Yvonne, the manager of the switchboard, initially hired me to work the weekend day shifts. That’s right. Every Saturday and Sunday from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., I sat in a little room facing the hospital lobby answering calls. “Canyon General Hospital; how may I direct your call?” I also answered internal calls, paging doctors, therapists, and other personnel. And used the loudspeaker to announce “Code Blue” or “Code Red,” followed by the locations to which emergency teams should respond.
And that’s how I met Reggie.
He worked in the central supply department, performing a variety of duties. I used to see him wheeling patients through the lobby as they were discharged. He would smile and say “hi” as he passed the window behind which I sat answering phone calls. He was handsome, but I was not interested in him . . . for many reasons, not the least of which was my crush on Dave, as well as my lingering, confused and confusing feelings about someone with whom I had gone to high school.
But Reggie noticed me. And before I knew it, he was stopping regularly in front of the window that separated the switchboard room from the lobby, leaning on the counter to chat. He asked me about my classes, where I lived, where I was from . . . and I couldn’t help but feel myself being attracted to him. I knew that it was a mistake, but I couldn’t resist, especially since no guy had ever before paid so much attention to or seemed so genuinely interested in me. Soon, I found myself watching the elevator doors, hoping that every time they opened I would see him emerge into the lobby. Every time he exited the elevator, he was looking over my way with a big smile on his face.
His dalliances at my window did not escape Yvonne’s notice. Or her wrath. She called me into her office and lectured me sternly about allowing Reggie to distract me from my responsibilities. And as our meeting drew to a close, she advised me that it was not “appropriate” for me to be seen with Reggie and if I did not stop engaging in conversation with him, my “reputation” throughout the hospital would be ruined. More than 30 years later, I can still hear her tinny, whiny screeching and envision the way she scrunched up her face with revulsion as she spoke to me about my behavior. Even all these years later, I remember the way my stomach convulsed and my head began pounding as the import of her words took hold of me.
Because at that moment, I realized that Lodi and Orange County were not so different, after all.
To be continued . . .