Last week, in Part 1 of this story, we learned of Karen Raff’s peripatetic ways after she graduated as a nurse in Kentucky. Ken, the transplanted California hippie she’d been dating, confessed he was in love with her housemate, travel pal and colleague Nancy.
Since Nancy’s beau, Gil, was often at their house, Karen had become friends with the stranger she’d invited to their “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” party. Karen told Gil “the sad news” about Ken’s confession. Gil surprised her saying, ‘It’s really not so bad. I’d rather spend time with you.”
Karen began visiting Gil’s apartment in Hanover, NH. They talked, listened to music, shared meals. “Vermont in the winter was cold and dark,” Karen says. “You needed someone warm and cuddly at night.” At home, however, Karen felt uncomfortable. Nancy and Ken were so “lovey-dovey” around her.
Karen told Nancy Vermont had gotten “too small” for her. She was moving to Boston, “the biggest city I could think of that my old Chevy sedan could reach.” Though she knew no one in Boston, she didn’t worry. “In those days, the hospital felt like home. The nurses I worked with became instant friends.”
A few days later, Nancy said to Karen, “Our friendship means more to me than my relationship with Ken. I’m coming with you.”
They drove to Boston and rented an apartment in Sommerville near then-famous Steve’s Ice Cream. They had no idea how big the city was or how far they were from the hospital district. They found jobs at Beth Israel (now Beth Israel Deaconness).
“It took a subway and two bus transfers to get to work each day, but we had jobs. We were living in the city, embarking on a new adventure. And we didn’t know any better.”
2 weeks later, Nancy admitted her feelings for Ken were stronger than she realized. She moved back to VT. “She left me with a too-large 2-bedroom apartment I could no longer afford.”
Karen and Gil stayed in touch through weekly letters. He finished his internship at Mary Hitchcock Hospital and transferred to the U of M in Ann Arbor to complete his 3-year medical residency.
After a year, Karen decided Boston “wasn’t big enough” either. She followed a surgical resident to NYC. She moved in with him at the Waterside Towers, built out over the East River. She got a job at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital working with serious cancer patients.
When she lost interest in her NY interest, she moved once more. She realized she “liked doctors a lot” and wanted to become one. She returned to KY to take organic chemistry, then apply to med school. Organic chemistry proved daunting. She dropped out.
Gil read Karen’s letter about her organic chemistry fiasco. “Gil cared about my inability to settle down and throw myself into something meaningful. He wanted to help me find my direction in life.”
Gil suggested she move to Ann Arbor, get a job at the hospital and live in his apartment until she was settled. Gil closed his hand written letter to Karen with an incentive. “If you can get here by Jan. 7, I have tickets to Marcel Marceau. That’s not exactly a bribe, but what a shame if you couldn’t make it!”
Karen says, “I jumped at the offer.”
Karen’s dad provided a “generous down payment” and co-signed for a loan on a royal blue Fiat Spider. As Karen couldn’t drive a stick shift, her brother drove her new car home from the dealership. She practiced driving around her neighborhood for a day “but never really got the hang of shifting gears.” Still, she headed north to Michigan.
“I’d start from a dead stop, go from 1st to 2nd to 3rd to 4th, then put the car in neutral and coast down an exit ramp to a gas station or parking place in front of a restaurant.” The day she drove to Ann Arbor there was a torrential downpour. “Huge 18-wheelers sprayed so much water on my little sports car I could barely see where I was going. The car shook each time a truck passed.”
She smoked Virginia Slims all the way. Arriving at Gil’s apartment, she got out of her car and tossed her remaining cigarettes into the dumpster. Gil wasn’t a smoker. “If things didn’t work out between us, I didn’t want his memory of me to be one of a smoke-filled shared apartment.”
That night, over Dungeness crab at the Gandy Dancer, Gil asked why she hadn’t excused herself to go outside for a cigarette, as she usually did.
“Oh!” she said. “Did I forget to tell you? I quit smoking.”
“Great!” he said. “I was worried about how I was going to handle cigarette smoke in my apartment. Now I don’t have to worry. That’s a relief.”
“Little did he know I’d given up a 10-year pack-a-day smoking history just hours before. My desire not to offend him was stronger than my nicotine craving. I’ve not had a single cigarette since that day.”
Karen’s relationship with Gil takes a new turn. Stay tuned for next week’s final episode…