Jul 10, 2014

Freedom to Marry at Washington Junior High in 1974

When I was in eighth grade at Washington Junior High, I was forced into a class called Civics, where the teacher, Mrs. Dunn, devoted most class sessions to jingoistic rants: "This is the only country in the world where people are Free! Our ancestors came here in search of Freedom!  We fight wars all over the world to protect our Freedom!"

I didn't realize that, in 1974, I was a criminal in 36 states, but I was well aware of the mind control chants of the tripods: "What girl do you like?  What girl?  What girl?"  And I knew that I was anything but free.  Soon I would be forced to date girls, and eventually I would have marry and live with a woman for the rest of my life.

So one day I went up to her desk after class and asked,  "What are we free to do, exactly?"

Mrs. Dunn glared at me as if I had disputed an elemental fact of life, such as George Washington being the greatest man in history.  "Why...you're free to do whatever you like.  You can live where you want, dress the way you want, take any job you want.  Not like other countries, where you're told what to do."

Was that true?  In England, France, Sweden, and every other country of the world, were people really herded into gigantic warehouses and forced to wear gray jumpsuits and work in salt mines?

"And you're free to change the government.  In other countries, you're stuck with a king, who can chop your head off anytime he feels like it."

In retrospect, Mrs. Dunn didn't seem to know a lot about the political systems of the world.  But this was during the Cold War, when it was hard not to imagine a simple division of the United States and its allies, good, kind, decent, and noble, vs. Russia and its allies, evil, bestial totalitarian dictatorships.

"What about getting married?" I asked.

"Sure, sure, you're free to marry the girl of your choice.  In other countries, a gigantic Marriage Bureau assigns you somebody that you haven't even met, and you have to marry her whether you like her or not."

"What if I don't want to get married?  Am I free not to?"  I felt my face begin to burn.  I had said too much.

Mrs. Dunn stared, mouth agape, for a long moment.  "Why wouldn't you want to get married, Boomer?" she asked softly.  "Is there a problem at home?"

"I just don't want to!" I exclaimed, in a loud, forceful voice, even though I felt like crying.

"But why not?"

I couldn't say "I like boys, not girls"  That may have worked before, in elementary school -- the adults would just nod and say  "You'll still a kid, but you'll grow up and discover girls soon, very soon!"

It wouldn't work in eighth grade.  I was obviously "growing up," pubescent, therefore obviously "wild about girls," like every other boy who had ever lived.

So I said "There's...uh...no girl I want to marry."

"Oh, is that all?"  Mrs. Dunn smiled knowingly.  "You'll meet someone.  It happens to all of us, eventually."

"But what if I don't?  What if I want to live by myself, or live with another boy, like Dan. Am I free to do that?"

"Well..sometimes men live by themselves, or have roommates to share the expenses. But if you want a good job or a nice house, you have to have a wife.  Besides..."  she patted me on the shoulder.  "The longer you go without a girlfriend, the more people will try to find someone for you.  You can't hold out forever!"

"L'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers," I said, shaking my head sadly as I walked away. "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains."

Actually, I didn't say that.  Not many eighth graders can quote from Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract, in the original French.   But it's how I felt.

See also: Why there's a picture of me and a girl in my parents' bedroom.