Chapter 49:

Man On the Floor!


Linda didn’t hear much from Morgan in the fall of 1965, after he left her in Florida and headed north for his tumultuous visit with O’Riley.

While Morgan was getting the crap beat out of him in Boston, Linda was getting ready to return for her final year at Southern Seminary. Because Southern Sem was only a two year program, the second year was regarded as the “senior” year and Linda was anticipating the special privileges that status accorded. “I was really looking forward to getting back with my friends and establishing the ‘power base’ that I knew I was going to enjoy,” she reminisced many years later.

But as Linda was getting ready for her departure, Mother Nature came up with an alternative plan of her own in the form of an ill-mannered hurricane.

“September is hurricane season,” Linda recalled, “and a couple of days before I was scheduled to leave we started to watch a tropical storm they had named ‘Betsy.’ When it finally turned into a full fledged hurricane, it bore down on Nassau and blew the roof off of the Rootes Building — which we had just visited — and then headed north. Once storms like that head north, they usually don't turn around; But if you kook at a map of the hurricane paths in the 1960s, you’ll recognize Betsy without even knowing her name.”

Confident that Betsy and her 120 mph winds were headed across the Atlantic toward the Carolinas, the Brown family felt safe in their beds in southern Florida. “We’re in the clear. She’s north of Nassau now,” Townsend told Josephine and Linda.

But the next morning, Linda wrote in her journal, “We awoke up to the sound of our roof going rummmmm, rummmmmm, rummmmm. When I looked outside I could see coconuts bouncing across the lawn as if they had been thrown by some deranged giant. If one had hit you it could have easily killed you.

“I was amazed, and a little scared actually, but I think I was I was more perturbed that I was going be delayed getting back to school. There we sat: roads blocked, boats washed up on shore, with no electricity and no running water. I wasn't worried about Mom and Dad because I knew that Dad had put aside all the stuff to keep them going. But all I wanted to do was wash my hair and get on the train!”

* * *

Once she found her way back to school, Linda’s time was filled with classes and horse shows and carrying on with her roommates. Beyond that, her social life languished in the face of her longing for Morgan.

The early autumn weather was unseasonably warm in the mountains of Virginia as Linda and her classmates prepared for the season’s big horse show. But when the day of the show arrived, the weather started to turn for the worse. “It rained all day Friday and we worried that they would cancel the show,” Linda said, “but Saturday dawned with barely a cloud in the sky.

By Saturday afternoon, though, clouds had started to gather and the temperature dropped precipitously. Linda was standing at the rail, watching one of her classmates put her horse through its paces, not realizing that she had begun shivering in the cold. “Suddenly I felt a heavy coat — a big, steel blue-and-grey cadet’s coat falling on my shoulders. I turned around and thanked the cadet for it. He said his name was Phillip, and we stood there and talked about horses and the rules. I can remember thinking how handsome he was and what a gentlemanly thing it was for him to give up his coat. His response was something on the order of ‘Well, I have to. I’m a cadet!”

Come Sunday morning, Linda was still shivering, and lamenting that she had not directed more of her attention to the young cadet who had given her his coat. “I think now he was probably interested in me,” she wrote in her journal, “or he wouldn’t have come over and spent so much time with me. These dedicated cadets!” She recalled watching another cadet struggling to keep his uniform clean while “gallantly” holding on to his girlfriend’s horse, and wrote, “Ah, the discipline of the Virginia Military Institute. I admire them all, but I don't think I could be a military wife. I would rather not get involved.”

But it was not just misgivings about the life of a “military wife” that kept Linda from partaking in the social life that flourished between the girls at Southern Sem and the boys at VMI.

* * *

“With the weather finally changing the leaves are now going red and bright yellow-gold,” Linda wrote. “It makes the white balconies of Southern Seminary even more pristine looking. That’s us — pristine.”

And then almost in passing the journal notes, “I got a postcard. All it said was, ‘Here I am and there you are. Morgan.’ The postcard was of a town in Vermont; I don't know what he is doing up there, but at least he is thinking of me! And Sem looks like one of the buildings on that post card. Odd parallel.”

And so it was, amid the lengthening shadows and the shortening days of autumn, that Linda found herself spending time in the company of a dorm-mate nick-named 'Tula,' in whom she found a common bond in their unspoken rejection of the ‘pristine’ Sem lifestyle.

“Tula came into our room today to ask some questions about an upcoming test and I have decided that I really like her,” Linda recorded. “She blows into here like a shaft of sunshine. What a wonderful sense of humor. She’s a nut — but a funny nut. I had been to her room earlier. She has three very conventional roommates, and she had to wait for them to go to the library before she could put her favorite record on. When I visited her, I ran headlong into Bob Dylan’s refrain, “It's all over now, Baby Blue,” from the album Bringing It All Back Home.”

The music conjured up all kinds of memories for Linda. “It certainly brought it all back home back for me,” she recalled. “I remembered listening to that song while Morgan showered. Waiting, wondering…. And later, listening again. Pulled closely against him and cradled in his arms with my head resting on his chest, listening to the wonder of his heart beating while Dylan’s voice whined in the background, “…and it’s all over now, Baby Blue…”

“Tula is the only one in this whole school that would even halfway understand what my thoughts and experiences have been, and I have the oddest feeling that she and I are going to become good friends. She is pretty and outgoing....and I need her point of view, I think. And especially, I think, her companionship.”

And finally, Linda notes, “Tomorrow we will be “awarded” our ‘Senior Privileges’ — what ever that means. We already have ‘single dating,’ which most of the girls around here have landed on like hens on a bug. It doesn't really matter to me. I don't care if my dates are double dates — or if I don't date at all.”

* * *

After one particularly thrilling ride on her favorite horse, a bay mare named KoKoMo, Linda felt the chill that had struck her during the horseshow return. After leaving KoKoMo in her stall, “I started feeling weak and then out of nowhere I developed a cough. I had been fine but all of the sudden I was feeling just awful.”

A classmate named Pam walked with Linda back to the dorm and bought her a coke and some crackers, “and hovered over me. She said that it was probably the adrenaline leaving my body. "God!" she said, "What a ride!. What a ride!"

But after the coke and crackers, Linda stumbled to her room and put herself to bed, skipping dinner. She canceled a date she’d made with Phillip, the VMI cadet who’d offered her his coat. “All I want to do is sleep,” she wrote.

Her condition turned out to be no minor chill, or even a serious head cold. She wound up in a hospital, diagnosed with pneumonia.

“I was I was pretty sick” Linda wrote in one of the e-mail messages that accompanied her journal entries. “I think the first four days in the hospital I was conscious but not in a real good mental state. I had insisted that I have my journal by the bed but the notes that I made to myself kind of showed the state I was in. I’m pretty sure they were drugging me to keep me quiet so I wouldn't cough myself into unconsciousness — which had happened once already.

“Mom and Dad were purely upset that I was where I was and they weren't. Dad finally came up to talk to the doctors — and he was not happy with them. He eventually asked me what I wanted to do and I just said, ‘I want to go home,’ which to me at the time meant the dorm. So at the end of my hospital stay I was afforded the luxury of returning to good old room #62, with permission to skip classes for as long as I wanted, with the instructions to just rest...”

Her friend Tula became Linda’s primary source of entertainment. “It was like being visited by a much younger Phyllis Diller! The girls dressed up and put on silly shows. They acted out some James Bond thrillers. I did sleep a lot and that is probably what eventually made me better. The cough went away and I got stronger. Pretty soon I was trying to get back into classes...but knew that I could just get up and walk out if I wanted to. The school was very good to me.”

* * *

One afternoon while Linda was resting in her room, the girl on phone duty knocked on her door to tell Linda she had a call.

“I knew it would be Morgan,” Linda recalled, “and his ‘I’ve got a sack full of quarters…’ routine…”

But this time, Morgan didn’t say anything about a sack full of quarters. He just said, “Can I come visit you?”

Linda thought her heart when burst. “When?” she asked.

“When!?” Morgan said. How about now?” He was calling from a phone in the lobby of Linda’s dormitory.

Men were not welcome in the upper floors of the old Victorian mansion that served as Southern Seminary’s main dormitory building. “It wouldn't be right for a girl in a bath robe to find her self suddenly face-to-face with a guy she wasn't expecting,” Linda explained, “and no date was ever allowed up those stairs.”

But suddenly, there was Morgan, bounding up the big staircase, the first to venture into no-man’s land amid squealing shouts of “Man on the floor! Man on the floor!”

“Tula came barreling out of her room and immediately introduced herself,” Linda wrote in her journal, “and when she finally left, I could see one raised eyebrow that translated, ‘not bad, Brown…’.”

Linda herself was in such a state of shock at seeing Morgan — in her dormitory room, no less! — that it was a while before she finally thought to ask how Morgan knew she’d been sick.

“Oh, I talked with your parents,” Morgan tossed off, rather of matter-of-factly. “They have been really worried, and I'm on my way through here anyway.” And then he seemed to change, or at least divert, the subject: “I thought I might see what is so cool about this place…”

Linda laughed, Morgan laughed. “It all seemed so ridiculous,” she said, “that I would even be there. And there he was, sitting just a couple of arms lengths away from me. The door was open, of course; everything was entirely proper. So we laughed a lot…”

But throughout the visit, it never occurred to Linda to wonder how it was that Morgan had been talking to her parents during the several months during which that single-sentence postcard was all she’d heard from him herself.

What else she did not notice right away were the subtle changes in Morgan’s appearance. “He seemed to fit right into the Southern Sem standard,” she wrote later: “Clean shaven, a coat and tie, a green sweater that was almost the color of his eyes, and pressed slacks instead of his usual black Levi’s jeans.”

Linda really hadn’t paid much attention, until she heard one of the other girls on the floor say afterward, “Man...is he a sharp dresser or what? And I liked his car!”.

“What car?” Linda said.

“You know, it’s one of those MG thingies,” Tula, the car expert in the building, tossed in. Linda, of course, had never really pictured Morgan driving a car. Before this, there had only been his motorcycle — or his thumb.

Before he left, Morgan planted the seed of a plan in Linda’s ear.

“I’m not going to be able to come to Florida for a while,” Morgan said. “In fact, it looks like I’m going to be stuck in New York at least through New Years. After that I might be in the Philadelphia area for a while.”

Linda was just relieved to hear that Morgan was not going to be leaving the country altogether; and while she had really no idea what her own immediate future had in store, Philadelphia sounded better to her than New York. But even New York sounded OK to her under the circumstances.

“So, I thought,” Morgan was suddenly saying, “If you’re feeling better by then....and if you don't think that the cold will bother you, why don’t you come to New York for New Years?”

“I’ll try,” Linda said.

Morgan didn’t say anything. He just gave Linda a long, hard, determined stare.

“I’ll be there,” Linda said.

* * *

And that would be the end of this little chapter, except that… it isn’t. Instead, here’s another example of the bewildering way this story unfolds, not only for you the reader, but for me, the writer -- as well as the principals in the story themselves.

The chapter you just read was submitted to Linda Brown for her perusal on December 18, 2006. “This one is pretty much about you,” I told her, “so you might want to have a look before it goes on the air.”

Linda wrote back with a few notes, mostly adding some insight into the circumstances that caused Morgan to show up in her dormitory at Southern Sem as she recovered from her bout with pneumonia.

“Morgan must have gotten permission to come up those stairs,” Linda surmised, “and it must have been Dad that secured that permission because Morgan would never have just come bounding up the stairs without permission first from the school — and it would have taken quite a bit to even secure that.”

She also offered some useful thoughts into the surface changes she and her roommates observed in the visitor, like his sporty clothes and his sporty car: “Yes, he did look really nice, but now I am realizing that he was under the influence of the world he was slipping into, which even he admitted could be pretty "buttoned down." And the MG probably was O’Riley’s. Morgan never mentioned the car again, so I suspect that it was borrowed for the trip down to Virginia.”

Those are all valuable insights, and I would have just re-written them into the chapter, except that the morning after Linda shared those insights with me, we both learned something truly startling. And this time it came in a message from O’Riley himself, who wrote:

I wonder what it would have been like to get a glimpse of someone absolutely so special, and then have to stand aside, and let her walk by? Just a note from an old warhorse while we are speaking of that young girl: She may not have mentioned it to you but during that trip to the hospital she actually arrested and was brought back. Dr. Brown was going to "bring her home" to Florida but let her stay because that was her wish. She has never known that, by the way.

“Arrested” ?? As in, “her heart stopped beating”?? As in, “temporarily dead” ?? ("Ha," the writer laughs to himself, "so Morgan was not the only one in this story who was 'temporarily dead'.”)

I sent O’Riley’s message on to Linda, and she replied with complete surprise at the revelation:

I NEVER KNEW THAT. I knew that I had "passed out." I remember that. But nothing was ever said about "arrested." That means my heart stopped, I take it. No wonder my Dad came up; No wonder he wanted me to come home; No wonder the school was so good about letting me do my own thing — leaving class if I got tired. Nobody knew outside a small group, I imagine, because there was never a whisper of it with my classmates. Tula certainly never knew. Hell, I never knew.

But Morgan must have known. That’s an interesting revelation indeed. Why tell me about it now? Because it’s probably supposed to be written about I guess. Why else would Boston come forward with that bit of information after all these years. ‘Cause I didn't need to know.

When I first finished writing this chapter, I thought to myself, “well, that’s a fairly boring chapter. It’s a necessary installment, needed to advance the story, but lacking of the kind of bomb-shell revelations that most recent chapters have offered. But, that’s they way it goes down here in the rabbit hole. Your turn out the light for a moment, and something new explodes in the darkness.

Like this final thought, which explains why Linda didn’t need to know what had really happened to her in that Virginia hospital, and the lengths her father had gone to withhold that information from her at the same time he sent Morgan to comfort her:

If I had known how close I came to dying — that I had, in fact, actually died — I would have thrown my arms around Morgan, picked up my coat and walked out to that little green car and never looked back. Yes, I would have done that.

Linda’s father already had too much invested in Morgan -- among other things -- to allow that to happen. There’s a strange dynamic at work here, something that seems to suggest a knowledge of the future, or at least its possibilities, and certain subtle things that can be done to effect an outcome — like withholding certain pieces of information. Perhaps O’Riley himself said it best, by drawing an analogy to Linda’s days as an equestrian:

When you ride a big course and fences loom in front of you, you MUST have a plan. You MUST look ahead, because where you look is where you end up. I believe that Dr. Brown’s decision not to tell Linda about the incident at the hospital was a calculated choice on his part. He was looking toward the importance of the future and decidedly he was watching out for his own interests as well as his daughters. Was it right for him to keep that as a secret? Probably only his daughter will be able to answer that. Secrets are dangerous things

And some stories just have to be told as they come to you.

 


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