Heartbreak Hotel by
(318 Stories)

Prompted By Dating

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I hung out with a group of guys who lived in an apartment in Waltham during my first semester at Brandeis. I liked one in particular, but he was only mildly interested. While hanging in his room one evening, a tall redhead, friendly with many of them, wandered in; a junior named Gordon. He was a big guy who lived in an apartment nearby. He offered to sell them some pot. I barely took notice.

Gordon in my dorm room my freshman year

A week or so later, he asked me out, but it was Kol Nidre, the beginning of Yom Kippur. I was going to services that evening, so I declined. For the first and last time, I attended Conservative Services. I didn’t know they started and ended early, so I could have met up with him later, but didn’t know how to reach him. I didn’t even know his last name.

Reed, a senior who lived in my quad, said a group of them were driving to his parents’ house in Stockbridge later that evening. It was across the state, a two hour drive, but why not go? I said I’d join them. Upon opening the car door, my eyes landed on Gordon. I was mortified; he didn’t say a word. The group drove west for two hours and were greeted warmly by Reed’s parents who put out a large spread of food. I was fasting; obligatory for Yom Kippur. The others, all upperclassmen whom I barely knew, mocked me. Reed’s parents came to my defense. “Respect her. She has principles.” I liked that. We drove back to Brandeis very late.

A week or so later, Gordon showed up outside my dorm just as I headed out for my required PE class. I took modern dance to meet the requirement. I had my hip hugger blue jeans pulled on over my black leotard and footless tights. I told him when the class would end, in case he wanted to meet me then. Sure enough, he showed up. I guess he pursued me in a nonchalant way.

It was a beautiful autumn day. Gordon drove a huge pig of a Buick. He decided we’d go to Drumlin Farm, an Audubon Preserve in Lincoln, west of Waltham. We just wandered around, a nice thing to do on such a beautiful day. We walked past the farm animals and down a path to a campfire site where we sat on some logs, taking in the fresh air and the view.

Suddenly, he jumped up, towering over me, peering down. “What do you know about me?”

It was a fair question. I knew very little and here we were, alone, far from any other human being. This felt really creepy. He leaned down, grabbing my shoulders, pressing them together. He could have snapped me like a twig. (5′ tall, I weighed all of 89 pounds, he was well over 6′ tall, I have no idea what he weighed, but a lot more than I did.) I am sure I looked like the lamb about to be slaughtered. But I summoned up some courage and clapped back with a bit of bravado, “Look, if you are going to rape me, would you hurry up and get it over!”

Somehow, he liked that reply. I had faced him down, shown courage. He released me. I had passed some weird test. We got up, walked back to his car and went back to Brandeis. Looking back, that should have been a warning, but I was too stupid or needy, or something. That was the beginning of our relationship. We dated for several months after that, without any further incident. I knew he yearned for a girl who had taken a year off from Brandeis and lived in Cambridge. He made due with me. We went to dances together. Those were loads of fun. I stayed over at his apartment. But I was still 17 years old and I didn’t want to mess around with statutory rape, so we didn’t go “all the way”; he found other ways to satisfy himself. I was SO young and inexperienced. I liked the attention and the idea of having a steady guy.

In my freshman dorm (poster of my father in the background; made from the original by my cousin Alan)

We often hung out in Reed’s room. They both played guitar and we all sang the folk/pop songs of the day, which I really enjoyed. I got stoned with them. But Gordon was strange. He would come up to me and challenge me: “Are you cool?” I didn’t understand. Finally I would just say, “Yes, I’m cool” (hardly). Very weird. But those were strange times, I think. Gordon was an extreme manifestation of them. Perhaps, I was drawn to how exotic he was, not like anyone I had ever dated. It was not a love affair, but there was mutual attraction.

He also liked to hang out in the Student Union game room. He played pin ball and pool. I was bored. I’d read my homework while all the bells pinged. Finally it was exam week. I knew I did fine on all my lit courses. I sweated out Math 10 – Calculus. I took it Pass/Fail, but put in a postcard to find out my actual grade. I heaved a huge sigh of relief when I got my B- (even though it didn’t count). I had turned 18 the month before and run out of excuses to postpone the inevitable with Gordon. This was the night.

We stopped by the drug store at the end of his street and he bought some contraceptive foam. I was embarrassed. Everyone knew what we were about to do. We went back to his apartment and consummated our relationship. When we were done he said, “You’ll probably be pretty good once you relax.” Yeah, romance was not part of this relationship. And I am a huge romantic.

I spent Intersession with Emily in NYC. Gordon was heading to Florida by car. I got a lift as far as NYC driving with a group who stopped overnight in New York. Gordon and I stayed on a little daybed in Em’s apartment. It wasn’t even big enough for me, much less “Big Red”.

He, George (the driver, whom I knew from that first Waltham apartment where Gordon and I had met) and Jessie, a junior who was involved in the theater and wasn’t at all friendly to me, would continue south the next day. They got into a serious car accident somewhere along the way, I believe North Carolina. Gordon, in the backseat, was not hurt. George and Jessie both had serious head injuries. This was 1971, before shoulder restraints were standard in cars. As Gordon held Jessie along the side of the road, bleeding in his arms, he felt he had to get to know her better.


When we all returned to campus, he told me he felt he had to be with Jessie. He had saved her life. Really? Of course I was devastated. I looked to my roommate for solace; she offered some wisdom and sympathy. I dated others for the rest of second semester, but no one special. Gordon would drop by my dorm room from time to time, just to check in, usually at inconvenient times. I never saw him after that school year.

With Bob, sophomore year

I came back to school early sophomore year. Along with suite mates Nettsie and Rozie, I was in the Orientation Show.

With Nettsie and Rozie in Gondoliers, later in Sophomore year.

We were busy rehearsing in the theatre, which was at the opposite end of campus from East Quad, where we lived. We had to hike up a rather steep hill, which crested by the library, before descending to our quad. We did that several times a day, going back and forth to rehearsals, which were really fun. It was a great show; sardonic and funny.

Poster from Orientation Show, 1971; I am in the second row, at the end on the right.

The two others were slightly ahead of me one day and gave a huge greeting to a tall guy with dark hair, mutton chop sideburns, wearing tube socks and shorts. I didn’t look terribly closely and thought it was our classmate and center of our basketball team, Al Klein, so I scurried up to say hi too. It wasn’t, but they greeted him so warmly that I did too. That’s how I met Bob. There was an immediate spark.

I was typecast as the “sexy one” in the show. The second act opened with a Day-Glo Frisbee number. We all wore tee shirts with slogans on the back that became visible under the black light as we each turned to expose the slogans. The person next to me’s tee read, “If you got it…” Mine read:

Back of my tee shirt from Orientation Show

We had a lot of fun! What I didn’t know was that Bob and another guy (with whom I would become friends) were sitting in the front row, taking bets on who would go out with me first. Needless to say, Bob won. Within six days we were a couple, on and off for a year and a half. We had white-hot chemistry between us.

He was the first guy I was totally over the moon about. He was smart, curious, into everything. We both enjoyed all sorts of music. I introduced him to the “New World Symphony”. He took me to our little on-campus coffee shop, where we listened to Joe Val & the New England Bluegrass Boys. Who could have predicted that I would really enjoy Blue Grass music? We took an art history class together. We went to all the dances, and all the movies (Wednesday nights were for old classics, Fridays were first runs). I became friendly with all the guys he lived with. In fact, I’m still friendly with many of them. In 2016, I was invited to made a “guest appearance” at one of their annual dinners. We had a blast. The left-most one was the fellow Bob had the bet with at the Orientation Show in 1971.

With Bob’s friends in 2016

I was always in Bob’s suite, so they all knew me well. After homework was finished, we’d get stoned and play hearts with two decks. The look on someone’s face if they got two Queens of Spades dropped on them in one hand was priceless! I tried to learn to play chess, since he loved it, but that was beyond me. I enjoyed going to our basketball games, with or without him.

Bob slept in my room. My roommate loved him and was a very sound sleeper. We took turns waking her in the morning. She dropped out of Brandeis at the semester break. Then I had a double-single, which I protected fiercely. I confess, I was obnoxious to the various candidates who were sent as potential roommates. Bob and I scared them away and I kept the room to myself for the remainder of the year; such a precious commodity. Bob and I took full advantage of it. He was IT for me. But he wasn’t Jewish, so my parents seriously DID NOT approve.

One might think that life was ideal. I was so happy with him, but Bob had a wandering eye, and more. He just couldn’t settle down. He would wander off with some other woman for a short period, just to check her out. Was she of Greek heritage? Great! Did she play chess? So much better. In talking to some of my classmates recently, I learned that the one of Greek heritage had a serious heroin problem. Her roommates would check her pulse each morning. Depending on her level of toxicity, they’d either call 911, or leave her alone. I had no idea. I doubt Bob did either. Another earned extra spending money as a Playboy Bunny in the club in Boston. She waited on Dan and me at our first anniversary dinner, as described in the “anniversary” prompt. Bob craved those extracurricular bouts.

I’d be crushed (I truly loved this guy), would lose an incredible amount of weight in a short period of time, mope around, but didn’t sit still. Other guys were interested in me and I would accept their offers (never sleeping with anyone else, just going out on dates). Eventually, Bob would come back and all would be right in the universe again.

Jones Beach, summer, 1972

My savvier girlfriends asked why I put up with this nonsense. It is a fair question. I asked myself that question too. I guess the heart wants what the heart wants. I had never before had feelings for anyone like I had for this guy. So I put up with his peregrinations (which were short) and he did always come back. I found him fascinating.

As I have discussed in other stories, I also have deep-seated feelings of poor self-worth; my mother really did a number on me. Yes, it is easy to blame one’s parents, but my mother wasn’t capable of instilling self-confidence in her off-spring. Quite the opposite, nothing I did was good enough. That takes a toll. My father was a love, but wasn’t home much when I was a kid. As someone in retail, he worked six days and two nights a week. We became close once I left for college and he switched careers. Then, he became my rock.

I managed to see Bob a few times over the summer of ’72 and we remained together throughout the first semester of his senior, my junior year, when he now had a single in a dorm dominated by freshman. I became their “den mother”.

He graduated at the end of December, 1972, half-way through his senior year. He and a close friend went off to tour Europe. But we always stayed in touch. We exchange greetings at Christmas. Since he’s a classmate of Dan’s, I see him at their reunion every five years. He is always pleasant. Even during Dan’s health crisis last month, he sent me an email, wishing Dan a speedy recovery. During reunions, I enjoy hanging out with that group of guys. I truly became good friends with all of them; a nice group of friends.

Class of ’73, 30th reunion, with Bob and friends.



Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: funny, moving, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    You may be a romantic, Betsy, but perhaps even more so, you are so very honest. Both with yourself and with us, your readers. You have described these two early, and ultimately doomed, relationships not only in wonderful detail, but also with great clarity. Warts and all, as is said. These guys’ flaws, your own insecurities (thanks, Mom!); it’s all there. And, as always, with great photos from back in the day — even of “other woman” Jessie.

    Despite your title, I hope you can now look back at these relationships with (mainly) fond memories of long ago. It does sound as if you have been able to maintain a very nice connection at least with Bob and his pals right to this day. That said, I trust you know that all your fans on Retro think both these guys were complete idiots for letting you go!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      My memories of Gordon are not so fond, John. That was a weird one from the get-go. Bob was a different story and my memories are mostly fun and fond, if a bit of teen anguish. I know how his life turned out. It is better that we parted ways.

      Thanks for your endorsement. I’ll keep sharing all these long-ago moments.

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    Gordon does sound particularly creepy—good thing you eventually moved on! You describe the ups and downs of those years vividly.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      As I look back I agree, Gordon was a real head-scratcher, Khati. I wish I knew then what I know now. My life would have been quite different, but 20/20 hindsight really brings things into sharp focus. We all grow up (one hopes).

  3. Suzy says:

    “”The heart wants what the heart wants.” That’s perfect, Betsy! Thanks for this in-depth look at your early dating experiences at Brandeis.

  4. Marian says:

    Many of us have gone through those odd relationships, Betsy. It’s live and learn. Your details about Brandeis brought back a lot of images because I lived in East, and I remember that orientation show because fall 1971 was my first semester. It was a tumultuous time, and I can’t believe you maintained that double-single, a near impossibility. Funny that I didn’t like most of the guys at all, with the exception of Gary, a junior, who became my boyfriend for a few months. Three years later, when he moved to California and I was a senior at Mills, we dated for a while again and then remained friends.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      As I look back, I’m afraid I wasn’t a great judge of character, but that didn’t seem to matter at the time. I can chalk it up to growth and development, Suzy.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I’m glad this all rang true for you, Marian (and you SAW that show – how fun)! I lived in East two years, and yes, I drove away at least two, probably three poor women to maintain that double-single (with Bob at my side). I was really impossible to them, not at all like me, normally.

      Let’s hear it for Gary! I’m sure he was a nice guy.

  5. As always, Betsy your recall of dates and events is so impressive and you always have the photos to show us who was who!

    And it’s quite something that you and Bob have remained friends, good for you both and for your understanding husband!

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    The depth of your memory and your honesty amaze me, Betsy. I could picture the scenes you described so well, especially the one at Drumlin Farm, where we took our grandsons when they were young. Your story captures so well the heartbreak of failed young relationships. They hurt at the time but we also learn from them.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      We do learn from those breakups, Laurie. Sadder, but wiser. I look back at Gordon and wonder what was I thinking? Why did I put up with that sort of abuse? I would never stand for that today. So that’s something.

  7. Yay, you! Seems you’ve always worn your heart on your sleeve…I love that in a person. As I was reading your story I wanted to say, “Wait…there must have been an issue with your mom, that someone like you would have so little self-esteem…” and then there it was, of course! Betsy, like others, I went through similar experiences chapter and verse. I hope you don’t regret one thing, not even Gordon! Going through those experiences made us who we are today…strong and confident, and still wearing our hearts on our sleeves. XOXO

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    I always wanted to be like Bob. Luckily I was never like Gordon.

    In the picture from 2016, is that Bob in the upper right corner?

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Funny, I still see George (the fellow driving the car that crashed in NC) on a regular basis. I once mentioned Gordon to him. “Gordie? We were roommates the next year. Great guy!” I’ve never mentioned him again. Do you want to be like Bob because you wanted to be a “player”? He was a very successful merger and acquisitions lawyer in NYC, who visited his senior partner in his hospital bed where he was dying from cancer. The older lawyer was still working. Bob retired at 40. That group of friends (who gave me this info) enjoy his company from time to time.

      Bob was not at the dinner in 2016. The friend who invited me, teased the other guys that there would be a “mystery” guest. They thought it might be Bob, but it was just me! They were a little disappointed, but got over it and we had loads of fun. The last photo I’ve included of Bob is that 30th reunion photo, taken in 2003. He is on the upper right in that photo.

  9. I’m exhausted just from reading your saga, Betsy! And I must admit, Gordon sounded a bit off and a bit scary. You said you lost track of him, yes? Just as well. And Bob, I’m glad you guys had such a good time together. The first pic of you together is quite revealing of a certain overt male display… testosterone on the loose! I agree with Barb. You tell your stories with such clarity and openness. You are much appreciated!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks for the male perspective on that first photo with Bob, taken at a party in my suite in 1971. I never caught that nuance. Didn’t mean to exhaust you with all the details. This is the first time I’ve ever shared the story of Gordon in a public, complete fashion; had to get it out after all this time.

      Thank you for “You are much appreciated”. It means a lot to me.

  10. Susan Bennet says:

    As they used to say, Betsy, one may have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. I always liked the song “Saved the Best for Last” :

    All of the nights you came to me
    When some silly girl had set you free
    You wondered how you’d make it through
    I wondered what was wrong with you
    ‘Cause how could you give your love to someone else
    And share your dreams with me
    Sometimes the very thing you’re lookin’ for
    Is the one thing you can’t see

    Glad you found your prince!

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