Lucky’s Afghans: a 20th-century disaster by
(166 Stories)

Prompted By Disasters

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Humans often choose animals who resemble them. Lucky had two afghans, long-limbed, winsome creatures with aristocratic features and reddish-blonde hair, just like Lucky.

How do you reconcile heartbreak and fear, sadness and jeopardy, and the sense that everything is ending? You don’t.

Lucky and I met at my free-wheeling flat on Putnam Avenue, down the street from Club 47. Putnam Avenue, with its come-and-go denizens, adventurers, Fort Hill refugees, and Harvard scholars, hovered above two storefronts, a pizza joint and a Chinese laundry.

One fine spring night, Lucky trooped upstairs with Jeffree’s friend Marlene, and — as was the custom — the random assemblage cooked pasta, drank wine, and retired to one giant bed to smoke weed and listen to LPs.

I had lost my father the previous July, my family was disintegrating, and I had no idea that I was grieving. I lived in a daze, mimicking life. I managed to keep a workable grade-point average while spinning through one crash-and-burn tryst after another. Then along came Lucky.

Lucky and I clicked; stuff just fell into place. One minute we were listening to Jim Kweskin and Maria Muldaur in the incensed murk of Jeffree’s room and the next, we were rolling around in another bed, one room away.

Boy, did we have fun.

Nearly every morning, Lucky and Marlene would make the voyage across the Charles from their Back Bay apartment. Marlene would invade Jeffree’s bedroom and Lucky would burst in — afgans and all — and pounce, shrouding me in a parasol of reddish-blonde hair. I couldn’t believe my life; the clouds had been torn asunder.

But I was not over my grief-driven self-destruction. My cousin had lured me to San Francisco with words like Jefferson Airplane, the Family Dog, and the Grateful Dead. Like any young woman aged 20, Lucky was part lunatic. I was still a mess. I grew claustrophobic. So, like any idiot aged 20, I told Lucky she couldn’t come to San Francisco with me.

That was the first disaster. My beautiful afghan lover responded with tears of rage, recriminations, and reprisal. Before I left for the coast, she introduced me to her ‘friend,’ we’ll call him Buford, also an afghan lover.

I will reserve the summer events in San Francisco for another time. Suffice it to say that in 1965, San Francisco was happening. In the fall, I returned to Putnam Avenue and the oncoming darkness of a Cambridge fall and winter.

Autumn passed, I struggled with my stubborn, elusive grief and staggered through more cardboard têtes à tête. I grew lonely and convinced myself that I missed Lucky.

I called.

“I’m coming over,’ she said, and hung up.

Lucky arrived with three afghans in tow, as if she and Buford had conceived another elegant creature over the summer. The personification of Buford in Lucky’s newest doggy avatar made me want her more than ever.

The afghans filled the apartment with their lanky energy. Lucky and I sat on the bed and talked into the autumn dusk. I poured out my heart to the woman I had left behind, a woman who had naturally returned the favor by taking up with her mellow Jamaican. Lucky filled out the dialog with anger, hurt feelings, and a confession: She had missed me and Buford was a jerk.

Can you rekindle what had passed for love many action-packed months earlier? We tried, but our own mixed feelings reigned supreme. We touched and recoiled, touched again.

We fell into a cycle of longing and lust, comfort and advice, jealousy and pain, relieved by lovemaking that still served as our only raison d’etre. Oh boy. Still not a disaster, until…

Lucky arrived one spring day around our first anniversary, to say, “I’m pregnant.”

Roe v Wade lay years in the future. Abortions were illegal, dangerous, and hard to get. I had seen several high school friends fall victim to the medieval assumption that, if you knocked her up, you should marry her.

Neither Lucky nor I were saddled by that catechism but, with my father dead and my mother bravely setting out for NYU on her own, there was no money to pay for a to visit to Dr. Sunshine, a real doctor on a prescient mission. Lucky was on the outs with her domineering father, her mother wouldn’t move without the old man’s consent, so the burden fell on us, well… on me.

How do you reconcile heartbreak and fear, sadness and jeopardy, and the sense that everything is ending? You don’t. Add a pressing need for four hundred dollars in cash, a felonious trip across state lines, and a heart-wrenching procedure that should have been Lucky’s civil right, and you got personal and political disaster.

Finding an illegal abortion was like scoring weed only times ten. But there were people who knew people, and we found ourselves in the lobby of the Copley Square Hotel, talking to a well-dressed gentleman. Though metaphor, simile, and unfinished sentences, the gentleman allowed as how he might be able to help.

Thomas Wolfe wrote that “you can’t go home again.” However, our family doctor and his wife had become a sponsor of sorts for me and my sister as our family disintegrated. I called upon them for a loan and drove back home, Thomas Wolfe be damned.

The good doctor hadn’t arrived home yet, so I sat with his daughter. She was a freshman at Wellesley and was enchanted with her new boyfriend. I listened to her chirp young-love clichés; she read my ennui as a lack of understanding.

“You just haven’t been in love yet,” she said.

“Okay,” I said.

When the doctor arrived, his wife joined us. We huddled over coffee at the kitchen table. They asked me about Lucky. My downcast stammering convinced them that me and Lucky deserved a break. They wrote a check and I returned to the Copley Square Hotel, cash in hand. There was no receipt.

A week passed, then two. Precious biological time was ticking, doubt laced our bodies with adrenaline, and the well-dressed gentleman had our money. Panicked, Lucky and I returned to the hotel unannounced, raising the ire of our gentleman. There had been a delay. He would contact us.

The call came with time, place, and instructions. I don’t remember much about of the trip. There was a train out of North Station, silence between Lucky and me. I remember the yellow wallpaper on the waiting room walls in the farmhouse where Doctor Sunshine performed his procedures. There must have been a trip back to Boston. Amnesia.

That summer, I returned to San Francisco. Lucky moved back to New York. We never talked of our loss or the risks we had taken. Decades later, we found each other on social media. She apologized for how badly she had treated me. I apologized for how badly I had treated her. The taste of disaster rose between us and we prudently faded back out of each other’s lives.

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Profile photo of Charles Degelman Charles Degelman
Writer, editor, and educator based in Los Angeles. He's also played a lot of music. Degelman teaches writing at California State University, Los Angeles. 

Degelman lives in the hills of Hollywood with his companion on the road of life, four cats, assorted dogs, and a coterie of communard brothers and sisters.

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Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Wow, there is so much in this story! The scene in the Putnam Ave. apartment, the tease about your summer in San Francisco, the reuniting with Lucky and the cycle of your relationship so well-described . . . and then the nightmare of the illegal abortion. You took us through it all so magnificently. This would be an amazing movie.

    • Thanks, Suzy, for your support. I like the movie idea. I can see the pitch now… “it’s a little like ‘Easy Rider’ with good-looking 60s hippie chicks, afghans instead of Harleys, and the hi-tension, horror-show thrill of seeking an illegal abortion.” Ha ha. But the movie idea is great, with a slightly different pitch than my impulsive first try above. Most of all, gratified that you labored through all 1200 words!

  2. rosie says:

    Charles, your life is full of endless wonder. You present the times very clearly and without excessive sentiment. It seems like you both made the right decisions in the long term, even though they were difficult. I often leave out details that you easily share, in my own life. But these accumulations of truth in bits and pieces makes your writing much richer than they otherwise would be.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Such a poignant story, Charlie. That era before Roe v. Wade were tense for all of us (though I’m younger than you, and I’ve written about my close call and support from my father). Your story is just devastating, though at least it is not a disaster, as it could have been. It is the one political cause these days that really makes my blood boil as these sanctimonious holy-rollers roll back our rights and doom young women (who no longer remember what it was like before 1973) to agonize with predicaments like you have so delicately described. I read just yesterday, that it is the people who voted for our ghastly president who are most likely to have children out of wedlock and need all the social services he is so happily slashing. It makes me furious.

    Your story is illuminating and powerful. It should be required reading.

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