Flipping a Coin for Dr. Coyne (Part 8)
What happens next is a real “let-down” – totally anti-climactic and disappointing. If you like happy endings, maybe you should stop reading right now, this part of the story is not for you!
A few days after the dance, I saw J.J. again for the first time in the back corner of a crowded elevator at the hospital. I was in my awkward, old-fashioned student nurse’s uniform, tucking in the clumsy starched bib and adjusting the straight pin through the tissue under the legendary St. Vincent’s Nursing Cap. I was running late for my shift – punctuality was never one of my strong points – and hadn’t had much time to apply my usual makeup. I was late and flustered and was literally still “dressing myself” when I spotted J. J. standing along the back wall of the elevator. I avoided eye contact and quickly turned to face the front of the elevator. I stood there paralyzed with disappointment when I realized he was seeing me in such disarray and without my typical face paint (I always felt naked without my makeup). If I had any inkling that I might see him that day, I would have prepared myself physically and mentally; I would have had my witty remarks on the tip of my tongue and I would have applied my makeup with artistry and precision. No, I wasn’t ready; I wasn’t that confident woman that I had become by the end of my fantasy date; the magic of that night in December had transformed me. But now, sadly, Cinderella had turned back into a poor house servant again. I quickly exited the elevator at the very next floor and walked the stairs to the ward.
After acting so foolishly at this first post-dance encounter, I never quite recovered. I avoided Dr. Coyne – no longer J.J. – as if he had the plague. In fact I elevated avoidance to an art form! If I saw him in the hallway on one of the hospital units, I would duck into a doorway or quickly find an excuse to enter the nearest patient’s room. I lived with a certain degree of fear wondering where or when I might see him and what I would say or do should we inadvertently come face to face.
The only time I came close to seeing him again face to face was near the end of my junior year, shortly before the seasoned Interns left and the new guys arrived. I was given an appointment to appear in the 8th floor Student Nurses’ Infirmary (under the stern yet competent direction of Agatha Boyce, R. N.) for my annual physical exam. My classmates and I stood in two lines waiting to be examined by one of the two doctors behind the privacy the two privacy screens. It was surprising to me - at least at this time in my life – that the young, robust Interns were assigned to this task. Did I mention that the physical included a breast exam? Tough duty for these guys, wouldn’t you say? As I slowly inched my way closer to the white screen on my side of the room, someone happened to mention that it was none other than J.J. Coyne behind that particular privacy sheet. “Oh my God!”, I shout out loud even though I don’t usually say “Oh my God” in anything other than a prayer. In a way it was a prayer; I’m praying please, get me out of here as soon as possible. Never in a million years will I be able to sit exposed naked before him. Wasn’t it enough that, even fully clothed, I felt so naked and exposed before him ever since the magic of a mystical December night dissipated and that confident young woman disappeared.
The sad fact of the matter was I never once spoke to this wonderful man again. Not one word. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was realistic enough to know not to expect a marriage proposal. I didn’t want a marriage proposal. I was only 18 years old, I was rather immature and naive and we had only one date – a date that I initiated – and that he probably accepted as a bit of a lark. But, that is not the point. The point for me is that I find it terribly sad that I was so lacking in confidence, social graces, and self –esteem that I couldn’t even face him, or look him in the eye, or say a single word to him. I couldn’t just open my mouth and say, “Hi, how are you doing?”
When I was 18, I thought I wasn’t smart enough, pretty enough or worthy enough. From the vantage point of having lived 70 decades, I now see some of the whys and wherefores of my feelings and behaviors. For sure I didn’t know then, what I know now. I know now that I was brought up in an era when men were even more powerful than they are now, and at the top of this hierarchy of power stood the doctors ( mostly male ) and the Catholic priests (still officially all male but the women are rising, praise God). This was the early 1960’s and we were on the cusp of Vatican II. Things were different, very different, and even today, we continue to struggle to bring to fruition the wonderful spiritual renewal and positive energy of Vatican II.
I married Robert W. Buchner on September 18, 1971 at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Brooklyn, NY. I have two children and one grandson. I enjoy writing and have a million stories swimming around in my head. Many of my memories surround St. Vincent’s Hospital and the wonders of life I experienced because of my connections to some of the most marvelous women on earth – the women of St. Vincent’s Hospital School of Nursing, and especially the women of the Class of 1965 (The Vatican II Class- 1962 -1965). Sometimes I get in trouble for being “too truthful”, but at 72, I doubt I will change. Thank you for reading my story. Now, I have to mail the rest of the story to Dr. J.J. Coyne.