Patterns of a Party Girl

 

 

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Tales of Sue's activities spread across campus faster than more

traditional news. Some people made a hobby of her, reporting the latest

of her "triumphs." She seemed to spread trouble wherever she went. She

allegedly broke up the marriage between the owners of a local deli after

she had started to work there, conducting an affair with the husband

until the wife found out.

 

She also descended on the defenseless like a hawk. When one friend broke

up from his wife, Sue came to "soothe him," though he later denied

eye-witness reports of her leaving his house in the morning.

 

"She just wanted to make sure I was all right," he said at a recent

reunion when the subject of Sue's disappearance came up.

 

When another broke up from her boyfriend, Sue came to "comfort" her,

hungry over the details as if collecting information for her own formal

frontal attack. She soothed little and comforted no one, but left people

wondering about after she allegedly complicated their lives. Sue also

increased her own dubious popularity when she made and destroyed

friendships.

 

She would have a new best friend every three months, one of Sue's former

friends said. People would grow wise to her or she would grow bored with

them, and she disappear for a little while, then come back to start up a

whole new life with a whole new crowd of people. A few of use remained

part of her basic core, but she shifted the others frequently as she

traveled between the various departments. But I could see she wasn't

immune to the shifts. Something bothered her, though I didn't know what

at the time.

 

I noticed how she stalked through the hallways, so poised and balanced,

like a cat seeking prey among the tiled corridors, her sandals -- later

clogs -- creating sharp echoes as she walked. When she came into a room,

the air changed, charging with some unexpected energy. Some people

became Sue watchers. Dorothy called it: "Doing her Sue thing," and would

blow off classes to follow Sue around campus.

 

"I just wanted to see her go through her routine," Dorothy said. "She

weaved trouble. She made her round, stirring people up, then moved on.

It was a fascinating thing."

 

Sue roamed the campus like a mall guard, checking on-going projects,

emotional situations, she herself had raised, meeting men she once dated

or planned to date, meeting girlfriends to whom she would dispatch her

latest batch of secrets.

 

It was as if the world could not function without her input, and for

Dorothy, the daily trip was an entertainment -- and a horror. Dorothy

said she couldn't believe any one human could cause so much trouble and

not have everybody enraged.

 

"She is a master of manipulation," Dorothy said. "She likes stringing

every body along to see how far she can take things before everything

falls apart."

 

This included spreading gossip, making promises, flirting or working up

people's fears with talk of stalkers and CIA or Mafia plots. Most of the

time, Sue apparently merely spread tales between people, setting this

person against that person, and that person against another.

 

"It's all a game to her, something she does to keep herself amused,"

Dorothy said. "I don't think she has any great plans, though she likes

to have people think she is helpless or hurt or depressed. She wants

people to feel sorry for her, to take care of her, that's how she takes

people in."

 

All this was news to me. But I did wonder if it ever caught up with Sue.

 

 

"From time to time she gets so many people mad at her that she had to

disappear," Dorothy said. "Then, she goes away for a day or two or skips

class for weeks, then she'll show up again as if nothing has happened,

acting as if she can't understand why people are so upset. But she usual

day or two or skips class for weeks, then she'll show up again as if

nothing has happened, acting as if she can't understand why

 

A few people -- like Dorothy -- took up Sue watching as a hobby,

checking with people to find out what she told them, even then, Sue did

have an inner circle of friends to whom she divulged only the most

precious of these secretes. she would tell them about her affairs, about

the men stalking her, about how she was addicted to drugs or alcohol,

most of which was either totally untrue, or based on insignificant

incident which she elaborated and exaggerated. Even her secrets didn't

always line up, changing from person to person, a vathen, Sue did have

an inner circle of friends to whom she divulged only the most precious

of these secretes. she would tell them about her affairs, about the men

stalking her, about how she was addicted to drugs

 

"Sue would go about stirring up feuds between people and then disappear

for a couple of days until things had cooled down," Dorothy Alexander

told Joel. "She also made people think you were her best friend by

telling them information in confidence that she cold everyone else in

confidence."

 

Sue tended to keep people isolated, giving them snatches of information,

tailored specifically for specific individuals. She often set one friend

against other, whispering in one person's ear how little she could trust

the other. At school, people hated each other based on no other

information than what was fed to them via Sue. In some ways, Sue created

her own version of Telephone -- in which a story told to one person gets

distorted as it passed through a chain of people. Only in this case, Sue

was sole source and sole cause of the distortion. Some of this I didn't

notice at the time. Some of it struck me on an unconscious level. She

seemed to wear different masks for different people, and the experience

of my ex-wife of whom Sue reminded me -- made me wary of Sue as a lover,

and distrustful of her mask of vulnerability.

 

Perhaps at the time, I didn't think anyone else noticed. I know a few

times, Sue caught my studying stare, some unintended expression crossing

over her face, as if she hadn't expected the examination. For one brief

moment, her mask fell, and I saw something sad, but not innocent in its

place.

 

This did not unnerve her. A new mask replaced the old one almost

instantaneously, and before I blinked, she smiled, as if she intended to

speak with me later, but later forgot. While attention seemed to

intrigue her, Sue was never particularly comfortable around me.

 

As Joel would find out later when he interviewed Sue's class mates, life

for Sue seemed to be one vast performance, with Sue playing a multiple

of roles, switching parts as she dealt with differing people. I took

notice of it after a few months of seeing Sue hanging around and hearing

some of Sue's diatribes. At first, these performances confused me. They

seemed schizophrenic.

 

But for the most part, I rarely caught Sue's mask down, and never when

she was among people. When I saw her in the Essence office during my

first visit there, she seemed wary, a condition that continued each and

every time she saw me, as if she knew something wasn't right with me,

but couldn't quite put her finger on what she sensed.

 

Verbal snapshots of Sue's life refuse to jive, even among her friends --

a problem that plagued Joel when doing his research for the article New

Jersey Monthly would eventually reject. Her teachers saw her as one ki

for the article New Jersey Monthly would eventua

 

"She was a terrific student, but I had to drop her out of the honors

program because she missed so many classes," said Richard Attanally,

dean of the English Department at William Paterson University.

 

"She was a brilliant girl," said English professor Stanley Wertheim,

whose 20th Century American Novel Class Sue attended. "She could write

about the most obtuse subjects in clear language. However, she would

mostly get incompletes in my classes because writing for the Beacon and

doing various part-time jobs left her little time for schoolwork. In a

period when we had a lot of bright, mercurial kids on campus, she stood

out."

 

Sue's friend, Ron Goldberg's vision of Sue -- especially a later vision

of her as mistress at the Vault in New York City, (Then called Hellfire

which it was named shortly after its reopening in the early 1990s)

differed substantially from Nichole's, who claimed her vision of Sue was

"fuzzy." Glen Kenny, who Joel also interviewed, may have had the most

accurate vision of Sue, but was also the most closed mouth about her

present and past condition. But then, for all his closeness then and

now, Glen wasn't even aware that Sue had a telephone at the time she

disappeared.

 

While Bill Madaras, her one-time editor, still maintained many of her

secrets -- though when Joel dug these out of him, her stories wound up

to be variations of those Joel had heard from Ron and Glenn and others.

Joel even interviewed Judy Mills, the editor of the paper before Bill

Madaras. She did not have much to say since her contact with Sue was

minimal. Yet Joel's tracing of Sue's past seemed to confirm Sue's

manipulation.

 

Sue had a perpetual squint, that has she aged gave her a constant

expression of pain. She could not see distances well, but flatly refused

to wear glasses. This proved harrowing for those of us who chanced to

ride beside as she sped around town, wrecking car after car in order to

honor her vanity, a vanity few but the closest of her confidants every

truly understood.

 

Sue also needed the use of her eye glasses, but refused to wear them,

even when she drove, and she drove aggressively, fast and often not in

the driving lane. Because she needed those glasses, she could not see

the lines and sometimes couldn't even see the cars when they came

head-on towards her. Combined with her drinking and reported use of

drugs, she made a frightening road warrior. In college, she wrecked six

cars, then got her father to by a car for her, her mother to buy a car

for her, and when she'd used up those resources, she got boyfriends to

sign loans for her. Eventually, this lack of sight, her stubborn nature,

and her brazen attitude would eventually get her busted by the Haledon

police.

 

But during those early years in school, her squint added persuasion to

her tales of woe, one more prop with which she could convenience people

to feel sorry for her. Men looked at her, listened to her, then adopted

her as a public charity, missing some how the deeper glint in her deep

blue econvenience people to feel sorry fo

 

"I think part of her attraction to people is that she presented herself

as a bit helpless," Dorothy said, "and that people wanted to rescue

her."

 

Being a natural blond, Sue inherited fair skin, and during the first few

months after meeting her, I noticed she almost always had a sunburn, as

if she had spent the summer on the beach and couldn't shed the

debilitating effects. Later, I learned of her obsession to obtain a

suntan her pale complexion would not allow. As with her refusal to wear

her eye glasses, Sue displayed an unfortunate obstinacy when she

broached the subject. Sometimes, she would sit on the front steps of her

mother apartment, applying tanning oil hopefully over her thin arms and

legs, squirting some over her chest. Other times, she would set up a

lawn chair in a boyfriend's drive way or on his lawn, take a mirrored,

tin-foil sun aid, prop it up under her chin, and wait for the sun to

complete its magic. Each time, she accomplished little more than to

broil herself, her face, arms, legs turning a brilliant pink that soon

blistered. More than once she achieved little more than skin poisoning,

her eyes growing puffy, her flesh swelling around each burn. Even then,

she did not give up, even with zinc oxide ointment applied to ease the

pain of the previous day's dose, she came out again, wearing the same

sparse swim suit, gritting her teeth in futile determination, only to

sear some formerly unburned portion of her anatomy, seeking that ever

illusive tan.

 

Nor did Sue's predilection for a suntan vanish with age. Even during her

six years living in Nutley, she maintained some aspect of this,

attempting to give herself a darker hue with frequent visits to a

Belleville tanning salon. She often made an appointment a day or two

ahead of an upcoming gig, or asked her land lord if she could sun

herself around his pool.

 

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Dry Ice

 

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