My first meeting on the second day of the conference was with Dr. Walter G. Klopfer, a lively Groucho Marx lookalike and a full professor at Portland State. He looked to be about 50 or so - 20 years older than I was - slightly built with a receding hairline and piercing brown eyes. As he talked, I could hear the humor in his inflections and we hit it off right away. He punctuated his flippant asides with a raucous guffaw, almost daring anyone around not to join in the joke. “I’ve been interviewing people all day and haven’t found anyone with balls – male or female.” I discovered he was an inveterate punster, like me. He told me he had interviewed people in Washington, D.C. the week before and got stuck in traffic on one of the bridges or, as he called it, “the car strangled spanner.”
I was clear with him about my intent to start a private practice as soon as possible wherever I landed and he offered to help if I were to be hired. He told me he, too, was a full-time professor while managing a busy psychotherapy practice. To my delight, he expressed enthusiastic concurrence with my feminist views and had taken the trouble to read my previous writings.
“I want to hire a strong woman for this position. That group of mothballs needs to be shaken up. You just might be the right person to do that. I like your irreverent sense of humor.” Of course, he did. It was like his. He laughed loudly, perhaps seeing the future. I was surprised by his candor, just the kind of iconoclasm I appreciate.
Walt told me he was the only full-time clinical psychologist in the department and, looking back on it, likely looking for an ally. Walt was well known with a worldwide reputation and a serious pedigree. His father had been Dr. Bruno Klopfer, one of the preeminent pioneers in creating and writing the primary textbook for the interpretation of the Rorschach ink blot test. I had studied that text in graduate school, along with every other clinical student over the past thirty years.
Our conversation had gone way beyond its allocated time, much of it trading quips. We were both oblivious to the din around us, others being interviewed with far less conviviality. At the end of the meeting, I felt confident. Though I had interviewed with other more prestigious universities, Portland State immediately became my first choice. The salary and benefits were good and I had enjoyed the playful, spirited repartee with Klopfer. It sounded like it could be fun.
A couple of weeks later, I got a call from the department chairman, the call I hoped would come.
“Dr. Munter, we’d like to offer you a position with us. We think you’d make a fine addition to our faculty. You’d begin as an Assistant Professor and you’ll be on the tenure track.”
“Thank you so much. I ‘m very excited. I look forward to meeting you and the others. I accept!”
“Good. Walt hoped you would. I’ll send the paperwork and some information about Portland within a few days.”
“Great. But one question: How do you pronounce Oregon? Is it Oarreegone? Or Orygun?”
Without even a slight twinge of irony, he informed me it was the latter. “But it’s all right if you mispronounce it. Most newcomers do.”
Two weeks after I gave birth to Aaron via Caesarean section, his father and I packed up and moved to a place neither of us had ever seen. But he had made a quick reconnaissance trip a week earlier and found us a rental house in the Portland suburb of Beaverton. It sounded just perfect – a standard tract house with three bedrooms and a big yard, a 15-minute freeway drive to the university.
Driving into Beaverton from the airport with Aaron snuggled in my arms, I felt buttressed by the tall evergreen trees that lined the freeway. The dense dark greenness was like nothing I had ever seen. It was strangely comforting, enveloping. It had just rained and the heady smell of the trees infused my lungs with hope. By the time we took the off ramp on the way to the house, the scenery had changed, becoming less lush and more suburban, but still laden with huge cedars, aspens, oaks and pines. I thought to myself that I could easily have a long career and a happy life here. It felt like home already.
Walt called soon after my arrival welcoming me, asking if I needed any assistance. We connected on the phone as we had in person, warmly and with humor.
I had been assigned three classes to teach, all easily within my areas of expertise and training in clinical psychology. Once hired, I had selected the textbooks, prepared syllabi for each class and worked on lectures. School would begin the following week.
I had taught in universities before. With a Master’s degree in political science, I taught introductory classes at California State University at Northridge for three years during the volatile and violent late 1960s. A week before I watched Robert Kennedy give one of his last speeches just yards from my office, the top floor of my office building had been burned out by an unnamed group. And, while working on the Ph.D. in Nebraska, I had taught a course in personality theory. I wasn’t at all nervous about the teaching part, more curious about my colleagues. Walt had told me I was the only full-time, tenure-tracked female in the entire psychology department. The others were all white men. Though it surprised me, I was used to that. In graduate school, I had been the only full-time female graduate student in the clinical program throughout much of my time in Lincoln, Nebraska. I had a lengthy history of being first and only. I was almost a professional alien.
I drove into Portland over the weekend to take a look at the campus – if you can call it that. It was a series of multi-story grey structures surrounded by the unremitting concrete of downtown Portland. They looked like office buildings more than the landscaped campuses to which I was accustomed. On one side, however, there was a respite from the urban congestion – a long strip of grass and tall deciduous trees confined by noisy surrounding streets. I later learned this was known as the Park Blocks. The main entrances to the classroom buildings were off Broadway, a street that was as busy as its namesake, with a freeway on-ramp less than a congested block away. It was as if this university was carelessly transplanted into this bustling city without much thought to aesthetics.
The following Monday morning, I arrived very early, fueled by anticipatory anxiety. Walt met me at the department office door and showed me down the narrow hall to my furnished office. I was happy to see I didn’t have to share space, as I had at Cal State. There was even a tall bookcase I knew would be quickly filled. He introduced me around to some of the other professors. Other than Walt and one part-time older man, a majority of them specialized in research-based experimental branches of psychology. That meant it was likely we would have little in common. Clinical and experimental specializations can be like oil and water. The people who choose one or the other are very different in the obvious ways, sometimes including personality. Clinicians are more people-oriented, while experimentalists often prefer the detachment and certainty that come from an emphasis on data collection. Other than sharing courses in experimental design and statistics, university training programs are separate from one another. Experimentalists seldom take courses in the application of clinical theory, but clinicians are required to study research methods and conduct experiments. I was required to train my own rat in graduate school, not my finest hour. I remember ferrying it urgently down the hall to the lab, holding it as far away from my body as possible in order to avoid the perpetual flow of the fetid excrement. Seems to me that experimentalists want to study people; clinicians want to fix them. Looking around, I sensed that I would have a very small peer group.
As the chairman approached from across the room, I couldn’t help but notice he had way too much Grecian Formula pasted on his thinning hair and on his blackened, dated moustache. He quickly made a point of introducing me to the only other woman teacher. She was part-time, teaching developmental classes relating to children, the specialty often expected of our gender. I felt a glimpse of recognition because she seemed familiar, a walking ‘50s stereotype and obviously no threat to anyone with an ounce of testosterone. She was tall and thin, soft-spoken and eerily resembled the movie star Loretta Young. As we shook hands, the chairman said, “I thought you’d have something in common.” Yeah. We both had a vagina. She was very pleasant, warm. As I studied her face, we didn’t look as if we belonged to the same sex. I was not likely to be mistaken for a femme fatale; besides, I had just given birth a few weeks earlier after a difficult pregnancy and a complicated Caesarean. I was feeling fat, tired and unattractive. I wondered if Loretta Young would be the standard against which I would be judged. Such norms were still commonplace in the early 1970s.
Two of my three classes were large – well over 100 students – and held in an amphitheater setting, the seats seemingly rising to the ceiling. I would have to wait another quarter before I was able to exert my own teaching preferences – smaller seminars with upper-division and graduate students. Because serving the university at large was a stated departmental value, I eagerly jumped on the Affirmative Action Committee and took an active role. Affirmative action was a relatively new and controversial concept, which made any decision we rendered all that much more important. I was the first member of the psychology faculty on that committee.
The department chairman had decided I would be a primary academic advisor for the graduate students. PSU had yet to establish a Ph.D. track, but it had a highly competitive Master’s degree program.
I was more than happy to take it all on. I had thrived in an academic environment, enjoying both the camaraderie and the intellectual stimulation. My classes were conveniently scheduled on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so I set up office hours on those days. I was often on campus from 7:30 in the morning to 10 at night. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I was working in Beaverton, establishing my private practice. I was both pleased and surprised that this turned out to be a relatively easy task. I had started off renting a small executive suite office but within six months I was able to lease 1000 square feet upstairs with a view of the fountain and courtyard. I had even hired a secretary to handle appointments and billing. If there were meetings at PSU on my private practice days, I was there, rescheduling clients so there would be no conflict.
But there were problems, almost from the start. One of the more articulate experimentalists had visibly rankled when I talked about setting up the practice. I was surprised by the apparent resentment. I had explained it not only to be a community contribution but as another way to bring new and practical information into the classroom. It would demonstrate to the students how to function as a professional clinical psychologist, giving them a tangible goal. Several of the more powerful experimentalists saw it as treasonous. I began to think of them as the Rat Men, named after their favorite research subjects.
Worried and upset by this unexpected development, I met with a person I thought could help: Walt Klopfer. As a respected and renowned psychologist, his opinions should have carried some weight within the department. And, after all, he was doing the same thing and had been doing it for years. I walked into his office, closed the door and sat down opposite him. He dismissed my concerns, leaned back in his chair and laughed it off, saying they were just jealous. He ridiculed the Rat Men because they lacked the training and opportunities to engage in “our” kind of professional activity. He confirmed the insidious and pernicious ethos in the department and told me it was “normal” and that I should just roll with the punches – ignore them. “I’ve been fighting them off for years,” he said, laughing loudly. Walt was a vocal, passionate advocate for clinical psychology and tended to view others who weren’t clinicians as potential adversaries. To him, we were the chosen few, lucky to have “so many tools” at our disposal. I wondered if I’d need one of the sharper ones to defend myself.
By then, I had learned how to endure the dreaded monthly faculty meetings. The only woman in a room full of men, I quickly understood how hard I had to work to hold my own. There was an atmosphere of fake male bonhomie in the room but I sensed a patronizing chill and unspoken judgment coming my way. The department chairman sat at the head of the table and never failed to bring his huge black, plastic Playboy bunny coffee cup to the meeting. He invariably placed the logo directly in my line of sight, no matter where I sat. Did he know how offensive and disrespectful that might be? Some of the others rocked back in their chairs with their feet on the table. If I engaged in the discussions, I would be cut off by one of the Rat Men. Eventually, my contributions became limited to “Have you thought about….” or “Another thing we could do is…” Either my sentence would be finished for me or I would be disregarded as if I had not spoken at all. If I managed to complete a sentence, it was discounted. No one made much eye contact with me except Walt. He gave me knowing looks across the conference table and twitched his moustache as if to say, “See, I told you.” Clearly, I was not a person of value. I had the wrong plumbing.
My husband, who originally had decided to stay at home with our infant son, changed his mind and decided he wanted to get his MSW – at Portland State. Ever the good partner, I helped him get admitted. We found child care during most days, but I often brought Aaron with me to the office in Beaverton and left him to play in the library. Once in a while, I brought him with me to PSU when I would have a short day. I was juggling lots of balls in the air.
In spite of the rising threat and my own growing anger at my colleagues, I loved teaching. The students were often older than the typical 17-year-old freshmen and I enjoyed them both in and out of the classroom. In this, the tail end of the hippie era, most of us still wore mini-skirts and hand-made jewelry. So very au courant, I had a bouncy, high-maintenance Mary Tyler Moore shoulder-length flip that required nightly setting with brush rollers that hurt my head. But had I not been standing at the front of the classroom, I might have been indistinguishable from my students, which undoubtedly helped forge our connection.
I spent many hours putting together lectures but ended up delivering many of them from memory. My experience as a show biz junkie and unrepentant ham helped. I walked into the lecture hall, put down my notes and leaped up on the desk, my legs dangling off the edge. “Does anybody have any questions before we start?” Like the opening of the currently popular Carol Burnett show, which I soon realized I was mimicking, there were always questions – sometimes filling most of the hour. The subject of psychology has potentially personal ramifications, especially then. As this was well before the age of pop psychology and easy computer access to information, this was the only exposure most of them had to the subject matter – and to their own psychological selves. Sometimes teaching is not so different from therapy. I stayed away from the personal and the specific, trying to make it informative and to stay out of trouble.
And to be sure they remembered some of the relevant academic concepts, sometimes I did impersonations of famous people articulating the theories or I would sing a jingle I had written as if it were a TV commercial. In an introduction to a discussion of the seminal sexual research by Masters and Johnson, I wasn’t above getting the students’ attention singing an impertinent ditty:
If you can’t get it up
Or you can’t keep it down
You need to come - to our clinic in town!
Not exactly Rodgers and Hart, but it lightened the mood in class and got their attention. One day, in a playful mood with my abnormal psych class, I asked with deadpan gravitas who could define “lycanthropy.” There were probably 60 in the upper division class and not a single hand went up. I couldn’t help myself. I provided the rhyme, in an Eastern European Maria Ouspenskaya accent:
Even a man who is pure in heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright.
As the verse went on, I started to see smiles creeping over the faces. One person called out, “’The Wolfman,’ Lon Chaney!” They laughed at my theatrics but no one likely forgot about lycanthropy, an identifiable diagnosis, if not a common one. I even included it on the test, as a joke.
I have to admit there were times I felt a bit like an academic vaudevillian, sometimes even getting applause for some of my better bits. It amused me that somehow I had developed an extroverted persona, so in opposition with how I usually experienced myself. Admiration and applause can be powerful carrots to expand one’s behavioral repertoire. I loved it and relished seeing the lines forming outside my office during my office hours. Many just wanted to stop and talk for a bit; others sought advice or a connection. Students tended to take all my classes after sampling one of them. They satirically labeled themselves “Munter Majors.” Even so, I was a tough grader, expecting excellence. People needed to read the material and think about it, not just come to class to be entertained. My evaluations were often at the top of the department ratings, but my all-time favorite is still one from my days of teaching political science. Long before the time when printed evaluations were the norm, I handed out my own, asking what about the class had been good, bad, could be improved, etc. One nameless student irresistibly wrote under a request for other comments, “The dress you had on tonight made you look fat.” I never wore it again.
When they weren’t teaching or running experiments, the Rat Men would sink into the cushiony chairs in the office lobby, shooting the bull with each other. These were the days when people routinely smoked so entering the smallish lobby seemed as if I were walking into a malevolent, carcinogenic Hernando’s Hideaway. I never stayed long and, after a while, didn’t engage much at all. I’d smile, nod a greeting, exchange a few words and keep walking. If I stopped to chat, there would likely be a snide remark about my “outside activities.” One kept asking me, “Still out there making money, huh?” Another would accuse me with snark-infused subtext. “Saw you on TV again last night.”
My lack of interest in engaging with them made it easier to discount me, I’m sure. I struggled to relate but only intermittently. It took too much energy and always left me feeling worse than before I began. Small talk had never been my strong suit, especially while sidestepping such a huge elephant in the room. On occasion, as if to provide relief, there would be a quick, joking exchange made about something else as we passed one another in the hall. It was not an unremitting environment of hostility. Many days it just felt that way. Would it have been different had I been more charming, more engaging, more – well, feminine?
During the first few years, I was expected to teach a load of summer school classes. I had more freedom there and had more fun. One summer I put together a seminar to discuss the PBS trailblazing series, “The American Family,” in which the Louds, the Santa Barbara family of seven, implode on camera. It was not only riveting viewing and fertile clinical fodder but held implications for a society in transition. The seminar was quickly filled and had a waiting list. But with no rats and no experiments it didn’t help my credibility with the Rat Men.
My practice wasn’t the only source of contention. The notorious canon of “publish or perish” had a propitious loophole for me. Clinicians could also make that hallowed contribution by speaking to community groups. Within a short time, I was giving 20-30 speeches a year and was visible on local television as a media psychologist. This was seen as vaguely “unprofessional” by my rat colleagues. Perhaps women, like children, should be seen and not heard. I may have ranked at the top when it came to popularity in student polls but I was surely at the bottom with my departmental compatriots.
At the two-year point, my tenure came up for the first time. It would be discussed in a faculty meeting and decided in a closed session - excluding me, of course. Walt agreed to be my advocate, presenting a case that included evidence of excellent teaching performance, high student ratings, contributions to the university and to the community, as well as my service on departmental committees. And I had even published a couple of academic journal articles. I had developed several new courses that had been included in the permanent course catalog - all clinical classes, naturally, which didn’t hold much weight with the Rat Men. Still, I thought I had covered all the bases. Walt did, too.
He reported later it had been an angry, polarized exchange. While there were a few tentative allies, the major articulated complaint was that I wasn’t “there” enough. I wasn’t “hanging out” or accessible to them, which they thought to be essential to my role there. However, to my relief and more than a little surprise, I did get tenured in a close vote, thanks to Walt’s persuasive skills and some behind-the-scenes lobbying on his part.
“They don’t have to like you, you know,” Klopfer chuckled. “You just have to be good. Luckily, that’s no problem.”
The practice was thriving, in large part due to my prolific public appearances. I had lengthy waiting lists, was consulting with agencies, testifying often in court, appearing on TV – busy, busy, busy. But I always made those departmental meetings, my classes and my office hours. I still refused to “hang” with the Rat Men, thinking I was already doing enough to prove my academic worth.
That turned out to be a miscalculation. When it was time to be considered for promotion – from Assistant to Associate Professor – I was voted down. I was summoned into the department chair’s office after the meeting.
“Sit down. You’ve been denied promotion, Pam. Do you know why?”
I felt as if I had been called into the principal’s office and would be rapped on the knuckles or made to sit in the corner. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that the bunny cup wasn’t his only bit of Playboy paraphernalia. He had a calendar, too. Papers and books were strewn everywhere, the room in serious disarray. I couldn’t help thinking it was probably like the inside of his head.
“No, not really.” Of course, I knew. I was an independent woman defying their unreasonable expectations. And – gasp! - I had even been teaching a popular Psychology of Women class with a long waiting list, and speaking out on feminist issues in the community. It’s a wonder I wasn’t assassinated in the hall.
“We feel your primary commitment is not here. When we try to find you, you aren’t there.”
I had my counter-argument down by now. “If you’re referring to the private practice, I think it’s valuable role modeling for the students and good for my own growth as a teacher.”
He sat there, saying nothing, staring at me.
“But if there are other issues,” I added, “I’d like to hear them.” Long pause. He looked down at the clutter on his desk or perhaps at his calendar.
“Are you getting paid for all those community speeches?”
Ah, here it comes.
"Sometimes, sure. Some groups offer a small honorarium. But that’s not the reason I give them. It’s part of my responsibility as a teacher here to educate the public, not just the students. I thought it was required.”
“Well, some of them don’t like that.”
“Them?” Was he too timid to include himself in there? Or did he sense my rising anger?
I had heard enough. This was worse than high school or being blackballed out of a Greek house. Swallowing my rage, I politely thanked him for his feedback, left his office, picked up some papers from my desk and took the elevator downstairs to the office of the Dean of Social Sciences. We had served on the Affirmative Action committee together, so I knew I’d get immediate access.
“George, I’ve been denied promotion without cause.”
“I heard that was coming. I’m sorry.”
“It’s not reasonable. Is it possible to appeal to a source outside the department?” I could hear the angry edge as I spit out the words. “Someone impartial who would evaluate my work and contributions without personal invective, sexism or professional jealousy?”
His mouth turned up slightly on one side, the beginnings of a smile or perhaps indigestion. I knew he knew what was going on. “It hardly ever happens, but it’s possible, I suppose. Let me look into it.”
“Let me know what I need to do. I can’t let this pass.”
I filled out some forms, gave him a copy of my curriculum vitae I knew he’d want and left his office, sensing I was in a major league double bind. The Rat Men would not be pleased I had not accepted their verdict, especially if they were overruled. I was sure even my challenge to their authority would not go without adverse consequences.
Within 10 days, the Dean called me during my office hours.
“Pam, do you have a minute? Congratulations. You’re an Associate Professor.”
I was ecstatic and triumphant. I almost galloped into Walt’s office and closed his door behind me.
“You’re not doing to believe this, but I won.”
“Of course you did,” he jumped out of his chair and laughed. “They can’t deny you promotion by making up rules and pretending it’s not personal. Congratulations.”
I left his office buoyant and grinning but afraid to tell anyone else in the department. The news coming directly from this uppity woman would be harder to hear than via some official and impersonal document arriving from the Dean’s office. After this, though, I knew I’d never make full Professor. It no longer mattered. I wasn’t so sure I’d survive much longer as it was. The chronic stress was taking its inevitable toll on my body. My lifelong stomach problems worsened and intrusive headaches became familiar hurdles nearly every day.
Even with that major victory behind me, I would inevitably feel my entire body start to relax whenever I would leave the university, walk across the busy downtown Portland street, get into my car, and head west to my office in Beaverton. It felt like a jail break each time. I couldn’t help but look behind me to make sure it was safe – and for good reason.
Twice over the next year, I found my car damaged while it had been parked in the faculty parking lot. Once it was keyed; another time someone had deliberately sliced a tire with a knife. Could it have been one of those increasingly resentful Rat Men? A disgruntled student? On another occasion, a picture of me appeared in the local paper after speaking to a large public group on women’s issues. The next day, in the interoffice mail delivery service used by the faculty, I opened the envelope addressed to me to find the clipping with my crotch angrily Xed out in ink. This was getting scary, unnerving. I didn’t know who was doing all this. Were these the acts of the same person? I couldn’t comprehend the level of aggression, rage. We were just all doing our jobs, doing our best. Was it because I was a clinician? A woman? Or something more personal? I knew I couldn’t go to the chairman with this. I didn’t even tell Walt.
I had won the essential battles but I was feeling more than a little paranoid and growing tired of the fight. And the contrast between working with clients in Beaverton versus what felt like an armed camp at PSU was more obvious and agonizing each day. Each morning I had classes, I felt like I was dragging myself out of bed. Even with all the covert tension within the faculty, I still relished my teaching experiences. I enjoyed watching students grow and reach their goals and joyfully wrote many a reference letter so they could fulfill their Ph.D. dreams.
The marriage wasn’t faring well, either. After getting his degree, my husband decided to join me in the practice but we had fundamental disagreements about not only the nature of psychotherapy but how to run the business. The marriage would not have lasted more than a few years more under any circumstances, but the acute stress I was feeling at PSU likely hastened my decision to pull the plug on it. I couldn’t handle it all.
After miraculously surviving six years at PSU, I was eligible for a sabbatical, a traditional academic year away intended for writing, productive professional activity or related travel. I had thought of it as a year on parole from the asylum. I had been approached by a publisher about writing a book about law, politics and psychology but hadn’t yet committed to the project. Over drinks and dinner one night, Walt surprised me by asking that I put my sabbatical off for another year. In an odd coincidence, our sabbatical years had coincided.
“I’ve been planning to take the year off to travel and with both of us gone I don’t want to leave the department in enemy hands.” He roared at his pointed characterization but I had long known his description was spot on. I felt I owed him. He had defended me, befriended me, mentored me. He had supported my private practice by sending me referrals, facilitating my contracts with governmental agencies. His positive words about me were, to some extent, responsible for my easy start-up with the practice. More to the point, I liked him. He was funny, acerbic, quirky, probing and complicated. Reluctantly, I agreed to defer the sabbatical and we both left Portland State for the summer. Because of my faculty seniority, I no longer had to teach summer school and could immerse myself in the practice.
Something vaguely ominous began to overtake me in the middle of August, like the deep bass-driven, throbbing soundtrack to a suspenseful Hitchcock film. I had my ideal class schedule for the fall, all the classes I loved to teach. Why wasn’t I looking forward to them? When school was merely weeks away, I started having vivid, wake-up-in-a-cold-sweat nightmares. I could feel my anxiety escalating on a daily basis and I was warding off a sense of foreboding and dread nearly every morning. It was as if I were getting ready to go back to a dark and threatening world where I didn’t feel safe.
I called Walt late one August morning.
After some pleasantries, I delivered the news. “I know I agreed to defer the sabbatical but I need I to tell you. I’ve decided to resign.”
“Oh?” There was a pause. I so much wanted him to understand.
“It feels like I’m under siege there. It’s wearing me down, even when I’m not there. You know I’m not being dramatic about this.”
"No, I know you’re not.”
“I want more of what I’m getting in the practice – a sense of contribution and satisfaction.”
“You’re an excellent teacher.”
Is he trying to talk me out of this? Uh oh.
“Thanks. But you know it’s not about the teaching. You’ve done everything you could to help me. I’m very grateful for that. Really. I feel bad about letting you down.” I was struggling to keep my voice even.
He paused. I could almost hear him breathing on the other end of the phone. It seemed like several minutes before he continued. I could feel my own breath getting shallower.
Finally, he spoke. “I know what you’re saying. I sometimes wonder why I stay. Maybe it’s the thrill of the battle.” Again, the loud Klopfer guffaw.
“Yeah, I’ll bet. It’s about my mental health. I can’t live with this hanging over my head. I don’t want to cause you any problems.” I knew what I needed to do for self-preservation but I didn’t want to burn bridges with this man who had become so important in my life.
“Come on, Pam. We’ll always be friends. Who else could go up against the Rat Men and win every time? You’re an inspiration.” Another loud laugh.
Leave it to Walt to make this OK for both of us. As always, I appreciated the generosity of spirit and thanked him. I felt a palpable sense of relief and started to plan my escape.
The summer session had ended so no one was lurking around the faculty area. I was nervous about being caught, wanting to avoid the possibility of confrontations or explanations. I slipped into the department office early one morning carrying empty cardboard boxes and dropped off my resignation letter in the chairman’s mailbox. My breathing was labored; I was trembling. I quickly filled the boxes with the stuff from my office, took an almost furtive last look at the battlefield, placed my office keys in the box and hurried out the door for the last time. Once safely out of the building, I felt free. My head was suddenly swimming with promise and possibility.
No one from the psychology department ever contacted me. Was I surprised? Not really. But as I had hoped, Walt and I remained friends, right up to his sudden death five years later at the age of 62. Only death could end his mysterious and dysfunctional connection with Portland State. It’s easy and obvious to assume the stress he must have experienced over all his years there might have contributed to the premature end to his life. And yet, it seems an inescapable conclusion.
I sat there in the back of the room at his memorial service, surrounded by colleagues I had not seen in years. Why were they there, I wondered. They were not only my adversaries but his. I resented them all over again even while reminding myself the rancor was ancient history and that my life was really good now.
The room was overflowing with other, friendlier faces – his students, clients, friends, family. We had in common a love and attachment to this man, mentor to so many. I flashed back to our first meeting in that big hotel in Anaheim and all the joyful times we had sharing meals and confidences. His friendship and professional guidance had long ago mitigated any resentment I might have felt for being so deliberately placed in the line of fire without adequate warning. He had mentored me in the best ways possible but he also had the great wisdom to know when to let me go. Of all the people who had helped me along the way, Walt had been one of the most endearing and effective, creating a synergy between us that kept me going and often thriving. No one else had so seamlessly merged mentoring with a genuine, long-lasting friendship. My last silent, tearful goodbye at the memorial permanently fused my love and gratitude for him, while reminding me once again that letting go is never easy.
Pam Munter has authored several books and a couple dozen articles, mostly about dead movie stars. She’s a retired clinical psychologist and former performer. Pam is working on a deconstructed memoir and short stories based on old Hollywood. Her essays have appeared in Manifest-Station, The Coachella Review, Lady Literary Review, NoiseMedium, The Creative Truth, Adelaide and Angels Flight—Literary West. Her play, “Life Without,” opened the staged reading season at Script2Stage2Screen in Rancho Mirage, California and was a semi-finalist in the Ebell of Los Angeles Playwriting Competition. Pam will finish her MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts this June at the University of California at Riverside/Palm Desert. Her website can be found at www.pammunter.com.