Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Risky Business

This post, my one nod to Valentine's Day, is dedicated to Enbrethiliel, to whom I promised I would write up an account of how Darwin and I met and matched.)

I am happy to report to the organizers of campus student socials that freshmen mixers work. Darwin and I met at a dance three weeks into our freshman year. I wore a bowler hat that I'd borrowed from someone on my floor, and a flannel shirt (it was 1997, after all). The swing dance revival was in full flower, and Darwin and I attempted the form with great vigor if less polish. This in itself was notable -- I was, and remained for years, agonizingly self-conscious about any public display of learned skill, and yet that evening I threw myself into the twirls and twists with abandon. Then we hung around until 3 am, talking of matters of great import to the freshman. The bowler hat (which belonged to Molly Johnson; thanks, Molly!) must have been a lucky charm.

That was Friday. On Monday, I sat pondering both Darwin and homework. I had been assigned, for Acting class, to Take a Risk and write about it in a journal. This made less than no sense to me -- for one thing, the professor had been less than clear about what a Risk was, and so I had a hazy sense that I was supposed to set the cafeteria on fire or moon my roommate. While kicking around these uninspiring options, I pushed around the papers on my desk, saw the index card on which Darwin had written his phone extension and box number, and thought, "Maybe I should call Darwin and see if he wants to go for a walk." Almost instantly my heart started racing and I broke out into a cold sweat, which I considered positive indicators that I'd found my Risk. For several moments I planned and scripted and jotted in my Acting journal and made sure that my voice wasn't too breathy, and then I seized the phone and dialed. He, of course, wasn't in. I left a message in studied tones and jotted in my journal that the stupid Risk had been pretty anticlimactic. Upon the instant the phone rang -- Darwin calling back to say that he'd meet me in five minutes. Five hours later, I returned to my room, upgraded my Risk assessment, and collapsed in bed.

My professor scribed an approving check on my journal entry and noted in the margins, "Take more risks."

The next week consisted of fitting in classes between all the time we spent together, talking and ever talking. The amount of free time in the schedule of the college freshmen four weeks into the semester is astounding, and Darwin consumed all of mine. We exulted over mutual interests, aligned our mental libraries, developed in-jokes, and began to sync up culturally and personally. Among other topics, we bonded over unlikely romantic prospects: he had been paying mild attention to an inoffensive girl who was revealing decidedly unintellectual tendencies, and I had left at home a vestigial boyfriend of the same bent. How did one relate to these mundanes? One day in the cafeteria, the girl headed toward our table, and as Darwin waved her over, I thought, "He doesn't smile at me like that." And then I knew I was in trouble, and in love.

Before going off to college, Darwin had read Brideshead Revisited, which had (perhaps unrealistically) colored his impression of the charm of the undergraduate education. In homage to Sebastian's teddy bear, he took up the affectation of going about campus in the company of a stuffed ferret named Ignatius. You must remember that we were freshmen and by definition foolish, but it is a fact that Ignatius was wildly popular with the ladies and spent the night in the rooms of several females. One Tuesday evening (a week and a half after the freshman mixer) after we'd shut down both the dorms (closing time: 1 am) and the student center (2 am), we stood outside my building, putting off saying good night. Darwin had Ignatius in his backpack, as usual, and as I was lingering halfway through the door, he offered, "Ignatius wants to know if he can kiss you goodnight."

I packed a lifetime of analysis into three seconds: the vestigial boyfriend, my acting professor expounding upon the Taking of Risks, complex variations and analysis of the scene before me and whether or not I could save face if I made the wrong gamble. Then, declining Ignatius's kind offer on the pretext of not caring for furry lips, I counter-offered, "But you can kiss me good night, if you want to."

Fourteen years later, he's still kissing me good night.

The old reprobate, fourteen years later. Looks like he's done pretty well for himself.

20 comments:

Calah said...

That is such a great story. I also really love hearing about other people's various freshman idiocies. It makes me wince less to remember my own.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Happy Valentine's Day, Mrs. Darwin!

Edward said...

The Blackadder Says:

n homage to Sebastian's teddy bear, he took up the affectation of going about campus in the company of a stuffed ferret named Ignatius.

I believe this is what they call burying the lede.

Darwin said...

Blackadder, there's a beer here with your name on it if you ever feel like coming out and telling us about the sorts of things you considered witty and urbane when you were eighteen. :)

mrsdarwin said...

And I'm sure that Darwin would issue the same invitation, although the above was me, getting caught once more by the fact that we share a computer.

The Sojourner said...

That is fantastic.

(A few months after we started dating, I got my boyfriend a stuffed tiger. Guess why. We call him Thomas the Tiger, or T^2 for short.)

Mother Hen said...

A high school friend of mine, once he was college age, used to take a Grover puppet into bars and have Grover ask girls to dance. My friend never danced with them, just Grover. It sure attracted multitudes of girls.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Thank you, Mrs. Darwin! This was worth the wait. =)

Does the professor who gave you that assignment know what he unwittingly helped cause?

mrsdarwin said...

E, he did, and we both knew him pretty well by the time we graduated, as Darwin and I did more than our share of time in the theater trenches. I don't know whether he knows we have five children now, but he wouldn't be surprised.

Emily J. said...

That is a pretty cute ferret. But kissing him probably isn't all that exciting.

Love a happy ending! Happy Valentine's Day!

Skywalker said...

Lovely story! I never heard you tell it while we were at school, but you were ever so much more mature sophomores by the time I knew you. Ignatius has held up very well over the years, despite being in a house full of kids. That's one amazing ferret.

BettyDuffy said...

I lOVED this story, Mrs. D!

Encore!

lissla lissar said...

That's a wonderful story!

Just yesterday I was wincing about how Mr. Lissar and I 'adopted' a whole slew of stuffed animals during our early romance. And named them. Our eldest son shares a name with a stuffed raccoon. I hadn't even read Brideshead, then. We have no excuse.

One of them is a pink stuffed hippotamus. Of course she's named Augusta. She's in the baby's crib, now.

mrsdarwin said...

It's dredging up memories like this that fill me with a vast relief that whatever happens, I will never have to be eighteen again -- the only time in my life, I swear, when I succumbed to the romantic implications of a man with a stuffed animal.

(A man with a stuffed animal playing with a baby is another matter.)

mrsdarwin said...

Skywalker, give me a hint?

Mrs. Zummo said...

Paul and I also met at a dance. Jane Austen would approve. Quite a proper way to encourage affection. He won me over with his enthusiasm more than his skill.

Skywalker said...

Well, skywalker was the name of my first car, which seemed appropriate at the time because it was a silver Saturn. It fits with the theme of things we did when we were 17, I no longer name my cars after movie characters--or anything else for that matter. However, I'm guessing you figured all that out since you found me on facebook last night. Which one of you guessed first?

mrsdarwin said...

K! I swear it was totally coincidence, because A posted about the cherry blossom reunion. The internet is a weird and wonderful place.

You probably know more than anyone about dumb stuff Darwin and I did in college, but I beg you not to divulge so as to preserve our reputations as wise people. :)

Skywalker said...

That is a heck of a coincidence! You and Darwin have a great blog and I've really enjoyed reading your posts.

About college--I have forgotten all the stupid things everyone else did, and I'm working on forgetting the stupid things I did myself.

Sarah Reinhard said...

Love this!