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.
Worth a Thousand Words: The Big Trail
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