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

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Twenty Years

September 5th, 1997, these twenty years ago, I put on a tie and bowler hat and went to the Courtyard Rock, a freshman mixer dance. With me were a few friends, similarly attired. We'd gone to some other, earlier dance wearing the same thing, being a bit odd as a youthful affectation and because none of us had anyone in particular to impress. This second dance was three weeks into the semester -- an eternity -- and was the end of the getting-to-know-you shindigs Steubenville threw on its own dime. After that, you had to meet people on your own.

As I say, this was the second dance we went to in our hats and ties, so we must have been recognizable. At least, someone had noticed us before, and as it happened, I was introduced to him by a mutual friend. "You probably already know each other," she said. "You're both in Honors." We didn't know each other, not being in the same section, but we set about remedying that posthaste. We talked class. We talked hats. We talked I don't know whatall -- nothing of great import, really, except that everything he said was interesting. He was funny and easy to talk to. That's a freshman way to describe a freshman attraction, the sort of thing that a lot of students said about each other in those early days. But I say it because it's true. He was funny in the exactly the way I found most amusing, and easy to talk to in the way in exactly the way that appealed to me most. If there was an immediate click, it was the click of two pieces fitting together perfectly.

We danced together, and since swing was the style of the late 90s, we swung. I've never been a crack dancer, and he was less so than I was, so we spent more time laughing than getting the steps right. After a while the party shut down, but we weren't done talking. So we went to the student center -- the old JC, for those who were around before it was gentrified -- and sat in ugly corporate seating and talked, and talked, and talked. And then a friend I'd known before I came up to college passed through, and said hi, and asked about my boyfriend back at home.

Proving that the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing, my annoyance made me realize that I'd actually had no intention of mentioning that I had a boyfriend at home. We'd gotten together hastily and perhaps ill-advisedly before I left -- we'd shared some common life experiences and needed someone to talk to about them, proving that unhappy families are all unhappy in the same ways. That was not a reference he would have gotten. He was not a great reader, nor of an markedly intellectual bent, but a nice and gentle guy who deserved better than a girl who got together with him and then went off to college. I'd had plenty of time to meditate on this fact three weeks into the semester.

As it was, this revelation didn't change anything, because there was still plenty of conversation to be had. At 2 am we were kicked out of the student center and headed back toward the dorms. "The time has come," he said, "to talk of many things..."

"Of shoes and ships and sealing wax..."

"Of cabbages and kings..."

"And why the sea is boiling hot," we finished together, "and whether pigs have wings!"

I didn't know any guys who'd read Louis Carroll, and none of them would have admitted it if they had.

At his dorm we parted, but he had in his pocket a card with his dorm phone and mailbox number on it, and he gave it to me, and you can read the rest of the story here.

Steubenville was a small place, and Honors was a small set. We'd have met eventually, and the same sort of thing would have happened, but we happened to meet on September 5, twenty years ago.

Almost immediately after we got together, a week and a half later, I put things on hold. "I need to break up with my boyfriend," I said, "but I can't do it until Saturday." This won't make much sense to the youth of today, but those who had reached their majority by 1997 will remember the days of phone cards and reduced rates on the weekend. I couldn't afford to call long distance until the lower weekend rates. Saturday evening, I was sadder but wiser after discovering that breaking off a relationship even for many good and rational reasons is a wrenching thing to do.

"I asked him, " I said in a muffled voice, "if he could like reading and theater and all the things that I loved. And he said, 'I would if you wanted me to.'"

And he winced in sympathy, because he knew that that wasn't enough. I didn't want someone to love these things because I loved them. I wanted someone to love them because they were good things themselves, so that our shared loves could be a participation in something bigger than ourselves.

And for twenty years now our shared loves have grown and multiplied many times over, until we needed a huge house to contain all the little bodies that keep turning up. Tonight we went out and talked and talked again, only this time we had a sleeping, snorting baby with us, and we came home together to a passel of children talking as fast as their parents. In a few years our oldest is going off to college. Perhaps I'd better buy her a bowler hat.


Rachel said...

Ahhhh, good memories! Happy sigh.

Finicky Cat said...


Melanie Bettinelli said...

I really love this.