Friday, December 6, 2013

The stranger on campus

(from journal for feminism class)

Nov. 27, 1981

I called “C” today in the vain hope of catching her still in Aberdeen.
This sounds like a western town, but it’s here on the East Coast where she lives – or was living, and is now gone.
It’s been two years since she tried to kill herself – too many pills to erase the memory of too many lovers.
The suicide didn’t work.
Back then, I didn’t understand why this stranger wanted to end her life, especially someone Roland told me was so full of life and complete.
“She tried to die in my arms,” he said.
But Roland being Roland, he found this romantic, something he needed to get down on paper.
I wrote something as well, something dedicated to a person I hadn’t yet actually met.
I was appalled by the idea that anyone would want to end their life just from the lack of love.
I talked Roland into stuffing the poem into her suitcase at the hospital, figuring she would find it and presume Roland wrote it.
Or that someone somewhere actually wanted someone as bereft of love to hold on.
Human beings are a terribly lonely bunch for the most part, isolated in our own shells of flesh, and trying to express in words and actions just what might be going on inside.
“C’s” attempt at suicide was a message I thought I understood back then, an attempt to say that things are so confusing that the only way to top the motion inside is to stop everything at once.
So she put on the brakes.
She found the poem the next day and called Roland to find out who wrote it.
“I knew he didn’t write it,” she said later. “The style wasn’t romantic.”
Roland, holding out under my threat to kill him, kept silent.
He was also protecting her. She had tried to kill herself over one man; he wasn’t going to let another man into her life so soon.
I didn’t know what she looked like. So I could have passed her a dozen times on campus and never known.
All I had were the back-stabbing statements of her so called friends who called her “foolish” and said “she got what she deserved.”
“The fucking girl ought to know better than to mess with professors,” one of her male friends said.
He seemed jealous to me; as if he didn’t know how to compete.
Another male friend said the professor told her off after finding out she had slept around.
But there was something missing here and as I sat on the coach in the dorm room steaming over this bullshit, Maria – sweet Maria – saw my eyes burning with rage.
These fools missed the point of her message, passing judgment when they should have offered comfort.
No one heard the voice that screamed for help. No one saw human being rent with wounds she could not heal for herself.
Not even Roland.
And that surprised me most of all, since everybody considered him “sensitive.”
Instead, he was in his room writing about how having a woman trying to die in his arms had made him feel.
So I wrote my poem, had it delivered, thought about it, and disappeared, deliberately avoiding the dorm after that, avoiding all those I knew knew “C.”
Fate, of course, had its own plans for me.
So one day walking along the concrete path between one building and the next, I saw Roland standing near the gym. He was laughing. He was among a group of people.
He called my name and ran up to me, grabbing my sleeve to pull me along to join the group.
“Where have you been hiding, boy?” he asked me.
I shook my head.
“I haven’t been hiding – really,” I liked and look around at the faces, most of whom I had seen at one time or another at the dorm, some of them were the same soured faces that had badmouthed “C” when she was still in the hospital. Then I saw a face I didn’t recognize.
Yet I did, from the look of pain in her eyes, hollowness which scared the shit out of me.
“I got to go,” I said quickly and turned, but just as quickly, Roland grabbed my arm.
“You should meet,” Ronald said.
“I don’t think so,” I said and tugged my arm out of his grip.
“Don’t be that way,” C said and smiled softly, and I sighed.
“So you know?” I asked.
She nodded, her loose blonde hair shifting with each nod. “Roland told me,” she said.
I glared at Roland.
“Oh, don’t blame him,” C said. “I told him if he didn’t tell me I would sneak into his room some night and burn all his poetry.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I mumbled with a weak shrug.
But it did matter.
I felt assaulted by the pain in her eyes, the terrible sense of isolation I wanted to, but could not fill.
She squeezed my hand and laughed, but this was a hollow laugh, too, the Tin Man’s chest knocked upon and sounding empty.
This was C, attractive and vulnerable, and if I wanted it, easily mine.
“I really do have to go,” I said, but she didn’t let go of my hand.
“Why don’t you come with me and help me by a gift for someone,” she said, pulling me in the direction of the student center.
I heard the whispers of the others behind us, those vultures from a week earlier, who now saw me as another one of C’s conquests.
This was a secret language men use amongst ourselves.
I wanted to stop right there. I wanted to tell them to fuck off.
But C continued to tug at me unaware or unconcerned about the others, and her mood enveloped me and I let myself be led.
Later, we sat on the back steps of the student center, cool air brushing passed us.
She looked at me and shoot her head, then asked, “What are you after?”
Her tone was as chilled as the wind and her gaze hard.
The words hurt, but I understood them.
She understood how the world worked, and how everybody had a motive for everything they did, cruel or kind, and I was no exception.
“Sex and money,” I finally said.
She stared at me for so long with such intensity, I wondered if I should brace myself for a slap. Instead, she laughed.
“Touché,” she said, then hugged me. “I’m sorry I’m so suspicious.”
But she had a right, and I told her so.
“I’m no saint,” I said, but thought more bitterly about her friends and how they gloated over her demise. She had every right to suspect me – a stranger.
“But what DO you want?” she asked.
“To write,” I said, looking away, down at the pit where the cars parked, each windshield glittering in the bright bitter sunlight. “To be loved. What does anybody want?”
Again, she was silent. She squeezed my arm again. There weren’t a lot of words left in either of us just then.
I didn’t know when she got up to go if I would ever see her again or what would happen to her, and if she would survive.
I just watched her walk away.

No comments:

Post a Comment