Posted in 2013 Report Cards, Talking about feelings | Print | 18 Comments »
The unknown is a seductive idea. When we were young, we looked off into the distance, into the future, with wonder, enraptured by the possibilities that the devil you don’t know can entail. Your life is boring, your routines tiresome, your friends wholly known. This is the appeal of a series of works of fiction that have become popular in the recent past, where a meek, unhappy man is lifted from his banal existence and into an exciting new future–Fight Club, American Beauty, Breaking Bad. Hope is escapism, and as long as that hope is deferred, we can continue to wonder if life might be better if we made a leap of faith and threw off the shackles of the known.
And so we once dreamed on Justin De Fratus.
It reminds me of a young woman I knew once.
When I was 17 years old, I spent the weekend at the University of Evansville. Back then, Evansville used to set aside a weekend to invite all of the high school seniors they’d accepted to come out to campus, go to various events and stay in a dorm. It was the first time I’d traveled any substantive amount completely on my own–no parents, no friends, no adult supervision. And it was a great time–I saw the campus, hung out with my fellow prospective students and met with professors and admissions staff–culminating in the basketball game that Saturday night.
We took buses from campus to the arena, and on the way back, I found myself in a conversation with the people around me. Now, I hate talking to strangers–I can’t break the ice, for starters, and the thing I want more than anything else out of most of my human interactions is just to be left alone. But out of politeness, I kept up my part of this conversation, never expecting to interact with any of those folks, nice as they were, once that bus stopped and we all disembarked. One of the three people I was talking to was a girl, who was listening to what I had to say (I can’t tell you what I was talking about) with rapt attention. I don’t know why–I was kind of an awkward kid with a bad haircut and a Sonny Gray beard, and I may literally have been wearing a jacket that declared me to be the drum major of a regional champion marching band. And this girl was, well, remarkable. She had long, blond hair and eyes like an anime character. I found out later that she was a cheerleader at her high school, which made sense, because I found her physically intimidating enough that it never occurred to me that she was laughing at my jokes because she was interested, rather than polite. (Though growing up in New Jersey, I’d had even less experience with politeness than I’d had with pretty girls being interested in me.)
Once the bus stopped, everyone on board filed off and I was prepared to go on my way, until she sidled up next to me on the sidewalk and asked “So what are *we* doing now?”
It hadn’t ever occurred to me that *we* would be an issue. But I went along to the pool hall in the basement of the student union, where we played billiards and laughed and had just an incredible time, then when the student union closed at 1 a.m., walked around campus in the February cold for hours and hours. It was the mythical summer romance, but instead of taking shape over weeks in the sun and the surf, it was for eight hours in the freezing rain of the Indiana winter.
When I dropped her off at the dorm she was staying at, just before dawn, I was delirious from lack of sleep and two hours from having to leave for the airport. We’d exchanged phone numbers, and we resolved to meet up again if we both wound up going to Evansville, and we corresponded periodically in the days to come. Four weeks later, I told her I’d decided to go to USC, where the academic, financial, cultural and meteorological conditions were more to my liking, and I never saw or talked to her again.
There were times when I’d think back to that night, wondering what would’ve happened between us over the long run if that had been in the cards. Not often, but more than once. And I regret nothing, because while the unknown is a powerful attractant, sometimes your hopes are dashed. And other times, something worse happens. You hope and you wish and your dreams are granted, and it turns out to be mundane. Unspectacular. Average. I’d just as soon not have known.