If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov'd by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.

Friday, August 26, 2011

He called me!

1981. The year of Crazy Faye, our new roommate. Eventually, they kicked her out, but only after she staged her own stalker episodes and blew off the "social" rules of the school in a few other ways. Since there were no locks on our room doors (only on the building's main doors, and only the floor leaders and dorm supervisors had keys), my roommate and I got a little nervous about messages scrawled in lipstick on the mirror and notes and weird packages arriving with a knock at the door and no one there. Although I'm not really sure why, my roommate lost more sleep about it than I did, but still. It was weird.

And it got into my letters to my new friend, Impossibly Smart David.

* * * * *

He had my address. I'd made sure of that. But I did not have his, and besides - I was the girl. He could write or not write, but I was not going to write first. The girl can't write first!

(Would he actually do it? I practically forced my address on him, there at the last minute. I mean, it seemed like he wanted it. It seemed like he just wasn't asking, but he was really happy when I said something. That's what it seemed like. Maybe he would just forget about it. He was so much smarter and so much better educated than I was. Maybe he would get busy in grad school and just forget about letters to the odd girl he'd met over the summer.)

I got his first letter a couple of weeks into the school year. It was only four or five pages long. He thought I was smarter than I thought I was, but - well - I'm nothing if not up for a challenge, and so I tried to keep up. Besides, tyger's fearful symmetry or no, it was apparent that he was in a bit of a crisis. His conversion during the spring before we met (a re-conversion, really - his family had been Methodist) had shaken him deeply. He needed a friend. Little lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee? Yes. I do. I know who made me. That, I can talk about. Our letters grew longer, and more frequent.

He wrote about his functional premises and working paradigms seeming to him like books, but books apparently and very inconveniently stacked on top of each other. His inner library was once assembled and arranged, but now every time he went looking for something, the thing he needed was invariably on the bottom of the stack. This inner rearrangement of his world had pitched him into painstaking periods of deliberate inner work, and to do it, he wrote pages and pages of letters to me. Every time I opened another of those fat, plain envelopes - ordinary letter envelopes with my name and the school's address written in blue ink in his grad-school note-taking scrawl - I felt the heady rush of the subtle compliment he paid me. Every time I read one of those ten- or twelve-pagers, I felt a bit like a kid, running to keep up - just glad to be invited along.

And just like a kid running alongside, I tended to prattle on in my answers. I mean, I answered his points. I think I did. I tried to answer him. I wanted to reason and wrestle those enormous ideas with him, and to make some sort of intelligent reply.

But I also described my life in Pensacola, land of sand and pines, daily room check and monthly Artist Series -- in which we all dressed up in formal wear (checked and approved for modesty) , and then walked, sometimes ankle deep in flows of the rainwater that never soaked into the ground properly, or meandered in less splashy weather, across the campus and down the street to the high school gym where we sat on metal folding chairs facing the stage, for the artist of the month. (Theatrical monologues and sopranos and pianists, yes. Bare shoulders, microphones, or dancing, no.) Some of us had dates for these gatherings. All of us tried to ignore the chaperones stationed along the paths and sidewalks. The chaperones did not like to be distracted by conversation. They need to be watching for things happening behind the enormous golf umbrellas - the only umbrellas large enough to cover a dating couple without that couple coming into contact with each other.

Attendance at Artist Series is mandatory, and the dorms are locked behind you, but at performance events, nobody has an assigned seat. At dinner and at daily chapel, in every class and every night for lights out, there is someone checking to make sure you are where you have been assigned to be, but no one checks your name off a list if you're all dressed up at a dating event. Everyone also gets assigned to a dorm room and one, two or even three roommates. If you have a good enough reputation, you may be allowed to request a roommate. Submit your request before the deadline, please.

My Elf had a good reputation. She also kept track of deadlines. They put me in her room in the middle of my first semester, and we stuck to each other like glue until she graduated at the end of my third year. She was small and fierce and cute and sporty, and she was elected and reelected to student government. Elf was the oldest daughter of a Baptist preacher and she grew up in the mountains of West Virginia, in the land of altar calls and revival meetings. One of the school deans was an old family friend. Elf almost never got any demerits - not even for room check.

I, on the other hand, was tall and thin and bookish. She wore plaid, and I wore soft ruffles and lace collars. She subscribed to the Wall Street Journal and Sports Illustrated (and even though she was a girl, they still confiscated the annual swimsuit issue when it came). I auditioned for the smaller, more advanced chamber choir and got into it during my first semester. She wouldn't have recognized the alto line of music if it fell on her. And things did fall on her. She used to stand at the open closet, trying to reach things off the upper shelves, and when they were about to come down on her head, she would call me. "Tall person! Tall person!" --- By the time they gave us Crazy Faye for a roommate, Elf and I had a system. Crazy Faye came to our room. She was the one who needed to learn where things go. Elf wasn't keen on things being where they don't go.

Faye didn't start out crazy, as far as we could tell. At first, she was only a bundle of 17-year-old energy who made us laugh a lot. She had "graduated" earlier from her A.C.E. high school than she would have done from a conventional school. Never heard of A.C.E.? Well, back in the day, the Accelerated Christian Education way of doing Christian school was really starting to take off. It was (and is) a workbook method. Do the lessons, take the quiz, get a good enough score, move to the next book.

Such a method might be (almost) educationally sufficient in the hands of some people, but the responsible adult where Crazy Faye had gone to school was apparently not such a person. That girl had graduated a year early (she told us she got really fast with the workbooks), with honors, and had come to college intending to catch herself an upperclassman and marry him. At seventeen. To marry, at seventeen. I suppose her beauty pageant titles had given her the idea that she was qualified to carry out this plan, but her lack of ability to calm down and get her course work done made it a little difficult to fit in as a student. As the semester wore on, the crazy started up. Poor kid. She should never have been there in the first place.

Crazy Faye was the reason David called me at school for the first time.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

More! I am hooked. Crazy Faye? Barefooted in jeans, you? A rebel. I love this.
Keep going, I'm reading.