“Tell us where you’re from, your major and who your favorite sculptors are.” I always hated the first day of class, because you had to make the same, awkward introduction to a room full of strangers. I knew where I was from, my major, and my favorite whoevers, but something about everyone staring at me while I spoke made my armpits begin to sweat and turned my cheeks bright red. I would choke on my words, or mumble.
This time was different. This time, we had to turn around and tell the person behind us that crap.
She had tan skin and long, dirty blonde ringletted hair down to the middle of her back. She was large, 5’9” and easily 230 pounds. She wore a white t-shirt with a couple of paint stains, a long tie-dyed skirt with crushed pleating, hairy legs and Birkenstock sandals. And she drank an iced coffee. She was the first person I ever met with an iced coffee.
The first thing she said to me when I turned around, before we even introduced ourselves was why I thought the guy in the next row over was wearing a leash. “It must be that he wants to be walked, right? I mean why else would he wear one?” I had noticed him almost immediately upon entering the classroom. He had bleached yellow hair and a mohawk, face piercings and he wore leather pants and a leather vest with metal embellishments that I’m sure included spikes over a crisp white t-shirt. And, to finish the look, a dog collar choker with a leash attached to it.
Another uniform, I thought, as my eyes passed over him. College is full of uniforms. Lots of people trying to find themselves, and the way one dresses is just another form of expression. This guy obviously was saying, walk me. It was her delivery that was dead on.
We had a good talk after that. We talked about where we were from and our favorite sculptors. Me, from NJ, she from Panama. I liked Calder, she liked Giacometti. Then it was time to turn around and hear about our assignments.
Eventually she dropped out of the class, but we began to spend time together. She showed me the little coffee shop where she got her iced coffees. We took a road trip out to a Cherokee burial ground for one of my other classes, and we spent hours talking about art. Sometimes in life you meet someone, and you think, she gets it. That person gets it. It is especially rare to find fellow free thinkers in college, which I always found interesting.
There were things that she did that annoyed me, too. Like, how she thought all hippies were like herself – Daddy covering all their expenses, not really in need of anything. But in my experience, there were two types of hippies – the ones in uniform like her, and the ones that just use the whole we can share what we got of yours garbage because they don’t have anything to share with others. She had a real knack for finding people in the latter group. She’d say, oh he’s just an old traveler from so and so. It would take me minutes to size up their true intentions.
It was over the summer when our friendship solidified. She came home with me for a visit and annoyed the shit out of everyone she met. All of the things I appreciated about her, out of the context of art school, were irritating. I had suspected this, but I didn’t care. They weren’t there with me. They didn’t know how hard it was to find a true connection in a sea of teenage strangers.
I met some of her family and friends, too. In Queens, her uncle took us to see Les Miserables. In Pennsylvania and Maryland, I met some childhood friends. I learned her father was a diplomat, and that she had disgraced the family by getting pregnant and been sent away to school.
Fall term started, and in October she took a trip to New Orleans to visit her parents who were there on business. She called me from the hotel room excitedly telling me she’d met this really cool guy – a traveler – who agreed to hitch hike back with her to Savannah. My stomach churned during the days until she arrived. I thought she’d never come back. I would never see her again. She’d be killed all for the sake of an adventure.
When she did get back in one piece, with another piece attached to her, I was so happy I made a big dinner and invited them over. I also invited one of her “traveler” friends, who I’m sure was really on the run from the law in New York State. She looked different. She glowed. At one point in the evening she turned to me and said, “Just because I have a man now, I want you to know that I’m not going to be one of those friends who just stops hanging out with her friends.” Being that she’d been home for less than 6 hours, that had never even crossed my mind, but it was obviously something she had considered. She was making plans in her mind to be with this man for a while. I should have recognized that, but I was young, too.
That’s when we became a threesome. Mostly, I just went over to her house. She rented a big old Victorian on the family end of town with 3 other guys who went to school with us. It was relatively quiet, but you needed a car to get there. And we’d sit in the “breakfast nook” and listen to music, drink, get high, cook and eat. Sometimes all of those things in a single night.
Sometimes we’d have company but most of the time it was the three of us.
He had pale skin, dark hair and blue eyes. His eyes were almost feminine and what caught my eye first about him. He was skinny with black, shoulder length, straw-like hair. To call it straggly would make it sound to the reader that his hair was somehow acceptable in any sort of public outing. It wasn’t. I had no sexual interest in him whatsoever. I’ve never allowed myself to see friends or relatives partners with any type of sexual scrutiny. I’m very good at it. So for the next few months I was merely making a new friend.
This is Part 1 of a 3-part short story. Read Part 2 here and Part 3 here.