Biomythography - Note 31
The Telltale Heart, Part I
Our dorm room walls had been painted a shade of off-white, which was a color that captured every scuff mark. Our furniture was made of pinewood. It felt heavy, boxy, and fragile. But it was modular. You could fit it all together to make different room settings. That aspect may have been limited by the ugly materials but it was still smart. Students got creative with the furniture. Some brought in art for their walls. Some of their rooms looked good.
My room didn't have art, not even a poster. It would not have won design awards. I cannibalized the cabinets, shelves, and nearly all other surfaces to make desks. I liked having lots of writing and drawing space. I grabbed extra bed pieces and turned them into more desks. I had a cassette player for music, which I sat on the back of one of my desks and ran more or less continuously.
That was the setting in which I met women. Some of them, anyway.
"You're not taking advantage of me. I'm offering." One of my friends, a beautiful girl from down the hall, walked in to offer me a sample from her stash of drugs. She often made gifts to me. I felt awful about them.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
One of the ways I felt bad was that I didn't like drugs. I had gone sober for a year and I was getting back to small amounts of alcohol. I didn't drink coffee because it was too strong. After a while in college, I felt willing to smoke pot if everyone else was doing it but only enough to make other people relax around me.
"It's a trade," she insisted.
For another, I didn't like her drugs in particular. One of her favorites was cocaine. Another was cocaine and heroin together. She had switched to it on the advice of her dealer.
"There's a difference in price." My hands spread out wide to my sides, a pleading gesture. She knew I was right. What I brought to parties was nitrous oxide. It cost pennies.
"I can afford it," she said.
But the most important reason I felt awful and confused was my huge crush on her. I'd met her the previous semester in my quantum mechanics class. Now, at age twenty, she made me wobbly in all sorts of bad ways. Somehow, my timing with her was always off. When I offered to take her out on a date, she backed away. When I gave up, she approached. She physically chased me at times, usually when she was stoned or drunk.
Sometimes the turnaround in her attitude was so quick that I would lean in for a kiss and she'd dodge. I'd apologize and leave. She would show up at my room a minute later bringing drugs to share with me. All in all, it was confusing.
"Hah! This is so dumb, it's great!" she shouted when we traded hits of nitrous oxide. Laughing gas, no real surprise, made her giggle. She handed me her deflated, green balloon. I wrapped her fingers around the stem of the next balloon, an orange one I'd filled for her.
"It's silly," I admitted. After all, that was the point.
"Hah! Woo!" She took a deep hit, one right after another. "I'm seeing colors this time. Is that supposed to happen?"
"Are you dizzy?"
"I don't know. I'm sitting down." She started to rise. Her hand slapped the back of the chair as she took half a step and tripped. She steadied herself. "Yes. Wow, I'm tripping."
"Colored lights means slow down," I decided.
"Aw, no fun." She pretended to pout. She sat and folded her arms. Then she burst into laughter.
A few weeks into the future, she would push her way into my room while drunk and naked. It could have been a breakthrough moment for us but actually, it wasn't. She had probably made the decision based on the theory that I wouldn't be able to resist her. Under normal circumstances, it's true that I found her irresistible. But that time she got herself so drunk that anything besides emergency medical procedures seemed out of the question. I did, in fact, resist. A few minutes into her visit, after I wrapped her in one of my blankets and she was trying to explain herself, she started throwing up. So that's how it would have gone anyway if I had welcomed her with more enthusiasm.
On this particular night, she plied me with cocaine. Since I was hoping it would lead to something more interesting with her, like kissing, hand holding, or almost anything, I agreed.
"This is the best stuff," she asserted. "It's pure."
"Sure." I'd heard that from her before.
"This time I got it before he cut it."
"Okay." That probably wasn't true but I wanted to trust her.
Unfortunately, after she used up half of her cocaine she seemed to get nervous. She announced that she wanted to go for a walk with me. That sounded worthwhile, I thought. She took me by the hand. The body contact felt reassuring, almost promising. She pulled me down the hall and out the door.
Her spontaneity gave me hope. At night under the stars, we walked hand in hand for a few minutes. Then her hand got sweaty. She pushed me away. Usually, I was the one who got sweaty. It was weird to realize it happened to girls, too.
We walked through nearly half the campus, which is eight hundred acres in total. That meant we hiked a few miles through fields and woods, across roads, along the bank of a tiny stream, and in the grassy alleyways between buildings. We stumbled together in the dark. She held my hand again, for a while, until she seemed to feel awkward about it. She talked for most of the time, hours of talk, sometimes about quantum physics but also about her family, which made her nervous and she tried to explain why. I listened, answered her questions, and occasionally ventured opinions in response to her ideas on physics. She was taking an astronomy course, too, and after she mentioned it, she laid down on the grass near the campus apple orchard. She pulled me down with her but she froze up when I tried to kiss her. After I backed away, she relaxed. She took my hand, pulled me closer, and pointed out stars for twenty minutes, giving them the names she'd learned and asking me for physics opinions.
After a few hours, we said goodnight, which seemed a shame but gave me some hope, too. She squeezed me in a brief, awkward hug outside her room.
Since I wasn't tired, I did school work for a while. That is, I tried. Mostly I thought about the walk with her, which had made for a friendly but frustrating evening. I felt like we might be close to romance. Maybe. If I could be patient with her swaying between "I hate you and I hate myself" and "you're great and I like you," I would get to find out.
But it was a crush. I knew myself enough to know there was nothing I could do about it. I was helpless for a few months or until she started kicking puppies for fun. Although I didn't trust myself entirely in that case to not pretend to like kicking puppies.