In the beginning he was an exciting boy with dark hair pulled back in a straggly pony tail tied with an elastic I’d only seen girls wear. He sat across from me around a long rectangular table in a basement corner room with small windows at the tops of two of the walls with about 20 other college students and the writing professor at the head of the table.
It was summertime and it was evening and I was here because my father had suggested to me in a way that I felt I had no choice that I sign up for a summer course at the prestigious college he had always wanted me to attend that I had failed to get into despite the afternoon on a weekend when my father had driven me to the campus, me dressed up in my favorite long red corduroy skirt and peasant blouse embroidered with multi-colored flowers – the one I’d actually bought in Hungary not Macy’s – to introduce me to an old Belgian man, an economist my father had admired for years, a professor at the college.
We visited the old man somewhere – his home, his office – and my father’s introduction of me was more of a “See, isn’t my daughter pretty?” I felt very pretty but that I had nothing to say to this old European intellectual. I felt stupid in his presence, as if there was nothing to me. I knew when I impressed people and when I did not. Walking back to my father’s beige VW bug a student with a camera asks if he can take my picture, and I pose, and my father is pleased that I have attracted this attention.
I sign up for the writing class to assuage my father and because it means that every Wednesday I can borrow my mother’s green VW station wagon and drive it two hours to the campus on I-95, spend two hours in the class, then drive back. I love to drive, to have a car of my own, to speed down the highway, to weave nimbly through traffic.
And then there is this boy, right away, in the first class, sitting across from me, in the crowd, and when the teacher makes us laugh, I notice the boy always catching my eye.
After the class, in the pale light of the summer evening, I walk alone to the parking lot and my car, and I see that boy again, walking a block or two away, unaware of me. He too is alone and I like what he is wearing – a cotton smock, something very different from what most people wear.
I find it hard to fine the clothes I want to wear. I don’t know where people find them. Once I saw a hippie walking by the side of the road wearing a sort of woolen poncho, but not the typical kind and I went to the Elephant’s Trunk, the store in a neighboring town most likely to have something similar, but they did not, and I couldn’t describe it, just that it was different.
I could embroider my jeans and sew patches on them, but I didn’t know where to find a cotton smock like the one that boy had.
The next week the boy and I talked after class. We sat outside on the porch of the building and he said he had written a novel. he’d written a novel. How did he do that? I hadn’t written a novel. I hadn’t done anything even close.
During the week the boy wrote me a letter. It came in a thick envelope to my house where my parents and two little sisters lived, the white clapboard house that sat up on a hill overlooking the road where the mailbox was – the mailbox I checked every day, hoping for another letter from Mark, the intriguing tall, skinny boy who wrote plays and was three years older than me.
The boy’s letter was typed and single-spaced on crinkly paper. It was like the piece of a manuscript, dense. I love you, it said.
We met up before class in a library, a modern library, built half underground. Me wearing the yellow smock I had sewed a few months before and a yellow ribbon in my long dark hair, and this boy who had written a novel, had a pony tail, wore smocks that were just what I wanted, and who said he loved me.
He loves me. This means something about me has turned him on. I don’t what it is, don’t know how to keep this tiny flame alive. Because I want him to keep loving me. He is not like clumsy Bill in high school or Mark who is so hard to draw out.
The boy invites me for dinner, to his place. He will cook. “What do you like to eat?” he asks.
I don’t know what I like to eat. I don’t know a good answer to this. My new friend Ruth has shown me many things I didn’t know before like Maxfield Parrish and Joni Mitchell’s album Blue, and how you can get patterned sheets and make them into curtains, and Marimeko and modern dance and the Metropolitan Museum, discount clothing stores and bagels. She mentioned eating Eggplant Parmegian once, and so I answer, “Eggplant Parmegian,” thinking this is something someone else would say, someone whom this boy might like, someone who has friends and knows her way around.