In the beginning he was the boy across the table on the other side of the room, a narrow room almost filled by the long conference table, a room with no windows, just little ones at the top of the walls giving ground-level views of the grass outside.
I was here because my father wanted me to be. “Why don’t you take a summer course at Yale,” he had said in a way that I knew I had to, and I had to because he would be proud to say his girl was at Yale this summer.
I made the deal as good as it could be by picking a writing class that met at night once a week. And by getting to drive my mother’s green VW station wagon there, racing down 1-95, sometimes writing in my head, other times just tasting the power of accelerating and switching lanes.
I left behind the white clapboard house on the hill that had been there since I was three, the house we had moved away from and returned to repeatedly, so that even though many years had been lived in other places this house was the real house, one of us.
I left behind my mother in the kitchen, plain and worn, a woman who had given up on being happy, a woman who was angry so often I was careful around her. I left her behind in the kitchen making another supper of hot dogs and boiled potatoes and carrots. I left her with my two little sisters and my father who kept one foot in the house but most of himself out of it.
I raced out of there in my mother’s green VW station wagon with the beige plastic interior – green and beige being acceptable family colors. And I took my place with people I didn’t know at the long table with the dark sexy official writer sitting at the head of the table, brooding, a man you could tell still had a life, had not given it all away to play teacher, a man who was taking a break from something that included cigarettes, racetracks, women, booze and more, adult things I hadn’t gotten to yet.
And in this room where I never missed a week I notice one boy noticing me. I notice his eyes meeting mine every time the teacher or someone else makes us laugh. We meet in thee eruptions of laughter. His eyes are always there, waiting for mine, like a magnet.
I notice him because his hair is dark, wiry, curly, a mess, most of it in a pony tail. And I notice his shirt, a cotton smock, a shirt I don’t know how to get though I would like one. It will not be in Macy’s, or the Sheep Shack downtown. Maybe in the Elephant’s Trunk that sells pipes and peasant blouses, but I have never seen such a perfect smock like this boy wears.
His name he tells me when we get to that part is Geoffrey with a G. “My mother named me after Geoffrey Chaucer,” he says, and the shirts I learn are from Guatemala, brought to him by a stepmother, and I see them on the shelf in his shambly apartment. There is not just one smock, there are piles of them, each a different vivid color, all folded, pressed like fresh from a store, so many he hasn’t even worn them all yet.
I do not have my own apartment. I do not have anything in profusion.
He has this apartment with an electric typewriter and its own tiny kitchen. He has houseplants, one big trailing one by the dumpy armchair at the window, and a line of smaller ones on a shelf over the dumpy sofa that is there to throw things on when you come in the door, not to sit on. The row of plants above the couch is lit by a long tube of purple light.
He has pot too. Plenty of that. A television, a phone, a waterbed, a stereo with a long row of records in red plastic milk crates. And a bong that I pretend I have used before.
I must pretend from start to finish with this boy. Somehow he has noticed me. It is a fragile thread that connects us, one I fear will snap any minute. How can this boy with a stepmother, a boy who grew up in Manhattan, a boy who has lost count of his possessions, a boy who lives in his own apartment – how can he stay?
When he invites me to come over for dinner I only think I must have fooled him well, but that it will not last.
And when his letter comes to the mailbox at the bottom of the hill, the letter I read in my attic room, two pages, typed, single-spaced, on crinkly paper – when this letter says “I love you,” it is a sweet dart, it is everything, but I must keep working, pretending I am a member of his world, a rich girl, a casual girl. At least, though not divorced, my parents don’t get along. At least, the house on the hill, viewed from the back, looks sumptuous.