The temperature soared to 40 degrees yesterday afternoon. While that may not sound warm to many people, anyone that has spent time in the North Country can tell you that 40 degrees in February is shirtsleeve weather. When the clouds clear out, and the sky sparkles crystalline blue, and that February sunshine pours down on you, it is so easy to let go of everything, and just live in the moment.
The winter of 89′ and 90′ had been a cold one. I can remember shivering in the drafty farmhouse apartment as the wind blowing through the walls was strong enough to part your hair. One night it was so cold I dumped my dirty laundry on top of the bed to try to add more insulation between me and the arctic air. And when that February sunshine finally hit the North Country that year, I was ready to explode with joy.
The last semester of my senior year of college had begun with an omen that should have convinced me right then to take six months off and finish my degree in the fall. Over the Christmas holiday I contracted the chicken pox while visiting my brother on Long Island. I arrived at school a week late from the break, still weak and feverish, and covered with red spots that made me resemble an acne riddled teenager.
The lead up to the holidays had been promising enough. After a three year drought I was involved in the first real relationship of my college career. No small feat at an engineering school where the men outnumbered the woman six to one. Her name was Kate and she was a friend of my roommate’s fiancée Kristine. Kate was a sophomore with a single room in an on campus dorm that promised convenient trysting. Like Kristine, she was a member of the drama club, and carried with her all the stereotypes associated with it. I knew the drama queens. I’d been to their parties. The ones where someone opens a wine cooler, and the mere smell of alcohol is enough to get them to take turns locking themselves in the bathroom over one perceived crisis or another. Then when everyone has had their chance to play the victim the party ends with everyone linked arm in arm singing along to Bette Midler’s “The Rose”. “Some say love it is a flower…” If I was lucky I’d be inebriated enough by that point it would be more amusing than embarrassing.
But the fact was I was lonely and desperate, and she was warm and inviting. At the start of my senior year I had moved into an off campus apartment in an old farmhouse six miles outside of Potsdam with my friend Scott. Living upstairs of an herbal soap shop run by a nice hippie couple had two main effects on my life. My clothes, and indeed my very skin, had taken on the smell of patchouli that permeated everything in that house. I had also become something of a hermit, so having a real flesh and blood girlfriend was a welcome addition to my sweet smelling monastic life. Scott’s fiancée Kristine had set us up on a date to the drama club fall banquet. As October ended and winter began in the North Country we had started dating.
It wasn’t love no matter which script you read, hers or mine, but it was entertaining. Our dates that fall were like a made for TV movie. She was self conscious and deliberate with every movement, as if the film was rolling. Tilt head, flip hair, forced laugh, pan out and camera fade to black. It was great theater until the night I returned from Thanksgiving break and stopped by her room. When I entered and tried to kiss her, she turned her head and offered me her cheek. She was quite an actress. That one gesture told me everything that the following month of negotiations was yet to reveal. The network had canceled us after a six week run. There would be no Emmy for Best Male Actor in a drama series.
So when I returned to school that January I had made up my mind. College was just 4 months away from ending forever and I wasn’t going to waste my time starting any more relationships that I wouldn’t be around to finish. I turned my attentions to finding a job, and enjoying what was sure to be the best semester of my 4 years at Clarkson.
Despite my plans, (and as anyone who has read my stories would suspect) my weakness for cold beer, and pretty girls would once more be my downfall. In a way it doesn’t really surprise me that as soon as I swore off women, I would stumble across one that I couldn’t resist.
The first two weeks were uneventful as I tried to catch up with the course work I had missed, and secure interviews with on campus recruiters. Then one Friday evening in early February I returned from playing basketball at the gym and noticed a blue “K” car parked next to Scott’s in the parking lot outside our apartment. It was odd to see a strange car parked outside at night. The soap shop downstairs had closed hours before, and it was unusual to have visitors to our place unless there was a party planned. Walking into the apartment I was surprised to find a petite, brown eyed brunette sitting at the kitchen table with Scott and Kristine.
Kristine introduced us. She was a friend of hers that was transferring to Clarkson after spending the fall semester at SUNY Geneseo. So I opened a beer, and pulled up a chair. She was quiet at first, but as Kristine began to work me into the conversation, she started to open up. She had been Kristine’s roommate the previous year, when they were both members of the Clarkson School, a program run by the University where high school students combined their senior year of high school with their freshman year of college. Before too long Kristine had left the room, and taken Scott with her, and I began to realize that Kristine was up to her tricks again. I didn’t mind. We were getting along quite well. She fired question after question at me, unafraid to look me straight in the eye, as if I were in a job interview. In a way I guess I was.
When she left to go home an hour later we were still alone. She lingered in the doorway and we searched for words.
“So, do I get the job” I asked her, and she smiled, her eyes looking up and to the side, as if the answer were written on the wall behind me.
“We’ll see how you score on the written test.” she answered.
Oh, if only I had just laughed it off, and let her drive away and out of my life I could have saved myself a lot of trouble, and heartache. I was 4 months shy of graduation. What would be the point of getting tangled up in a relationship? But I never did the sensible thing. No, despite my better judgment I started something that I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish.
The story of the next 4 months of my life, is embarrassing, and convoluted, and not one that I am ready to share with the world. Oh, I will eventually. But right now the sun is shining, it is 40 degrees outside, and somewhere I know there is more trouble to get into. Live and learn, live and learn
(OK, I lied. The story continues here Part 2)