by Mark Elberfeld
In college we both took the Historical Approach to Calculus class the same semester you were an EMT in training. Once you were paged during an exam and got to go save a life. You were secretly my hero. You were also my roommate. I thought it was divine intervention that the housing department put us together.
I wanted to be you from when we first met at our all-boy’s middle school. With your wavy blond hair and piercing blue eyes, you were cool with your 45s while everyone else played CD’s. On Labor Day weekend you took us out in your parents’ boat and we talked about The Martian Chronicles, our summer reading, before getting caught in a storm. Your parents were irate that we went out without their permission. One time in college I borrowed your car without asking and you were just as mad.
We reconnect at reunions and can’t believe how time flies. Your wife and children are gorgeous and your physical therapy practice is booming.
I’d love to be back in that boat talking books with you.
We met on the first day of Humanities our freshman year. Full of ourselves, we got special permission to enroll in Anthropology 322: Race, Ethnicity, Nation. We debunked Thanksgiving in that class for its hegemonic oppression of the Other, and ever since we invoked those terms as often as we could in casual conversation. We thought we were so smart. You and I also bonded over our aggravation about the insurmountable reading list.
In your college dorm room you had a photo of your mother next to a cross. You also had a small painting your mother had done in the style of Fragonard—a girl in yellow reading a book. You taught me to love art and to consider it the finest crystallization of human experience. You and I were stars in that Modern Art class. I still have that photo of you on the roof of the DIA gallery in Chelsea.
I drove you to your Peace Corps interview in Atlanta and joked that if you got in, I should get credit for having been your chauffer. You went off to Honduras with Peace Corps, then to Madrid for film school. And then to Mexico to roots on your father’s side. A wanderer and seeker.
Eventually you married a man in finance at a Japanese Garden in Florida. The placeholders on the table were origami swans. Mine still sits on a bookshelf. You had me read an e.e. cummings poem and I got choked up. It said that my heart carries around your heart.
You’re the happiest I’ve known you, now with your young son. You miss the Latin flair of Miami but are thriving in New York.
I wonder what you’ll become next.
I barely knew you, but knew of you. You loved the outdoors and led rock-climbing excursions in Tennessee. We had dozens of mutual friends. This spring you died doing what you enjoyed most—skiing in Colorado. The newspaper article reduced your whole life to three words: killed by avalanche.
We became friends in a Classicism-Romanticism class. Lots of Blake. You went on to get a Ph.D. in Modern British Literature. Your dissertation was about humor in Virginia Woolf. At least someone can find humor in those sad eyes.
We had dinner the other night at the new farm-to-table restaurant while I was visiting for the weekend. I impressed you with the fact that I had read Hermione Lee’s biography of Woolf and suggested you include it in your syllabus. Maybe I annoyed you for appearing too smart or maybe you could tell that I thought your husband looked cute in his button-up and chinos. Perhaps I laughed a little too hard when he told me his job title: “Delinquent Tax Attorney, no hyphen.”
My eyes lit up a little too much when your husband told me he had spent a semester in St. Petersburg, Russia studying the language but only remembers how to say, “Fuck your soul.” When the goat-cheese rolls arrived and weren’t to my liking, I felt like saying that phrase to the waiter. Instead, I told your husband the only thing I know about Russia: On the Moscow Metro a recorded male voice summons the workers to work, and a female voice calls the workers home. Then the three of us talked about women’s equality under Communism and finished off the cheese platter.
You didn’t drink because you were seven months pregnant. You mentioned how tired you were getting of people offering unsolicited opinions about your body shape. “She actually said I would balloon up even more after the baby’s born,” you said. We got back to Woolf and I told you how much I love the paintings of her by her sister Vanessa Bell. In my favorite, the eyes aren’t filled in. You said you found those vacant eyes sad.
You were two years behind me, but in many ways you’ve surpassed me. You’re married with two children. I long to be married and have kids, too.
After junior year, immediately after my testicle surgery, I attended summer school. You house-sat for your theater professor. We watched Orson Welles in Falstaff while I kept a poultice on my crotch. We made hummus and left it on the counter overnight. The place reeked of garlic. We took a day trip to your prep school. We ducked in out of the rain to see the theater where you played Titania.
That same day you told me how much you loved your boyfriend. You said, “I always want to be with him.” I knew that he would propose later that summer on the Pont Neuf. I smiled and changed the topic to my obsession with German cars.
You changed the topic back to him, and I just listened to you.
Mark Elberfeld, president of the nonprofit Gabriel Center for Servant-Leadership, lives in Atlanta. Holding degrees from Sewanee, Bread Loaf, and Georgia State, he served as fiction editor of the student-run journal New South. He published a review of Brushes With by Kristina Marie Darling in NANO Fiction.
Photo Credit: Diya Chaudhuri