Saturday. Seeking desperately an escape from my morphing body and from those wax-rosy, blue-eyed faces in the cramped hallway that only pretended not to notice, I felt I had no choice but to jump. It was a high first floor window that, in such a state, seemed accommodating to my anxiety and unclassifiable, shifting shape.
Why Bobby Dalton was out there on the dark lawn below, alone, I don’t know. Didn’t give it a thought. Bobby, rich, reserved Bobby of the cool boots and hard-won smile, sporting that thatch of coyote colored hair. Crouched on the sill, a twisted damsel in a tower, I looked down on him, a moonlit hawk smoking a cigarette. He spoke to me, asked me calmly what I was doing. I told him I felt a desperate urge to jump, I had to escape. Willingly he coached me, and caught me, both of us, into the wet grass. I remember wondering why he cared what I was doing. I was a plain, shapeless, brown-paper-bag Midwestern girl, not from any family that mattered. He, from old Rhode Island money, was all easy angles, bred over generations of fortune, to perfection.
Later, I was watching my face in the mirror. It was hopelessly beige and dumbstruck. But the eyes were so, so intriguing—dark—and I bent closer to see what, if anything, was inside them.
We had been watching the television in the common room, Bobby and I. He laughed with me, I’m sure it was with me. Why so many commercials? All those nuns eating hamburgers, I’d told him, I just didn’t understand. Suddenly bored, I’d left then for the washroom and there I had discovered my face. Falling into those impossibly dark, chocolate-covered-raisin eyes, when he came in; he found me chuckling into my reflection, as if the joke had been on me—no one there. Prying me from my own gaze was a task. He took my hand. We would go for a walk.
Out there on the planet Earth, I succumbed to gravity. I had to lie down on the sidewalk. My body was sinking right into the ground, being absorbed, dissolving the concrete barrier, becoming roots, while my mind separated, a soft-cell lunar module taking off into the stars. Bobby stood by quietly, his hair turning to silver in the black-and-white night, listening to me describe what was happening to my body, sharing my awe. When I tried to get up and couldn’t, he bent down, uprooting me, coaxing my legs to move. I felt I was denying the earth’s hunger for me, but I trusted Bobby and did what he said. Besides, I was amazed, and not a little frightened of who I was at that moment—unpredictably compelled to disappear—and disdainful of the flaccid nobody I had been before the mushrooms.
When I’d eaten the dirty things, and one extra for good measure, I’d thought tripping would be like decorating a cardboard box. I’d make myself interesting, exciting, fun. I wanted to be attractive to those who routinely passed me over for blonde, coltish girls in polo shirts, with WASPy names like Bitsy and Weezie. The plan worked. Here I had the guy they all wanted. We strolled together through soft, crumbly, charcoal black shadows toward the spiraling lights outside the dorms, me reaching out to touch the dark, laughing, babbling about hamburgers and jello wrestlers and life on Mars, him with a hand on my shoulder. Fate had brought us together, would transform me, make me fun, and slender and as spritely as a fawn, would turn my olive skin to vanilla. This fate would rescue me from terminal unwantability. I had not just a loyal and intimate confidante now, but a handsome suitor, a gentleman, a protector. Bobby Dalton—the Bobby Dalton, was coming to my bedroom. Maybe, with alteration it was true, I could be beautiful…because Bobby would never be with someone who wasn’t.
On we went. The route seemed to wind and hesitate, become endless. Time wasn’t a concept, only being. My words dissolved into sounds, like music, but with grass and leaves and breaking bottles and echoes involved. A dissonant concerto involving all senses, composed by some kind of a puppet master messiah that I would surely be meeting soon to discuss my place in the universe. And that universe was me and Bobby and God. Existence bled into all things. All things had heart. I commiserated with inanimate objects, because I knew how painful it was to be overlooked. At some point, with the sky blushing pre-dawn, I noticed I had begun to relax, a rhythm had descended into my thoughts.
There were empty swaths now in my head; no nuns or roots, gods or spirals occupied these spaces, just me. In silent chords I had begun, haltingly, to come down from the stars. The spigot of amazing things to comment on was shutting off. I could hear my footsteps again, and my breath. I was soon embarrassed about my straight brown hair, cut, to the best of my mother’s ability, when I was home for Christmas; of my off brand clothes, and my non-urgent, unathletic body.
Wider swaths of clarity. Bobby’s friendliness took on weight. I recognized I was the weight. I remember his face looked oily, tired. The ugliness of the dormitory lights on our skin and clothes made it clear that it was a brutal hour. I was disheveled. I was unsure of his intentions, but, deflated, I could now guess. I’d been saved in a banal way, there were to be no jeweled crowns or magical kisses. I was reduced. Sitting me at the edge of my bed, he left me with a kiss on the forehead that felt like my father’s.
Sunday. Dinner. At the cafeteria, I saw him. He saw me. He was with a sleek bunch of his east coast pals, all in flannel shirts, laughing and teasing each other, one-upping their way through twenty-four hour hangovers. As usual, he was the more reserved one, the most tolerant, I believed. I saw my group too, the odd straws, the awkward locals, the unattractive. We were both back in our places. I was the blob from Chicago, he the prince of Rhode Island. As I picked through the sad salad bar, searching for carrots that hadn’t dried to white, I felt a hand on my shoulder. Bobby. He said he was still laughing about the nuns.