Chapter II - Assignment
I woke up with a startle to the alarm. I felt completely drugged, my head aching and my mouth dry. I must have slept with my mouth open. I hated it to be the morning. I hated the mere thought of going to school. I feared it. I had a deep sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I wanted to roll over and go back to sleep and forget the world and everything that had happened. I also felt a deep sense of low esteem. I told myself “Buddy, just get this out of your head.” Reluctantly I got out of bed and took my shower.
I came down for breakfast but my usual voracious morning appetite had left me. My mother had prepared an omelette for me with bacon on the side. I drank my orange juice and tried to eat my breakfast but just was not hungry. My surprised mother said “What’s up, Buddy, you, not hungry!” “
No,” I replied. ‘Think I’ll just have a cup of coffee.”
“Coffee? You never have coffee in the morning, “ she laughs.
Annoyed, I said, a bit too sharply “I want coffee. Can’t I have something different if I want to? Can’t people change?”
My mother responded, “Hmm, Buddy, don’t snap at me. I’ll get you a cup. And what’s wrong with you this morning. Got up on the wrong side of the bed?”
“No, mom, maybe just a bit concerned about my calculus exam coming up,” I lied.
“You? Concerned about an exam?” she rhetorically asked. But with a nice smile she kissed me on the forehead saying “That’ll be the day, love.”
As badly as I felt, her small kiss, that familial affective gesture, made me feel better. I quickly drank the coffee, got up and gave her a big hug and said, “Ok, I’m outta here. See you tonight.”
It was a very bright but cold day about -15°C. but it seemed darker to me. While walking, last night’s thoughts in my run home haunted me. What if Drew tells someone?. What if I lose his friendship? Do I appear different? The sick feeling I had when I woke up returned. I tried to block these questions with the thought that I just had to face reality. What’s done is done. “Get a grip”, I told myself. I was walking much more slowly perhaps out of fear of my arrival at school and my inevitable encounter with Drew. Just a block away, I saw Drew before he saw me. I was immediately stricken with fear.
Drew saw me and shouted “Hey, bud!” Coming up to me with a big a warm smile he gave me a friendly slap on my back. I was very tense. “Going to be a great day. Today is the pairing for the joint project on Hamlet. Studied it in Grade 11 at St. Joe’s so it should be a breeze.”
Normally I am a very verbal guy but I could not think of much to say other than some comments about our studying of the play this year, my seeing the Mel Gibson movie and my wanting to get the full version by someone before we had our exam. It struck me though that he did not bring up last night. I think I wanted, no, I did not want him to. I wanted to mentioned something and I didn’t want to. In any event, would airing it make any difference? Make it any easier?
We got to our first class with Ms Hilson. Drew sat a couple of seats just left of me and when she began to speak, he looked at me and rolled his eyes. I suppressed a laugh but that small gesture was just what I needed. I began suddenly to think ahead and felt much better. Our next class was English where the Hamlet assignment would be handed out. Mr. Keating, was our English teacher. Despite the name he was completely unlike the teacher in Dead Poet’s Society. But he was an interesting person. He was about 35 and handsome. The girls were all in love with him. He had been a successful lawyer and had made some money, or so it is rumoured, helping new info-tech companies trading his legal services for stock. Two of the companies were wildly successful and so was he. He left the practice of law, my Dad who knows him told me, either because he always wanted to teach English or because of burn-out. Really none of this matter because he was an excellent teacher. He was always prepared, innovative and articulate. Unlike a lot of teachers, he showed no preference for any particular students.
“OK,” he announced. “Everyone, quiet. We have twenty and I have put all your names in one box. We will go down the row and the first ten students will draw a name out of a box. Obviously if you draw your own name you will discard it and draw another. After ten draws the partnerships will be completed. In another box are ten essay topics. The ten students who did not draw will each draw the essay topic from this other box. The teams will research and complete the essay in two weeks. It has to be completed on time or the team will get a failing grade.”
With the typical after-announcement groans, he went down the row. It was funny because out of sheer coincidence the first 4 students drew their own names. By the time the choice came to Drew, my name had not been chosen. Yesterday I would have hoped he would draw my name. Today I feared it. Or did I? Writing this nine years later, I still do not know. Now if this story were not true, surely my name would have been drawn. But art does imitate life and as happenstance would have it, Drew picked my name. He smiled broadly at me. The others were amused because they knew we were best friends. I was ambivalent. I knew that we worked well together and would hand in an excellent assignment but I was uncomfortable about being with him alone again. After two more draws, all students had been paired.
The draw for the essay topic began. When it came to me, I picked “The Significance of Friendship in Hamlet.” When I read it, I felt myself unwillingly blush.
“Don’t stare at it. Speak up, bud. What’s our poison?” Drew said laughing.
In a low voice, I replied: “The Significance of Friendship in Hamlet.”
Carolyn, one of our best students, exclaimed “That’s terrific and so right!” All that was happening I would have greeted in an entirely different way two days ago. But on this ‘the after-day” too much had changed.
I hope you understand that what I am writing this some nine years after these things happened. Perhaps the dialogue which I decided to put in quotations marks is not what was said. I hope I respected the gist of it. By now it would qualify as hearsay since I am repeating what others said - what I heard said. Perhaps it is also coloured by the fact that I am not now what I was then. It is more of an reflection than a history in the proper sense albeit a vivid reflection. The problem with reflection is that it sometimes leaves out important events which may subconsciously be significant. All reflection is selective.
Drew came over to me after class and laughing said “I am so happy I picked your name. What luck. We are the best team, you know. Hey, let’s grab a pizza across the street at lunch break and talk about it.” Really there was no one I would rather do it with. Ambivalence was slipping away. I could look forward to the project with Drew.
We walked over to Luigi’s and chatted amiably. I attempted to affect non-chalance but within a few minutes did not need too. We fell into our pattern of cheerful banter. We ordered our pizzas, Drew ughing at my choice of anchovies.
“What the hell is this thing about friendship and Hamlet. I think I know the play but I have never given any thought about friendship. I guess it’s about Horatio and Hamlet. Certainly not Rosen whathisname..”
“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” I said. “Although they are a good contrast to Horatio and Hamlet. Maybe that’s what Keating is getting at.”
“Well also seems like Horatio is the narrator of the story because at the end Hamlet tells him to forget about their friendship to tell his story. That is also an angle we could work on. You know there might be some good stuff in this assignment. Keating, for sure, is no slouch.”
I have no idea what compelled me to then say, “Drew, about last night....”
He interrupted me somewhat surprised, “Hope you’re not brooding on that! Is that what made you seem so odd this morning. Hey don’t get hung about it. It was great. If it will make you feel better, we can talk about it later when there is no one else around. I hate eavesdroppers and gossips.” With that assurance, a weight came off my shoulders. Our friendship had not changed.
“Give me a call, bud, after dinner so we can set up our project working timetable. Like to get this in early, ahead of the others.”
“Ok” I said.
I arrived home after school and shouted out as I always did “Hey, house, I’m home.”
The mother was in the kitchen as said, “You sound in a better mood.”
“That I am, Mom. I am going upstairs because I have a project that I have to start.”
“Dinner, same time.”
Which meant 6:30 and which gave me some time to go over some passages in Hamlet. Although I had a calculus exam coming up, I was anxious to start on the project. Sitting at my cluttered desk, I picked up the play turning to the last pages and thumbing through them until I came to one of my favourite lines which to this day always move me:“
Good night sweet prince: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”
For whatever reason I re-called that PBS special on “Who Wrote Shakespeare,” and the comments that well over half of sonnets were written to a beautiful young man who was I think about 17 or 18 at the time. The Earl of something.
The phone rang. I immediately picked it up. It was Drew. “What time you chowing down? 6:30? OK. Do you want to come over tonight after dinner and work a bit.”
Chapter III - The Score - in process