Hmm...where to begin. If you have read my entry entitled "meeting myself" you will recognize some similarities between this story and that one. The difference between the two is that one was a short story based on real events; this one was going to be a fictional novel based only very loosely on real events. I finished about a third or so of the novel when I quit, deciding that I couldn't get it published anyway, so what was the point? Then I discovered nifty, and I decided to share it with everyone here. I will serialize the first few chapters, and if there is any interest I will continue to submit it. If I get enough responses that say, `you suck, dude, give it up,' that will be oddly satisfying and I can quit pretending to be a writer. Be advised, if you are here looking for good wanking material, this is NOT it. My entry in the `beginnings' section, entitled "aaron breaks me in" is in the pornographic genre; this one assuredly is not.j.r. johnson email@example.com
Almost everyone has a story to tell; this is mine. The events that I describe, the turbulent emotions which buffeted me to the point of madness, seem in some ways to have happened to someone else (as in a real sense they did, by the very nature of my transformation); yet my memory of them is so vivid that it seems like I am recounting events from a few weeks ago and not nearly ten years. The memories of those days reside with me so clearly because of the powerful feelings awakened in me, and the intensity of the experience that I went through. The colors and shades of that time remain with me as indelibly imprinted on my soul as those of a northern autumn...
I graduated at the top of my high school class and had done well enough on my SATs to earn a National Merit scholarship to State. My high school was a small, private and rather elite preparatory school. Out of 120 graduates, nearly a quarter matriculated to Ivy League schools and another quarter went on to attend the best universities around the country: Stanford, MIT, Hillsdale, and the like. I chose State because I wanted the anonymity of a big school and because I figured I had busted my ass academically for four years and could coast a little at a less demanding, but still respected, public university. I made a great choice, for a number of different reasons, although my girlfriend had decided on one of the Ivy League schools. Being young, in love, and blessed with the willful rejection of reality engendered so sublimely by that tandem, we were both willing to give the long distance relationship a chance.
One of my best friends had graduated the year before me and had matriculated at State. I had visited him at least a half dozen times while I was still in my senior year at Liver Hall (my prep school) and I liked his dorm and the friends he had made there. We had decided not to room together, for a couple of different reasons: for one, he got along great with his then-roommate, and for another, we knew that good friends don't always make good roommates. For those reasons I ended up rooming "blind," that is, not knowing my roommate in advance. That fall of my first year I had to be on campus a few days before my friend, to attend freshman orientation, but I was so familiar with the living arrangements and the campus layout that I was completely at ease with making the transition to semi-independence.
I arrived early in the afternoon of a beautiful fall day. The air was still warm, but held the threat of the colder weather to come. I was happy and excited to start my new adventure. I parked my car and walked the few blocks to my new home, enjoying the sun on my face. A sign-in desk had been thrown up in the lobby of the dorm. There were a handful of people doing desultory preparatory welcome-work, posting signs and mostly drinking coffee. One individual manned the sign-in desk, if reading and ignoring those around him could be considered manning.
"I'm here for the freshman orientation," I announced to the young man reading behind the desk.
Without looking up from his book he said, "Find your name on one of the packets. It's got your room key in it, plus some stuff to read. The first meeting will be in the common area down this hallway. But it's not until three this afternoon. You're way early." He looked up when he said the last.
His good looks surprised me. Not that I was expecting him to look one way or another, but it was a vain habit of mine to compare myself to men I saw on the street. I was never jealous of anyone I thought was better looking than I, just curious about who looked good and why. I don't know when the habit started, and I never gave it any thought as to whether or not it was normal, or if other people did the same thing. I ultimately decided it was probably something that most attractive (and at least leaning-towards-egotistical) people did as a kind of atavistic sizing-up of the competition. The self-confidence I had regarding my own looks was due to the fact that I didn't often see a man whom I thought most women would probably find more attractive than I was. More often than not, I held my own in my mental comparisons.
This time it was different. My first thought was, `Jesus Christ, this guy looks like a movie star.' He had wavy black hair that was bordering on curly, the kind of hair you could let air-dry and it would look like it had been professionally styled. (That made me jealous. My straight brown hair required ten minutes of blow-drying, an application of gel and a coat of hairspray just to get to unkempt.) He had a lean face with high, naturally accented cheekbones and an almost-sharp nose that fit his face impossibly well. His eyes were arresting: ice-blue, and like the deepest of ice, shot throughout with black lines that in glaciers indicate profound depth and stir a frisson of fear-curiosity by the sheer mystery of those depths.
He had said something else. Appalled, I felt myself blushing. "I'm sorry?" I stammered.
He was looking at me like I was an idiot. "I said the R.A. sign-in is on the north side. This is the south."
R.A.? What the hell was he talking about? "I'm not an R.A., I'm here for the orientation," I said.
"Oh," he said, now looking a little confused himself. "It's just that you're so early and you don't look like...how old are you?"
I smiled at that. Now we were on familiar ground. "Nineteen. I get that a lot. It must be the premature gray," I said, pointing to my grayless hair.
He studied me a moment, intently, without smiling. "No," he said, finally, "it's your eyes."
His manner was both off-putting and somehow flattering. Was this guy coming on to me? Or was he just one of those people who say whatever they think and don't begin to think of how it comes across? Either way, I was getting a weird vibe and decided it was time to move on.
"I thought orientation was supposed to start at eleven," I said.
"Uh-uh, three. You and about a dozen others must not have got the letter with the corrected schedule. But it gives you plenty of time to unpack. A few people got here even earlier than you."
I didn't need time to unpack. I lived just over an hour away and had only brought one suitcase since I hadn't spoken to my roommate-to-be. I figured I would talk to him, find out what he was bringing, and then go home for anything our room needed. Why have two stereos, two `fridges, etc.? Better to make a couple of trips than to schlep a bunch of redundant stuff back and forth.
I decided to go get something to eat and enjoy the sunshine. "I guess I'll just go grab a bite and come back for the orientation. See ya." I turned to leave.
"Wait," he said. "Take your key now. There'll be a line out the door later."
"Oh yeah, thanks," I said, deciding he was just a nice guy, after all. I scanned the packages for my name and found it at the bottom of one of the rows. I scooped it up and started to nod my thanks again when I saw him staring at me.
"You're Richard Jefferson?" he asked in a tone of slight disbelief.
"Uh, yeah," I said, looking at him as if he was slightly mad. "Why?"
"What do you go by?" he asked, ignoring my question.
"What do you mean, `what do you go by?'" What the hell was this guy's deal?
"I mean are you a Rich, a Rick, probably not a Dick or a Dickie..."
"Rich," I said, "but most..."
"...of your friends call you Jeff," he finished for me, correctly. "Figures," he added, going back to his book.
`Figures?' I thought. Man this guy was out there. Definitely time to move along. "Thanks," I said, this time over my shoulder as I was heading out the door. I didn't hear if he said anything or not.
I headed out into the sunshine and within minutes the strange encounter was behind me and the beauty of the day lifted my spirits back to their former level of excited anticipation. I walked around for an hour, then headed up to the commercial districtócalled the com-dis in campus speakófor a burger and a beer.
When I returned to the dorm there was an altogether different feel to it as there were now hundreds of students milling about, some saying goodbye to parents and friends who had brought them, some unpacking, some standing in a long line to receive their orientation packets. I decided to grab my suitcase and check to see if my roommate was moving in.
Walking back through the lobby, I couldn't help but glance at the table where people were gathering up packets and asking questions of the (now) three people behind the desk. None of them was the strikingly handsome, odd character I had met. I felt a strange disappointment, which I shrugged off as I headed up to my room. My key was engraved with "615S" which told me I was on the sixth floor, in room 615 of the south wing. My friend lived in the north wing, which I was more familiar with from my previous visits, but the mirror-image south wing had the same layout, and I was in no time walking past 601...603...605...reading the two nametags that someone (most likely the R.A. or Resident Assistant, a kind of student supervisor who lived on the floor) had stuck to each of the doors. 611...613...and I stopped. There was a single nametag affixed to 613: Richard Jefferson. I looked at the key in my hand: definitely 615. Maybe someone had gotten the rooms confused, or maybe someone was just screwing around and changed nametags. As it was, 613 and 615 were one suite, that is, two rooms connected by a common bathroom. All the rooms in this dorm were like that. It meant that you had a roommate with whom you lived and a couple of suitemates with whom you shared a bathroom. Without too much thought I stuck the key in the lock and tried to turn it. Sure enough, wrong door. As I withdrew the key, the door opened from the inside and there stood the good-looking, strange guy I had encountered at the sign-in desk.
He was grinning like an idiot and stuck out his hand. "Richard Jefferson," he said.
I looked at his hand like he was holding a viper and said, "Right." Then for good measure I added, "Who the fuck are you and what are you doing?"
He slid past me into the hall and said, "C'mon." He walked to the next door, 615, and pointed to the two nametags: Richard Jefferson and Paul Copelli.
"Cop's not here yet. And actually, he might not be coming. He's trying to get out of his housing contract `cause he fell in love this summer and wants to live with his girlfriend. He should be able to get out since he's a junior, but enrollment is a little down so they'll probably give him a hard time since they want to fill all the rooms. What that means for you, though, is that they'll offer you a single for $300 more a term. If you take it, you'll be one of the only freshman with his own room."
I hadn't been paying a lot of attention to what he was saying. "Your name's Richard Jefferson?" I asked.
"Yeah, but I go by Rich, and most..."
"...of your friends call you Jeff," I finished for him. "You're kidding."
"Nope. Things could get a little confusing around here." Now his smile was warm and slightly quizzical. With much of his odd behavior earlier now explained, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
I smiled back and stuck out my hand. "Well, in that case, pleased to meet me," I said.
He threw back his head and laughed loudly. On top of being about the best-looking guy I had ever seen, he had a killer laugh. I decided immediately that we would be friends.
"Yeah, pleased to meet me, too," he said, still smiling. "Can I give you a hand with your stuff?"
"Nah, I only brought the one suitcase because I live pretty close and I figured I'd wait to talk to my roommate to see what he was bringing."
"Looks like you might be furnishing everything yourself, unless you ask to be given another roommate."
"That's the other option?"
"Yep. If you do that and they don't have anyone to assign, you get to keep your single for the same price."
"If enrollment is down that might work out."
"Could," he said, nodding his head. "You want a beer?"
"Sure." We entered through my door and walked through our shared bathroom, which I noticed was very clean and already carpeted. "You always keep the place this clean?" I asked, thinking of the disgusting pit my friend on the other side of the building called a bathroom.
"Yeah, I tend to be pretty neat."
"Cool," I said, "we'll get along fine. Do you have a roommate?"
"Nope. As a junior, I asked for and received a single room. Rank has its privileges."
"So how come you're here already?" I asked.
"I got hired to help with the orientation, making sure the sign-in desk was staffed, stuff like that. The housing director likes me and he gives me cake jobs whenever they come up."
We entered his neat, well-furnished room. He had removed university-issued bookshelves, bunkbeds and desks, and in their places he had a single loft-type bed with a couch, a couple of comfortable chairs, a stereo and television center, and a rolltop desk with a matching leather chair. The warm beige carpeting was cut wall-to-wall, and a few tasteful reproductions hung on the walls; no barely clad beer-shillers for my new friend. The place looked nothing like a dorm room; it was a bachelor pad.
I shook my head. "I like what you've done with the joint," I told him as I grabbed a seat and accepted the proffered beer.
"Thanks. It's my little home away from home."
We spent the next couple of hours talking about everything and nothing, including the time I had already spent at State. By the time I realized it was after three, I was comfortably buzzed and disinclined to listen to university-types give the company spiel.
"Shit," I said, "looks like I'm late for orientation."
"Don't bother," he said. "It's just the typical bullshit you'd expect. And especially since you've already spent so much time here, they won't be telling you anything you don't already know."
Since it was advice I was already inclined to take, I suggested we head out for something to eat. We made our way up to the com-dis and settled for pizza and more beer. He was already twenty-one, so I.D. was no problem for him. He was impressed by my fake one: a state license with my picture and my older (by two years) brother's personal data. I had pilfered my brother's birth certificate and other documents and presented myself to the license bureau as my brother, saying I had lost my license and needed another. Three weeks later, I was of legal age to drink.
"Very resourceful," my new friend complimented me. "I guess that means it's time for a bar crawl."
We spent the rest of the evening drinking and wenching. He was, as I expected, a total babe-magnet. My opinion of his attractiveness was objectively borne out by the reactions he got from most of the campus co-eds, and I felt a weird sort of pride being with him. I was not exactly shy around women, but I was planning to be faithful to my girlfriend, so my flirting was much more innocent than his was. He seemed to enjoy building a woman up and then ignoring her while he moved on to his next conquest. He was like a rock star; by the end of the evening I was in awe. The funny thing was how he deferred to me while teasing the women. It was like I was the one attracting all the attention, and he was just along for the ride. Later, as we stumbled home, he confirmed that I wasn't imaging things.
"Dude," he slurred, "you were awesome! Did you see all those babes drooling over us? That was so cool! You're comin' with me every time I go wenching."
"I don't think you need a mascot," I laughed, "most of those chicks didn't know I was there."
He stopped and focused on me with effort. He had the look of enormous seriousness that six hours of hard drinking can engender. "What?" he fairly shouted. "What the fuck are you talkin' about? They came for you and I got to clean up. You got that puppy-dog look that chicks die for. Long eyelashes, sad green eyes...Dude! They love you!"
What an odd sensation. I had received plenty of compliments about my appearance, enough probably to explain my slightly vain attitude, but this backhanded compliment made me inordinately happy. In my own drunken haze, I tried to remember what he had said once before that gave me that same odd feeling. It was when I first encountered him and joked about my gray hair making me look older and he had said something about my eyes. Christ! I thought, could I be...attracted to this guy?
Almost as soon as the thought entered my head, I laughed it off. I spent four years in high school bird-doggin' chicks, I had a totally sexy girlfriend I was pretty much in love with and with whom I had awesome sex...nah, this was just the start of a new friendship with someone I got a kick out of and whom I wanted to like me. So I recognized he was very good-looking? So what? I knew I was secure enough in my sexuality to know I could look at another guy and say objectively if he was attractive. I had an eye for beauty, male, female, what was the difference? Besides, I had only ever had sex with women, so that settled that.
I threw my arm around my friend's shoulders and roared with laughter. "Whattya say we spend the next year burnin' down this campus? I proclaim us Viking Brothers, dedicated to rape, pillage, women and song!"
He howled like a beast and screamed at the top of his lungs, "Aaaaaawooooo! Viking Brothers! Lock your doors! Hide your women! Guard your treasure!"
We stumbled into the darkness, laughing and yelling, a couple of young drunken friends who had nothing but good times in front of us...or so I imagine we must have thought.
. . .
I opened my eyes to slits when the bright overhead light in my room flickered on. He was standing just next to the bathroom door, smoking a cigarette and smiling. He had a towel wrapped around his waist and was dripping water from the shower. He looked like he had just stepped out of one of those inane magazine ads for cologne.
"Nothing like a smoke and a shower to start the day," he announced.
"What time is it?" I rasped. My head felt thick, and the light shocked my eyes.
"I don't know, I don't usually wear my watch in the shower."
"Well look at my clock, I can't see," I told him.
"Hmm, looks like it says 7:15."
"It's not that kind of clock."
"Okay, here's the plan," I said, trying to sound angry. "Shut the fucking light off, get the fuck out, and come back in about five fucking hours for lunch."
"But look at this day," he exclaimed, crossing to my window and opening the shades.
My east-facing windows gave me a spectacular view of the horizon. We were in the furthermost southern building on campus, as well as being on the east side; nothing but a few trees and some rolling farmland between me and the edge of the world. Sunrise always amazed me; I would never be inured of the awe that kind of majesty stirred in me.
"It's Saturday," he added.
"And that's significant because...?"
"Saturdays were made for getting up early and taking long naps in the afternoon. C'mon, let's go get some coffee. That kind of sunrise God meant for us to enjoy."
"You told me last night you didn't believe in God," I said.
"That doesn't mean I can't appreciate His handiwork," he said, archly.
"Oh, Christ, save us from pious atheists," I intoned. I sat up, rubbed my eyes, and scratched my head. I yawned loudly, during which I said, "Awright, give me ten minutes to shower and get dressed."
"You're already dressed," he indicated, observing that I had passed out in last night's clothes.
"Yeah, but I never take breakfast in evening-wear. A man has to have his standards."
"Good policy." He smiled as he walked back to his room.
Breakfast in the caf gave me a feeling that I was in the right place. The windows, also east-facing, were two-story floor to ceiling numbers. We drank coffee, which was surprisingly potable for college dorm fare, watched the sun rise and read the morning paper, joking about stories we came across.
After an hour or so, he asked me what time I had. Considering that there was a large clock on the wall just behind me, I asked him if he needed two-source confirmation.
"No, smart-ass," he said, "I can't see that far without my glasses."
"I didn't know you wore glasses," I said.
"You've known me for less than twenty-four hours. You're surprised that there are things you don't know about me?"
I had to laugh. He actually reminded me of...me. "Good point. It's almost 10:30."
"Shit, I told Stacy I'd call her at ten."
I looked at him for a few seconds to see if he was kidding. "Who?"
"My girlfriend, Stacy. Why are you looking at me like that?"
"You have got to be kidding me. Your girlfriend's name is Stacy?"
I looked at him without saying anything and just slowly shook my head. After a moment, it dawned on him and he smiled.
"Nah," he said, "that couldn't be."
"Please tell me her last name is not Kurtz."
He looked almost relieved. "Nope. James."
. . .
Later that afternoon I called my girlfriend at her school out East. She had left about two weeks before me and had already started to settle in to her new routine.
"Hey, babe," I told her after we exchanged out initial hellos, "you are not going to believe this. Guess who my suitemate is," I said, explaining the difference between a suitemate and roommate.
"Not even close."
"Uh-uh. Who's that?"
"`Shaft,'" she said, like I was an idiot for not knowing.
"No, but you're getting closer."
"Well, I've narrowed it down to someone between the Pope and Shaft. Why don't you tell me?"
"You're your own suitemate?"
"Not exactly. Same name, different guy. But it gets better."
"His girlfriend's name is Stacy."
"Swear. He's a great guy; we went out last night and had a few pops. I talked to his Stacy this morning and told her about you. She sounded really sweet, too."
"So where's your roommate?"
"He's not here. Jeff thinks he's trying to get out of his contract to live off-campus, so I might have my own room."
We chatted for a little while, filling each other in on what had been going on for the past week or so. When we were ready to hang up, she sounded a little more distant than I expected.
"I love you," I said.
"I know you do," she said.
"Now there's the response of someone getting ready to write a `Dear John' letter," I said, dryly.
"A what letter?" she asked.
"`Dear John.' My god, we no longer understand each other's cultural references."
"Yeah, but when did we ever?"
"True," I said, "but it just seems so much more poignant now."
"Shut up," she said, "I love you, too. Call me soon."
We hung up and I had a strange feeling that she really was moving away from me. I chalked it up to our respective new lives and let it go. I went into my suitemate's room to find him sleeping on his couch.
"Wake up," I said loudly, slapping his leg and sitting on the couch at his feet.
"What the...Jesus, you scared me."
"Don't refer to me by our Savior's name, you atheist bastard. Now get up, there's drinking to be done."
"I must have fallen asleep waiting for you to come to that realization."
I picked up a picture of a stunningly beautiful woman drinking out of a red plastic cup. She was with an equally shockingly handsome man who had his arm casually thrown over her shoulder.
"Is this Stacy?" I asked.
"Yep. Twins. Stacy and," he hesitated, "Rick."
I burst out in laughter. "Your girlfriend's twin brother is Rick James?"
He laughed, too. "Uh-huh, and he says she's a very sexy girl."
"The kind you don't take home to mother?" I asked.
We did a repeat performance of the night before, only this time I was much more aggressive and outgoing. It was almost like being a different person. I realized for the first time that I was a different person. I could reinvent myself...I could become anyone or anything I wanted. It was both a frightening and exhilarating realization. I had no idea at that time what a difference that realization was to make in my life, but as I look back I recognize now that that was the seminal moment of the person I was to become.