I was the first freshman in years to find the little garden. You had to go five blocks east to the park, cut across the front of the statue and part some bushes to find the scramble-path down the hill. I followed it all the way down to a clearing where it fed and pooled. Some trees had intertwined their branches to form a natural cul-de-sac with lots of sitting room. I was in love.
I had with me my wooden pipe, a bag of fine black tobacco obtained by international mail-order, and my copy of “Siddhartha”. Long had I roved to find this spot, and I congratulated myself as I sat down on a comfortable branch and lit a bowl. It had been long since I had read this book, and the water flowing under the bridge had muddied. The glory and fullness of life had seduced me, and I had thrown myself at it too hard. “The river will also talk to him one day,” I read, and allowed my self to dissolve into the book’s construction.
Many days after that first pleasant afternoon I find myself pulled violently back into the glorious game when I meet K for the first time in my life, sunning herself on the swing. Sunlight flows like honey over her and my eyes are dazzled by embers of amber. She’s rocking herself with one foot arched on the swing’s wooden frame. Large dark sunglasses cover her eyes. Her lips are open, breathing; she’s reading Machiavelli. Her hair ringleteth. My gut clenches with something intolerable.
— Hi! Mind if I join you?
First her leg stops its clench-unclench, then her head turns as if by the volition of a lazy demon.
— If you don’t take up too much room.
She goes back to her book and begins rocking the swing again. I climb onto the swing with spider-like motions (my elbows stick out at absurd angles). I have my pipe and blacks with me, and I’m packing a bowl when I feel the motion of the swing stop once again. I feel the onslaught of her hidden eyes. I lift my head and grimace into the Sun behind her head.
— What kind of leaf you got there?
I automatically hand her the bag, and she examines its label before opening it. She sniffs it once, emotionless. She gives it back to me, and says,
— Mind if I join you?
— Of course – I mean no I don’t, you’re welcome.
That was an embarrassing faux pas. I go back to packing the bowl. Her sunglasses make it hard to judge her expression, and in any case it’s physically painful to look in her direction because the Sun is in my eyes, and because she’s beautiful. I light the pipe with several long matches and short puffs, and soon the air is pleasantly fragrant and smoky. After I’ve puffed for a while I make motions to get her attention and pass her the pipe. Her long arms stretch to take it from me. She brings it to her mouth and inhales daintily, steadily. The motions of her fingers are automatic and smooth. She pulls hard a few times. The smoke rises lazily around her head and mats her face with shifting shadow lines. She turns to me and asks,
— So what’s that you’re reading?
I show her “Siddhartha” and explain that it is very hard to explain, and like the Matrix must be experienced for itself. The corners of her mouth have a life of their own. As we continue talking, I occasionally find myself at a loss for words just looking at her. She must catch on, but she doesn’t let it show. Eventually the Sun recedes behind her down the hill and she whips her sunglasses off. Her eyes are wide and gray. I am surprised by the laughter lines jumping out of the corners of her eyes. I tell her this and she smiles at me for the first time that afternoon. It is a sad smile just this once, and months later I will remember her by it. It makes me uncomfortable now to see her smiling like that, and I have the strange sense that something must be wrong in the world for her to look like that. She tells me that her friend was to meet her there but never showed up, and I tell her that the cosmos has sent me instead.
As I walk back to my room I notice the change in my walk. I spring from concrete block to block on the sidewalk like a young tiger. Later that night I was meeting Dorothy to get ice-cream before we did homework together. Doing homework with Dorothy is an excuse to spend three times as long as I need doing homework in much more enjoyable circumstances than the silence of my room. Dorothy is full of things to say today, she always is. It seems her mother has noticed strange goings-on with her online bank account. Dorothy dabbles in both the New York Stock Exchange and the local drug market. I have never seen Dorothy consume anything more illicit than underaged alcohol (Dorothy is underaged, the alcohol is usually classy 1990s), but her entrepreneurial spirit has the tendency to cloud her better judgment. The point is, her mother knows nothing about either activity, and Dorothy finds it hilarious that her mom wants to know where all this money is coming from, and why large amounts are being withdrawn and then put back a few days later.
— She thinks I’m turning tricks to buy drugs.
We laugh about it. Her mother has lived on one or the other farm all her life, and Dorothy enjoys preying on her misconceptions about city life and her hand-me-down stereotypes about college girls. I compliment her on her purse. She’s not a flashy spender, but those who know to look for the signs will find them. She just got back from a trip to her fungal colony a few miles’ drive out of the city, so she’s wearing work jeans and smells a little funky. She has taken it upon herself to cut the middleman out at least in this one category of product, and is very pleased at having found a suitable bit of land to support her agricultural ambitions.
— After all those years of high school, of living off my parents, of being a leech on society, I am finally making a positive economic impact on society.
And she’s right; any firm believer in the individual-preferences dogma of modern economics will recognize the truth in her words. Sometimes she likes to go to the farm and sit on a bench in the middle, reading for hours. I join her when I can. We must look very strange sitting in a clearing just off the highway, but this is the land of the free. Pete does not approve of here activities; he says
— You must direct your energies at bigger challenges. Allocate your resources optimally.
When I first introduce K to Pete and Dorothy, they are unable to hold themselves back. We sit in a circle on the floor of Dorothy’s dorm room and pass a bottle of jack daniel’s in the confessional game of “jacking off”. Someone brings up the shared ancestry of life on earth, and K finds this topic much to her approval. She’s a little drunk now and gushes about her infinite sympathy for even a sea-slug. I tell her she makes me feel like a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas. Not long after, she gets up to leave, saying she has to work at the lab tomorrow.
— Can I walk you home?
She hesitates and stumbles. Laughing at herself as she catches her balance, she smiles at me yes. I wink in Pete’s general direction, and oddly enough given his advanced blood alcohol level, he catches it and grins back. I take K’s arm and lead her out the door, down the hallway, down the stairs.
As we step outside into the chilly October air, she twists her arm out of my hand and takes a few steps away.
— Who the hell do you think you are?
I’m not quite sure how to respond. I will have to make a trip back to the little garden before I can answer that.