This is the first chapter in a memoir I’ve been writing about my time at St. John’s College. For years, I’ve been ‘trying not to write it,’ but over the past year or so I have become what I would call physically unable to not write it. I am sharing this first chapter here for a couple of reasons: 1) If you were part of my life and you want your name changed, please let me know, and 2) there are big holes in my memory and I would love to hear your stories, rehash old times and try to piece some things together. There is both shame and glory for me tangled up in these years, and I need to unravel the threads and see where they lead. I welcome your feedback, either publicly here in the comments or via email or private message. Love to you all, Katrina.
We scatter like roaches when the house lights come up, avoiding our reflections in the harsh light. Kevin shuts down the system, and the room is flooded with a silence thick as lies. Glasses clink gently as Jessa clears tables. The carpet is dirty, and Tiffany’s gorgeous ass is pocked with cellulite. We change into street clothes in the dressing room and count our money, our makeup still on.
A couple girls have drinks at the bar while we all tip out, but I can’t because I’m not twenty-one. I’m a student. I like these girls, but I am better than them. At school I drink myself into oblivion and fuck anyone who will let me, but I am translating ancient Greek and reading Kant, so it’s okay. Was it the desire to do this or the ability to that made me feel so superior? I don’t know. I never thought about it. It probably doesn’t matter.
I call campus security from the bar to tell them I’m coming. They will meet me at the gate and follow me back to my dorm to make sure no weirdos follow me home. I’m grateful for this. It warms my heart.
I listen for voices at the dorm entrance, and follow the sound upstairs where I find my people in Branwen’s room. I hand over my wad of cash to her, she likes to count it. She organizes it into denominations and makes all the presidents face left.
“Four twenty-three.” She says. Later, in my room, I will put it in a shoebox under my bed. Once a month, I carry the shoebox to the treasurer where she’ll shake her head and smile while she counts out my tuition in ones. I’m nearly forty now, and I’m the only one I know who doesn’t have a student loan. I traded my modesty for an elitist education. Maybe I traded more than that, maybe I didn’t. Depends how I feel when you ask.
I crack open a shitty beer and make Brian play Tangled Up in Blue on the guitar over and over, I sing it loud and badly. I am so happy. I have never loved people the way I love the ones in this room. Bonded forever by the stress of learning, by our unique yet homogeneous flaws. I love them all still, scattered across the country as we are, disconnected, but forever tethered.
Downstairs in my room I am surprised to find Ian in my bed. I can’t help but touch his face. He is smooth and golden. He is using me, but I don’t care because he is so beautiful. I’ve never before possessed the kind of currency, not beauty or money, for which someone would be willing, eager, to trade themselves. In this way, I’m proud to be used. It elevates me.
I slide in against the heat of his body, he tightens around me like a snake. I read Aristotle until I fall asleep and dream about strippers. Branwen knocks on my door at ten so I don’t miss our ten-thirty Greek class with Ms. Swanson. She lives alone with her dog in the building next to my dorm. She is skittish like her dog. They both roll over and expose their bellies to me. I think my boldness frightens her, and it pleases me. Of course, it’s all a ruse. Looking back, maybe it was my imminent destruction that frightened her. Maybe it was pity. Maybe it was my imagination.
The work pleases me, too. To coax meaning from a passage, to become aware of the choices the translator made with which I disagree. You can never accept a second-hand truth. You never get the whole story. This both overwhelms and elates me. Some translators are more reliable than others, but you never grasp the full depth of something unless you read it in the original language. This is also true of people, and each person has their own language. The truth is fickle. How can you ever know anything for sure?
After Greek, we file into the dining hall. I don’t have a meal plan, so I pick off everyone’s plate. I never had a lunch growing up either. For as long as I can remember, I have been picking off other people’s plates. Today is Crass Tuesday. We do it to fuck with Christine because she’s such a prude. It’s a competition to say the crassest thing possible in the foulest language available. We really put our high IQs to good use. In an hour we’ll be tearing into each other’s Euclidean proofs, but for now, we tear each other new assholes. Poor Christine. It wasn’t her fault that she came from a more stable environment than the rest of us. We sure tried to balance those scales.
Christine drove a red Chrysler convertible. She told me that her father believed everyone, at some point in their life, should own a red convertible. With this one sentence, her childhood stretched out before me, foreign in its wholesomeness. The child of doctors, a big white house and a big green lawn. Roast chicken at family dinners. Never once laying awake at night worried that the bank would take your house or that there wouldn’t be money for oil this winter. A childhood spent huddled in a warm embrace, well-groomed and fed. It comforted me somehow that childhoods like hers existed, but I never once wished to trade places. At least not that I ever admitted to myself.