It happened in my college dorm room while his friend was watching.
I hadn’t seen Peter since he’d broken up with me in the tenth grade. “Sorry. I just don’t love you anymore,” were the inducing words which sparked the rearrangement of my bedroom furniture, diet, and life. I wanted to get over him, and “over him” meant change. It always does.
While the big Love sting went down, I was part of an alternative high-school English community called SWS, School Within a School. “School Without Standards” to those unlucky few whose lottery numbers were too low to gain acceptance, and “School With Sofas” to the advanced placement English kids who upturned their noses at our program yet still loafed in our community lounge. In lieu of one period of traditional English class, I opted to participate in this three-period elective program where students enjoyed the opportunity to grade themselves, teach and choose courses of interest, and build interpersonal skills through human relations activities. It was like college without the Greek letters. There were two sets of classes, the Monday/Thursday and Tuesday/Friday sets, leaving Wednesdays free for community building retreats… aka, playing Ultimate Frisbee on the front lawn.
While not ordinarily pious about anything aside from sleep-away camp and cheese, I’ve made an SWS exception. My experiences in SWS were a triple-knotted strand of pearly life-defining moments that began with my first Writing From The Heart course.
My maudlin papers for the course (still boxed in a warehouse with the after-mentioned autobiography I am certain to ascertain sometime next week) chronicled the emotions of a teen coping with kaput love. “Soul,” “always,” and “life” bubbled to the first paragraph of my personal essays, where emotion, not grammar, was critiqued. There might have been mention of a mirror, some clouds, and dare I say it, a storm. But through writing, I changed. Or, at least I learned never to refer to love as “a turgid sea.”
As a tumultuous high school senior, I then taught Writing From The Heart from my parents’ house on Tuesday nights to a jumble of sophomores, juniors, and other seniors. I used a red pen and let it rip and circle ‘round syrupy and mawkish as students crunched chips around a coffee table. I’ve always hated the Hallmark in me; I’d be damned if I’d let it take residence in anyone else. (I now write daily in a red notebook with a red pen to remind myself of my red sweeping corrective circles.)
Simultaneously, I elected an autobiography course where I’d hole punch my sentimental stories, photos, and magazine blurbs into a binder. Now there was a record with visuals. Clearly my tenth grade slaughtered heart papers needed to be included to illustrate my progression from soft to sardonic. After all, I could expose a bit of underbelly, this autobiography was really just for me.
In college, the glossy autobiography served as my nostalgia bridge, living beneath my sophomoric bed with my tattered camp address book. It had been two years since I’d opened it. Now I was drunk, just returning home from the Amsterdam bar strip with my ex-boyfriend Peter and his friend. We had run into one another at Bourbon Street, a bar with sawdust floors, beaded woman, and an absurdly oversized sports screen. At first it was alarming, the way it always is when you run into an ex unexpectedly. You immediately remember the last time you saw one another and how you looked. I was definitely in a better place now. Thin and fashionable, I smiled warmly and touched his arm when he made me laugh. Soon alarming progressed to flirty reminiscing and settled upon my dorm room in the dark.
“You should have seen Peter when he was in high school.” Really, he was unaltered, save for the facial hair and freshmen fifteen, but it felt like the thing to say to Peter’s college friend, in town from Delaware.
“Steph, come on, you must have some photos of us, still.” I was certain I had, and I knew precisely where they were: miles away in my parents’ house, in a red shoe box labeled PETER atop my closet. Oh, but wait. The autobiography.
I sprinted to the bed in a giggle, then sprawled the carpeted floor for an excavation of a schmaltzy relic. Peter and his buddy hovered as I looked up with success and excitement in my eyes. With two hands, I passed Peter the autobiography, opened to his shrine. Then I watched as his smile dissolved to a thin tight line. His face turned a slight shade of eggplant. What? Did he read that I hated him and wanted him to suffer things that are worse than death?
It was worse.
Beside the Writing From The Heart paper was a sticky photography collage of magazine blurbs and photographs of Peter and me. Below a Polaroid of Peter was a magazine blurb reading, “his small penis doesn’t excite her.” He closed the book too late. His friend had seen. I hadn’t remembered! Oh dear God, how do you fix that?
"Well, um, we were much younger then." Poor little Peter.