I’ve known a lot of death in my life. I’ve lost a brother and a newborn son, grandmothers, grandfathers, a stepfather, two best friends.
The influence of death on me began when I was a teenager. My 9th grade teacher, Mrs. Blumenstock (the best & most influential teacher I ever had) committed suicide the summer I turned 15. My best friend from high school, Boyd, was killed in a car wreck when I was 20. I went to graduate school at UGA, in large part, to chase his ghost.
It was there at UGA, at the age of 22, that I met Carol at a party. We were drawn to each other, and a connection formed between us. It was clear that night that she had entered my life. And that I wanted it.
The following night she died.
I have never recovered fully from any of the deaths of loved ones, but Carol’s in particular hit me at a vulnerable time. The day after, I wrote 29 pages in my private journal.
About how I felt.
About everything I could possibly remember from meeting her.
About what she said, what we did, and how it made me feel.
About the gap in my life from never getting to see her again, never knowing her deeply. Never really engaging in life with her.
More than any other death, Carol’s death changed me. What follows is unedited and uncut (except for a few spelling corrections, and Xing out some last names). It includes a few things I wanted to omit, but I have not. I wrote so honestly then that it would feel wrong now to do anything but present it exactly as I wrote it originally.
April 26 —
Death and life haunt me. Yesterday the sun was barely enough to give warmth, and when the clouds covered it, wasn’t enough. Today, between the sidewalk and wall that ajuts, like an earth barrier, the garden here, I came upon a squirrel lain on the grass at the base of the bricks. It didn’t move, and its eye was glassy and thickened, and seemed to see me. Its paws, its belly, were stiff like hardened dirt, and cool, did not touch back my touch.
This was death, then, fur become but a cool covering on stone. Shiny, yet mucus eye, that seemed still to see me—seeing, and not knowing it saw. I walked on: so this was death.
Last Saturday morning, I laid in the grass in the sun on North Campus, reading my book. I was so happy in the sun, even if I had to read. And when I grew tired of reading I saw I was sitting in clover—surely this was clover, green and little and three-leaved. Clover! And I began eagerly searching for a four-leafed one—ah a sign—one sign, please.
I never found one.
Clover, when it comes in patches, is a grass of the moon. At night! at night! when the moon stands like a silver source of blood over the starless sky, clover underneath it takes into itself, its leaves, the silver moon-blood. It takes in the mystical darkness of the moon into its roots, into the deep soil. For Artemus, moon, is goddess over clover. And so it is that a four-leafed clover means luck in love: means something will happen.
I didn’t find one.
Again on Sunday, all afternoon, again sitting in the grass reading, I found myself at a patch of clover. It was near that tree that, a month ago only, had been snowed with white petals, and then they had fallen, in the windy, two-faced days of early spring. Now there are no more of them, and now even their corpses have disappeared in the holes between the grass: become, perhaps, clover.
More clover! I thought; and took a break in reading. For a minute, not two, I looked diligently for the four-leafed clover.
Again, I found none.
Today, Tuesday, I sit here again, the same spot, and I stare down at the same clover. I am unable to read, unable. And the clover haunts me.
No four-leafed clover, somehow it doesn’t matter any more, it is too late.
I can’t but think about the girl who died Sunday night.
I want to put it off as unimportant—I want to say, it doesn’t involve me, not deeply anyway.
But death does involve me, her death. It is the end; she is, and she isn’t. It is like a blow of wind come up against me, challenging me, taunting. A strange fate, beyond my power utterly, that has come slapped me in the face—see! it threatens me bitterly, see! Slapped life; and will kill, to serve its means.
It is all so improbable, so utterly improbable, that because it happened, it seems a fate beyond my power, at work.
As if I’d found a four-leafed clover things would have been different.
As it is it’s such a lesson I’ve learned—always, always, every moment must be sacred, every experience, every meeting. Sacred.
For life is only a flower, or an insect, all too frail, all too close to being blown out in death.
So every touch with every living creature is sacred.
Saturday, just last Saturday, Morris Hall and Rutherford had a softball game and cookout. It was a long time ago. But the softball game was to be at 4:00, and I was late. Clouds came and went again all day, and it rained a little. It wasn’t clear there would even be a softball game, if the sky didn’t want one. On the walk over I stopped at the bridge, with the view down over the stadium, and watched the finish of the spring Red-Black game. As I reached Rutherford I saw—indeed—the softball game was being played, and was well in progress.
Recall I watched half an inning from behind the screened backstop—and then walked over to the steps of Rutherford, watched from there, where others stood, and girls sat in clumps on the steps. Kit arrived, and the two of us entered Rutherford, through the hallway, through the T.V. lounge-room, to the back porch, with its four tall white columns. And got beer. And two were back there, watching the hotdogs and hamburgers, as they grilled them. And we returned.
Finding a little foyer, or front-room, and a piano in it, Kit sat down for a second to play it. I set my look out the window, at backs of girls sitting on porch and steps. And then went outside and sat, and Kit too. Watched softball.
Small groups of girls, two, three, once a group of six, came from somewhere along the sidewalk, turning up the steps, some sitting, some passing through into the hall, but throwing conversation at others as they passed.
Shortly the softball game ended, the Morris and Rutherford students began flowing up the stairs. Time to get up and hurry inside, before it was too crowded and too late. And food was served: a hamburger, a hotdog, potato salad, beer and coke, and they tore half your “admission” ticket off, for it. In the crowded back porch I ate, and managed to fall into conversation with a fellow from Morris named Gary: he argued that an ecclesiastical monarchy was the perfect form of government, a sort of combination of the positions of Pope and King. Naturally I couldn’t agree; but the upshot of his argument was, that as a Catholic, he had to feel that whatever the Pope said and did, was right, and had Lordly sanction and legitimacy; therefore, whatever the Pope did as King was also right. He absolutely refused to separate Monarch as Pope from Monarch as King. If you dissented politically, you therefore dissented religiously, and Gary refused to admit the separateness of the two. He admitted that those who weren’t Catholics might not find his perfect government so perfect—but after all, it was his concept of the ideal government that I’d asked about (his field is political philosophy). But why punish religious dissenters? I asked—Why not let God punish them? Because, he answered, you’ve got to save their soul. It’s quite justified even to kill them for heresy, if it might induce them to recant, and thus save their soul. Any price for a saved soul.
I argued that even Catholics would find it, like as not, a repressive government—look at the bad Popes in the middle ages, and look at tyrants like Henry VIII who felt himself not only King, but also head of the Church of England. How many, how many Thomas Mores would there be, in his world?
But he insisted that, as a Catholic, he would have to believe it impossible for the Pope-Monarch to be wrong. He was head of the Church, and what he said was so, was so.
And so we went on and on, and I amazed that there should be such an idea taken seriously, in this day. But after all, there are those who believe Dictatorship the perfect government, if your dictator is Julius Caesar, or some sort of “good man”. And since the Pope, by definition, is a good man, and a very religious one, directed by God, well—ecclesiastical monarchy it is, then.
But where would I, poor atheist, where would I be. Even if freedom of conscience was allowed, as in More’s Utopia, where would I be in this modern world, if I could not talk and write freely my views?
But so much for that conversation. They offered seconds in food. I showed them my ticket stub (one had to show it) and got a second hot dog, no hamburger though, for the first had been but a juiceless, burned biscuit, that was half-unedible. And I broke down and had coke for the first time in half a year, or maybe longer. And they offered thirds, but not for me, no, I wouldn’t have any.
So soon four or five of us were in conversation with two, sometimes one, girl (yes! it actually happened, conversations between Morris boys and Rutherford girls!).
This girl’s name was—I don’t remember.
I do remember she seemed very familiar to me, seemed like I’d seen her before—Augusta College, I thought. But no, she was from Atlanta, had never attended Augusta College, had attended Georgia State, or somewhere, instead. But her face looked like a face I’d met before—and I don’t remember her name.
Coming around for beer was a short, perky girl, with a strangely busy way of talking. Shorter than five feet, but entertaining to listen to, and her name would later be Candy. An Atlanta and Atlanta-outskirts girl, part Cherokee, she claimed. Three of us talked for quite a while. Her five brothers, her Cherokee nickname as a little girl—which name she hated. Indians, especially, the Cherokees. This, that, and the other.
After a while it was only the two of us talking, and I think we even talked briefly of cities (how I didn’t like them). And Candy was, believe it or not, a home economics major. That she had, last year, been Treasurer of the dorm council, and how good a council it had been. That, this time (and she was glad about it) she was not on the clean-up committee.
Suddenly, where had all the time gone? People were leaving—most people had left. The clean-up committee was cleaning up. And Candy, not on it, and glad not to be on it, found herself unable not to assist. And—why not?—I helped a little too.
In a few minutes Candy said goodbye and departed down the hall.
A few people were watching T.V. in the lounge, “family” room of the hall, and Johan was there, who had made the short films, and who is from Norway. We talked a little, he worried about the oil spill in the North Sea. I told him he ought to have brought his movie camera—complete with dolly (he doesn’t have one) and assistants, and moved through the party crowds as if shooting a movie—what better way to attract interest, especially the interest of girls. And so we talked a little, and I sat and watched T.V. a little, and only a few people were left. And I was about in my mind to leave, though occasionally people would come by.
Then Candy came by, sat down, and we began talking again. This time the subject was diets and vitamins and other food minerals—for that’s what she studied in home economics, and it fascinated her. Shortly, two people came by, and she introduced me to them—one was (I believe) Steve, the other Carol. Carol struck me right away, not short like Candy (who wasn’t 5 feet), and she didn’t seem to be wearing earrings, and generally struck me in a favorable way. Carol and Steven pulled chairs over, and talked a little, Carol sitting almost opposite. I admitted I was History, but had no intention of teaching, was willing to work with my hands, and that I was interested really in writing. When I asked Carol her major she laughed, said she didn’t like to explain it—it took a long time, and finally admitted it was Agricultural Economics. Yes, uh huh.
Then—”What’s this?” she asked and made an indication with her finger that she referred to the way I let my fingertips fall on my thighs as I talked (I sat with my right elbow tight against the arm-rest of the chair (which was too high) and arm extending out over my upper leg, with hand falling with a natural curl, fingertips resting on my left-thigh.)
“What? My fingernails?” I responded, looking at them, thinking Carol had meant how long they were—but no—apparently it was the way I rested them on my thighs. Candy then noticed I did have long fingernails (some, not all) and I explained that I believed it a sin to cut fingernails or hair.
“A what?” Carol asked. “A sin.” “Oh.”
Talk went on, and after a while Carol and Steven left, apparently downstairs.
This time Candy and I talked of airplanes (for her brother had flown her over and back only that morning or the night before); and also I had to explain (naturally) the peculiar shortness of my right hand index fingernail and thumbnail—which I keep short to put my soflens in and out. (See how much I remember!)
Presently, Candy was eager to find out “what they were doing down there”—and jumped to the phone. “What are you doing down there!’ she exclaimed over the phone—half, I thought, for my benefit. “It sounds like a crazy place down there!” And so on.
She hung up, and motioned me—”Let’s go se what they’re doing down there.” So I went, gathering it was some sort of gameroom or something—or maybe, one thought sinfully, an orgy!
It was neither, naturally. In fact it wasn’t much going on down there (nothing sexual!)
Where Candy took me was a large, 3-girl dorm room (Candy’s, Charlotte’s, and some other girl’s). Carol, Charlotte, and the fellow Steven were down there, and apparently had been throwing a ball around, and maybe a pillow, mostly general cutting-up and talking. Carol sat in a chair, and Charlotte in a chair opposite, and Candy went over and sat on a bed, and I took a chair (the last left) by the wall—but I decided to excuse myself to attend the men’s room, which I had spied on the way down. Returning I took the seat by the wall, so that to my left sat Charlotte so as to protect her collection of bottles lying on the stand behind her; to my direct right, Candy, on the bed, but a cluttered stand between; and to my forward right sat Carol. And Steven, the fellow with the prominent sideburns, stood more directly in front of me, in the open part of the room, a little leftward.
And what did we do—? we tossed a beachball quickly back and forth. And talked. And since Carol was identified as an animal-lover, someone (Steven) went to get her pet rabbit. Rabbit spent most of the time on the floor, hiding beneath the bed, or one of the stands, but later was enticed out by the offer of rabbit food, by Charlotte.
And conversation continued. I was informed about the “animals”—as Charlotte, Carol, and Candy called them—2 Bills, a Lee, a Jack of Hearts, and so on, and one was supposed to gather that they were the “animals”, somehow, from Carol’s avowed love of animals—and so they became “animals” too.
The the conversation moved over to their joking about searching for Peter Thursday night. Peter, who was supposed to work at a Wendy’s, or at some place across from a Wendy’s, or something. And Carol was all to blame for saying to turn right instead of left, and then when they found Wendy’s it was the wrong Wendy’s, and finally when they found where Peter worked, he was no longer there, having finished his shift. But Charlotte, Candy and Steven insisted it was all Carol’s fault, taking them to the wrong Wendy’s. Carol, for her part, protested innocence.
Suddenly, Charlotte and Steven got the idea to visit Peter again right now. Carol made it clear she wouldn’t go: “You go on and Dwight and I will stay here.”
Soon they were going, and Candy too, and asked me if I was coming. I backed out, the thought of being alone with this girl Carol beckoning, though I never expected it. But surprisingly to me, Candy made no protest at all, and the three of them left. Carol and I sat alone—something I’d wanted since I’d seen her, and apparently she wanted.
Suddenly, though, they burst back in the room—at least Candy did: “Ah ha!” But we were just sitting there, not having had time to hardly begin speaking. And Candy—or was it Charlotte?—flicked off the light as she left, but our protests got it put back on. (Or did Carol probe over and flick it on?)
Carol and I began to talk more seriously.
“Where do you think I’m from?” she asked. I guessed a farm, since I’d heard talk of goats and rabbits, earlier, concerning her growing up. No. So I guess Atlanta next. No. Didn’t I think her accent sounded different? she asked. No, I confessed—I wasn’t one to know accents.
Upon this, she observed that I “didn’t have an accent.” So I explained, second time that night, that though I was born in Tallahassee, Fla (being born in Florida doesn’t count as the South, she explained), and had lived my life in Georgia, except 3 years in Germany, my parents were both of them from New England.
Where in New England?
From the Vermont/Massachusetts border area. She knew someone who lived in Massachusetts, and she explained she was from Ithaca, N.Y.
We talked of high schools, my explaining that in the South at least, math wasn’t taught in the schools—that I’d had calculus in high school and had learned absolutely nothing, never really even figured out what calculus was—yet got all A’s.
She told me she had gathered Georgia high school education wasn’t on a very high level, especially in math and sciences. And I mentioned that after three years in armed forces schools in Germany, I returned to U. S. schools to find them ridiculously easy. She explained that those schools were the equivalent of good private schools, which, to think about it, I find quite believable.
She, it turned out, went to a public high school (over 600 in the graduating class) that ajutted on Cornell University. That, in fact, Cornell used her particular high school as a fawning ground for future students—extremely strong high school in maths and sciences (but weak in English, as seen from the fact that she had scored too low on the English achievement tests, and had to take, here at Georgia, some pre-credit English courses—English 100, and so on.)
In high school, she always found history to be simple, almost pointless—always on the level of American Civics, and so on. Which was my experience as well, except for Mrs. Smith in 8th or 9th grade. She found World History a useless course, all memorization of wars and kings—and got C’s. Which was same with me.
And conversation came round to college—she had originally gone to Cornell.
“Aren’t you going to ask me why I’m not at Cornell right now—everyone asks me that.”
“Oh. O.K., why aren’t you at Cornell right now?”
“It was too hard for me.”
And besides, 17 people a year commit suicide there, because of the pressure. Not for her. So now she was at Georgia, a freshman at Georgia.
He father, by the way, works at Cornell.
It came out that I hadn’t been an undergraduate at UGa, but rather had attended Emory U. and Augusta College. Emory she had certainly heard of, and was impressed. I talked about how it was a rich kids school, attended by a lot of people from Northern private schools, very private, well-to-do schools, who couldn’t get into the good Northern Ivy-League schools.
She had originally been in Genetics at Cornell, now here she was in Agricultural Economics at UGa. Most people found economics hard, but she liked it, and she liked animals, and it offered good careers, in Agri-business.
And so we talked. She like to train animals, and our talk went briefly to dogs, and she especially liked, she said, not the “fancy” poodle, but the poodle/hafl cockerspaniel, or something.
Suddenly she asked me if I like Granola—she had some Country Morning—Granola mix—did I want some? Sure. So we went to her room—finally beginning to get somewhere.
Two doors down—Room 15—we entered, I swinging the door closed behind us, but it hung ajar. So as she passed she pressed it completely closed, carrying a large box, with a disprorportionately small amount of granola—Country Morning mix in it.
She asked if I played chess or backgammon, and since she “only knew how the pieces moved” in chess, it seemed better to me to play backgammon. But first she had to refresh the rules to me, since I’d only played once, and that was a while ago. So we played backgammon and ate granola—Country Morning.
Suddenly, Candy, Charlotte, Steven burst into the room. “Caught you!” But Carol and I were only sitting there playing Backgammon—innocent enough. So as the five of us talked, the two of us played backgammon on the bed. And every once in a while our eyes would meet—embarrassingly—for too long of a time.
The phone rang, and Charlotte jumped to it: “Carol’s Animal Farm” (or something like that). The guard had some people outside, one gathered from the conversation—’the animals’, and wanted to know if they were welcome in. Charlotte went to get them.
Charlotte returned ahead of them, and they burst in the room, the fellow named Lee in front descending on Charlotte with a great hug, then over to Carol for the same, no, an even greater one. And the other ‘animals’ were there—a fellow named Bill (I think) with curly black hair; another fellow named ‘Jack of Hearts’, who sat on the other bed.
After two great hugs and kisses from Lee, of which Carol appeared pleased, but also a little unpleased because of me, they all left, taking Candy down to her room.
“Did they take Candy to her room all alone, with her so drunk?” Carol asked. “We’d better watch them.”
Charlotte checked the room, but reported they were just sitting around talking. Then Steven, making use of his size, picked up Charlotte over his shoulder, and carried her out. Picking up girls on his shoulder and carrying them—that was “his thing”, at this moment. Soon he came and picked up Carol. Since that left me alone with an uninteresting backgammon board, I followed—first down to Candy/Charlotte’s room, where the ‘animals’ and Candy and Charlotte just stood and sat around talking and cutting up; but Steven wasn’t finished carrying Carol, he turned around and back down the hall. I returned to Carol’s room, and Steven carried her back in, set her down on the bed, and that interlude was over.
Others came into the room—Candy, Charlotte, Bill, Jack of Hearts, Steven, and we talked with the poor rabbit out, trying to hide beneath the bed, and whenever Carol or Charlotte attempted to rescue poor rabbit from under the bed, Steven would reach forward and tickle them, to prevent it.
Carol and I managed to end the Backgammon game, somewhere along the line, perhaps before all this. I only know she won by one marker and one, just one square, if you can talk of ‘squares’ in Backgammon. Enough of that. Charlotte had a cornbread mix out, and prepared it, and began to cook it.
And somewhere, at some time, Carol asked me, it was the second time she’d asked it, it seems, if I played the guitar. I explained that I had one, and that I sure wished I could, but just hadn’t been successful, mainly because strings kept breaking on me, and that, even now, it was at home with two broken strings. I looked like a guitar player, she said. If I could play the guitar—I would trade my chess ability for guitar ability—then I would write songs all day.
Carol also had a guitar, and was learning to play, and she got it out. After my insisting I couldn’t play at all, she began to strum a few chords. She started to sing Blowing in the Wind—but neither of us could remember the words. For the few lines she did sing, her voice was surprisingly intensive, strong, melodious.
Perhaps it was now Charlotte came in with her intention of cooking cornbread. We talked, Charlotte sitting on the other bed, Candy, Steven, on the floor, Carol, I, on her bed. We had more and more of those embarrassing eye contacts, that I or she would break off, but gradually she stopped breaking off, and began to look so very attentive, at times, into mine, that I felt disarmed completely, and would invariably break off. After all, we weren’t alone in the room. And as we talked Carol began to stretch out her legs on the bed, and nudge them against my back, in answer to which I didn’t see anything I could discretely do, except look at her.
Later the animals, and later Lee, came in from Candy’s room or somewhere, and more conversation. Again Lee hugged Carol, and made a display of it, and we were introduced, and so on.
Earlier, Charlotte or Candy had told Carol that Lee wasn’t Lee’s first name—so Carol asked him about it. “Lloyd Edward” was his first name—
“Boyd?” Carol asked.
—neither of which he liked, so taking his initials, he got Lee. I found out he was from Waynesboro.
The bunch of us kept talking, Lee, Carol and I on her bed, Bill the political science major interested in politics, and “Jack of Hearts” on the other bed, Charlotte, Candy, Steven, sitting on the floor, and rabbit under the bed with us—somewhere, always. Carol still managed, occasionally, to touch me with her feet, despite Lee, and so on.
Later Carol also sat on the floor, in front of Lee and I on the bed. And Candy and Carol managed to dig up a few beers—Carol especially urging me to have some, for she apparently didn’t think I’d had enough, since I hadn’t tickled her, or gone touching her indiscretely, or for whatever reason. Talk went on, and even Lee was sometimes giving me looks, and I gave him looks—for I confess I liked him, with his dark hair and dark gypsy complexion—reminded me of the “gypsy” in the movie version of Lawrence’s The Virgin and the Gypsy. Besides, he looked familiar to me—as if I’d met him before; and seeing he was from Waynesboro, it seemed likely; and quite possibly he was a friend of Peggy’s, or George’s, or somebody’s.
For quite a while the bunch of us talked, until it was late, and someone in the room above knocked on the floor. “It can’t be that late.”
But with the time change that took place just that night, it was five after three A.M. Visitation hours only went to two A.M.
We kept on talking, and occasionally Carol would say something to me to the effect that she hoped I wasn’t getting the wrong idea—”You must think we’re a bunch of crazy people—we’re not like this all the time.”
“No, we’re worse!” Candy or Charlotte would chime in.
Then the phone rang. It was someone complaining about the noise. But why?—It was only 4 A.M.
Lee, Charlotte, Steven, Candy, the others, wanted to go over to Myers Lobby, where it would be all right to be up and noisy. Carol didn’t want to go. She was tired. But no, she must go—one way or another. So Lee picked her up over his shoulder. And we went over to Myers, Carol not eager, but yet enjoying the attention, making light of it.
So to Myers lobby into couches and chairs—Lee laid Carol on a couch, head in his lap—and I, having no place to sit, made a game of sitting on Carol’s legs. After a while I let them up, and sat, and she put them in my lap. So Lee had her head, and her shoulders, and her arms, I had her feet and her legs. (But then, I’d only just met her.)
She made it clear to me she wanted to be tickled—or something, so I began tickling her feet. How she like it! Tickling eventually degenerated into mere stroking, since that turned out easier, for Carol had become immune to tickling. “Keep it up—I like it,” she whispered.
And the bunch of us talked. For a while Carol sat up, back to Lee, slipping her fingers onto my shoulders, and I slipping my fingers onto her, out of Lee’s sight.
And the bunch of us talked. Lee had her head back in his lap, and I had her feet back in mine. Carol was a leg-shaver—I could feel the rough ends of her hair barely flush with her smooth skin—it felt disturbing, almost unsexual, to caress such denuded legs—definitely more womanly to have a little hair, then the rough whisker-ends of shaved hair.
Lee was more and more not happy at all with Carol’s overtures to me, and I could hear whispers like, “You know what I mean.” “What?” And a hard look. And frank looks would pass, as well, between Lee and me. I would look at him, he would look at me, sort of sizing up, sort of wondering. And of course Carol would again and again catch my eye, and give me such a passionate, frank gaze, that it was, not being alone (and even had we been alone) most uncomfortable, for me. I would have to look away, usually, after a very short time.
Once, while Carol was sitting up, feet still in my lap, looking at me, back to Lee, he put his finger in her back, with a warning. “This is a knife.” Carol knew it wasn’t, but then Lee thought and pulled out a knife, and put the blade at her back. “Yes, that is a knife. Yes.” Even in total fun, I don’t like the use of knife-blades like that. It was, at least, a Freudian threat on Lee’s part. I recognized it as such.
It was late—after five—and wise not to tickle or caress Carol’s feet or legs, or to stare at her, since a certain dislike was flashing in Lee’s eyes. I could feel how he felt, and couldn’t blame him—but neither could I blame me, for Carol was making overtures, after all.
Finally, Carol pleaded to me to sign my name to her feet, and my phone number as well. So I began to sign my name on the bottom of her feet—Dwight to one foot, Lyman to the other—she insisted especially I sign my last name, for she didn’t know it. I had to go slow, signing, for it was painful for her, the point of the bic into her tender foot.
But I didn’t put my phone number—given the circumstances, that seemed too blatant. Besides, with my last name, she could get my phone number.
The others were leaving slowly—Candy, Steven, Charlotte, Jack of Hearts. It was time for me to leave.
“Well, you know where my room is.” said Carol.
It was 5:30 by the clock.
“I’ll see you, Lee,” I said. And to Carol:
“I’ll see you.”
And I left. I hadn’t thought to ask her what her last name was.
I had misgivings about leaving Carol alone with Lee, in Myers lobby.
Outside it was night air. What will happen now, I thought, walking home. Has this girl Carol entered my life? Shaved legs? But no earrings. Girl that had gone to Cornell? And played Backgammon?
At least, I thought, it’s a good ego-trip for me.
But I must set things straight, with her, I thought. Whatever happens must happen on my terms, or not happen.
Why was she so interested in me? Apparently because I was a graduate student, and I had gone to Emory. She had all these boys—Lee, Steven—around her, and no doubt others (that Steven more than liked her, was obvious from how he acted)—so why the interest in me.
It seemed to me, walking home, that she was reaching out for something more, for someone more intellectual. If that was the case, I thought, Lee needn’t worry, a while with me would cure her of that.
A police car at a light looked me carefully over, and coyly went by. In a few minutes it came up behind me, and stopped. A plainclothesman got out—”Are you a student?”
“Let’s see your I.D.”
So I showed it him.
“O.K, Mr. Lyman O.K. We’re just checking. It’s kind of early in the morning, you know.”
“Yes it is, isn’t it?”
And so they went on.
When I woke in the morning, I had much work to do. It was Sunday. I did reading; I did three or four hours in the library. Then, walking down Lumpkin to eat Sunday evening while it was still light, a white, probably Ford, fairly old-modeled car, passed. I had just been watching a pigeon take off in lame-looking flight, and the car tooted while passing. At me? I wasn’t sure—no one around. A single person, it looked like a girl, was in it, and I thought it might be the girl Carol. The car slowed, after passing, then turned off quickly, on Wray Street.
Would she turn around and come back? Or would she come back around the block—and had it indeed been her—had the tooting even been at me? It seemed that it had, so looking back, I kept walking, sure the car would return, not sure from which direction.
After a while the car did return, from Wray Street, and came up on the other side of the four-laner. With a girl driving, that may have been Carol, and may not have been. At any rate she didn’t seem to see me, and the car seemed to turn onto Broad almost angrily.
Now I regretted having kept on walking, and it seemed to me that it had been her—and she hadn’t expected me to be further up the street. So I hurried to the corner, looking down Broad, expecting maybe she would turn around again. But I waited, and the car didn’t show. So I shrugged, and crossed to go down to Blimpe’s. But then across Broad, I thought I saw the same car again—it turned up Jackson. So I crossed Broad, to be on the right side, next time, and I waited at the corner of Herty and Broad. But the car didn’t show again, and I presently walked back across and down to Blimpe’s.
Later, walking home, I came upon the fellow named Bill, in political science, and he introduced me to a girl with him. I mentioned the police stopping me.
All day, I’d thought about the girl Carol, and how to get hold of her last name, and phone number—I saw no way but to go to Rutherford personally. I would do that Monday, when I would have more time.
And Monday afternoon, around 4:00, I found time, on excuse of going to the Science library, to work on the Bibliography. On the way over, I stopped in Rutherford, in the lobby, and checked the list of names. Carol Matyas Room 15, #6345.
Sunday morning I’d found time to comb through a bit of the Student Directory, looking for a Carol Anybody in Rutherford Hall from Ithaca, N. Y. I gave up on it as futile, but did find Lloyd Edward Xxxxxxx, of Waynesboro, in there.
Now, Monday, I didn’t drop by her room, but went on to Science library, and did my hour’s work. After, I dropped by Room 15, Rutherford. No one was in. A message-plaque, that hadn’t been up Saturday night, was up, and I left word I’d been by, with my complete last name, as an afterthought. Perhaps I would call her later that night, or perhaps she would see my name and call me.
Back in Morris, the dreadful phone rang. Not Carol but Charlotte. Had I come by to see Carol? Yes. Then I hadn’t heard what had happened. No—what happened? On Sunday night, she died.
Charlotte was extremely nervous, as if what she was telling was all too unbelievable. I couldn’t believe it—it was too unbelievable.
Carol’s always had a weak heart, Charlotte explained, and apparently that had been compiled with a lung-problem they hadn’t know of—and Sunday night she died. They hadn’t known how to contact me, until they had seen my name on the message board. A bunch of the ‘animals’, she told me, were meeting at Lairds that night, to drown their sorrows. I had a paper to do, but where was Lairds? “Don’t you know?” “I haven’t been there.” She explained it was up Baxter, across from a Piggly Wiggly.
Dead? It seemed so improbable. I meet her, and a day later she is dead? A great, a great something—not unlike fear of fate—came over me. No, it was too improbable.
No—it was a joke. That made sense. That was much more likely. Why else invite me to Lairds—no, it was a setup. I was being set up for a little surprise—wasn’t that much more likely. But they hadn’t told me what time to be at Lairds. No, Carol had instigated this, somehow. She had seen my name on the message board on her door—and had plotted this.
Immediately, I put on my shoes; there was nothing to do but go straight to Rutherford, straight to her room, and uncover this. Explain that I hadn’t been fooled at all, not let on that I had really fallen for it, at first. It was an admiring, a bold trick, to pull, I had to admit to myself; and convincing. Charlotte, because her voice had sounded like it itself couldn’t believe what she was saying, because it had been in a nervous, half-laugh, over the phone, sounded so very convincing. Because that’s how the voice is, often, after death.
What if Carol was really dead? But the fact remained that was so improbable. How often do you meet a girl in such favorable, eager circumstances, and a day later she is dead?
At her room, on the message board was another message. Apparently written to the other Carol—Carol’s roommate. “If there is anything we can do to help, let us know”, and signed by apparent friends of hers. Again I knocked, no one answered.
I stood limply in the hall a while. Could this be? This was too cruel to be a trick.
A girl came down the hall, my throat was very dry, I didn’t know how to ask. I motioned at the door, dumbly.
“Did you hear something?” she asked quietly.
I managed a yes, or a nod.
“She died Sunday night. . .” and she told me the story. She’d had a weak heart—with apparent breathing problems, and so on. She was given artificial respiration, and rushed to a hospital, but still died. The girl was very compassionate, with very moist drops of compassion in her eyes, yet she talked calmly, serenely. Finally she asked me what it was I had heard.
“I heard she had died, or something.”
So Carol Ann Matyas, the very girl I’d just met, was dead. It was all real.
I had been so looking forward, so looking forward. . . .
But it was as if some thing, some fate, had stamped a veto on it, by making her die.
She met me, and a day later she was dead.
So eager to reach out to me, to make a touch. As if she knew she was going to die. She had to see me again. She just had to.
And I had been willing, but I never expected this.
We had just begun a touch.
I found out Monday night at Larids, that Carol had been expecting to die. She had the heart problem. Even in walking to Snelling to eat—a scant block away—she would have to stop and rest, as of late—Charlotte and Candy explained to me. She had told them, “I could die at any time. You don’t believe me do you.” “Yes, we believe you, we believe you.” they had insisted.
So she was up til 5:30, at least, early Sunday morning. Sunday evening, a bunch of them were in her room—Peter, Candy, Charlotte, at least, and began to watch a horror movie. But Carol seriously asked them to leave—with more insistence than they’d known from her before—and they left. Soon they heard screams from her roommate, and there was Carol, unable to breath. Peter gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, a campus policeman arrived, took over, ambulance took her to St. Mary’s Hospital. And she died. It was about 11:00 Sunday night.
Carol Anne Matyas
15 Rutherford Hall 6345
409 Hanshaw Road, Ithaca, N.Y.
d. 24 April 1977
It does involve me.
Death is so unfair, so final, for those who die. Life is all they have, and then, suddenly, it’s stolen. For it is the soul, not the body, that dies. The very soul dies. The very spark, the very source of life, is extinguished. Afterwards, slowly, the body dies. Decomposes.
You can’t put back life, when it has gone. You can’t make up for it, for what is lost. It is a brief excursion into experience, a spark of life-throb looping over. Only a brief, brief moment of life. Then gone.
We have to make our touch when we can, for any moment it may be stolen from us. We must make our touch, and not be afraid. Must must overcome this inertial fear of reaching out to touch. We have to be willing to brave ridicule, brave illegitimacy, for touch.
We must place our very life against the inertia.
Carol. Carol. What was she? I don’t know. She remains beyond me, beyond my touch. Dead, because I couldn’t touch her.
Her reaching to me was a reach for life. My reach back I had waited too late.
I am implicated. I am involved. I am an accessory. As we are all implicated, concerning the lives of those we know. We are, for all we have met, an accessory either to life or to death.
Are we to let circumstances bar us from life?
Are we to allow ourselves forced into being accessories to death?