At Pitt Prep Kathy had been at the center, the inner circle – cheerleader, gymnast, field hockey player, just the kind of cheerful, responsible, spirited female that the powers that be pictured when they made the school co-ed. I, on the other hand, a cynical, non-conforming rebel was the kind they didn’t want in the picture at all. Even though the boys didn’t involve themselves with her romantically, Kathy was still conventionally "popular," pals with the other populars, and the Dean, various teachers and even the Headmaster himself, the very people who tried so often to convince me I was a terminally maladjusted malcontent, showered her with appreciation and praise.
But when we emerged from the dark hole of what I later learned was considered one of the most conservative and medieval prep schools in the country into the gentle light of a small, non-athletic, liberal liberal arts college things became quite different. Suddenly pep and school spirit were corny and cynicism and non-conformity cool. It’s common to describe the Carter years of the late seventies as a time of dispirited disillusion, of ennui, malaise and decadence, and I suppose all that’s true because I loved it, and for the first (and last) time in my life I felt at one with the Zeitgeist. At that time and at that college I was where Betsy had been at Prep, central, in the middle of things, everybody’s pal, the avatar of cutting edge values – even the teachers and administrators seemed to appreciate my creativity and provocations – while she became just as suddenly anachronistic, at the margins, a spectator in a world without pep rallies. (Of course in the long run un-hip Kathy would be proven right. Life, as they say, is more like high school than college, and the back to baloney rah-rah of the ultimate square Ronald Reagan loomed right around the corner).
My reverie was interrupted by the arrival of Megan bearing our pitcher. There ya go.
, I said, folding a bill into the tip jar on her tray. We’re all set.
I’d ridiculously over-tipped, the equivalent of an hour in the pit, and Megan looked slowly from me to Kathy until summoned away by further banging and grunting by the Dekes.
But in another way….
I poured a glass for Kathy and set it in front of her before pouring my own and quickly downing half of it. In another way I’ve never – I don’t know – never felt so alive as I did back at Prep. Like every day everything was possible, everything was important, you know? I killed the glass with another immoderate gulp. Now, especially now that we’re seniors, every time I do something it’s like I’m denying myself the chance to do something else – maybe forever –
I don’t know
, she said, taking a delicate sip. If you think about your future…
I poured myself another. Nooooo few-tchaaa, I crooned in my best Johnny Rotten voice. And in fact that voice was my voice, the voice of my generation, baby, the generation that didn’t even have a name, the one the baby boomers were always trying to annex so that they could appear younger. I’d been surrounded by their music for as long as I could remember, but I’d always known it wasn’t my music, and had never bought into that hippy crap and it wasn’t until I’d heard Johnny Rotten’s voice that I knew I’d finally found a sound I could call my own.
Well, I have a future.
I’m sure you do –
A noxious comeback rose in my throat, but just looking at her, secure in her guileless sweetness, blunted my habitual contrariness. Like tonight, for instance. I foresee a beautiful future for us.
Another sip, even slighter than the first. Give me a break. You’re impossible.
But things weren’t impossible between us, and with the beer as a lubricant we slowly slipped into an easy conversation more rooted in the present of teachers, classes and contemporaries. Soon enough she was laughing and flirting right back at me, and we were more than casually looking into each other’s eyes.