SWAY (PART THREE)
She’d been in a lot of classes with Charlie that first year and had been intrigued by him from the start, even though he was so firmly outside her quickly drawn social circle. In a school where those who weren’t jocks or popular were tacitly and not so tacitly encouraged to remain as inconspicuous as possible, Charlie had stood out in his stubborn refusal to try as hard as everybody else to be like everybody else.
She’d finally gotten to know him at the literary magazine, a circle of overly sensitive adolescents who composed moony stories and poems to and about each other and then published them in a little magazine once a year. She’d written and drawn little scraps of things for as long as she could remember, an interest her popular friends found acceptable in a girl, if, like all girlish things, slightly ridiculous. With his acerbic wit and more obscure idealism Charlie held sway over the lit crowd the same way her boyfriend lorded over his.
As, much to the consternation of the black clad poetesses, she began to attend their meetings, she felt his attention almost unwillingly drawn to her, and his hand in her slow acceptance and advancement in the group. He goaded and chafed her as he did the others, but, already an aficionada of male desire, she could sense the attraction underneath. They began to meet at lunch and the library, at first seemingly by accident, but later with clear intent, initiating long discussions; arguments and dialogues on all sorts of topics, he elucidating his precociously developed nihilistic philosophies, but also listening, solemnly considering her awkwardly serious thoughts and nascent creative efforts, the very things she hid from her boyfriend for fear of ridicule.
Strangely, though, she felt most attracted to him when he excoriated her, mixing stinging sarcasm with an attack on everything conventional in her life, dismissing all her friendships and beliefs, and challenging all the “normal” things she liked and took part in. Although she often felt overwhelmed in the face of his ferocious arguments, she’d never completely given in, never conceded that he was all right and she was all wrong, a refusal she could tell impressed him far more than the nodding acquiescence of his acolytes. They’d grown surprisingly close, but some final layer of irony and caution had prevented them from getting romantically involved, their relationship continuing in and around both their amours, his with a succession of long haired bohemian girls, one of whom tried to kill herself (with aspirin!) for love, hers as the long-standing, almost ceremonial consort of the athlete king, who exercised his largely passionless suzerainty over her even after he’d gone away to college.
It was for the best that they’d never taken the next step – the two of them together would have been impossible, like a tiger and an ape – not in that zoo, anyway, and she though they both tacitly understood, but somehow after they’d graduated Charlie had lost his balance.
They’d gone to different colleges, the distance seeming to affect him more than her, his letters coming twice as fast as her replies, which grew shorter and colder as his grew longer and more wildly intense. In the end this paragon of non-conformity had been distressingly like the rest, appearing unannounced at her sorority house, disheveled and out of control, saying she was the only woman he’d ever loved, finally falling to his knees, sobbing, begging him to come away with him. She’d run away, leaving her sorority sisters and their frat boy friends to throw him out.
He’d written contritely to her later, apologizing, trying to make light of the whole thing as a drunken escapade, but she couldn’t bring herself to answer. Even after they’d both graduated and were living in their home town, they hadn’t been able to get much past an embarrassed hello the few times they’d run into each other.
And where had that dark, contrarian philosophy she’d internalized gotten its creator? The last time she’d seen Charlie, he’d been in a seedy bar one of her more demanding boyfriends had dragged her to, declaiming verses about his great lost love, too fucked up to even recognize her. She hadn’t been surprised to hear he’d died shortly after, alcohol and drugs, a suicide one way or another, all those ardent poems he’d written long discarded and forgotten. She kept his brief obituary in a book he’d given her – she wasn’t really sure where it was at the moment.