A Beginning

My hand starts shaking very time I put my pen to the bit of tissue in front of me. Little blobs of ink get absorbed and look like musky snowflakes…

It is too sunny outside to complement my spirits. The very beauty of it makes the contrast; I’m more like the dirty melting snow.

Study hall number one: all the castles in this encyclopedia can take me away–right out of this century. I can sit on the stone steps and dangle my feet in the water, search out the lost trail with Admiral Meaulnes…population charts are stark as study hall.

It’s still dark. The wind is light and sweet and warm, but it chills me under my flapping coat. It’s like last April or a cold summer. The sky is turning pink at the edges. By the time I get to school it will be light.

“May I leave this thing here?” I asked the bus driver. My voice sounded strange. That was the first time I’d ever said anything aloud on the early bus breaking my bond of silent anonymity with the others.

Tenacious snowflakes, fat and few…reaching school, damp…The room is black, the darkness is heavy and dense. I wonder how long I can stand it.

I hate study hall, and I was glared out of my comfortable seat in the library. Now this sweet, dispenser soap smelling place is my refuge. I feel sick and gray like the sky. I think it’s seeping under this windowpane to catch me and blow me around bare trees and windswept roofs.

I am in study hall again. I spend nine-tenths of my academic hours in this ridiculous room with its family of desks. All I ever do is daydream. It’s like math class, only not so bad. There the theorems fly over me, crawl under me and seep around me; but nothing ever hits. The people here are either scratching or chewing or drumming or staring into air. I can’t concentrate among people. I’m so conscious of them: I watch their eyes and delve into their thoughts and make myself look studious or something,

After I slid out Volume 9 looking for more castles, I decided to turn to Falstaff.

Falstaff and Shakespeare were last year. Last year is a period in my life—so far—that probably will never be integrated with the rest. It was removed, metaphysical, beautiful, painful, and it’s over. Shoved aside for facts and grades and nerves and tears—not even the right kind of tears.

“Falsetto—a forced form of sound production employed to obtain notes above the natural range of the voice.” That is a capsule of my thoughts and work this year. I can’t stand the waste.

I don’t believe it! They have Edward Fitzball, Fitzgerald (a house in Ireland), Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Lord Thomas, George Francis, Raymond, and a city, Fitzgerald, in Georgia, pop. 8,170—but no F. Scott Fitzgerald!

  1. Carcassonne—the fortifications of this ancient walled city were constructed by the Romans and the Visigoths…
  2. An old road in Les Andelys, Normandy.

It looks like a cottage in fairy tales. I don’t see how there can be places like that while we run around the neon parapets of the Daitch Shopwell.

That woman makes me furious! Just because I told her some of the things I think and what bothers me, she treats me like some kind of a dangerous mental case.

“How is life treating you today?”

Adults are all alike. They treat you like big buddies and then go and analyze you in their spare time. It was fun talking to her for a while about Europe. In just have to go back. The trouble is that you have to have money. I think I’ll marry four rich old men and completely exploit them. Then I can do what I please. It’s easy enough to say that money isn’t everything and you should do what you really like. But the truth is, to be completely free, you’ve got to have lots of money.

I can’t stand this math class. It makes me so mad. I know I’m going to do nothing but sit here and look at my little street map of Paris. I registered an ink spot on the corner where our hotel was last summer. Rue de l’Echelle at rue d’Argentueil. I wish I were still there, walking through the drizzle in my trench coat. I love trench coats, especially my really old one that was made in England. It fits so comfortably.

paris map

Oh, good. Now we’re going to hear the merits of modern mathematics. I don’t see how anyone can keep his mind in order, going from number to number, plane to plane: I can’t even describe the confusion in my own mind…

“The ones who don’t die….”

That’s a nice morbid remark. You can kill people but you couldn’t possibly put an end to complex words? numbers? ideas? flitting around in their brains. It’s like the idea of thought—not people—being the life eternal.

Math conference was very enlightening today. Much better with only three people in the class. Pretty soon I started thinking about James Joyce and the “nicens little boy” and the “moocow.” It must be hard to write what you think so anyone else can understand it. I don’t think anyone else really feels the same about anything; you do your best to understand the other person’s point of view.

I had a vision in class today of a person in big, black sunglasses with tears running out from under the lenses.

I miss him. He was so nice, and he acted so happy all the time. It really killed you to look at him, though, because you could see he was really lonely. I remember one night: “You’re funny.”

The way he laughed at me, I wanted to say, “I love you.” I don’t even know you, but I do.

I am so hungry. I keep writhing around. If you can imagine food: pizza, the crust rough on your tongue, tomato sauce, chocolate cake with fudgy icing oozing between molars, cool coffee ice cream.

I love the lavatory. You can lean out the window and get cool air on your face and hair while you keep your toes warm under the radiator. I’m in a good mood. It would be funny to take an end of the toilet paper roll and wind it in and out all around the room.

Today I found an end to my lethargy or rebelliousness. He told me all I needed was a good kick in the pants. I think half the time I’m being brash—openly daring people to put me down.

…was thinking about “universality in thought” again. It’s very complicated. Maybe the general or remembered feeling or thought can be the same for two people while the personal connotations and impressions are unique. It’s like the section about Joyce, James Aloysius, ne 2/2/82, and the separation of art from the citizen.

Can you make a movie of a poem?

People are so funny. I think I have one real friend. I think people who are mentally sympathetic have a tough time acting human toward each other. You can’t judge anything by its durability. Probably the hardest person to get along with is the one you like best. Friendship is a funny thing. Sometimes I m convinced I can get along without people. I love playing roles. You can read about the best people to imitate.

…really not friends at all anymore. There must be something left; we were so close. I guess we were united because neither of us knew where we were going. Well, that’s one direction I’d rather not take.

…hate sitting through the long, drawn-out discussions. I’m embarrassed at how easily I can put my mind on some remote thought. I wish they wouldn’t try to be nice and give me everything. I know I’m wrong. What can I do? I really don’t care about my town, even if it does mean getting a job. I’m not going to the library and reads its history either. I wish they would let me alone. I may run.

He’s having a party tonight.

It was over two years ago that we were together. It was one of those sweet summers quickly betrayed by September and school and football practice.

“I really don’t want to go out for football.”

“You shouldn’t, then. Besides. you can come visit me at school.”

This year I watched him and heard about him.

“He’s the biggest guy on the team and the most chicken.”

At the end of August into September we sat under the trees and I did my French reading and he pulled up grass by the roots.

“Did you really write the letter?”

“It came from the bottom of my heart.”

“What should I do?”

“Write me one from the bottom of your heart.”

I was worried about losing him to school, but the letter said not to worry, to think only about wonderful things.

I slept with his sweater; we talked for three hours; he kept my torn pocket.

He kissed me for the first time and we both burst out laughing, sputtering all over each other. He kissed me for the last time, and I didn’t even know it.

Tonight I’ll take a shower and think about those people. Then maybe I’ll look out the window for a while, over the boatyard and frozen harbor. I’m not sad or happy, but I can feel there is something beyond. The greatness of the sky dwarfs all of us: lost loves, best friends, worst enemies, people, places, ideas. But this immediate smallness is a beginning, and there is no end.

From the January, 1965 issue of Seventeen magazine. First prize in the annual short story contest. And not a popular winner.