"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Sunday, February 06, 2005
Big Little Man
stat-ure Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French, from Latin statura, from status, past participle of stare to stand -- more at STAND
1 : natural height (as of a person) in an upright position
2 : quality or status gained by growth, development, or achievement
3 : what some people lack physically, and try to make up for with arrogance
(Note: Names still changed in this narrative, as noted previously.)
There were days, weeks, even months that I was in love with Debra, I think. Or at least it felt like it.
Then there were times when it was more of a habit than anything else, or a convenience. There's something to be said for not having to hustle on the dating scene, especially when you are double majoring like I did at one of the hardest universities in the country.
At times, I think I might have been happy. But only at times. Other times I craved freedom, freedom I didn't have and didn't dare pursue too strongly because somewhere in my confusion I didn't want to overtly hurt her.
I should have.
That spring, she took me to meet her family in the suburbs of Atlanta. We pulled into her community, and I was floored. Every house on the street was a mansion, obscenely large and sprawling, with huge iron gates and stone drives and lion statues that didn't look out of place in the slightest.
Her house was at the end of the street. I use the term "house" loosely, because this monstrous structure wasn't anywhere near the same class of architecture as the one I grew up in. It was stucco with a southwestern design, but I would bet that no one in Mexico under the rank of Vice President ever lived in something so opulent.
Well, maybe drug lords, but we won't go there.
When we pulled up, there were twelve or thirteen distinct deep throated barks. "Hoooof! Hooof!" They had a Saint Bernard kennel, twelve or thirteen dogs that they showed professionally. Of course, Saint Bernards, as Bill Cosby once said, can only bark once. Then they have to clear their eyes, catch their breath, etc.
So, all the dogs having greeted us with the obligatory single bark, we went inside.
We went in through the kitchen door, and I met her mother. She was a nice lady, pleasant enough. I met her brother too, he was sitting at a little island in the kitchen watching a small black and white TV.
From there we went into the living room.
Now, the house I lived in was a nice three bedroom two story house in a good neighborhood. But you could have put my entire house in that living room and not touched a single wall. The living room was three stories tall with two sets of balconies, and a stone fireplace large enough to easily stand in and maybe do a few jumping jacks.
Artwork hung on the walls all around, I think, but I don't remember much of what they were.
Then I was shown the family room, or library. It was a very tiny room with a few chairs and a very small TV way up on a shelf almost out of the field of view. That was the family TV.
I'm trying to remember when it finally got through my head that this family was rather eccentric. I'm thinking it was right there, when I saw the TV.
I had a glance into the master bedroom from the door into the family room. It was a suite all in itself, with a gigantic bed, sitting area, and who knows what else. On the far end appeared to be a garden tub or something. I dunno, maybe it was just a garden.
They had several guest suites. I would be in the basement suite.
Again, a very large bedroom, walk in closet larger than most people's bedrooms, and 1 1/2 bathrooms. Across the hall was the salon, containing the bar, complete with brass rail, oak pool table. Seems like there were some hunting trophies or mounted heads in the room too. If not, they would have fit right in.
Her dad must be really something, I thought.
He was, just not in the way I thought.
About six that evening or so, he came home. He walked in, and I was surprised.
He was a little short guy, slicked back hair, and a bit smarmy. Oh, and did I mention he was a gynecologist? Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it's a key fact in what ends up happening in this story.
We make small talk for a bit, about nothing in particular. Then he takes the family out to eat. We ride in the family van.
The van has no seats. They have all been removed to make way for dogs. The smell is so strong I almost throw up. Debra's father doesn't even seem to notice.
I want to say we had something really classy, like Pizza Hut, something a rich person would treat a special guest to. But it might have been Shoney's. In any event, it was pretty mundane.
Personally, I was confused. But I was trying not to be.
I'll never forget breakfast the next morning.
The entire family had gathered at the breakfast room table, which in their house really was a room just for breakfast, and we were all having something Debra's mother had cooked. I remember hoping Debra could cook better than her mother, but I was eating with gusto anyway, saying how much I liked it.
"Debra," her father said from behind his newspaper, "are you on the pill?"
The world just stopped. Dead. No one at the table could believe this man's horrible breach of etiquette. He lowered his paper, and stared at her. Smirked.
Overcome by the moment, Debra burst into tears and fled the room. There was a scene between her mother and father, and I retreated to the guest suite.
In a little while it seemed that the family got things patched up, and Debra told me that her father wanted to take us all to Lake Lanier and take us waterskiing with their motorboat. I've never really liked motorboats, and I'm more of a surfer than a skier. So, I wasn't looking forward to it.
They hook up the motorboat to, of course, the doggy van, and we all pile into the back for the trip. They leave the windows up. It's hot. I'm sweating. And the world smells like dog butt.
I am not having a good time.
By the time we get to Lake Lanier, all I want is to lay in the open and breathe unhindered. I pile out and spread a towel after it becomes obvious that Debra's father doesn't think he needs any help. Let him have it. I plop on the towel and try to look invisible.
"Cliff, Dad wants you to come waterski." I open my eyes, and there's Debra. Apparently her father not only got the boat into the water but started the thing. And I was up to be the star attraction, or at least the appetizer.
"I really, really don't feel well. Please tell him that I am perfectly fine right here, I'd like to get some sun." I pouted at her. She immediately and identically pouted back.
"I'll stay here then," she said, obviously disappointed.
"No, please, you go ahead! I'll be fine." So she did.
They took turns going in and out, skiing, and then Debra would come tell me something or other that had happened, and they would go out again. Then there came a long time when they didn't come back, and when they finally did it turned out that the father had managed to stall out the motor and flood it, and couldn't get it started again for a long time because he kept flooding it. Now no one was having a good time anymore.
I got the feeling that her dad was mad at me for not skiing, but I didn't care.
The next day we headed back to school, and I had a better understanding of what Debra's background was. I would see concrete reflections of it over the next two years, because whenever she spent time at home, she would pick up their attitudes and habits like silly putty does newsprint. She would take days to flush it from her system.
Of course, she was doing the same with me and my attitudes, but I didn't notice that.
Debra's father and mother eventually got divorced, I think. You see, he had lost his sense of smell, which is why his van always smelled so bad. He didn't know. Nor did he know when he cheated on his wife that he would come home stinking of the other women's perfume, or worse.
I hope his wife took him for everything he owned. She earned it.
My grandfather used to refer to men like Debra's father as "revolving horse's rear ends." His explanation was that whichever way you turned them, you still had one. Well said, Granddaddy.
Soon, summer vacation came and I took a job as a congressional intern in DC while I did an independant study. Debra and I would talk for hours on the office outgoing watts line, well, until I discovered that watts lines weren't free. Who knew?
Then, in September, we returned to Furman and picked up right where we left off. Just like a rollercoaster cresting the hill before the plunge, we were already committed to what would eventually happen. Sure, we could have turned back, but we didn't. And we wouldn't.
Not until it was far too late.
Pygmies are pygmies still, though percht on Alps;
And pyramids are pyramids in vales.
Each man makes his own stature, builds himself.
Virtue alone outbuilds the Pyramids;
Her monuments shall last when Egypt's fall.
--Edward Young, Night Thoughts