I flew to college by myself. When I got to my dorm I noticed that everyone else had family with them. At the time, that seemed strange to me. I had even gone to visit some prospective colleges alone. Heading to Duke, my mother brought me to the airport, just the two of us, and we said goodbye without any tears. No fanfare. No weeping. I had said farewell earlier to everyone else at home.
I was excited and looking forward to college. Thinking back, I don’t know how my mother felt watching her firstborn leave the proverbial nest for the first time. She stayed very calm. She was just like she always was, loving, kind and encouraging. But who knows what happened on her ride home alone. I wish now that I could ask her.
When my own children left for college I only felt enormous relief. As a single parent I could finally relax and not worry so much about them anymore. I had worked so hard to ensure their health, safety and well being every day -- a huge responsibility. So when I listen to the emotional agony of some of my friends, I’m puzzled. Maybe it was just easier for me to let go because I had a career that sucked the life out of me on top of raising kids alone.
We soon made plans for Thanksgiving. I would spend the actual turkey day with my roommate and her family in New Jersey. Then I would take the bus to New York. Kurn would pick me up at Penn Station. We would meet his uncle’s family for dinner, after which we would pretend I was staying at the Biltmore for the rest of the weekend. Actually we spent our remaining time together at a Columbia University frat house. In the fireplace-appointed room of Kurn’s friend, Jaime, whose father was an assassinated Latin American dictator. Fireplace or not, the place was a slum.
Kurn picked me up at Penn Station and immediately checked my neck to see if I was wearing the llama. I wasn’t. I made up a reason why because I didn’t have the courage to confront him about my encounter with his sister. Our whole relationship might have been turned around if I had.
He showed me all the places he loved to frequent during the year he lived in New York. Little Italian restaurants with peaches at the bottom of the wine bottles. The Staten Island ferry at midnight with a full moon shining down on the only two passengers. Museums, museums, museums. Parties with friends from Dartmouth. His roommate’s first comment to me was “I thought you would be shorter.” There is a song that the Dartmouth Glee Club may still sing that starts out, “She is my slender, small one.” I guess Kurn played that tune a lot in their room. It should have been, “She is my slender, TALL one.”
As usual, I was a little apprehensive – okay, terrified – at the prospect of some new sexual event which no doubt loomed large in my legend. Somehow despite my summer of discovery, I was still a virgin [my mother’s voice in my ear had seen to that]. But now without any protest, I was going to have sex with my boyfriend. I felt like I was walking off a plank into something very dark and foreboding.
Ultimately, even though I was still completely under his spell and lacked the courage to say "no" to him, my virgin status did not change. I guess Kurn decided that making me kiss him was one thing, but deflowering me was, perhaps, rape? Do you think? There was also that residual resentment I harbored from my run-in with his sister. Some of it must have surfaced as a defiant aura to make him keep his distance.
After our first night we had breakfast in a little below ground café near the Guggenheim and he gave me a napkin afterward. On it he had written, “I love you.”
For years I had longed to hear him say he loved me. Now when it finally happened, I no longer felt the same. I smiled at him and tucked the napkin in my pocket. The llama had become a dead elephant stinking up the room.
After the weekend he sent a long rapturous letter to my parents about what a good time we had in New York. He might as well have announced to the world we were having monkey sex. What was he thinking? Okay, he was in love. My parents were totally cool. They wouldn’t let me go to Dartmouth’s Winter Carnival over Christmas, however. So he decided to come home, too, so we could be together.
Back at school after Thanksgiving, I had taken Kurn’s instructions to date other people seriously. I think he still wanted his freedom, so he gave me mine. And I took it. A very Amish thing to do -- sew your oats and then get married. I was new to serial dating. Hey, this was fun. I finally found guys tall enough to date. One of them was Don’s fraternity brother, Danny.
Remember Don from the beach? He was my big brother again, only now at Duke. He introduced me to Danny my first day on campus. They were fraternity brothers. Danny was a football player who no longer played because of injury. So he had buried his nose in the books and was quite the philosopher jock. Tall and good looking, too.
After Thanksgiving we started to date. His hometown was near mine, so when it was time for Christmas break, I ended up spending time with Kurn in the afternoon and Danny at night. The next day, Danny in the afternoon, Kurn at night. I set up a schedule because they both pressured me hard for all my time. Kurn asked me out for New Year’s early, because he realized I was getting away from him. Danny ended up at a party alone. At one point Kurn even went to visit Danny to see how he was taking care of “MY girlfriend at Duke.” Danny didn’t take that very well. Two stallions in the corral.
You know what, I was too young. They were both seniors in college. I was in way over my head and STILL didn’t know it.
For Christmas Danny took me out for a nice dinner. Kurn gave me a Dartmouth mug and an album called Songs of Dartmouth. Yes, I still have them. The first time he played his favorite Dartmouth song for me, “She is my slender small one,” I felt a rush of melancholy and sadness when I heard it. I knew it would only be a matter of time before our relationship was over. Again he had written “I love you.” This time on the album cover. I didn't love him any more and didn't have the heart to tell him. Of course, if I had finally been honest with him about how my feelings had changed and why, who knows?
On our one and only New Year’s Eve together, Kurn told me a secret. The CIA had recruited him at school. I have never forgotten that. At midnight, he made a long speech about us and how much I meant to him and made a toast to our future lives together. The holiday ended. We went back to school.
I never saw him again.
NEXT INSTALLMENT – EPILOGUE – How it ended and where Kurn is now: http://mrslinklatersguidetotheuniverse.blogspot.com/2004/09/first-love-epilogue.html