Elaine Bellacroix, got in to Bryn Mawr, which is part of another whole list called the seven sisters: Barnard, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar and Wellesley. I don’t remember where Lizzie got in, but then she wasn’t trying to impress me.
Every day another smart kid gets another letter from: Stanford, Emory, Swarthmore —schools I’ve never heard of, schools a planet away from where Mrs. Dufresne, my guidance counselor, suggests I apply—Utica College—a small campus in upstate New York between a field full of pheasants and a mental hospital.
What else have I gleaned since September? That GPA stands for grade point average. A 4.0 is perfect, therefore I am not. That the SAT is a standardized test which shows I am below standard. That I should have joined a club, participated in more sports, joined the orchestra, sung in the choir, written for the school paper, helped with the yearbook, been part of the prom committee, stuck with my ballet lessons, never quit piano, done something, anything, to demonstrate my well-rounded interests and leadership skills—above and beyond being a prompter for Neil’s starring role in the school play.
As if this is not enough knowledge for one semester, Lizzie offers a rundown of AP personalities, and who they have done it with. Still a virgin, can sex be yet another category I have failed? She concludes with the fact that Neil Mankiewicz wants to do it with me—as if I didn’t know.
Neil has written me love poems, composed and performed love songs accompanied by piano and/ or guitar which he plays as well as the saxophone. He has taken me out every weekend with Barney and Julia Agnelli and sometimes Lizzie. I can’t figure out if Barney is in love with either one or using both. I guess that’s why we had to take a weekend off to visit Julia in the psyche ward after she slit her wrists.
Then it was back to The Blue Note for Nick Brignola, to Caffé Lena for folk, to depressing Ingmar Bergman movies, surreal French films by Luis Buñuel and Francois Truffaut. When we went to Waiting for Godot, I couldn’t wait till it was over. Neil reads to me from Leonard Cohen. He explains Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre as if he’s trying to convert me to existentialism. We’ve discussed I’m OK, You’re OK, and situational ethics, but I can hear my Aunt Naomi saying, sounds crazy to me. Although Neil is expanding my world, my heart towards him remains the same size, so I don’t understand why I finally let him do it.
One cold, starlit night, while my mom and dad are out at a Xmas party, and my brother is I don’t remember where, Lizzie, Barney, and Neil come over to share some bread, cheese and a bottle of Chianti wrapped in a straw basket which I learn, much later, is called a fiasco. The cheese is sharp, the bread stale, the wine like vinegar. Lizzie and Barney disappear into my parent’s room. Neil and I lay down on my childhood bed. I stare at the ceiling. It’s over in a minute.
I still ask why I gave myself away without a throb of passion, to a boy I found arrogant. At the time, I would have said it was out of curiosity. I admit I was disappointed. I’d hoped making love would make me love a boy who claimed to love me. I loved being loved. Perhaps by aligning myself with the academic king of N.H.S., I hoped to be crowned queen—of something, anything. With no merit of my own, perhaps I could rest on his accomplishments. Acceptance by association. Perhaps I thought I’d feel better about myself? Instead I felt trapped, as if doomed to live the rest of my life in the stifling space beneath a stairway I could never climb. In any case, surely I’d disqualified myself from ever being loved, really loved, by anybody else.
It took three years to break off the relationship that, with twenty-twenty hind sight, worked something like My Fair Lady. Neil was cast in the starring role of Professor Higgins. I played the part of guttersnipe, Eliza Doolittle, whom he transforms into a mysterious princess.
How ironic that the monster Shame was born the same frigid night my parents were drinking cocktails to celebrate the birth of the Savior.
How serendipitous that the same early decision that held me prisoner, prepared me to understand my need to put on the identity of Christ and rest in what He accomplished.
Not until I lay down body and soul to the king of the universe will I discover what it is to be truly loved and accepted.