Tag Archives: college

JJ’s Memoir- Gasping in the Dark

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So, these are going to be excerpts, okay? I can’t just write the whole memoir and post it out here for free. The truth is, I can’t write anything longer than a page at a time anyway. In fact, I’ve begun to think that way, a page at a time, which is good for some things, like blogging and making grocery lists. It’s not so good for maintaining relationships, holding down a job, or contemplating the future. A page at a time. Could be the motto for my new twelve step group, Frustrated Writers Anonymous. Will you join? The coffee is horrible. But, it’s free!

Actually the cops had my dead neighbor’s car. And, I didn’t have my license on me when I got pulled over. So, they actually had squat. I told them my name was Fred and they were more concerned with the smell of liquor to pursue my last name. My dead neighbor’s name was Fred and I had borrowed the car. Fred was dead and I was running across campus. However, my oxygen intake was limited by pack-a-day lungs and I was starting to gasp and see stars. So I ducked into a little grove of trees to catch my breath. Beyond my gasping, it was very quiet. No dorms or bars or people around. The Charles Hicks Chemistry Building (CHC) loomed close by and a pond was between me and a campus road. A police car prowled slowly on the other side of the pond but I was in the trees and very still. I knew every inch of this campus from pizza delivery and six years of tepid undergrad commitment. So, I waited in that grove and thought about my life.

One thing was clear. Beyond the exhilaration of the shenanigans and lack of responsibilities, I was heading nowhere and I was fucked. College was just the scaffold that held my life together. Officially, I was a student. In reality, I was a grubby drug-addled drunk looking for the next blast. Fun and games on the surface, dying slowly on the inside, stagnant and sad. No one was going to recognize my unique brand of devil-may-care genius and give me a job or a book deal or even a sandwich. Professors reached out to me, encouraging, wanting to mentor. I perceived them as threats. These realities, long stewing in the swampy shame at the bottom of my (now ample) gut, bubbled up and I shed tears in those trees, which may have been from exertion but, for the purposes of this story, were tears of release. As I hid from the cops and my heart rate came down and I realized I left my cigarettes in the car, (Fuck!), I knew that it was time for a change.

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JJ in the 21st Century: (1989) JJ and Lila and the Shaky Promise of Spring

There was a man across the street, too old for college, too young to be old, playing hymns on a trumpet. One foot was up on his trumpet case, which was emblazoned (branded?) with a white cross. He faced the road, playing for the cars rather than people on foot. No virtuoso, he let the spirit move him, playing loud and proud.

“Why would someone do that,” JJ asked.

“He believes what he believes,” Lila said.

“But what does he believe?”

“That college is sin? That sinning is part of college?”

“I feel like sinning right now.”

She looked at him looking at her and smiled. “Later. We’ll sin together.”

“Then we’ll hear an orchestra.”

They sat on a bench, drinking hot chocolate from the dairy bar. A fickle day in early Spring, clouds and sun, cool and warm, snow finally melted, no leaves, no flowers yet, sand and mud everywhere. A time of year with possibilities and promise, yet stained with the gritty sediment of the barren winter just passed, a winter that would come again. JJ’s time to shine.

“Do you ever think about us?”

“JJ, why do you want to go there?”

He looked at the grass, knowing she didn’t care to delve into the meanings and the worry. And she definitely didn’t want to hear about his jealousy.

“What’s that guy’s name? The one you’re writing the play with?”

An exaggerated sigh. “His name’s Evan. And we don’t ever work on the play. We just fuck and talk about you.”

“I knew it,” JJ said and smiled a smile that didn’t reach his eyes or heart. He knew she was joking. He wanted to believe she was teasing him. But, the fact that she would tease him at all…

“Can I be in the play?”

Lila sighed. She thought she loved this guy. They’d been together four months and it was real and deep, not like with other guys, who were just surface bullshit and image and posturing and watching sports. JJ didn’t even have a TV. “I get all my entertainment right up here,” he liked to say with a crooked smile, pointing at his head. That was the problem, though. He spent too much time up in that head, weaving problems and seeing patterns that didn’t exist. She knew she brought some light, some lightness of being, to him. But it was a struggle sometimes.

“You can’t be in the play, JJ. And I don’t want to be with anyone but you. Don’t ask again or you’ll get nothing tonight. No orchestra, no banjo, no nothing.”

JJ smiled. “I like it when you’re bossy.” Then he frowned. “What does that say about me?”

“JJ, I mean it…”

“Kidding!” He laughed and got up, pulling her up with him. They walked down the hill, away from the road, away from the trumpeter. The sound followed them down the hill. Onward Christian Soldiers was replaced by Ode to Joy and, on cue, a warm sun came out from behind the clouds. All seasons in a day here in New England. JJ took Lila’s hand and they walked into what comes next.

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JJ in the 21st Century: (1989) JJ and Lila Meet at College

He first saw her across a smoke-filled dorm room.  She danced (swayed) to Eric Clapton.  They all swayed since there was no room to dance in a 12×12 double.  Who the hell could dance to Eric Clapton, anyway?  That smooth urbane angry broken-hearted Slow-hand.  “Going through your whole life miserable.  That’s no good,” thought JJ.

“Do you like her,” Brent yelled in JJ’s ear.

“Who is she?”

“Lila.  My sister.”

“What the hell is she doing here?”

“She’s checking up on me,” Brent said.  Then he fell away into the crush.  Brent was alright.  Kind of lost, smoked too much weed, missed a lot of classes.  But ok.  His sister, if she was his sister, was dancing to Cocaine with her arms above her head, her shirt hiked up a bit, showing some creamy skin and the hint of pink underwear peeking above her jeans.  JJ’s stomach did a little leap.  The glimpses, that was the thing.  Tantalizing.  He started burrowing into the crowd, towards her.

“Brent says you’re his sister.”

“Who wants to know?”

“I’m JJ,” he said and put out his hand.

Lila looked at it as if he were offering a trout.  “Let’s dance,” she said and put her arms around his neck.

“Do people still do that?”

“I do,” she said and they swayed and sweated and tried to dance to Steve Miller and the Stones.

Later, in the quiet of the stairwell.  “So, why are you here?”

“To check up on Brent,” she said.  “He’s kind of fucked up.”

“We know.  But we love him.”

“Oh, he’s lovable all right.  But that won’t last.”

They sat on the stairs, smoking Marlboros, the rumble of weekend parties and the occasional echoing cackle or shout from the floors above.

“So, you’re some kind of guardian angel?  You take care of people?”

“I worry.  I want to help,” she said and drew on the cigarette.  “We all need to help each other.”

“So, you’re a hippy.”

“Besides, I like to meet new people.”

“I’m new,” he said.  “And I need help.”

She smiled.  “Not now, you don’t.  Maybe some day.”

JJ took a half pint of Jim Beam from his pocket and took a hit.  “You want some.”

She took it and had her own little swig.  “Fire water,” she said.

“More like dirt water,” he said.  He put it back into his back pocket shifting awkwardly forward.  As he did so, Lila put her hand on the back of his head, fingers twining into his hair.  He turned and reached for her and they kissed, all Jim Beam fumes and the excitement of new lips and a whole new thing.

And, that’s how it began.

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