Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Mr. Robinson, Part I

I've mentioned before that I went to a small college. It was a liberal arts school with red brick buildings and Greek houses lining the small-town streets. A campus made beautiful by fall, lonely in winter, and hedonistic come spring. It was also the kind of school where collegiate cliches came alive. The Greek system was a large part of social life, and students wore their fraternity or sorority letters proudly. Classes were small, thus creating intimate relationships between students and professors. Everyone knew everyone. On unexpectedly warm days, students met outside rather than in the confines of an academic building. Other times, professors would hold class in an off-campus locale like a bar, restaurant, or their own home. These were the reasons I chose the school, and these are the reasons I loved every minute of it.

When I left school, I still maintained relationships with some of my professors whether it was for networking purposes or just keeping in touch. But now, a year and a half after graduating, there is only one with whom I correspond. When I was on campus for a career fair this past fall, I saw him for a few minutes and renewed our email relationship. He was one of English professors, and I did not take a class with him until my final semester at school. The course was Memoir Writing and because we shared such personal details with one another, the class became very close. There was an element of trust among each of the students and our professor, and I never feared sharing anything about myself with them. I exposed myself more to this group than to anyone else in my life; my family, my sex life, and my self-esteem were spun into words and open to criticism. Out of all the writing workshops I had in college (five total - I was a Writing major), Memoir was my favorite. I learned so much from others' stories, as well as my own. And I appreciated having a professor who told us his own stories, even those about the first time he tried heroin or his parents' divorce. I will also admit that I had a schoolgirl crush on him, this slightly awkward and goofy writer who, incidentally, was married to my advisor.

Most recently, he has been sending me pieces he's written for his book, asking for my input or general critique. We also write about general life stuff: work, family, etc. When he mentioned he might come to Chicago, I told him to let me know. It would be great to catch up in person, rather than via email once every few weeks. Just a few weeks before Christmas he emailed me to tell me he'd be in town at the beginning of January. Would I be available for dinner? Sure.

We set a date for dinner and he called at the beginning of last week to solidify our plans. He'd asked for Mexican food, so I chose a place just down the street from my apartment. This way, I thought, I could easily meet him there. But when we spoke on the phone, he insisted that he would pick me up at my building.

"No, really, it's close. I can just walk."

"Right. So I'll just pick you up. 7:45ish? I'll be in your area visiting some aunts of mine."

Shit. This was becoming more datelike and less just dinnerish than I had planned. But I wasn't jumping to conclusions; it was my friends who thought this was odd.

"He's picking you up? Sounds like a date. Isn't he married?"

Yes, I told them. Married, with two children. His wife was my advisor. It wasn't going to be weird. True, he had sent me an email shortly following the aforementioned career fair telling me that "he couldn't help but stare because I looked so beautiful and sophisticated". At the time, I thought it was a little strange. One of my friends, who also knows this professor well, told me I was taking it too far. That I was beautiful and sophisticated, and that I should appreciate such a compliment.

The evening of our dinner, still thinking about what my friends had said, I put on one of the less sexy outfits in my closet. Chocolate brown oxford, jeans, and brown kitten heel pumps. This was something I would wear to work, and I was determined to make this evening seem as undatelike as possible. The phone rang around 7:40; it was the front desk letting me know that he was downstairs.

"I'll be right down," I said as I grabbed my coat and scarf. I did not want him coming upstairs.

When I saw him in the lobby, he greeted me as he has in the past: clasping my right hand and kissing me on the cheek. (For a brief moment, I wondered what the front desk attendant was thinking of my much older visitor - he's 18 years my senior.) We exchanged hellos and how are yous and started walking to the restaurant. We talked about our families and about the gay men in the building across from mine who I saw having sex once (they don't own any draperies and the building is pure windows). During dinner, we talked about writing and my job and his classes. Why I should move to New York. Books we've read, films we've seen, and music we're listening to. It was exactly the kind of conversation I expected to have with him.

(In retelling this story, my friend commented that this scene was so Woody Allen. I smiled because I have always wanted moments in my life to resemble Woody Allen films.)

The conversation shifted at times to sex and drugs, topics that had been widely discussed in my writing classes. Because of some of the stories I'd written, he knew about me giving my first blow job and when I lost my virginity. I knew how old he had been when he lost his. We talked about the drugs we'd done (I was the novice here) and about relationships. I asked about his kids, one of whom was born just after I graduated. I asked about his wife. He did not linger on these topics for very long.

Dinner was winding down. Our plates were cleared and the pitcher of margaritas was starting to look empty. I had been sipping my drink slowly all night, not wanting to let myself get drunk for fear of saying (or even doing) something stupid. I checked my watch. 9:20. I could still make it to my friend's birthday party downtown. But then he returned to the table and asked if he could buy me a drink someplace else nearby.

And this is when things got strange.


Me said...

Is this sweeps week on television? You can't end with a cliffhanger! I no longer like this blog!

Sizzle said...

i can't wait to hear the next installment. clever girl! ;)

erin said...

It was too long for just one post. Don't worry, it's coming.