I run away. I escape. I tell myself that I am an adventuress, full of ambitious activity. I am. I am. I am. Saying it makes it real.
The car is a blue convertible. I drive her with the top down as often as possible. Fifty degree weather, with the heat cranked up? No problem. After all, I’m a Chicago gal. We’re used to the wind. She still has a bunch of flash, but is steady, sturdy, and reliable.
After landing in Bloomington and checking into the little apartment I managed to rent for the evening, I venture out to rediscover my hazy years. The terrain is much the same. A store has changed on 10th Avenue. A bar has closed and rebranded itself for the next generation of kids-not-kids. A few condo buildings have popped up and the number of Starbucks has increased. But much of what was there before remains. The Greek-lined streets look familiar to me, as do the limestone buildings that I spent as little possible time in. Old haunts. I smile lopsided and wave at them as I walk by.
A boy-man whistles at me as I pass the bricks and mortar house engraved with tilted, crooked letters hanging only slightly off of its face. I remember this place. He whistles again, as if that would be all it would take. I give him a small smile of acknowledgment and move on, passing house after house, all vaguely familiar and similar. A Slip ‘N Slide covers the hill of one yard. Boy-Men and Girl-Women are flopping pell-mell down the yellow plastic, red cups gripped in one hand. Beer sloshes everywhere as they land at the bottom, in a pile of happy, laughing fools. Bodies roll and tumble, colliding into one another. Elsewhere in the yard, and on the staircase, they pair off and flirt, each with their own intentions. A second guy calls out to me and tells me to join the party. I shake my head and smile as I move past. He must see this as a challenge, because he follows me and calls out, “Don’t you want to have fun?”
This is, of course, where I should have said no.
When I was his age. When I was here. I had a list of ‘To Do’s’, a mental check-mark system that I stowed away in the back of my brain. Keg stands were not on the list. But when you are just over thirty, and your heart is bruised and battered, and you run away, you do things differently. Apparently.
The pattern of conversation moves along quickly. Names are exchanged, surface questions are asked and answered. Peter is fairly intelligent and far too handsome for his age, which is 22 in August, a fact that he thinks he has subtly inserted into a conversation about the law students’ bar a few blocks away. He asks if I’d like a beer. I tell him that I don’t drink beer. He looks at me speculatively, before he watches someone hurl down the slide. He asks me if I am a grad student. I smile.
“No, I’m a grown-up.”
“Oh, yeah?” he says. “What’s that like?”
“Like a really slow death.”
He arches an eyebrow, sips his beer, shrugs and asks “Want to do a keg stand?”
Peter must not appreciate morbid humor. Or humor. I glance at the keg. I never understood the joy that people, mostly guys, took in keg stands. Maybe it’s about being upside down and not on your feet. But, “Carpe the beer foam,” I reply and he leads me to the keg.
A group of students, all sporting the same Greek letters, gather around. The grass is flattened and slick with mud from the keg’s past conquerors. A few young women join in and I’m encircled. Peter gives me some basic instructions: Suck, swallow, wiggle my legs when I’m done and let go of the tube when I’m done. He asks if I am ready. I nod my head, take a big breath, put my hands on the keg, and am lifted up and off of my feet. The group circles in closer. Happy little vultures. The tube is in my mouth and I am sucking and gulping a horrible tasting beer while they lean in to watch and count. I think I get to seven before I start to kick out. Letting go of the tube is more of a challenge than I remembered it to be. Beer splashes my chin as I am brought back down to my feet. My chest is sticky, my hands are wet, and my face is flushed. But I am a heroine. Cheers roar, hands pat my back, and I can’t help myself. I feel a tiny surge of pride. Giddy with glee, and stuck to my clothes, I turn to Peter and smack a big kiss on his lips. He grins back at me and leads me to the house to clean up. Peter shows me to his room and lends me a shirt to wear. He looks at me expectantly.
“I need to wash up,” I tell him.
“Oh, of course.” He leads me down the hall and waits outside of the universal bathroom. There are no doors so he stands guard outside in the hall. It’s either sweet or proprietary. Probably both. I watch myself in the mirror while I give myself a quick bird bath and pull his shirt on over my head. The urinals and showers and two stalls are drab and somewhat clean. The ceiling lights knowingly wink their fluorescent bulbs at me. I cup my hands under the faucet and swallow water. It’s metallic. I spit it back into the sink and tie my hair back up into a ponytail. I can hear Peter whistling happily to himself outside. Turning, I look at him and back to the mirror. Decided then, I nod to myself and walk back out to him. I take his hand and lead him back to his room, closing the door. He smiles then. He looks as he feels. Lucky.
The night turns to sweat and heat. He is gentle. He listens to my moans, watches my movements. Studies me. Learns from me. There is something sweet and heady about being the teacher. I let go and enjoy myself.
We doze afterward until I wake with the early morning sun. I watch him sleep. He smiles as he snores. I dress quickly, kiss his cheek, and leave out the back door of the house. Walking back to the apartment, I watch the sun float up into the sky. Surrounded by red plastic cups, I pick my way past the houses. A few others are out, returning to their apartments and dorms. I feel much older than I am in this moment when hours ago I felt like I belonged here again. The urge to drive returns. I shower and leave the apartment quietly, pack the car, and head back to the highway.
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