It was too hot, and we were too sweaty, for the hug to last terribly long. I knew I ought to cry, but I’d lived with my parents for sixteen years, and a trial separation seemed overdue. “I’s a-gonna learn how t’talk right Southern.” Mom laughed. No cigarettes.” As an alumnus of Culver Creek, he had done the things I had only heard about: the secret parties, streaking through hay fields (he always whined about how it was all boys back then), drugs, drinking, and cigarettes. It had taken him a while to kick smoking, but his badass days were now well behind him.
“I love you,” they both blurted out simultaneously. It needed to be said, but the words made the whole thing horribly uncomfortable, like watching your grandparents kiss. I’ll call every Sunday.” Our rooms had no phone lines, but my parents had requested I be placed in a room near one of Culver Creek’s five pay phones. They hugged me again—Mom, then Dad—and it was over. Out the back window, I watched them drive the winding road off campus. I should have felt a gooey, sentimental sadness, perhaps. But mostly I just wanted to cool off, so I grabbed one of the desk chairs and sat down outside my door in the shade of the overhanging eaves, waiting for a breeze that never arrived.
The air outside sat as still and oppressive as the air inside. I stared out over my new digs: Six one-story buildings, each with sixteen dorm rooms, were arranged in a hexagram around a large circle of grass. Everywhere, boys and girls hugged and smiled and walked together. I vaguely hoped that someone would come up and talk to me. So you’re used to the heat.” “I wouldn’t be used to this heat if I were from Hades,” I’d joke. Bored, I went back inside, took off my shirt, lay down on the heat-soaked vinyl of the lower bunk mattress, and closed my eyes. I’d never been born again with the baptism and weeping and all that, but it couldn’t feel much better than being born again as a guy with no known past. Kennedy, James Joyce, Humphrey Bogart—who went to boarding school, and their adventures—Kennedy, for example, loved pranks. I thought of the Great Perhaps and the things that might happen and the people I might meet and who my roommate might be (I’d gotten a letter a few weeks before that gave me his name, Chip Martin, but no other information). Whoever Chip Martin was, I hoped to God he would bring an arsenal of high-powered fans, because I hadn’t packed even one, and I could already feel my sweat pooling on the vinyl mattress, which disgusted me so much that I stopped thinking and got off my ass to find a towel to wipe up the sweat with. And then I thought, Well, before the adventure comes the unpacking. I managed to tape a map of the world to the wall and get most of my clothes into drawers before I noticed that the hot, moist air made even the walls sweat, and I decided that now was not the time for manual labor. The small bathroom contained a huge, full-length mirror behind the door, and so I could not escape the reflection of my naked self as I leaned in to turn on the shower faucet. My skinniness always surprised me: My thin arms didn’t seem to get much bigger as they moved from wrist to shoulder, my chest lacked any hint of either fat or muscle, and I felt embarrassed and wondered if something could be done about the mirror. I pulled open the plain white shower curtain and ducked into the stall. Unfortunately, the shower seemed to have been designed for someone approximately three feet, seven inches tall, so the cold water hit my lower rib cage—with all the force of a dripping faucet. To wet my sweat-soaked face, I had to spread my legs and squat significantly. Kennedy (who was six feet tall according to his biography, my height exactly) did not have to squat at his boarding school. No, this was a different beast entirely, and as the dribbling shower slowly soaked my body, I wondered whether I could find a Great Perhaps here at all or whether I had made a grand miscalculation. When I opened the bathroom door after my shower, a towel wrapped around my waist, I saw a short, muscular guy with a shock of brown hair. He was hauling a gigantic army-green duffel bag through the door of my room. He stood five feet and nothing, but was well-built, like a scale model of Adonis, and with him arrived the stink of stale cigarette smoke. He heaved the duffel into the room, closed the door, and walked over to me.
“I’m Chip Martin,” he announced in a deep voice, the voice of a radio deejay. Before I could respond, he added, “I’d shake your hand, but I think you should hold on damn tight to that towel till you can get some clothes on.” I laughed and nodded my head at him (that’s cool, right?
Nice to meet you.” “Miles, as in ‘to go before I sleep’?” he asked me. I grabbed some clean underwear, a pair of blue Adidas soccer shorts, and a white T-shirt, mumbled that I’d be back in a second, and ducked back into the bathroom. “So where are your parents?” I asked from the bathroom. My mother is probably just now turning off campus.” “Oh,” I said, dressed now, not sure how to respond to such personal information. I shouldn’t have asked, I guess, if I didn’t want to know.