It would be easy to blame Edie and Eric, but they were only the trigger, really.
The real question is why in my junior year at Cal I decided to apply for a coed dorm floor after two years of listing no-preference and being assigned to all-guy floors. My guess is that I just wanted to be on a coed floor because everyone else wanted to be on a coed floor. In any case, it was on the fourth floor of Freeborn Hall at UC Berkeley in the fall of 1982 where the whole disaster took place.
See, I had been perfectly comfortable as an observer of the whole love thang. It was safe and easy to keep it at a distance and watch while it happened all around me. I was, like many mathematicians, comfortable in spaces of interiority and seeing the angst and roil of the hormone-fueled couplings around me merge and purge with and air of faint amusement. How droll it all seemed.
But then, Edie and I were in Eric’s room and we decided to go see Poltergeist still playing that fall at the Grand Lake Theater. Neither Edie nor Eric knew that it was their first date, to be fair. But they were holding hands by the time we were seated. And macking intensely by the time Carol Anne in the film announced “They’re here.” Meanwhile, I broke in two, forgotten in the sidecar next to them.
And so I climbed up the hill to my sacred grove and cried. It was finally time to admit that I was human.
And so, couple weeks later Yvonne and Danny were orbiting closer, and I had gotten to know Yvonne’s roommate…sigh…Jane. That Friday we went over to the California Theatres where Danny and Yvonne went to My Favorite Year and Jane and I went to Pink Floyd: The Wall. Which we bonded over hating. (Writhing maggots lose me every time). So, of course, the obvious thing to do while she was away that weekend was write her three sonnets and then (“No, Little Mertseger, don’t do it!”) give them to her.
Here’s the first one:
Because it is ever so important to know exactly what I did in the hours following our talking together.
Poets, lovers, and joggers – I missed you.
Not a bad sentiment, really. But which of these three things is not like the other?
I went into the hills after you left
To take in the sunlight and enjoy the view.
And to write. But words, no matter how deft,
Just cannot describe how happily green
The grass was as it pushed against the dry
Brown of last year. I wish you could have seen
The awesome blue of that warm winter sky.
California is weird. It’s the winter rather than the spring when life returns to the hills after the first rain falls. Of course, it was the green of lust pushing against the brown of my repressed desires that was really the issue here.
And all around people walking in pairs;
People running up hills, while I just looked.
Here’s where I stop “just looking” … and start writing?
Oh, well, at least it was a step towards interacting with another human being. A horribly embarrassing, uncool and misguided step, but a step nonetheless.
But, Jane, I don’t want to jog, and, I swear,
I rather take you than my poetry book.
Wink, wink, nudge, nudge: say no more!
For I would try to make you see
The wonder and the possibilities.
“make you see” is rather problematic, in’t it? I would be her knight in shining armor rescuing the fair damsel from her own issues. Would were it ever so easy.
It’s not a bad little poem, but it is pretty indirect. However, we’d had one chaste, semi-agreeable, sort-of date, and I was writing sonnets. And that’s the issue right there. I’m sure that…sigh…Jane had no idea whatsoever that this was coming.