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George & Lizzie : a novel

George and Lizzie
by Nancy Pearl
George and Lizzie How They Met The night Lizzie and George met--it was at the Bowlarama way out on Washtenaw--she was flying high on some awfully good weed because her heart was broken. For the past several weeks she'd been subsisting on mugs of Stoli and popcorn. It was Leon Daly who'd told her that drinking vodka that'd been kept in the freezer was what got you through the bad times. Lizzie had known (with the small part of her brain that still seemed to work during the difficult months since Jack McConaghey disappeared from her life) that Leon meant bad times due to football injuries (he was then the right defensive tackle on their high school team), but Lizzie figured, what the hell, anything to mellow the sadness was worth a try. So vodka, taken directly from the freezer and poured seemingly nonstop down Lizzie's throat by Lizzie herself, had infected her arms and legs and brain with welcome numbness. She could see how it might even improve her football game. The popcorn was her own idea. But Marla, tired of the emotional and physical sloppiness of her roommate and best friend's drunkenness, and engaged, as she was, to the campus supplier of superior dope (as well as being a major pothead himself), suggested Lizzie switch. Good plan! After only a few days it was clear to Lizzie that, for what she wanted, weed was the drug of choice. Lizzie had never been in the Bowlarama, or any bowling alley, for that matter. During the years when she might have gone as a kid, her parents had insisted that Sheila, her babysitter, take her to ballets, museums, libraries, operas, theaters, and planetariums. Marla had dragged her to the bowling alley because she loved Lizzie and she was exhausted by sharing an apartment with someone whose broken heart still showed no signs of mending, though months had passed. Marla thought that bowling, an activity far removed from their normal lives, might bring Lizzie to her senses. And was she ever right. Lizzie was immediately entranced. The noise! The swoosh of the balls hurtling down the alley! (Although she didn't yet know it was called an alley.) The satisfying thunks when the ball reached its targets! The excited yips and heys of the bowlers! Those cunning shoes with the numbers on the back! The smell of the place--a combination of stale beer and sweat and a hint of talcum powder. Weird! Those tiny pencils? Fabulous! And those balls--some black, some zigzagged with color! On the other hand, George was high as a kite on happiness and pride because he was not only out on a date with the current woman of his dreams, but he was also about to bowl the best game of his life since 1982, when he was twelve years old. In October of his first year in dental school, George developed a serious crush on Julia Draznin. Julia was beautiful and had an intelligence that was said to be stratospheric. It was rumored (although never confirmed) that she had gone straight into dental school after her junior year at Bryn Mawr. She was the subject of both the waking and sleeping dreams of her fellow students, some of whom had already dated her. You could see Julia and her current boyfriend at the movies, Rollerblading on spring evenings in Ann Arbor, or sitting around in coffee shops, talking animatedly. The word on tooth street was that she'd go out with you for a few times and then let you down gently while explaining that she didn't intend to get serious about anyone until after she'd established her practice, several years in the future. This left many of her suitors emotionally bereft. George intended to change all this. Before he finally asked Julia out, he considered several options for what they should actually do on the date. Whatever they did had to be unique and sophisticated, or ironically quotidian, that was the main thing. George immediately rejected fishing in the Huron River (much better for a second or third date, he felt), a concert (not original enough), and that old standby, dinner and a movie (ditto). So what was left? Bowling was left. George would give you odds that not one of their fellow dentists-to-be had taken her bowling. It would be great, right? Even though he himself had not been bowling in, let's see, almost a decade. But the good times he'd had in bowling alleys were among the many pleasant memories from George's childhood. George saw himself as a suave bowler, definitely not a dork, someone Julia would surely recognize as worthy of her attention. He was trying to decide whether he should admit to Julia that bowling was something he was good at, or used to be pretty good at. Would that charm her? Or would she think it was ridiculous to be pleased that you're good at throwing a ball down a lane? Would she go home and tell her roommate that George was handsome, smart, and frequently able to convert the 7-10 split? That's the setup, George sometime later explained to Lizzie, with just the two corner pins left, one on either side of the alley. It's possible to convert the spare by hitting the inside of one of the pins, causing it to rebound off the wall and slide briskly back across the alley to take down the other pin, but it's not easy. Lizzie tried, it must be said not very hard, to show some enthusiasm for this tidbit of information. However, George knew that very likely there were some women, perhaps especially smart and attractive ones like Julia, who would be bored silly with a man whose major talent appeared to be that he could aim a ball down a wooden lane and knock down the requisite number of pins. When George discussed this with Lizzie, long after they were married, she told him that she could only confirm that, yes, she was bored beyond bored with him whenever he brought up bowling, but not during the rest of the time they were together. So that was sort of okay. And now Lizzie was at the Bowlarama, stoned on dope from James, and George was there stoned on happiness, etc. etc. etc. Marla instructed Lizzie on the intricacies of scoring, although she immediately assured Lizzie that she wasn't expecting her to actually keep score. That would be Marla's job. While Marla talked on, Lizzie was mumbling "score," "spare," and "strike" over and over because she liked the sound of the words in her mouth. Marla showed her where to stand and demonstrated how to send the ball spinning down the alley. Lizzie thought "alley" was a funny word in this context, and added it to her mantra, so it now read "alley, score, spare, strike." Then she decided that it sounded better as "sass": score, alley, spare, strike. She didn't seem able both to remember those four words in that order and at the same time listen to Marla's explanations. This is likely the reason that she hadn't really gotten the sense of what "send the ball spinning down the alley" actually meant. In any case, it appeared that she interpreted "send" somewhat differently from how Marla intended she should. Meanwhile, George, bowling with Julia in the very next lane, was on a roll. This was the one word in the how-we-met story that George truly loved. "Roll," with its double meanings, was the kind of pun that he was prone to make, always accompanied by a certain expression on his face that meant: Isn't that clever, do you get it? Lizzie always appreciated George's puns, but that expression drove her crazy. Anyway, George and Julia had just finished the eighth frame, and George's score was an amazing 152, which meant that he could break 200 if he was both careful and tremendously lucky. So Lizzie went up to the foul line, which Marla had carefully pointed out to her, for her first try at bowling. They'd agreed that it was best if Lizzie didn't attempt the much more complicated option of starting farther back and taking three strides to the foul line. Neither she nor Marla was confident that Lizzie could coordinate walking, carrying the ball, counting the steps, stopping at the right spot, and then throwing the ball, especially because she was still occasionally mumbling "score, alley, spare, strike." She stood there with the ball held out in front of her, thumb in its correct hole, two middle fingers in theirs. All the pot she'd already smoked that night had made her hyperalert to every move she was making. Her palms were sweaty. She didn't notice that George was lining up to bowl, and in any case was unaware of the protocol that if someone in the lane next to you is getting ready to bowl, you should wait until the ball has left his hands to begin your turn. "But, George, why didn't you wait until I was done?" Lizzie once asked, years after the fiasco, their courtship and marriage. "Didn't even see you standing there," George admitted. There they both were, Lizzie and George, in their separate worlds, surely a clue to what their future relationship would be. George steps toward the line, brings his arm forward and smoothly lets go of his ball, and at the same moment Lizzie tries to throw her ball spinning down the alley, but something immediately goes wrong. (Or right, depending on what's important to you.) Lizzie's ball hits the floor with an awesome crash and somehow leaps over the ball-return mechanism that separates the lanes and crashes right into George's ball, which until that moment had been rolling straight and true toward what certainly looked like an imminent strike, and now both balls make their separate but causally related ways to the gutter. Pandemonium ensued within the confines of lanes 38 and 39. Lizzie, laughing uncontrollably in response to the shock of watching and hearing the collision, sat down on the floor. If anyone had been close enough to her, what they would have heard was a sequence of whimper, gasp, snort, gasp, snort, whimper, gasp. She felt a strong desire to pee, but was unable to make herself stand up. Also, the particular pattern of the floor seemed to be worth studying in depth, which served to take her mind off the prospect of wetting her pants but did nothing to stop the gasp, whimper, snort sequence. George was devastated and, quite frankly, more than a little annoyed with Julia, who was also laughing and didn't appear to be on the verge of consoling him. Marla, seeing that Lizzie didn't seem inclined to get up, or for that matter to be able to stop the routine of snorting, whimpering, and gasping, rushed over to apologize to George. "I'm so sorry," Marla said. "I'm Marla, and she's Lizzie. I don't know how this happened, but we're really sorry." "I know how it happened," George said coldly. "She shouldn't even be here. She obviously can't bowl. She totally ruined my game." His voice rose. "My game, maybe my two-hundred game. Everything was going so well." "George, get a grip," Julia ordered. "It's just a game; don't make it into a big deal." She turned to Marla. "I'm Julia, by the way, and this ridiculous man is George." Marla nodded at Julia but addressed George. "Look, give me your phone number and we'll call and set up a time to get together for a drink. We owe you one for ruining things. Or Lizzie does." "My game," George moaned again, but Julia hushed him. "Here," she said as she tore off a piece of the scoring sheet, "write down your name and phone number and give it to them." George obeyed her, but it was clear the evening was spoiled. He never went out with Julia again. * The Great Game * Although it was Lizzie who carried it out, Lizzie who, for many months afterward, lived with the slights and the snubs and the nasty comments from her female classmates and the knowing looks, leers, and wolfish grins from every boy at school, even the freshmen; although it was Lizzie who got an unsigned note passed to her in chemistry class that was addressed "Dear Slut" and went on to threaten her with bodily harm if she ever again so much as looked at the writer's boyfriend (who was Leonardo deSica, currently the football team's strong safety); although it was Lizzie who didn't go to her own senior prom because nobody asked her; although it was Lizzie who suffered all the consequences, it was actually Andrea who came up with the idea that became the Great Game. It was the first week of their senior year. Lizzie and Andrea were both on the yearbook staff, which met during the last period of classes and inevitably ran late. They were slowly walking home along the fence line that enclosed the football field. They could hear shouts, whistles, and occasionally the thwack of a ball being kicked or the crashing sound of bodies colliding. The sounds reminded Lizzie of Maverick Brevard, the team's starting wide receiver and her excellent boyfriend during their junior year. She couldn't decide if she wished they'd get back together. If they did, it would make the next few months more interesting. Maybe. "Football team's practicing," Lizzie murmured, mostly to herself. "You think?" "Do irony much?" Lizzie asked her best friend. "I was wondering if it'll be a good team this year." "Do I really care?" "Don't criticize what you don't know. It's so un-American of you not to like football. And you've never even been to a game. You didn't come with me at all last year, when they were playing great." "I wasn't criticizing. I was just expressing my feelings." Andrea paused. "Sorry. I'm just feeling awful today. I miss Jon so much. I know it's a good idea for us to date other people now that he's at Duke. I mean, he's like eight hundred miles away, so obviously there's not much chance of us getting together regularly. But I really wish he'd stayed here, or at least gone someplace closer. Why'd he have to choose Duke, anyway?" Another pause. "Do you think he'll sleep with a lot of girls there? That's what bothers me the most, honestly, especially because this year is going to be so useless. What are we going to do with ourselves except take the SATs again and fill out college applications? It's basically no fair that he's off at Duke having a great time and we're stuck here. Plus, there's no one in school I'd want to date anyway." "Yeah, you're right. There isn't anyone. I was just wondering if I should get back together with Maverick," Lizzie admitted. "At least you have a choice," Andrea said bitterly, "at least Maverick's still around. I keep imagining Jon making passionate, sweaty love with all those smart southern belles." "Well," Lizzie said, trying to be comforting, "first of all, I've heard that those southern girls don't actually sweat because their bodies have adjusted to the heat." "You made that up," Andrea complained. Lizzie pretended Andrea hadn't said anything. "Secondly, I don't know what the national average is for freshman sex in college, but I don't imagine that Jon'll go much above that. He's much too conservative." "Yeah, but the way I'm feeling is that even one or two is too many. Really, Lizzie, we need to do something drastic that'll stop my imagination from working overtime." They walked on, not talking. The football sounds grew louder when they turned the corner. Now they could see the team practicing. Lizzie could pick out Maverick, his blond hair reflected in the setting sun. She was just beginning to imagine a detailed scenario in which she and Maverick started dating again and ended up at the same college next year, when Andrea turned to her and gripped her arm, hard. "Ow," Lizzie said. "That hurts. Let go." Andrea ignored her. "Lizzie, listen, I have a totally crazy idea. Wouldn't it be something," she went on, "if we both slept our way through the football team this fall? Then I wouldn't care what Jon did, because I'd be doing it too." "Whoa," Lizzie said, not quite believing that Andrea was serious. Still, her mind began to race through the possibilities that the idea presented. "I'd have thought that only a true football fan would come up with a plan like that. But I kind of like it. It would be a great game that only the two of us knew the rules to. If we seduced every player on the team, then we'd be winners of the Great Game and Champions of the West, just like the fight song they sing all the time at Michigan football games." Andrea tried to look modest but failed. "Whether I'm a fan or not, if we do this it'll be like being the first men on the moon: they never had to achieve anything else in their life because they always had that giant leap for mankind to fall back on. And we'll have all those boys to show that once we really did something adventurous with our lives. It's like a sign that we really lived." "We'd be legends in our own time," Lizzie said, willing to play along. "Not legends," Andrea said, slightly alarmed. "We'd only be legends if people knew, right? And we can't tell anyone about it." "Don't be ridiculous. We don't have to tell anyone, but do you honestly think the guys we have sex with will keep quiet about it? They'll broadcast it far and wide." "My parents would kill me if they found out." "Your parents would ground you until you were thirty," Lizzie said. "Then they'd kill you. But you know what my parents would do?" Without waiting for Andrea to respond, she said, "They'd want to watch. Maybe they'd bring along a grad student or two to take notes." "Oh, ick, Lizzie, don't even think that. That's disgusting. Nobody's parents would do that. Not even yours." Lizzie shook her head in disagreement. "They definitely would. Then they'd write articles about Girl X, a high school senior acting out sexually. More stuff to add to their overflowing CVs. So of course I don't want them to know about it. I don't want it to show up next year in some adolescent psychology journal. This is ours, ours and the team's." Lizzie thought about what she'd just said to Andrea. Was it true? She wondered what it would mean to her parents to discover that their daughter--their little developmental psychology project, as she often thought of herself when she felt especially unloved by them--had had meaningless sex with multiple members of the football team. Lizzie knew that Mendel and Lydia believed that they were uniquely qualified to raise a psychologically healthy child just because they happened to have devoted their lives, professionally and personally, to psychology. And Lizzie had done nothing to dissuade them from that belief. She had been, in their eyes, a more or less perfect daughter. She had been well behaved, seemingly untroubled, a good student (that had been easy for her), and surely headed for a successful life; a daughter who validated all their theories about children and child-rearing. When she was young, she had just wanted to please them. As she got older, especially once she reached adolescence, she saw how her collaboration with them on that view of her (and of themselves as parents) kept them off her back. But she'd also begun to understand the price that she'd paid for that collaboration: they had no idea who she really was. Some of her teachers probably knew her better than her parents did. Heck, Andrea's mother almost certainly did--that was why she didn't want Andrea to spend so much time with her. She wanted Mendel and Lydia to see her, Elizabeth Frieda Bultmann, as she really was (or at least as she saw herself, from the inside). She wanted them to be curious about her, to want to know what went on below her polished surface. She wanted them to know her sadness, and her fears that she wasn't attractive, that she'd never be happy, that she felt lost and frightened most of the time, that she was, deep down, in her bones, a terrible person, a liar and a cheat. Maybe if they did find out about the Great Game, it would wake them up enough to finally see her. "All right, I'm in," she said abruptly. "You are?" Andrea's voice came back into focus. "That's terrific." As they got farther from the high school, the sounds of the football practice receded. After a few minutes Lizzie asked, "Would it be just the starters, or all the seniors on the team? Which, d'you think?" "I think it makes more sense to do the starters, don't you?" "Yeah, maybe so. Easier to keep track of, anyhow." "I think we should do them in alphabetical order." "Last name or first name?" "Actually, I was thinking more in order of their positions." "Missionary, et cetera?" "Be serious, Lizzie, this will be the defining act of our lives. If we did it alphabetically, who would we start with?" "The center--and nobody pays much attention to the center, so he'll be easy to convince, although they'll all be easy to convince. After all, we're offering them sex with no commitment and no guilt. It's all on us." "Too true," Andrea agreed. "You're right; it shouldn't be too hard at all." Lizzie might have made another jokey comment ("Oh, they'll all be hard enough, I bet" or "I certainly hope they will"), but she was still thinking about the center, whose name she didn't then know. (It was Thad Cornish, and he was pathetically grateful to Lizzie for the rest of his life.) "'The center cannot hold.' That's from a poem by Yeats." "Don't show off. This isn't the time for poetry. We need to get this settled really soon. We only have a couple months until the season ends, and twenty-two guys to go, eleven each." "Twenty-three if we include the kicker, which you'd know if you'd ever been to a game. I guess we can flip a coin to see whose team he's on, yours or mine." "Yeah, good idea. Twenty-three it is." Andrea laughed. "Eleven, possibly twelve boys, eleven, possibly twelve weeks. It definitely sounds like something exciting to look forward to." "Yeah," Lizzie agreed, "and think of how much fun we'll have." They arrived at Lizzie's house. "I'll call you if I have any more brilliant ideas," Andrea said. "It'll be hard to top the Great Game, for sure," Lizzie said as she started up the stairs to her front door. The next day Lizzie took her tray to the farthest corner of the lunchroom so that there was no possibility of being overheard. She waved Andrea over and waited impatiently for her to sit down before she began. "So I thought about it a lot last night and this is how I think it should go: let's divide the team up so that one of us takes the defense and the other the offense. You should take the offense, because of Maverick." She stopped for a moment. "Or maybe it should be the other way around, and I should take the offense? Never mind, we can figure that out later. Anyway, if we each take half the team, we can help each other out if we have to deal with clingers, although I suspect they'll all be clingers, don't you?" While Lizzie stopped to take a breath, Andrea started to respond but didn't get a chance, as Lizzie began talking faster and faster. "I was thinking that we'd take, like, a week with each guy. Two days flirting, two days fooling around, and then a sex-filled Friday night with whoever's turn it is. We could call it like the Three-F tactical approach. If my math is correct, that should take us into December, and gives us some wiggle room in case something comes up." She grinned. "And I'm about ninety-nine-point-nine-percent sure that something will come up, every week." She took some books out of her backpack. "Look at what I got from the library last night: everything they had in on football, both coaching and strategy. I put all the others on hold, so hopefully we'll get them before we start." Andrea looked puzzled. "Why'd you check out those books?" "Because I figured we needed to know more about football. Well, you need to. I already know enough to get by. We're going to have to talk to those guys too, in addition to everything else we're doing with them. We don't want to seem dumb, like we're just after them for sex, even if we are." "But, Lizzie, listen, we don't need those books." Andrea's face had unease written all over it. "That was just a joke, my idea, the Great Game and all that. It was just to sort of preemptively punish Jon. But he called last night, and I'm not so worried. Besides, my mother said that I could go down to Durham sometime this fall to see him. And he'll be back here for Thanksgiving and Christmas." "A joke? Really?" Lizzie was incredulous. "Yesterday you sounded awfully serious for it to be a joke. And why shouldn't we go ahead and do it, even if you're feeling better about Jon? Maybe tomorrow you'll start feeling insecure again." "You can do what you want, Lizzie, but I'm not going to do it." "But you thought of it." "It was a joke," Andrea repeated. "I changed my mind. I'm not going to do it. And you shouldn't either." "But, Andrea," Lizzie sputtered. "It's such a good idea. Why won't you do it?" "I just can't," Andrea said doggedly. "I don't think it is." "Well, you did think it was. You came up with the whole plan." "Yeah, well, I was joking." "Don't rewrite what happened yesterday. You weren't joking. You weren't. You loved the idea." "No. Maybe. But now I don't love it. It's an awful idea. It's nuts. It's wrong." "Like a sin, you mean?" Lizzie knew that Andrea's family belonged to a Conservative synagogue. (She herself had never set foot inside it. When Andrea had her bat mitzvah, Lydia had forbidden Lizzie to attend the services. "Religion," she'd admonished thirteen-year-old Lizzie, "is not the opiate of the masses, as Marx thought, but rather an excuse to kill others in its name. You need to learn that. History tells us that more people have been killed in the name of religion than any other justification for murder." There and then Lizzie crossed history off her list of interesting subjects to pursue.) "Not a sin, not exactly a sin. Just wrong." "Did your mother find out about it already? Did you tell her?" "God, no, of course not. You know she suspects that Jon and I slept together last year, but she really isn't sure. I don't tell her anything. You know that." Lizzie did know, but still couldn't figure out why Andrea had changed her mind. It was Andrea's overactive conscience, she decided. Andrea's conscience was evidently in overdrive. Andrea interrupted her thoughts. "I . . . I don't know, I started thinking about me and Jon, and how I'd feel if he had sex with someone he didn't care about, how I'd hate that. And this would just be fucking; it wouldn't mean anything at all. That's not me." "But wouldn't you hate it more if Jon had sex with someone he was in love with? I think that's the whole point. What we're doing isn't supposed to be meaningful. It'll be a diversion. A way to get us through the months until we graduate." And a way to get back at my parents, she added silently. "Yeah, in a way it would be worse if he fell in love with another girl. It would be horrible, but at least it would mean that he wasn't having sex just to have sex. Trust me, Lizzie. You're crazy if you go ahead with it. Why's it so important to you, anyway? You could get Maverick back anytime you wanted to, you know that. Maybe I can find someone I could stand to go out with so we can double date like last year. Wouldn't that be more fun than having sex with a bunch of football players? I just don't understand why this stupid Big Game or whatever you called it is so important to you." "Because when my parents find out about it, and I think everyone's going to find out about it, they'll finally have to realize that I'm not who they think I am. Parents are supposed to love their children even though the kids aren't perfect, but they don't love me like that. You know Mendel and Lydia: they think they can get rid of any behavior they don't approve of by treating me like I'm some rat they can retrain to do better. I honestly think they never loved me at all." Andrea reached out to touch Lizzie's hand in sympathy, but Lizzie twisted away from her. "Lizzie, listen to yourself. You're going to do something totally asinine just to show your parents you can do something asinine? That's ridiculous." "If you think it's so ridiculous, then, okay, don't do it. I couldn't care less. But I'm going to." Andrea had almost the last word as they walked out of the lunchroom. "You know, Lizzie, I think my mother was right when she said you needed therapy." "Wait, your mother said I needed therapy? When did she have that great insight? When you told her about the Great Game?" "I didn't tell her, I already told you that." "When, then?" "I don't know, back in the sixth grade, maybe. She was talking to my dad." "How come you never told me?" "Because I knew how angry you'd be." "But now you're telling me?" "Yes, because you're making a huge mistake and you won't admit it, even to yourself, so I don't care how angry you are. I'm your best friend and I feel like I'm trying to save you from yourself." That was the end of Lizzie and Andrea's friendship. After the yearbook staff meeting that afternoon, Lizzie walked home alone, making a list in her mind of all that she needed to do before the next day and the first F of the Great Game. She had to choose what to wear and decide what she was going to say to Thad Cornish. Finding out the location of Thad's locker was third on the list. Homework was easily neglected in favor of the more important stuff. From the middle of September to the middle of April Lizzie was consumed by sex. It wasn't great sex. It wasn't even good sex. It was pretty awful. It was nothing like sex with Maverick had been. When she and Maverick slept together, it was exciting and a lot of fun. They learned the basics from one another, and then a little bit more. It felt as though they were fellow explorers, gingerly (and often not so gingerly) filling in all those blank spaces on the map of the body. It didn't have to do with passion or need, but rather good fellowship and camaraderie. Friendship. It was totally satisfying and Lizzie never regretted a moment she spent with Maverick. But after the first four or five guys, the sex involved in the Great Game wasn't even fun. Still, she charged on, grimly and doggedly. At first the flirting was diverting, but once she got to the eighth or ninth player on the list even that palled and became more and more like a boringly repetitive homework assignment, something she had to do to get a good grade. In the midst of intercourse she often found herself reciting poems in her head. She wished she could talk to Andrea about what was happening. She'd come home after the deed was done, take a shower, brush her teeth, get the Great Game notebook from one of the drawers in her desk, cross off a name, and then crawl into bed, falling instantly and thoroughly into sleep. She came to count on those dreamless Friday nights that somehow seemed so much more restful than the other nights of the week. * The Center * Thad "Cornball" Cornish was the team's center for his sophomore, junior, and senior years. As a born-again Christian, he was the player who led the team in their pre- and postgame prayers. He was very selective about the sins he'd commit, and it turned out, luckily for the Great Game, that fornication, or maybe just fornication with Lizzie, wasn't on his proscribed list. * Lizzie Meets Marla * Lizzie was lying on her bed, reading I Capture the Castle, waiting for her roommate to arrive. It was a little nervous-making. She'd never shared a room with anyone before, although she and Andrea, in their younger and friendlier days, had often spent the night at each other's house. Earlier that morning, the first day the dorms opened to incoming freshmen, Mendel had driven her to Martha Cook, where she'd be living for the next year. Together they'd carried up the heaviest of the cartons, filled with whatever she couldn't bear to leave at home. When Lizzie opened the door of her third-floor room, what she noticed first were the many boxes piled in one corner. They were from someone named Marla Cantor, from Ohio. Marla Cantor, whoever she turned out to be, was going to be her roommate. She almost started to tell Mendel about how anxious she was but saw that, after putting down the last box from the car on the floor, he was heading toward the door. He stopped before he reached it and hesitated; for a moment or two Lizzie thought that her father might, weirdly, want to shake her hand before he left. But instead he reached out and gave her one of the typical Bultmann hugs, a sort of sideways embrace that denied any concession to actually touching one another except in those places that absolutely couldn't be avoided. When he was gone, Lizzie closed her eyes and turned around a few times and pointed. When she opened her eyes she saw she'd selected the room's left side, with its uniform and institutionally bland bed, desk, chair, and dresser. No matter what sort of person her roommate was, Lizzie couldn't imagine Marla might possibly think one set of furniture was more desirable than the other. She began unpacking her books; she had a brief discussion with herself about the best method to arrange them on the bookshelves and decided just higgledy-piggledy in whatever order they came out of the boxes was fine. There were some of her favorite novels, books that she thought she'd better read if she wanted to be an English major, as well as books by the eclectic group of poets she loved most: A. E. Housman, Randall Jarrell, W. H. Auden, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Philip Larkin, and Dorothy Parker. Once she'd finished unpacking, she made several trips back and forth from the dorm to Mendel and Lydia's (as she'd always thought of the house where she'd lived her whole life) to get clothes, sheets, and towels. By the time she finished the last trip, unpacked everything, and made the bed, it was early afternoon. She'd just gotten to one of her favorite parts in Dodie Smith's novel, the incident with the bear, when she heard voices at the door. "Hi," she said, getting up. "You must be Marla. I'm Lizzie." "Wow, you sure got here early. It felt like we left at the crack of dawn." "Well, I live here. I mean, in Ann Arbor. Easy walking distance. Practically on the campus." She knew she sounded ridiculous but didn't know what to do about it. "Oh, that's terrific; you can show me around." There was a slight cough from the woman who'd come in the door right behind Marla. "Oh, sorry, Mom. Lizzie, this is my mother, Abby Cantor." Mrs. Cantor smiled at Lizzie, who gamely smiled back. "It's nice to meet you, Lizzie. How would you girls like to have a late lunch or a very early dinner with me before I leave?" Marla spoke before Lizzie had a chance to say anything. "Can we wait till next time you come up? I want to get my stuff put away and then I want Lizzie to give me the grand tour. And you have a long drive home by yourself. You should probably get going before it starts getting dark." Mrs. Cantor nodded, admitting that her daughter's observation was correct, but clearly not happy about the conclusion. "Well, if you're sure you'll be okay, I suppose I should really get started." "I'll be fine, Mom." Marla grinned at Lizzie. "Lizzie will take care of me, won't you, Lizzie?" Although she wasn't quite sure what was going on, Lizzie assured Mrs. Cantor that, yes, she would take care of her daughter, although it seemed to her on not much evidence that Marla could take good care of herself. Watching Marla's mother envelop her daughter in a huge hug gave Lizzie a small, jealous pang. "Listen," Mrs. Cantor said as she gently pulled away from Marla, "college is a new beginning. It's a chance to start over. You'll meet tons of new people and take interesting classes. You'll discover yourself or reinvent yourself. It can be a way to outrun your past." She stopped, her voice cracking a little. For a panicked moment, Lizzie wondered whether news of the Great Game had somehow reached the shores of Lake Erie and she was now hearing the lecture certainly due her for playing the leading role in it. But, no, Mrs. Cantor wasn't looking at her; it was Marla she was addressing these words to. "Are you girls absolutely sure you don't want to go to dinner?" "Mom," Marla said patiently, "I'll be fine. You go. We can talk this weekend." "Just--" But Mrs. Cantor didn't finish. She started walking toward the elevator, the heels of her shoes clicking on the wooden floor of the hall. "God, I thought she'd never leave," Marla sighed. "Well, I'm not entirely a liar, so how about if I put away some of this stuff first and then you can show me the campus? I came on a tour with my dad and stepmom last year, but since I never thought I'd end up here, I didn't pay much attention." That was fine with Lizzie. For the next hour or so she continued paging through Dodie Smith's novel, turning back to earlier sections whenever she came too near the end. And in between chapters she studied Marla. She was taller than Lizzie, which was not saying much, since Lizzie herself was only a smidge above five feet. Her wavy shoulder-length hair was the color of wet sand, and her face and arms were dotted with freckles of the same color. She moved with a competent ease from box to box, sorting and arranging their contents on her side of the room, humming a song Lizzie didn't recognize. She quickly made her bed, but, unlike Lizzie, Marla didn't bother with hospital corners. Mendel was a stickler for them (neatness in general was second only to cleanliness in his pantheon of greatest goods), and it was the first habit Lizzie intended to break herself of, although it was now so ingrained that it might be a little more difficult than she'd originally thought. Lacking hospital corners, the blanket and sheets immediately came away from the bottom of the mattress when Marla threw herself down on it with a grand whoosh. "Unpacking is exhausting. Worse than packing, I think. Well, come on, time's a-wasting. Show me around the campus a little before we have to be back for dinner." They walked through the Law Quad to State Street and then turned right. Lizzie pointed out the Union, where John Kennedy gave his "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country" speech when he was running for president and, farther up State, Shaman Drum, her favorite bookstore. "Looks great," Marla commented. "If they have a good section of art books, this'll definitely be where my allowance goes." "Oh, they do," Lizzie assured her, although she had no idea if this was true. "And this is called the Diag," Lizzie told Marla as they reentered the campus. "There's where most of our classes will be, I think, in those buildings," pointing to Mason and Haven Halls. "And over there"--she gestured--"is the UGLI." "Ugly?" "U-G-L-I." Lizzie spelled out the abbreviation for the Undergraduate Library. "Although lots of people think it actually is. Ugly, I mean." "Mmm," Marla responded absently, not particularly interested in the aesthetics of libraries. By then they were back at Martha Cook, just in time for an uneventful dinner during which Lizzie kept glancing around and thankfully failing to find anyone who looked even vaguely familiar, and then there was a seemingly endless orientation meeting. Afterward, as they made their way through a crowd of girls up to their room, Marla nudged Lizzie. "Well, that was all pretty sobering, I thought. Way too many rules; now I know why my mother wanted me to live here. So tell me, why are you here and not one of the other dorms?" "Uh, I don't know. It just seemed like a good thing. No men." Marla shook her head in mock wonder, put her arm around Lizzie, and gave her a hug. "No men. Clearly, there's a story behind that sentence. I can't wait to hear it." Later that night, when Lizzie was wriggling around, trying to make herself comfortable and wondering if she'd ever get used to the thin mattress, Marla spoke into the darkness. "Do you think we'll be friends?" Lizzie got a sick feeling in her stomach, although maybe it was a result of the pizza at dinner. "I'm not so good with friends," she muttered. "Really? That's interesting. My stepmom, Taylor, says that the typical pattern with roommates is that first they adore each other, then they can't stand one another, and then they come back to being friends. But maybe we can skip the middle part of not liking each other. I sort of have a feeling we can." Oh God, Lizzie thought. Was Marla one of those woo-woo people who believed she could predict the future? She would absolutely change rooms tomorrow if that was the case. But Marla seemed to read her mind and went on to say, "No, no, it's not like there's an angel sitting on my shoulder telling me what's going to happen. I just get these feelings about things. Big things. Not like passing tests or getting a date, but the deep, important future." Although Lizzie wasn't sure that she saw the distinction that Marla was making, she was interested in what Marla would say next. "And I kind of need a friend right now, to talk to. To tell something to. A sort of secret. I mean a real secret. About me. That nobody except my parents and the other people involved in it know about." But Lizzie wasn't ready for that quite yet. She wasn't sure she wanted to tell her own secret. "So what about our future?" "Okay, here goes. When we're really really old, like in sixty years or so, I see us sitting on a porch, in rocking chairs, and one of my great-granddaughters will say, 'Mama Marla'--because that's what I've decided I want to be called--'how did you and Auntie Lizzie meet?' And we'll tell them that we met the very first day of college, because we were assigned to the same room, and that first night we lay in our beds and told each other great secrets about our lives. And she'll say, 'What are those secrets?' And I'll say, 'Oh, baby, they're secrets; they're not for telling, not now or ever.'" "Why are you all of a sudden talking in a southern accent?" Lizzie asked suspiciously. "You're from Cleveland." Marla said, just a tad defensively, "I'm from Brecksville, actually, which is south of Cleveland. But that seems to me how that little story needed to be told." Lizzie, enchanted despite herself with the picture of Mama Marla and Auntie Lizzie, took a deep breath and sat up in bed. "Okay, you go first with the secrets," she said. Marla nodded, which of course Lizzie couldn't see, and began. "Well, my mother was so weird this afternoon because she's worried about me." "Is that the secret? Because of course I got that." "Hey, don't interrupt, it's hard enough as it is." "Okay, sorry." "I had this boyfriend, James. Well, I still have him. I mean, he's here, going to school here. And I got pregnant last fall." She hurried on. "James and I talked about it, what we should do, should we get married, because we are going to get married sometime, of course, and then we talked to our parents. And then . . ." Marla paused so long that Lizzie thought she might have stopped talking for good. Finally she continued. "And then," she repeated, "nobody thought we should get married, we were way too young, and that I should have an abortion and put it all behind me. But I realized that I wanted to have it, the baby, that I wanted to keep it, that I wanted to get married. I didn't want to have an abortion. And then everyone started arguing with everybody else, and with me, except James, who felt the same way I did, and finally we came to this terrible compromise, which was that I would have the baby and then some lucky couple would get to adopt it. "So that's what happened. I spent my senior year being pregnant and having the baby in June, and then it was gone, poof, off to live with another family. So technically I didn't graduate from high school but they let me in here anyway, and I don't even know if it was a boy or a girl, and everyone is just tiptoeing around me, even James, and though I guess that it was the sensible thing to do--I mean, how could we raise a baby and go to college, even if we did get married; I mean, I know people do it, but it didn't seem that people like us did it--it's turned out to be really hard, and I spent most of the summer crying and not wanting to see anybody, sometimes even James, who I love more than anything in the world. I mean, honestly, nobody wants me to see James anymore, especially his parents, who did like me once, so that's why my mother is freaked out about me. She doesn't know what I'm going to do next. "And you're the only one here who knows, besides James." Marla took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Lizzie couldn't think of anything to say. Everything she tested out in her mind--"Oh, wow," or "That's terrible," or "I think you're really brave," for example--sounded lame, insensitive, or just plain dumb. She got out of bed and went over and sat down next to Marla and took her hand. Of all the secrets that passed through Lizzie's life, Marla's was the one she never revealed, never retelling it as a good story or a terrible heartache, not divulging it to friends or George. Or even Jack, to whom she'd told everything else. "Now you," Marla said, when Lizzie was back in her own bed. "Okay. My secret is that I had sex with my entire high school football team last winter and spring. Well," Lizzie corrected herself, "not the entire team; just the starters." There was silence for a few moments, then Marla said, "Oh, Lizzie, I'm so sorry." Of all the responses Marla could have made, that was the most unexpected. Lizzie felt tears well up behind her eyes. "It was supposed to be fun. We called it the Great Game." "Do people know?" "Well, the whole school knew by the time it was over. Everybody stopped talking to me, and I kind of stopped functioning at all my last semester. And in a horribly weak moment I told my parents, which was probably a mistake. They're totally different than your parents." Marla started laughing, which shocked Lizzie. "Oh my God, Lizzie, you screwed two dozen different guys and you didn't get pregnant? Are you kidding me?" "Twenty-three, actually," Lizzie admitted, uncomfortably. "You know, kiddo, it would have been so much less crazy, not to mention less destructive, if you'd picked the basketball team to fuck." * Maverick and the Great Game * Maverick Brevard was Lizzie's first real boyfriend. The Brevards were a family that lived and breathed football. Wyatt, the father, grew up in Baton Rouge in an exceptionally large Cajun family. He'd always planned on playing for LSU (Geaux Tigers!) but was wooed away by a damned good recruiter for the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) who basically promised him the moon, including a free ride financially and no redshirt year: he would start at wide receiver as a true freshman. And the guy absolutely delivered on his promises. In return, Wyatt played his heart out for Michigan and Coach Bump Elliott. During his years there the team had one winning season, his freshman year, when they lost only a single game and were the Big 10 champions. The next three seasons--which he never liked talking (or even thinking) about--would have destroyed a lesser man's love of the game in general and University of Michigan football in particular, but Wyatt remained a Wolverine fan forever. His greatest disappointment, at least prior to his realization that his two oldest sons showed some talent but probably not enough to play pro ball, was that he was never mentioned as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate. He'd chosen to play the wrong position. "Should have been a quarterback," he'd say to his three boys, Maverick, Ranger, and Colton. Still, he was plenty good enough at wide receiver to be drafted by the New Orleans Saints, much to the delight of the hometown fans, who still remembered the good hands and fleetness of foot he'd possessed in high school. He spent his steady and successful career there, making the Pro Bowl once, but was cursed again with being on a team that was mediocre at best. He was happy that he'd chosen to retire in 1979, because the next season many of the Saints' frustrated and angry fans started calling the team the "Aints" and coming to the games wearing brown paper bags on their heads so that nobody could recognize them for the fools they were, throwing away good money to watch a consistently losing team. Right after Wyatt retired and was casting about for how to fill his life post-football, Bo Schembechler, then the head coach of the Wolverines, asked him to come back to Ann Arbor to coach the receivers. Maverick's mother, Pammie, grew up in suburban Detroit. She was tiny, blond, and cute, and reveled in being all three. She'd been captain of the U of M cheerleading squad (which is how she and Wyatt met), president of the Tri-Delts, and still wore her hair in a ponytail. Under the right conditions and after a glass or two of wine, she was reliably bouncy. Dispensing with the dot, she put a heart over the lowercase i in her name. She loved her sons to distraction. Her cheerleading background came in handy at their football games. And she'd never missed one. Maverick, like his father before him, was a wide receiver; his brother Ranger, ten months younger but also a junior (the vagaries of birthdays: Ranger was a young junior, Maverick an old one), backed up the quarterback but was projected to be a starter his senior year. Their younger brother, Colton, quarterbacked his Pee-Wee football team. Maverick was a good football player but not an excellent one. Ranger was excellent but not great. The family's football hopes and dreams resided in Colt, who at thirteen was starting to get noticed by college football scouts. In fact, Colt went on to win the Heisman twice, joining Archie Griffin as the only two players to achieve that distinction. He had a superb NFL career with the Kansas City Chiefs and would eventually be inducted into the Football Hall of Fame. Before she started dating Maverick, Lizzie had never given much thought to football. Oh, she went to the occasional high school game, because that's what everyone (except Andrea) did on Friday nights. At the beginning, though, when Maverick and Lizzie couldn't bear to be out of sight of one another, she spent her afternoons watching the team practice. Evenings, she helped Maverick memorize the playbook. He diagrammed various pass routes and defensive alignments, went through the rosters, and described to Lizzie the strengths and weaknesses of each player on the opposing team. He told her stories about the great coaches: Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, Don Shula, Tom Landry (Lizzie would hear that name again--and again--from George); and the great tragedies: Ernie Davis, the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy, dead of leukemia at twenty-four before he could ever play a down as a pro; Darryl Stingley and Mike Utley, whose football careers were cut short by spinal cord injuries. Maverick lent Lizzie all of his favorite football books to read, which included not only George Plimpton's Paper Lion and Don DeLillo's End Zone but also Mr. Quarterback and Mr. Half back, two children's books by William Campbell Gault that Wyatt had read as a boy growing up in Louisiana and passed on to his sons. Under Maverick's tutelage she rooted wholeheartedly for the holy triumvirate: the Pioneers (High School), the Wolverines (U of M), and the Lions, Detroit's pro football team, which had never won a Super Bowl. Even before she was a teenager, Lizzie discovered novels like Double Date and Going Steady and Fifteen at the library and read and reread them regularly. Set mostly in the 1950s and early 1960s, they described a world that she couldn't quite relate to but that was totally fascinating. She learned from them that it was always a mixed blessing to have a steady boyfriend in high school. Yes, you sometimes got to wear his football varsity jacket (Lizzie did) or his ID bracelet (Lizzie didn't, but that was because by the time she'd read those books, in the middle of the 1980s, no one wore ID bracelets any longer). The main characters in those novels, who were all named Jane or Sally or Penny, loved the fact that they knew who was taking them to the sock hops and spring flings and who'd they share lemon Cokes with at the drugstore, but in between the lines on the page there was always the lurking problem of sex, specifically, how far to go. Jealousy ran rampant in those books. Girls you thought were your friends became enemies whose goal in life was to get your boyfriend away from you. And breakups always broke your heart. But none of this was true for Lizzie and Maverick. Instead, it was all good fun. Because they'd known each other since kindergarten, everything was familiar. They started dating because they found themselves always laughing at the same jokes in class, because Maverick could help Lizzie in trig and Lizzie could help him in English comp, and both of them really liked listening to duets, although neither could carry a tune, a fact that they both lamented. "I've Had the Time of My Life" and "Somewhere Out There" were two of their favorites. They had sex because it seemed silly not to. They broke up when Maverick went to spend the summer with his dad's family in Baton Rouge and wanted the freedom to date other girls; he didn't want to feel he was sneaking around behind Lizzie's back. That was Maverick, blond and sweet and fearless, an Eagle Scout always insisting on the truth. Lizzie had (still has, in fact) a less-than-comfortable relationship with honesty. By the time Maverick told her this, she'd been feeling a little burdened with twosomeness. She'd started to think wistfully of weekends without a date; she wanted to spend some time by herself. She'd grown tired of football and football statistics, at least for a while, but she never would have told him that. She drove Maverick to the airport; she enthusiastically kissed him good-bye and went home, completely fine. The year that she was seventeen and Maverick Brevard's girlfriend was the lightest of heart Lizzie would ever feel, but back then she thought it was just the way her life was supposed to arrange itself. Once she'd decided to go on with the Great Game, even without Andrea, Lizzie thought she should move Maverick up to the second week, right after Thad Cornish, since the Game involved also having sex with his brother Ranger, which would be a little awkward. She wanted to explain the situation to Maverick and see what he thought. When they met on the Wednesday night of his week and she told him her plans for the next twenty weeks or so, Maverick immediately responded that he thought playing the Great Game verged on lunacy. Plus it didn't sound like the Lizzie he'd dated all last year. Because Lizzie couldn't explain why it wasn't an insane thing to do, there was little left to say. There was no flirting involved. Thursday night they picked up the argument right where they'd left off. Lizzie finally told him what a stick-in-the-mud he was being. She'd slept with him, hadn't she? And he enjoyed it. A lot. Hadn't he? "That was different," Maverick said. "I'm pretty sure Ranger's a virgin. It's not fair to him that the first girl he's going to have sex with is someone who doesn't love him. You were the first girl I slept with, but we were dating, we loved each other. Don't you see how different that is?" There was no fooling around that night. Friday night after the game, when they were due to have sex, they drove out to the park and walked along the river. "Can't you just go along with it?" Lizzie pleaded. "Just because we were happy together?" "Oh, crap," Maverick said, "you are certifiably nuts. I know I'm going to regret this," but he gave in, as she knew he would. * George's Childhood * By any objective standard, George had a pretty wonderful childhood. In fact, there were only three downsides to it that he'd ever been able to identify: his conflicted feelings about his father, his conflicted feelings about his older brother, Todd, and the frustration of riding the Hebrew school bus. He lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Elaine, his mother, occasionally tutored students in French, but was mostly a stay-at-home mom. His father, Allan, was the Jewish orthodontist. What this meant was that whenever the sons and daughters of members of the Jewish community needed orthodontia--which was almost always--it was Allan to whom they turned. He understood the importance of teeth in bat and bar mitzvah photos, and it was not unknown for him to remove a set of braces for the big day and then reattach them when the festivities were over. For no extra charge, of course. Because he deserved his excellent reputation as an orthodontist, a large number of Tulsa's non-Jewish community also brought their offspring to him when they were in need of braces. It was not uncommon for George to see someone from middle school, his bowling league, or his Sunday school class whenever he went to his father's office. It was because of his father's profession that George hated pain. Even though Allan was the soul of generosity, kindness, and care--he'd purchased three large arcade games so everyone, parents included, would have something to do while the kids waited to be called into the treatment rooms--he still inflicted a great deal of pain on his patients. George never forgot those awful monthly appointments when his braces needed to be tightened. He understood even as a kid that while the shoemaker's children may go barefoot, the orthodontist's sons must have perfect teeth. Hence those dreaded visits to his father's office. George likened his father's smile--fake, false, and totally fearsome--to the grin left behind by the Cheshire cat. And who smiles like that when they're about to hurt you? Sadists, that's who. He knew, even at thirteen, that Allan was smiling in order to try to reassure each patient that it would all be okay, it might hurt a little, just for a second or two, but that straight teeth were a necessity for a certain type of young person in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the 1980s, and this small step, done every four to six weeks, was a necessary part of the treatment. George knew this, and knew for certain that his father loved him, but he couldn't get over the fact that the torturer/orthodontist was his own father, coming toward him in order to dispense some not inconsiderable pain on his own son. For his own good. George didn't read the ne plus ultra example of dental malfeasance, William Goldman's Marathon Man, until he was in dental school. When he did his hands shook so much that he had trouble holding the book; he found it so distressing that he never finished it, although he never seriously considered changing his career plans. But for the three weeks and six days between visits, George deeply loved and admired his father. He was proud that Allan worked in a free dental clinic twice a month, and that he braced up (as George thought the verb should be) poor adults and kids in his office for free. There were scrapbooks in the waiting room filled with pictures of before (buckteeth) and after (the ultimate dental ideal), as well as letters of appreciation from patients, praising Allan for his concern, skill, and pleasing manner. Dopey Annette Silverberg, who went to dancing class with George, once told him during a waltz that his father was "jovial." Jovial! How could you be considered jovial when you were inflicting pain on someone? The biggest lesson he learned from his childhood was this: that he wanted to grow up to be exactly like Allan, except that he knew that he would never, under any circumstances, become an orthodontist. In his junior year of college George had had a passing thought that maybe he'd become a gerontologist, but the thought of Allan and Elaine being old enough to possibly need his services made him sick to his stomach. It had perhaps been a mistake to later share these thoughts with Lizzie, who was given to an abiding interest about George's childhood, so different from her own. Although she was also devoted to Allan (she couldn't imagine a better father-in-law, or father, if it came to that), she wanted George to think deeply about his relationship to his dad. She pointed out that his older brother, Todd, having presumably suffered similarly at his father's hands, was a surfer bum, with no connection to teeth at all. "But of course," Lizzie told George, "you never ever see a surfer with bad teeth. Maybe we should move to Sydney, too, and you could become the dentist who specializes in kids who want to be surfers." George was not particularly introspective and only occasionally wondered why, given what he'd felt about his father and pain, he had decided to go into anything relating to teeth at all and had not studied engineering or agronomy or really anything else. What he thought about a lot, though, during the long years of his greatest successes, was whether those months and months of getting his braces tightened had been the source of his slowly developing belief that perhaps pain could be rendered mute and weaponless. "But, George, don't you think it's a bit weird that you, someone who denies the existence of pain, became a dentist? I bet you inflict as much pain or more on your patients than your dad did. I bet Freud would say that what you were really doing, what you needed to do to grow up, was to deny pain and Allan's power over you." "First of all," George answered patiently, "I don't deny the existence of pain. What I think I'm denying is that pain, or at least suffering, is ever really necessary. And I'm certainly not causing the pain. People come to me when they're in pain. Great pain, sometimes. My job is to make the pain go away by fixing what's wrong. Which I do. And thirdly, I'm not denying my dad's influence on me. He's--he was--a terrific father. You know that. If I could be even half as good a father to my own kids, I'd be thrilled. I just didn't want to be responsible for that fucking monthly tightening-of-braces routine for any other kid in the world." "Well, why'd you go to your dad for braces? I know I read somewhere that doctors shouldn't treat their own families." "He was the best in Tulsa," George said simply, and not without pride. "Everyone knew that. All my friends went to him, whether they were Jewish or not. For those who were, it was like a rite of passage. Hebrew school. Learning your haftorah portion. Braces from Dr. Goldrosen." Lizzie was far from convinced that George's career had been a purely free choice and not some working out of an ancient father-son curse, but that particular day she let the matter drop, though she continued to ponder it all. The second downside was Todd. He was only twenty-one months older than George, but because Todd skipped the sixth grade, they were three grades apart. In some ways this was a relief to George, because each year there was then the chance that Todd's teachers would have transferred to a different school, moved out of state, or retired, and the people hired in their place would be unaware of Todd's unnerving combination of superior intelligence and scorn for the human race and its ridiculous conventions. But more often than not, what happened on the first day of classes in September was that the teacher, taking attendance, would say, "George Goldrosen." Pause. Sigh. "Any relation to Todd Goldrosen?" And when George acknowledged that, yes, indeed, he was Todd's younger brother, the teacher would look at him for a long time, assessing what he saw, before finally going on to the next name. George guessed that the teacher was hoping that he was as smart as his older brother but that he lacked Todd's interest in defying authority. Actually, both of these were true. There wasn't a physical resemblance between the brothers. Todd inherited a mixture of all of Allan's and Elaine's most attractive physical qualities and out of that olio of genes he became himself. He had dark eyes, skin that tanned easily and evenly, thick black hair, and eyelashes to die for (this was according to their Stillwater grandmother; their Montreal grandmother wasn't interested in such trivialities). His eyes were dark brown, he had no need of glasses, and he possessed a killer smile both before and after orthodontia. In short, he looked like Adonis. George knew this last fact about Todd because one of Todd's many girlfriends had told him so, and he knew which girlfriend it was because George happened to regularly read Todd's journal, which included intimate details about his girlfriends and who said what and what was done, and Todd had no trouble with including all the graphic details. George would often feel that he needed to wash his hands after putting the journal back in the top drawer of Todd's desk, but he never felt so dirty that he stopped sneaking into Todd's room whenever Todd was out on a date, and reading it. George, on the other hand, resembled nobody else in the family. He was much fairer skinned, with red hair that curled up into short, tight ringlets on his head and that, sadly, began receding when George was in his early twenties, just when he and Lizzie became a couple. The sun was his enemy; during those impossibly hot Oklahoma summers of his childhood he couldn't stay outside nearly as long as Todd did. He'd have to huddle under a towel when he came out of the pool at the Jewish Center. There was also no getting around the fact that, in sharp contrast with his parents and brother, George was, as a kid and early teen, although by no means fat, definitely pudgy. "Chunky" was perhaps a kinder, more masculine-sounding description. The worst part of being more than a tad overweight was having to shop for his clothes in the Husky Department at Dillard's, praying hard from start to finish that nobody would see him there. He hated those shopping trips. When he began to become really interested in girls, George feared that his was the sort of face that only his closest relatives could love, the kind of person that's always described as having a great personality. George didn't undervalue the benefits of a good personality, but he also aspired to handsomeness. Cuteness at the very very least. He almost got his wish. By the time he started college he'd lost some of the pudginess of his youth and his face had become thinner and more defined. He started working out a lot, so if physique was what you were interested in, there George's muscles were. Lizzie thought the best part of George's face, besides the general fact of liking that it was George's face, was his eyes. They were a variable sort of hazel and, depending on the color of the shirt or sweater he wore, they'd become grayish or bluish or greenish. Lizzie adored George's eyes and thought he looked most handsome in deep-blue shirts. There was still no way anyone would describe George as Adonis-like, but on the attractiveness spectrum that stretched from handsome to downright ugly, he'd ended up somewhere between cute and handsome. Both sets of his grandparents were face pinchers, sometimes painfully so. Invariably, whenever they saw him they'd first hug him and then step back and take a piece of his cheek between their thumb and forefinger, "Oy, what a punim," they'd murmur. "A she yn e yngl." They marveled that they couldn't think of anyone in the long and proud history of both sides of the family that he resembled, living or long dead. He was sui generis. One of a kind in the Goldrosen and Lowen clans. His Stillwater grandparents would look accusingly at Elaine. Had there been a randy car salesman in his mother's recent past? His Montreal grandparents would look reproachfully at Allan, their expressions clearly indicating that they blamed him entirely. If she didn't keep her marriage vows, you ganef, it's all your own fault for being such a rotten husband. Of course nobody said any of this out loud; George just imagined that's what they were thinking. But the main reason that all his grandparents doted on George was that he had a marshmallow heart. He cried when he watched sad movies and he cried when he read sad books (Beautiful Joe almost did him in). Even commercials on television could bring tears to his eyes. Todd couldn't stand it. "That is so goddamn sappy," he'd say scornfully, watching George weep at an ad for dog food. "Yeesh. Can't you see how they're just manipulating you?" No, George couldn't. One result of being softhearted was that George constantly felt sorry for people. He would empty his pockets of change for a man sitting on the ground in front of Swenson's holding a sign saying "War Veteran. No Home. No Job. Anything Will Help." If the vet looked hungry (and they all looked hungry) he'd go in and buy the guy a hamburger and fries. If he got to choose kids for his class spelling bee team, the first three people he chose were the least popular, the outsider, and the worst speller in class. George's attitude infuriated Todd. "Don't you see how presumptuous it is to assign unhappiness to someone? What right do you have to do that? Maybe they don't mind how they're living, even if it is different from what other people think is a good life. Maybe they feel sorry for you and your little bourgeois life, taking a shower every day, getting good grades, going to dances, living in a big house, and some woman is paid a pittance to vacuum up the dirt you bring in and wash your clothes and iron your oxford cloth shirts. Yes," he'd continue in a fake judicious tone, "I believe they must definitely pity you, because I certainly do." It wasn't only people that he cared about to excess. He regularly brought home stray animals and begged his mother to let him keep them. Elaine relented only once, for a three-legged kitten George named Twinkie, who he'd found shivering in a storm drain. When George was ten he stole a small stuffed animal from his cousin Shelley's house in Montreal because he thought the rabbit was neglected and in need of a great deal of love, a task George was eager to take on. As far as George knew, no one even realized that the rabbit was gone, which only went to show that he'd been right. He named it Rabbit Elias, after the Goldrosen's rabbi, and in an early example of George's already well-developed sense of humor, he realized that Rabbit Elias was actually a pretty good pun, so he changed its name to Rabbit Pun Elias, known familiarly as Pun. The first Christmas Lizzie visited the Goldrosens, George introduced her to Twinkie and Pun, who by that time were both suffering from age-related conditions. Twinkie was basically incontinent and Pun had lost most of his stuffing. One afternoon when George was twelve he was walking home from Hebrew school and encountered a sick squirrel resting under a tree. "But how did you know he was sick?" Lizzie asked years later, which was one of the litany of questions his parents had asked when he arrived home and explained why his wrist was bleeding. "He had this look, like he wanted me to help him. So I did. Or tried to." After he bit George, the squirrel leaped out of his grasp and ran away, clearly not very sick, or even sick at all. The result for George was a painful series of rabies shots. Lizzie kissed the tiny squirrel scar on his wrist. "You would think," she commented, "that would teach you that no good deed goes unpunished. But it didn't, did it?" No, George admitted. It didn't teach him anything, except perhaps that it was harder to read a squirrel's state of health or state of mind than he had once thought. "But he let me pick him up," he told his parents. "If he wasn't sick, why would he do that?" No one at the time had an answer for him, but years later Lizzie came up with one. "Maybe he'd just had a miraculous escape from a man driving way too fast, and wanted revenge on humanity. He probably immediately saw that you were the perfect mark." George doubted that theory but couldn't totally dispute it. He was the perfect mark. For all of Todd's relentless criticisms of him, George didn't hate his brother. He idolized him, until the day that Todd, at seventeen, either intentionally or not (nobody except Todd knew for sure), mishandled an experiment in chemistry class and blew out all the windows in the lab. He walked outside with the rest of his class when the school was evacuated but then never walked back inside. Late that night, or early the next morning, he bailed from his bourgeois life in Tulsa and left home, first for Boulder, then Portland (where he worked on an organic farm and changed his name to Kale), and then Sydney, where he started surfing. When George saw how all this had devastated his parents--his mother cried constantly for what seemed like the whole next year and couldn't be comforted, and his father started behaving weirdly, smoking a pipe and loudly guffawing at odd and inappropriate times--he realized that while he still loved Todd, he didn't, any longer, want to be him, Adonis or not. The third blemish on his otherwise blue-skies childhood was the situation with the Hebrew school bus. This bus picked up all the twelve-year-old Jewish boys after school two days a week and took them to the temple to study with Rabbi Elias and Cantor Ferber in preparation for their bar mitzvahs. Two hours later the lucky boys who lived on the other side of Thirty-First Street got driven home. The talk on the bus, both to and from Hebrew school, was almost exclusively about sex and girls. Generations of Jewish boys in Tulsa learned about sex on the Hebrew school bus. The problem was that George rode the bus only one way, since he could walk home when Hebrew school was over. This meant that he learned only half as much as Michael Minter, say, or all the other boys who got to ride the bus both ways. George worried about this a lot and wondered how he could possibly measure up to them when they started sleeping with girls and all the other boys knew things of which George was unaware. Lizzie thought this was a perfectly wonderful story and wondered whether there was some kinky sexual practice that occurred among Jewish men bar mitzvah'd in Tulsa at a rate much higher than the national average and that could be ascribed to the erroneous information the boys had exchanged. "In any case," she told George when they were lying in bed one night, "you don't seem to have missed anything important." George was greatly relieved that Lizzie felt that way. * The Wide Receiver * Maverick was one of the wide receivers. The other was Loren "Speedy" Gonzalez, probably the worst player on the team, although a lot of the reason for that was genetics, not lack of enthusiasm or desire. Speedy was slim verging on skinny and, under orders from the coaches, he ate constantly and spent a lot of time trying to muscle up in the weight room, to no good effect. Ranger avoided throwing to him as much as possible, but of course the opposing teams would double- and triple-team Maverick. It was discouraging for everyone. When Speedy wasn't on the football field, in class, or the weight room, he played bass in a rock band. What Lizzie remembered best about Speedy was that even away from his bass he was always tapping his foot to some rhythm only he could hear. During sex too. It was more than a bit distracting. * Jack McConaghey * Lizzie overslept the first day of classes spring quarter of her freshman year and, after running across the campus and dashing up four flights of stairs, she was out of breath and already late to her twentieth-century poetry class. It was taught by the best-known poet on the English faculty, Addison "The Terror" Terrell. Keeping his nickname in mind helped Lizzie, and no doubt others, remember that Terrell, who had won or been nominated for the Pulitzer and National Book Award several times in his distant and not-so-distant past, pronounced his name with the accent on the first syllable, Terrell like terror, not like Tuh-RELL. His fellow poets and departmental colleagues knew Terrell as a formidable and ferocious critic who brooked no careless language, who hated loosey-goosey pronouns, who knew exactly what he liked and what was good (very little and nothing by a woman or anyone under, say, the age of forty). No surprise that the same group of poets made up each category. He didn't hesitate to let you (especially if you were a student) know what he thought, whether you'd asked or not. He was equally venomous in deconstructing a pantoum or a petition to the dean. He delighted (or seemed to, anyway) in using your own words to impale you, then somehow twisting them so that he left a gaping wound in your writing hand, or your head, or your heart. No real writer--although Terrell never actually acknowledged that there was another one besides himself--wanted him to review his (never her: Terrell refused to acknowledge the existence of what he invariably called "poetesses") new book of poetry, even if a bad review generated the same amount of publicity that you'd get with a good one, or even more, sometimes, if you happened to write a letter back to the editor complaining about the perfidious Terrell's review. Lizzie read and wrote a lot of poetry. At sixteen she'd won a contest sponsored by Seventeen, and her poem was published in the magazine. She approached poetry in a careless, loving sort of way. She planned to major in English knowing it would, at the very least, seriously annoy Mendel and Lydia. Hence, the need to spend time with the Terror every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from eight to nine (that's a.m.), April 1 to June 24. "Hah! No foolin' about that startin' date," George would have added, had she known him then. She entered the room just as Terrell finished calling roll and then made her way to the first open seat, which happened to be in the middle of the first row and thus involved climbing over four unhappy pairs of knees. "Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry" she muttered as she sat down. "Your name?" "Uh, Bultmann, Lizzie." "Ah," he said grimly. Did he know her parents? Surely he didn't. It was a huge faculty and she couldn't imagine what they would have to say to one another if they had ever met at a cocktail party. To which her parents never went, anyway. "Well, now that the late Miss Bultmann has arrived, hand her a syllabus, Mr. McConaghey, so we can then begin. This is a class, as I'm sure you're aware, devoted to the major poets of the twentieth century, the century that is drawing to a close. Ours was a century that produced much remarkable writing, both prose and poetry. But, one could argue, and I do" he smirked "the achievements of the poets far outweigh those of the writers of prose. What else can you can conclude from one hundred years that began with John Betjeman, included Ted Hughes, Theodore Roethke, Richard Hugo, and Philip Larkin, and will conclude with John Ashbery and W. S. Merwin?" This was clearly a rhetorical question, but the boy sitting next to Lizzie--the one who'd given her the syllabus--raised his hand. "Yes, McConaghey, what is it?" Terrell asked without any enthusiasm, as though he knew what was coming next and was already finished with it. "You know, the reading that I've done about Eliot and Pound, in preparation for this class . . ." (In preparation for this class? Lizzie thought incredulously. Who is this guy?) "Yes?" Dismissively. "Well, I wonder why we consider them major poets when they were not, in fact, particularly nice men. How can someone who's--well, 'evil' is too strong a term--but at least someone who behaves immorally in significant ways, as well as being slimy in their interpersonal relationships--" Terrell heaved a dramatic sigh. "Didn't we go through this last quarter, McConaghey? Didn't we discuss this for more hours than I, personally, care to remember? When we talked about all those Romantic poets? I'm sure we did. Perhaps you weren't paying quite enough attention. 'Mad, bad, and dangerous to know'--doesn't that convey a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to the treatment of the women in one's life? And didn't I argue convincingly enough for you that Byron was a great poet, though you wouldn't want to leave him and your girlfriend together unchaperoned? Or your boyfriend, for that matter. Do you have such a person in your life, sir?" Uneasy laughter rolled through the class. Without waiting for an answer, he went on. "And, Mr. McConaghey, don't I recall from some of our ex parte conversations that at least two of your favorites--Housman, wasn't it, and Larkin?--were not such upstanding individuals? Hadn't they a few quirks, shall we call them, here and there? Anti-Semitism and so forth. Nastiness. Yet, in the case of Larkin, who amongst us could not be moved by 'Dockery and Son' or 'Church Going'? Not you. Nor I. But don't let me get started on Housman, of whom I'm not nearly as fond as you've indicated you are. Duh DUH duh DUH duh DUH duh DUH. 'From Clee to heaven,' forsooth. Spare me those green hills and dales of Shropshire." He mimicked the voice of a young woman. 'Oh, soldier, show me your sword.' I don't call that poetry but rather nausea-inducing." Lizzie immediately felt offended on behalf of the long-dead Housman, and she suspected that Mr. McConaghey, sitting beside her, did as well. There was more laughter from the class. It seemed that The Terror knew how to command his audience. At this point in what could only be termed a rant, Terrell made an amazing face. It somehow combined a leer and a sneer. Lizzie felt sure she had seen both a leer and a sneer before, but never the two together. Assuming someone who was not Addison Terrell could ever duplicate it, it deserved its own name. Perhaps 'sleer'? "As for Pound, well, any man who can write that perfect poem 'In a Station of the Metro' has no need to fear for his immortal soul. Or any defense by me, particularly in front of a class of undergraduates who can barely distinguish between blank verse, free verse, and bad verse. Now, any more questions before I dismiss class so that you can all begin work on the first assignment?" Some poor fool seated right behind Lizzie said, "Uh, Professor Terrell?" "Yes," Terrell said with exaggerated patience. "How do you spell 'Housman'?" "Good Lord, who cares? There's no possible reason you would ever need to write his name down." Lizzie, heart sinking as she listened to Terrell's monologue, had been scanning the syllabus. She raised her hand. "Ah, it seems that the late Miss--make that Ms., of course, in deference to the feminists that I am sure are amongst us--Bultmann has a question. Or a comment?" "Question," Lizzie said. "I don't see Edna St. Vincent Millay on the syllabus. Are we going to read her this semester?" Terrell stared at her with interest. "Are you demented?" he asked, sounding genuinely curious. Then, without waiting for her answer, went on, "You're referring, I trust, to Edna St. Vincent O'Lay? That 'Oh God, the pain' girl? I can't imagine that you would really think I'd include anyone, any poetess, who wrote about burning her candle at both ends." Wiggling his eyebrows, he went on. "What in the world is that supposed to mean? That she was careless with matches? That she was a pyromaniac? But that's not the worst of it--the line that makes me blench is 'He turned to me at midnight with a cry.' What was that cry? I wonder. 'Yeeoww!'? 'Whoopee!'? 'Man the barricades!'? 'Up and at 'em!'? Good Lord, the possibilities are seemingly endless. "You, Jack," he said, turning to Lizzie's fellow Housman admirer. "You're a great success with the girls, I suspect. Correct?" "Not bad, I'd say, but by no means perfect." "Yet surely you can enlighten us: What is that particular cry at midnight?" It took long enough for Jack to answer that Lizzie thought he might be ignoring the question. Then, with a wicked, knowing grin, he said, "I believe, sir, that it was probably something like 'Oh, my God, I think I left the iron on.'" Lizzie giggled, slightly ahead of the whole class breaking into laughter. Terrell chose not to respond to this directly. Instead he turned to Lizzie, who had been hoping that he'd forgotten her. But no. "You, the O'Lay fan." He scanned the class list. "Bultmann, wasn't it?" She nodded. "Let me hazard a guess in the form of a few declarative sentences. You write poetry. Little rhyming verses about the pain of young love, the agony of adolescence, each packed with trite observations on the beauty of the world and your own personal hell." Lizzie heard a sharp intake of breath from the boy--Jack--sitting next to her. He moved restlessly in his chair and she could feel him getting ready to speak. "Wait a--" he began. "Well, listen, Ms. Bultmann," Terrell continued, his voice getting louder and louder. He slammed the grade book on the table in front of him and screamed, "I want no little-girl poets, no O'Lay wannabes, in my class. Do you hear me? Stop writing whatever sloppy verses come out of that head of yours or drop this class. Now." He flicked his hand, dismissing them all. "I have no high hopes for any of you. Go, thou, and, if you dare, read some poetry. Not your own poems, Ms. Bultmann. Never your own," he concluded. "In fact, I'd suggest you burn them." Lizzie sat, red-faced and stunned, as the rest of students drifted out of the classroom, a few coming by her desk to pat her back in solidarity, or just smile at her in what looked like sympathy. She knew what Marla would do in a similar situation: she'd march herself to the dean of Arts and Sciences and make a formal complaint about Terrell. She wasn't sure she had the fortitude to take that step. Jack waited for Lizzie to get up before he stood and spoke to her. "So. Millay. And another Housman fan. I think I just might be in love." Lizzie looked at him. All her life she would remember that the perfect response came to her unbidden, as though it were a gift from the gods, a line from a poem they'd been assigned in AP English last year. "Really? 'Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?' That's your position, is it?" He laughed and took her arm. "Yes, Christopher Marlowe and I are more alike than you might think. Let's get coffee and be poetry lovers together. You can bind my wounds, and I'll bind yours. Do you have another class right now?" At that moment Lizzie would have gladly given up the rest of the quarter's classes to spend time with Jack. "I have anthro at eleven but nothing until then." "Great. Let's go." As they walked, Jack said, "I'm really sorry you went through that with Terrell. He's always been pretty nasty, but that was much farther than I've ever heard him go with a student." "What does he have against Millay, or me, for that matter?" "It isn't you, or Millay. It's just that he's a miserable human being. My guess is that he resents being regarded by the critics as second-rate, plus he has to teach a bunch of undergraduates whose idea of poetry is probably nursery rhymes. He's stuck with this life he hates." "That all may be true," Lizzie said, "but it doesn't give him a special dispensation to be nasty." "No, of course not. But there's a line by Housman that I've always felt applied to Terrell: 'The mortal sickness of a mind / Too unhappy to be kind.' That helps me deal with him." They walked to Gilmore's, one of the many coffee shops close to the quad that sprang up, shut down, and shortly reopened under a different name with amazing regularity. It was, as usual, packed with other students. "Um," Lizzie said when they finally found an empty table. "Do you think you could empty that ashtray? I'll get sick if I look at it." "Ah, there's a contradiction, a poetic sensibility and yet lacking a love of smoking to complete the very picture of a dissolute soul." "Hardly dissolute. My parents are serial smokers and when I was little I used to go around hiding all the ashtrays and hoping that would make them stop. I thought it was disgusting. And, as you can see, I still do." "I take it they never did." "Nope. Probably even as we speak one or both of them are lighting up. And they don't have a speck of poetry between them. They like it that way." Jack grabbed the full ashtray and went up to the counter. When he came back with their coffees and a lemon poppy seed muffin for them to share, she said, "I know I'm probably irrational about this, but did you wash your hands after emptying the ashtray?" "Wow. You're just a little intense, aren't you?" "Well, yes, I guess so. About this, anyway." "I'm awfully glad I don't smoke," Jack said, sitting down. "We almost certainly wouldn't be here together." He held out his hands for her inspection. His nails were short and very clean. His black hair fell into his eyes and she wanted more than anything to brush it off his forehead. She could smell the shampoo he must have used that morning; it contrasted sharply with Mendel's, which was tangy and unpleasant, something to keep dandruff at bay. Oh, why was she sitting here with this gorgeous, smart (and poetry-loving!) guy and thinking about her father's shampoo? "Me too," Lizzie assured him. "Otherwise I'd probably get up and leave." "You've never smoked? Not even to see what it's like?" "Well, not cigarettes, anyway. 'I neither smoke nor drink, but I have my memories,'" she said, mock tendentiously. Jack laughed. "Did you make that up? Is it true?" "No," Lizzie told him. "I read it somewhere. And the drinking part is definitely not true. I do love beer." "Really? Beer? You don't look like a beer girl to me." "What does a beer girl look like?" Jack thought about it for a while. "Well, where I come from, the beer-drinking girls are fast and loose, with loud laughs and big voices and big hair." She laughed and then sighed and thought of all those Friday nights, all those boys, during the football season and afterward. "I guess I'd have to say that being fast and loose doesn't come in one style. Hey," she said, changing the subject. "Did you really suffer through a different class with Terrell?" "I did. Honestly, he's not so bad. He's a bully, of course, and just a little full of himself. But he has this sly sense of humor." "Ha ha," Lizzie said dryly. "Save me from whatever sly sense of humor he might have. And don't for a moment think I didn't get the oh-so-not-humorous implications of 'you bind my wounds,' et cetera." Jack grinned. "I'm so glad you told me. If you hadn't gotten it, I would've been really disappointed in you." They stared at each other for a few moments. "I still think he's an insensitive, pretentious asshole whom I already dislike intensely. Maybe nobody reads Millay these days except me, but isn't that what he should be doing? Introducing us to poets who might not be so popular now?" "Okay, okay, don't despise me for this, but I've never actually read her." "As long as you start to remedy that condition, I'll forgive you." "Thank you, Lizzie," Jack said formally. "I appreciate your generosity. Do you think I'll like her?" "Honestly, I'm not going to pretend that Millay's not romantic or doesn't write almost always about being in love and having your heart broken, and her poems always rhyme, like Housman, which I'm quite sure Terrell despises, but she's so good at making you understand how love and loss feel. I mean, they're not light verses, like Dorothy Parker, who I also read obsessively, and she's not ironic and detached at all. She writes these wonderful lyrical poems that I find so moving and true. They just work for me," Lizzie finished, somewhat apologetically. Jack had been listening intently, leaning toward her. "So where should I begin? What's your favorite poem?" "Mostly it's individual lines that capture my imagination. 'Neither with you nor with myself, I spend / Loud days that have no meaning and no end.' I suppose that a man could have written that, but he probably wouldn't. I mean, I bet that a lot of the poets Terrell admires might have had that feeling about someone, but they'd never admit it in a poem. Don't start with 'Renascence,' which is the poem she first became famous for when she was a teenager. Maybe read the sonnets." She thought a moment. "Yeah, start with those. I can lend you my copy if you want." "Sounds great," Jack said. "Bring it to class on Thursday." For some reason Lizzie felt unaccountably shy and quickly changed the subject. "So, what's your favorite Housman poem?" "No," Jack said decidedly. "Housman's too depressing for spring, or at least this spring. Let's wait until it snows to talk about him." Can you fall in love this quickly? Lizzie wondered. And that was the beginning. * What We Need to Know About George * George rarely got annoyed at anyone, never at his patients (even if they obviously weren't flossing enough) or his parents. Even when Lizzie pushed him beyond endurance (and he could endure a lot), he'd usually only sigh heavily, clamp his lips together, and somehow radiate an air of frustration tinged with regret. Probably very few people besides Lizzie, or maybe Elaine as well, would notice anything different about him in those situations. George even looked like the perfect purveyor of happiness. He radiated health. He looked steady and safe, dependable and kind. You just knew that he could competently handle any situation that might arise. He had an infectious smile (and, of course, perfect teeth), and he smiled a lot. To those who had been his patients from the beginning, when he and Lizzie were newly married and he was straight out of dental school, those patients who had been through cleanings and routine fillings and impacted wisdom teeth and gum disease and root canals and crowns, who had suffered more than once through the dreaded tap test to determine which tooth, exactly, it was that hurt so badly, he was held in high esteem, even loved. He had one seemingly impossible desire, which was to do a standing backflip. He had fantasies of entertaining his patients, while they were waiting patiently in the dental chair as their gums numbed, with a flashy (and to all appearances effortless) little backward twirl into space and back to earth again. He didn't aspire to the Olympics. He didn't necessarily want to be known as the dentist-who-excelled-at-backflips. He just wanted to be free of gravity for a few short seconds, launching himself into the space behind him and then returning to his normal existence. On Saturdays and Sundays, watching football, he would gnash his teeth in envy as lithe and superbly muscled tight ends or wide receivers would do an insouciant backflip after scoring a touchdown. This happened so frequently that George began worrying about the state of his molars and took to wearing his plastic night guard while he was watching the games. George had always dealt affirmatively with his desires. For several years, beginning in college, he had subscribed to an early online motivational website called . On the day he signed up, he had to submit a list of what he wanted to accomplish that year: getting an A in organic chemistry and losing fifteen pounds were what he remembered he'd included. He'd then receive daily messages urging him on toward the fulfillment of those goals. ("Pay attention to your desires." "Don't be discouraged by setbacks." "Affirm. Affirm." "Forge on." "Breathe deeply and go forward.") He had never included his dream of doing a backflip, feeling that it was too frivolous. But later, when he was in dental school, he decided to come clean and e-mailed the company. "I would like to revise my automated online goals for the coming year. My new goal is to conquer the standing backflip. Thank you. George Goldrosen." Lizzie felt that the advice the company proffered was puerile and altogether useless, but couldn't convince George to see it that way. * The Guards * Brendan "Toker" Tolkin, the right guard, was the biggest stoner in high school. He smoked dope before, during, and after games. Maybe all that pot left him too zonked for any semblance of enthusiastic sex. Or maybe it was Lizzie. He was also way too spaced-out to have any sort of sensible conversation with. All in all, a week lost in Lizzie's life, one she'd never get back again. Billy Jim Estes was just about what you'd expect from a left guard named Billy Jim. Billy Jim was always sweaty, always smelling faintly but noticeably of BO. Each time he successfully blocked someone, he'd rub his hands together in a gesture that indicated that he'd been there, done that, and succeeded beyond everyone's expectations. He took to the idea and practice of the Great Game with great enthusiasm. Though Lizzie had to breathe through her mouth when she was with him, it made for a nice change after her experience with Toker. * The Last Down * By the time it was finally Leo deSica's week in the Great Game, Lizzie was counting the minutes until the whole project was done and she could get on with what was left of her life. She was sick of sex in the backseats of cars, sick of sneaking up to an empty bedroom at a party, or, when the weather had been good in the fall, having sex in someone's backyard after the game, where Lizzie and the football player du jour were often ineffectively hidden by the leaves of one tree or another. Because sex with those twenty-three guys was completely uninspiring, not to mention embarrassing, she was glad the act itself was quick. No one lingered around, before, during, or afterward. Of course, as a result of such hurried sex during high school, some of those boys would find themselves in a few years at a doctor's or therapist's office, dealing with issues of premature ejaculation. Still, Lizzie more or less sailed through the first few guys on offense with determination and a sense of triumph: she could do this, wasn't it larky, wasn't it going to be great to look back on it later, during the dull years of her forties and fifties (impossibly old), and brag about what she'd done as a high school senior? But as the weeks went by she felt increasingly aggrieved and sorry for herself and then mostly furious at Andrea, who was supposed to be here playing the Game at the same time. It wasn't fair that Andrea had simply opted out of it. Offense or defense, Lizzie found nothing at all approaching pleasure in the sex. It was a chore, like slogging through Vanity Fair had been the previous year. Dull and boring and hard to figure out why anyone would choose to read Thackeray's novel, let alone name it as one of their favorite books of all time, as Mrs. Syllagi, her English teacher, told the class it was. She just knew, in both cases, that she had to get through it, check it off her to-do list. Chapter 17 done, done, done. Dusty Devins, done, done, done. On to the next. With every chapter read or player screwed, that much closer to the end. And she'd actually finished the assignments, although you couldn't say triumphantly, in both cases. The Great Game officially ended on March 30, 1991, at 11:38 p.m., when Lizzie whispered good-bye to Leo deSica, strong safety, closed the front door behind him, and began walking back upstairs to her bedroom. Leo was generally regarded as the best-looking player on the team, and he didn't lack for brains. He was the kind of football player that college coaches drool over, and was courted by all the schools whose teams perennially ranked in the top twenty. But in addition to all those qualities, Leo was a thoroughly nice guy. Rumors abounded that he and his longtime girlfriend Gaby had never actually done it, and Lizzie had hoped that this was true, so that Leo would be extra interested in sex with her. She told herself that she deserved to have the Great Game end with a big bang. (This was a pun that George would have really appreciated, but of course there was no way that Lizzie would ever be able to share it with him.) In light of her sizable hopes for the grand finale, Lizzie decided that they'd end the evening in her bedroom. Mendel and Lydia tended to go to sleep early, so it would be no problem to take Leo up to her room without their knowing. All this went according to plan. But once Lizzie steered him into her bed and they'd gotten down to business, it turned out not to matter how good-looking or smart or sexy Leo was, all Lizzie could think about while he was kissing her--with great expertise, it must be said--was what a mistake this all had been and that Maverick, not to mention Andrea, was right all along. This realization, which made her want to cry, came out instead as a loud and bitter laugh. Leo, confused, immediately stopped what he was doing. "What's the matter? What's funny?" "Nothing. It's nothing," Lizzie assured him. "Everything's fine. Don't stop." She was tempted to tell him that the joke had turned out to be on her, but decided that would confuse him even more than the laugh had, and she just needed this to be finished so that she could start trying to forget about it. And then, finally, Leo was done. The Great Game was over. Hallelujah. As Lizzie walked Leo down to the front door, they were unexpectedly met by Lydia, who was on her way up the stairs. Mendel followed her, holding two mugs of the strong herbal tea they favored. Nobody spoke, although it was possible that Mendel nodded at them before continuing up. When Lizzie locked the door behind Leo, she wondered if she'd just imagined the meeting on the stairs. It was pretty much every teen's worst nightmare, wasn't it, to be discovered by your parents more or less in flagrante delicto? Upstairs, she went into the bathroom and undressed for the second time that night. She turned on the shower to the hottest water that she could stand and stood there until the spray became lukewarm, and then reluctantly turned off the taps and got out. The mirror was so steamed up that she could see only the faintest outline of her body. It might have been anyone, actually, which Lizzie thought was a good thing. She didn't really want to look too closely at herself. Not because of what she imagined that she might see--maybe a scarlet A above her breast, the word "wanton" incised on her forehead, things like that--but because she was afraid she'd see no difference in herself at all. Aside from probably now resembling a boiled lobster, she knew that any stranger looking at her body would never be able to guess how she'd spent twenty-three Friday nights since September. But, oh, Lizzie knew, with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, that everything had changed for her since she'd embarked on the Great Game. The next morning, rather than ask her parents if she could use their car, Lizzie took the bus out to the mall and bought eight packages of the whitest and cheapest cotton underpants she could find. Size XL. She might have gotten the L's, but she didn't see them and was too embarrassed to ask a saleswoman. Two dozen pairs of humongous and ugly undies; they lasted Lizzie for decades. When she got home she changed into a pair, enjoying the fact that they barely touched her body. She put on her loosest and rattiest jeans and a T-shirt that Maverick gave her when they were dating. The front proclaimed, "This is Dick. Dick is an Ohio State Fan . . ." while the back said "Don't be a Dick." This outfit was basically what she wore for the rest of the spring and all through the summer. On Sundays Mendel and Lydia generally went into campus for only a few hours, instead spending most of the day at home reading the papers and journals of psychology that piled up around the house. Lizzie ventured out of her room only twice, once to put her sheets in the washing machine and then again when she transferred them to the dryer. Unless she'd invented the incident on the stairs, she was pretty sure that her parents would have something to say to her, although she couldn't imagine what that would be. She found out at dinner. Lizzie, who wasn't hungry, pushed a grayish piece of meat loaf around her plate and wished they had a dog she could surreptitiously slip the food to. Just as she was about to ask to be excused from the table, Mendel said, "So, I take it that was your boyfriend?" Lizzie tried to think of what to say. She was certainly prepared to lie; she'd spent a good deal of her life lying to her parents. But if she agreed that Leo was, indeed, her boyfriend, would there be any follow-up questions? Maybe. Lizzie didn't think she had the energy to make up much more of a story and decided to tell the truth. "Well, actually, no. He's not my boyfriend," she began. "He was part of an extracurricular assignment I've been involved in since school began, which was to have sex with a lot of guys on the football team. He was the last one, and now I'm done. There were twenty-three altogether. Andrea was supposed to do it with me, eleven each, with one extra that we'd flip a coin for. We thought it would be fun, but she changed her mind. So I went ahead and did it myself. That's why he was here." Neither of her parents responded for what seemed like a long time to Lizzie, then Lydia said in an encouraging sort of tone, "Goodness. That's pretty adventurous of you. How did you come up with that idea?" "Andrea did," Lizzie said shortly, already regretting her honesty. She was staring at her plate, which looked even less appetizing than it had before, but out of the corner of her eye she saw her mother pick up the pen and pad of paper that were never far from either of her parents. "Don't write that down," she screamed at her mother. "Don't write anything about it down. Just don't." "Of course we won't, Lizzie," Mendel said soothingly. "I was just going to make a few notes about a paper I'm working on. Nothing to do with you," her mother said. And Lizzie chose to believe her. * Lydia and Mendel * Lydia and Mendel were all and everything to each other. Perhaps if they'd been able or willing to share their lives with Lizzie, she might have better understood how they got to be who they were, and why they treated her as they did. But of course that was impossible, since they hardly talked to her at all, and certainly never about their pasts. Lydia grew up in New York, in a small town not too far from Syracuse. Because the western boundary of Richland was Lake Ontario, the winter snows were monstrous, heavy and constant from October to February. The wind cut through her, no matter how many layers of clothes she wore, and her hands were always red and chapped. Lydia's parents met and married each other in a displaced persons camp in Ebelsberg, in Austria, after the war. A distant relative of Lydia's father, perhaps the foster son of a sister-in-law's brother's second or third cousin, had come to America in 1935 before the trains started chugging with determination toward their grim destinations of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzżec, Chełmno, Ravensbrück, Majdanek, Sobibór, Treblinka, and other points east and west. He had for some reason nobody quite understood settled in Richland (perhaps he thought that the name was prophetic, that the streets there really were paved with gold) and built up a thriving wastepaper company. By the time the war ended he was so successful (especially as compared to the remnants of the family who'd survived the war in Europe) that he needed additional help with the business, so he sponsored Lydia's parents, Moishe and Brona Levinetsky, which allowed them to join him in Richland, in America. They arrived--Brona was pregnant with Lydia--exhausted and in immediate need of warm clothes, English lessons, and cosseting, in the fall of 1947; they were among the lucky ones who got out of the DP camps relatively soon after the war ended. Their distant relative found them an apartment to live in, scavenged up sweaters and coats and secondhand shoes. He figured they would pick up whatever English they needed, which they did. Outside of work, he ignored them. There was no cosseting. Possibly the concept was unfamiliar to him. While some of the survivors clung desperately to the memories of their past lives and circumstances, Moishe and Brona determinedly discarded all evidence of the people they'd been. One of the first things they did when they got to Richland was to adopt American names. They went to the county clerk's office, where Moishe morphed into Mike and Brona Ronnie. They also legally changed their last name to LeVine. How young they were. Their response to having survived when so many others did not was guilt, but guilt wrapped in layers upon layers of anger, until the kernel of shame and self-reproach was unrecognizable, or at least they didn't acknowledge it in themselves. All that was left was a deep and abiding rage. They were furious about the recent past and disgusted with the present, and didn't view the future with any sanguinity. They came to America determined to forget their religion, which they blamed for the disaster that had all but destroyed European Jewry, and quickly made the decision that their child would be raised with no religion at all. Ronnie and Mike never understood why anyone would bring Jewish children into a world that would never let them forget their Jewishness and that would likely reward them with suffering, pain, and a tragic death. Their daughter was born just a few months after they'd settled in Richland. They called her Lydia Ellen, an American name that still paid secret homage to their (dead) mothers, Lyudmilla and Esther. They mistakenly believed that they'd wiped their hands of everything that came before their arrival in Richland, New York. Mendel's grandfather Pinchas Bultmann arrived in the New World sometime during the first decade of the twentieth century. He was fed up with the anti-Semitism he'd lived with daily in the Ukrainian shtetl where he grew up, always fearful of being drafted into the czar's army, and may also have been tired of his wife, Raisa, whom he gladly left behind when he emigrated. No more Jew haters to harass him! No forced service in an army that despised all of his kind! No wife for him! He settled first in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, of course, working alongside other newcomers in a kosher pickle factory. His job was to fill the jars with pickles and then pour liquid over them. He didn't much care for the briny, dillish smell of the factory, and after he moved on he never ate another pickle in his life. He also worried that constantly submerging his hands in the brine would injure them. He'd been a tailor in Vinkovitz and looked forward to taking up that profession again. Plus he just didn't feel comfortable living and working around so many other people just like himself. He stayed in the city only long enough to meet and marry Perla, also a greenhorn, also from the Ukraine, whose family hailed from Minkovitz. Vinkovitz Minkovitz: none of their descendants believed that part of the story. Whether he ever gave another thought to Raisa, whether Perla knew about his previous marriage, or why he chose to marry (bigamously) again, nobody ever knew. Or if someone did, no one told his grandson Mendel. Pinchas and Perla wandered up through the Hudson Valley but couldn't find a town that suited them. They stopped for a few years in Rome, but Pinchas's tailoring business couldn't quite support Perla and himself, let alone his baby son, Avram. In 1914, shortly after Avram was born, the family moved to Rochester, where business improved significantly. Indeed, after he finished high school Avram went to work for his father, first to learn the business and then to build on Pinchas's good-enough success as a tailor. Together they opened a series of dry-cleaning establishments in the city. When he was twenty-six, and almost solely on the urgings of his parents, Avram married Mina, a very nice American-born Jewish girl he'd met at the Leopold Street shul, the Rochester synagogue his parents belonged to. What everyone who knew her was struck by was that Mina, who'd been raised in an orphanage and never knew the identity of her parents, enjoyed her life so much. She whistled when she was happy and hummed when she ate something she liked. She looked like the heroine of a fairy tale. She was an inventive and instinctive cook. She loved going to the movies. She was an excellent dancer. Her many kindnesses to elderly members of the congregation were legendary. Her father-in-law, Pinchas, adored her, and Perla was effusive in her affection for the young orphan. Having no known relatives of her own, Mina quickly developed a keen interest in Bultmann family history and lore. She spent a lot of time interviewing her in-laws, asking them about their childhoods in the Ukraine and their journeys to America. In pursuit of her new passion for her husband's genealogy, she bought large sheets of butcher paper and began inking in an elaborate family tree. Letters filled with requests for details of births, deaths, marriages, and other relevant or interesting details flew from Mina in Rochester to the large extended family of Bultmanns who were still in that part of eastern Europe that was variously Russia, Germany, Ukraine, and Poland, and to that much smaller group who'd left their homes for what they hoped would be greener pastures: the Fienbergs in Israel, the Coopersteins in Argentina, the Manns in London's East End (they'd shortened their name soon after arriving in the 1920s), the Bultmanns in Sydney, and the Litwaks in Johannesburg. There were so many letters going out that Mina had a separate line in her monthly household budget for stationery and stamps. And the results of her queries were impressive. Mina had to allocate more money in her budget to purchase more supplies. She accumulated so much information that she began papering the walls of what would become Mendel's bedroom with the family tree. As the 1930s ended Mina started to notice that responses from the German/Russian/Polish/Ukrainian branch of the family slowed down to a trickle and then stopped altogether. This lack of communication became increasingly worrisome. From South Africa to Australia, from Palestine to Buenos Aires to London, the extended family, but especially Mina, the keeper of the genealogy, fretted. When Avram and Mina read what little there was about the concentration camps in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, it seemed beyond belief that such things existed. Mendel was born on December 27, 1944; when he was a month old the Russian army liberated Auschwitz, and Mina and the rest of the Bultmann clan finally had to accept a new reality. She knew now why her letters hadn't been answered. The relatives left behind in the shtetls of Vinkovitz and Minkovitz, most of Pinchas's childhood friends, distant relatives he'd dredged out of his memory for Mina's butcher-paper family tree, seemingly even Raisa, his wife, his real wife, everyone he'd ever known, had most likely died in Janowska concentration camp. It appeared there were no more Bultmanns in eastern Europe. The Rochester Bultmanns were in shock, in denial. Pinchas and Perla died of it, Avram believed, one after another, before Mendel turned one. Mina and Avram's joy at the arrival of their son was overwhelmed by the tidal wave of grief and loss. Mina took a thick black crayon and obliterated the names of all the family members who were gone, something she greatly regretted doing in the years to come. The wall next to Mendel's crib was a record of a lot of death and the names of the few relatives who'd escaped Eastern Europe before the war. Mina never took the sheets of butcher paper down. It was a far cry from the Mother Goose wallpaper a different sort of family might have chosen for a child's bedroom. Mina went a little crazy. Though she'd never met any of the relatives who'd perished, she kept seeing pleading messages from them on license plates around Rochester. A billboard on the side of the road would signal a desperate account of starvation and hardship that only she could see. She believed that on page 27 of every book there was an encrypted description of the endless deaths of Bultmanns young and old. Finally, after she'd refused to eat, couldn't sleep, stopped washing herself or taking care of Mendel, Avram took her first to the rabbi, who told him to take her to Strong Memorial Hospital, where the doctors treated her depression, somewhat successfully, with electric shock therapy. They couldn't, however, ameliorate her sadness, which seeped through the Bultmanns' house like a noxious odor. Nothing would ever cure that. Mendel and Lydia met each other when they were twelve years old. Syracuse University implemented a summer program for "gifted and talented" kids, those who'd scored high on the standardized tests every seventh grader in the state of New York had to take. They spent two weeks living in a dorm, all expenses paid, taking introductory classes, and spending the evenings sitting around in seminars with real professors and real college students, talking about themselves and what they were studying, or else going to concerts, watching movies, and playing board games. They met again almost a decade later, the first week of grad school at Columbia, at a reception to welcome new students. When the head of the psych department introduced them, Lydia looked at Mendel, who looked back at her. They spoke at the same time: "I know you. You're the one who talked all the time" (Mendel) and "I know you. You're the one who never said a word in the whole two weeks" (Lydia). It turned out, although they came to it from very different undergraduate majors (Mendel, statistics, and Lydia, biology), that they were both interested in studying behavioral psychology. From that moment on they were inseparable. Their choice of careers was the right decision at the perfect time. Skinner boxes, teaching machines, programmed learning, behavior modification--they were all drifting down into the public's consciousness. The seminal paper by B. F. Skinner, "The Science of Learning and the Art of Teaching," was assigned in three of the four classes they took their first semester of grad school. They were stunned by his insights and believed that behaviorism was the answer to every problem, from education to relationships to combating Nazism to teaching rats to run through mazes. Mendel and Lydia started publishing papers in their second year of grad school, when Skinner's essay had sunk well and deeply into the marrow of their bones. They began with letters to the editor. Then on to op-eds in the New York Times, Washington Post, and L.A. Times, many dealing with improving teaching, others with suggestions for efficacious parenting techniques. "Efficacious" was one of their favorite words. Their first jointly written paper, "Schedules of Reinforcement and Classroom Management Strategies," appeared in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. They were off to the races. So it wasn't exactly happy news that a baby was on the way. Lizzie was an accident, the result, Lydia knew, of the way the birth-control pills made her feel and how she'd too frequently, as it turned out, "forget" to take them. Once Lizzie made her unfortunate presence known, Mendel and Lydia took a morning off from working on their dissertations and were married at the city clerk's office. They celebrated their wedding by going home to their apartment and getting back to work on their respective dissertations: Lydia's on appetites and aversion in young female rats and Mendel's on purposive behavior in maze-running rats. Lydia hated to take time off to see her obstetrician; she was now at the stage of analyzing her data and--finally!--writing up the results. She was forced to postpone the final revisions on her dissertation when the baby she hadn't particularly wanted decided to be born. Mendel was less unhappy about the whole situation, Lydia believed, not only because he hadn't been physically inconvenienced from the moment egg and sperm connected but also because his mind hadn't been compromised during delivery, when the doctor gave her scopolamine without fully explaining to her what its effects would be. She didn't like not being able to remember what went on while the drug played havoc with her mind. After Lydia came home from the hospital, she realized just how tied down she'd be to this endlessly shitting, spitting-up, and crying baby. How would she ever get her work done? Mendel was fortunate in that he could go to the lab early in the morning and not come home until he'd written great sheaves of his thesis, which was often very late at night. Lydia found the whole situation unbearable. After some discussion, Mendel put signs up in all the dorms at Barnard, and they finally assembled a group of young women who'd rotate in and out of the apartment and Lizzie's young life, feeding her, changing her, and, depending on their own personalities, rocking her, cooing or singing to her, or ignoring her. Mendel and Lydia were the stars of their class. They were wooed by Brown, Yale, Berkeley, and the Universities of Texas and Michigan. In May 1975, when Lizzie was not quite two, they moved to Ann Arbor and began the work that would bring them fame (at least among the other behavioral psychologists of their era). Whenever she approached the front door of the house she grew up in, Lizzie often thought that when the real estate agent first saw Lydia and Mendel, she must have chortled in glee. Those years spent getting their PhDs from Columbia? Forget it. These were two small-town kids from the underpopulated vastness of New York State who wouldn't know a copper pipe from a plumber's snake. Did she have a house for them? You just bet she did. The place she sold them was a mess but presumably had, in real-estate speak, good bones. (Lizzie learned this terminology only later, when she and George were looking for their own house to buy.) It had been for sale for so long that every agent in town contributed fifty dollars every time they showed it to a potential buyer who didn't bite at the opportunities it afforded and declined to make an offer. By now the kitty had enough money to pay for a lavish vacation for some fast-talking and persuasive agent--which were the primary characteristics of the woman who showed it to Mendel and Lydia. It was the only wood-frame house on the block. The others were solid and substantial fraternity and sorority houses in their varying architectural styles. Directly behind it was the Kappa Kappa Gamma house. Next door on the right, if you faced the Bultmann home, were the Chi Omegas, all blondes from the better suburbs of Detroit and Cleveland. On the left was the Pi Beta Phi house, with girls smarter than the Kappas and less blond than the Chi Os, from different but equally affluent suburbs. Directly across the street the Sigma Alpha Mu brothers played endless games of HORSE, went through many kegs of beer, and threw Frisbees with abandon. The house had been, and continued to be for all the years her parents lived there, a fixer-upper. Perhaps the agent had described it as "a handyman's dream." If she had, it was clear that Mendel and Lydia either didn't know what that phrase meant (highly unlikely, as its meaning was self-evident) or that they misheard and/or didn't pay any attention to the words. Pretty much everything was in terrible condition. Lizzie knew this because pretty much everything was still in terrible condition for the whole eighteen years that she lived there. The edges of the linoleum in the kitchen were peeling; Lizzie still remembers when, at age ten or so, she tripped, fell, and on the way down hit and chipped part of a front tooth on the edge of a counter. This was a tooth that George had been pleased to get his hands on and had done a wonderful job of repairing. Against all the rules of their department and the university at large, Lydia and Mendel made good use of their students, particularly their PhD students, to attend to different parts of the house. When she was old enough to realize what was going on, Lizzie wondered whether her parents accepted these students as advisees every year based not on any academic qualifications or interests but solely on their household cleanup, paint, and fix-up capabilities. There was the student whose dissertation was on the optimal height of urinals in K-6 schools who happened, perhaps not so coincidentally, to be the son of a plumber in Waukesha, Wisconsin. He certainly knew the difference between a copper pipe and a plumber's snake. Over the years there were one or two frustrated fine arts majors who would happily paint the rooms, especially as Mendel and Lydia couldn't care less what color the walls were and thus left the choice up to them. Sometimes the interior of the house would be painted every year and sometimes a decade or more would go by before a student who'd majored in studio art as an undergrad showed up. Oh, there were amateur but capable carpenters, very occasionally a bricklayer, and once someone who actually knew about reroofing houses. It was amazing who ended up studying with Lydia and Mendel. Still, the house suffered mightily from old age and neglect. It looked scary from the outside, and Lizzie knew that even kids her own age were loath to look at it as they walked by. Halloween brought very few trick-or-treaters, although Lizzie and her longtime babysitter Sheila had great treats for those who did make it up the uneven steps and across the sagging porch to the front door. Some years there were none. (The student/bricklayer hadn't been particularly good. Perhaps that was why he'd gone into psychology rather than become a mason.) Whenever Lizzie made a new friend in school, she'd try to prepare them for the sight of the house, but it still came as a shock to many of them. She remembered the first time Andrea came home with her--they were in the second grade--and Andrea's astonished gasp at the sight of it. Lizzie's bedroom, however, was a comfort to her. When she was thirteen, a grad student chose to paint each of the four walls a different shade of pink. Despite the fact that Lizzie had never been particularly fond of pink, she loved the result. And her room was at the rear of the house, so its two windows faced the back of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. The Kappas had a screened-in porch that ran the entire length of the house, and every fall and spring the new pledges would practice the sorority's theme song out there. Lizzie would lie in bed, year after year, listening to them harmonize. "Kaaa pa, Kaaa pa, Kaaa pa Gaaa muh, I aaaaammmm so haaapy thaat I aaaam uh Kaaapa, Kaaapa, Kaaapa Gaaa muh," and so on. During the nights of the Great Game, when the boys were otherwise involved with her body and Lizzie was tired of reciting poetry, she'd silently hum it to herself, over and over. It passed the time. * Sheila * Sheila came into Lizzie's life this way: Dr. Lydia Bultmann, in a very bad mood, was grocery shopping. She was in a terrible mood for a couple of reasons. She hated shopping. She couldn't stand being lumped together with the unwashed masses wandering the aisles, and the manipulative marketing of the advertising agencies annoyed her intensely. Plus she just couldn't abide waiting in line. By this time in their lives, the Bultmanns had plenty of money, but Lydia had from the early years of their marriage (when she and Mendel really had very little money) always feared it would run out. She still only bought the store brands and whatever was on sale, which made for uneven meals. In the past she'd just ask one of her grad students to pick up the basics, which in Lydia's mind were milk, hamburger, coffee, cereal, cigarettes, and bread. But she could no longer ask a grad student to run to the store and shop for her. The dean, who had perhaps received a complaint or two from one of the students who, over the years, had plumbed, painted, roofed, or otherwise worked on the Bultmann house, had sent out a strong message reminding the faculty that their grad students were not their personal servants; they were to lay off asking them to do anything that was not relevant to their schooling. Lydia took great offense at this. It meant she'd have to take even more time away from her research and find someone to take care of three-year-old Lizzie while she and Mendel were at work. She was standing behind a youngish woman who was very slowly paying for her groceries and at the same time conversing with the equally youngish woman who was manning the cash register. Despite herself, Lydia was listening to the conversation. "So I need to find a job that will give me time during the day to take classes. I can't do these eight-hour daytime shifts and go to school at the same time." "What kind of job?" said the slow payer. "How about waitressing?" "No, I was thinking more about babysitting; that might be more flexible." Lydia liked the look of the checker, but even if she hadn't, it probably wouldn't have mattered. It was as though the god she didn't believe in had answered the prayers she hadn't prayed. "Excuse me," she said, "but I'm in need of a full-time nanny, someone who will live in. My daughter is three." "Really?" said Sheila, for it was she. Hard to believe unless you knew Lydia Bultmann well, but that constituted the whole hiring process, and Sheila moved in with the Bultmanns a week later. She met Lizzie, who knew nothing of a new babysitter, the next morning. Mendel and Lydia were already at work and Sheila was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee that was way, way too strong, when she heard a series of thumps. It was Lizzie, trying a new technique to get herself down the stairs. She could walk down them if someone held her hand, and she'd also taught herself to come down backward. But this morning she'd gotten herself out of her crib and had the idea of sitting on each stair and then carefully moving to the next stair down. This is what Sheila heard, the bump bump bump of Lizzie's behind as she went from stair to stair. She hurried to the hall, and when Lizzie reached the bottom step, Sheila was kneeling, just at Lizzie's height, waiting for her. Lizzie didn't cry at the sight of a strange woman and she didn't ask where her parents were. She just stared intently at Sheila, who said, "Hello, Lizzie, I'm Sheila, your new babysitter. I'm going to live in your house, so we'll have lots of time to play. We'll have a lot of fun together." She held out her hand to Lizzie. "Let's go eat breakfast. How do pancakes sound to you?" Lizzie smiled and took Sheila's hand and they walked to the kitchen. Lizzie loved Sheila from that moment on. She could climb onto Sheila's lap to listen to a story (Sheila was big on reading stories to her) and not be afraid that she'd be poked by a sharp hipbone or misplaced elbow. Sheila's body was like the coziest couch in the world; it was comforting and welcoming and homey. Even when Sheila had an exam she should be studying for, she'd put Lizzie first. Every day after she picked Lizzie up from day care (later from elementary school) they'd do something special together. Sometimes they'd go to the park and Sheila would teach Lizzie how to weave flowers together into bracelets or tiaras. A tiara made of Queen Anne's lace! Who even knew it was possible? Sometimes they'd look for four-leaf clovers. Throughout her entire life, Lizzie never met anyone else who could find four-leaf clovers like Sheila could. Any patch of wild clover would yield one up the minute Sheila started looking. Sometimes they'd go to the library and Sheila would check out the books that she'd loved when she was Lizzie's age. Sometimes they'd go to Sheila's house and watch her father's model trains make their way over a complicated layout, and Sheila's mother always had cookies and milk waiting for them. Or they'd stop at a crafts store and Sheila would buy yarn and big knitting needles and teach Lizzie to knit. She bought jars of finger paint in every color available and big sheets of paper so they could smear the colors together to their hearts' content. At Christmastime, Lizzie, with Sheila's help, wove potholders as presents for her teachers and Sheila's mother. It was no use giving one to Lydia. She didn't ever cook. When they did go straight home it usually meant that Sheila had some idea that involved food. Sometimes they'd spread crackers with peanut butter and pile one on top of another to make a tower. Then they'd see how many peanut-buttery crackers they could eat at one time. Lizzie's record at age eight was eleven, which Sheila told her surely set a new record for her age group. Saltines were the best for this purpose, and Sheila made sure that the Bultmann pantry always had an almost full box of them. Sheila taught Lizzie how to make brownies in a mug using the microwave and how to pop popcorn from scratch. Sheila brought her portable sewing machine over to the Bultmanns' and showed Lizzie how to use it. Sheila made most of her own clothes and she let Lizzie help with the easy seams. Once Lizzie got to put the zipper in. It's true that Sheila then had to carefully unstitch the zipper so that she could put it in again, correctly, but still she was very complimentary about Lizzie's first attempt at doing something that was really hard. (It should be noted that after Sheila went on to live the rest of her life, without Lizzie, Lizzie never touched a sewing machine again.) For a very long time, the best day of Lizzie's life was the day that Sheila and her boyfriend, Lucas Apple, took Lizzie to the Michigan State Fair. They drove to Detroit early in the morning and spent the whole day there. Not only did they wander through the barns to see all the animals--and Lizzie got to pet a goat and a horse and a pig--but she also rode on the merry-go-round (three times), the Ferris wheel (twice), and an exciting ride called the Tilt-A-Whirl, which she only went on once because it was a little too scary. They had cotton candy and hot dogs and fried Jell-O and elephant ears. Lizzie was a little nervous when Lucas ordered the elephant ears, but when she saw they weren't really the ears of an elephant, and especially after she tasted one, she didn't want to eat anything else, ever. When Lizzie's legs got tired, Lucas put her up on his shoulders so she could see everything that was happening. They didn't leave for home until after it got dark, and they stopped for dinner on the way home at Bill Knapp's because Sheila wanted Lizzie to have the fried chicken and biscuits and then have the chocolate cake for dessert. Sheila moved out when Lizzie was nine. Because Lydia and Mendel were both at home when she said good-bye to Lizzie, it was a sadly formal occasion. Neither wanted to cry in front of Lizzie's parents. All they could do was hug each other for a long time. That was Sheila. * Mysteries of Kindergarten * Lizzie and Andrea both went to Hally School for kindergarten, but were in different classes. Lizzie's teacher, Miss Beadle, was tall and stern and often cranky. It was unclear if she really liked kids or not. Andrea's teacher was short, plump, and jolly. Could her name have actually been Mrs. Jolly? That's what Lizzie remembers. "You have to be jolly when you're short and plump," Sheila told her once, darkly. "Otherwise it's intolerable." Andrea's classroom was large--really the length and width of two classrooms. It had lots of windows. There were murals of nursery-rhyme and fairy-tale characters on the walls: Hansel and Gretel walking through the woods on their way to the witch's house, holding hands; Humpty-Dumpty on his wall, surveying the scenery; Sleeping Beauty at her christening; the Three Little Pigs whistling happily as they built their houses. You knew, when you looked at the pictures, that bad stuff was going to happen to them all, but not quite yet. There were trunks of clothes to use for dress-up, almost anything you could think of to be: pirate, princess, carpenter, bride, goblin, hobo, and spaceman. At one of the long ends of the room there was a kitchen, with a miniature stove, sink, and refrigerator. The refrigerator door opened and water came out of the sink's faucet. The stove had four painted-on burners and an oven with a door you could open and pretend to bake your pies and cakes. There were pots and pans in the cupboard under the sink, and plastic dishes and silverware. At the other end of the room was a workshop, with a variety of pretend (but very realistic-looking) tools: saws and hammers, screws, nails, and pliers. There was a grid painted on the floor, so that on rainy or cold days you could still play hopscotch. There was even a space large enough for a pretty good game of freeze tag inside Mrs. Jolly's room. There were shelves and shelves of dolls and doll clothes and puppets. Piles of games like Uncle Wiggly, Parcheesi, and Candy Land. A little library of books. Lizzie's whole class went there for an hour two mornings every week. Miss Beadle's room, where Lizzie spent most of her time, couldn't have been more different. No windows. Big enough for the class to play Farmer in the Dell, but not much else. Shelves, yes, but fewer dolls and those in worse condition, with their arms or legs about to come off, or looking as though someone had tried to scalp them and almost succeeded. No clothes to change them into. Only one basic set of clothes to dress up in. A Raggedy Andy doll that smelled like cat pee. A checkers set with some of the pieces missing. Wooden puzzles with pieces missing. Wooden puzzles that a two-year-old could have solved in three seconds or so with pieces missing. The murals on the wall in Lizzie's classroom were of the scary bits of stories: Jack and Jill tumbling dangerously down a steep and icy hill, the Wolf Granny clutching Red Riding Hood in her ferocious grasp, the troll reaching from underneath the bridge to grab an unwary walker. Was this memory possibly true? Surely not. There couldn't have been one classroom with so much, and the other with so little, one so desirable and the other so desolate. And who decided which kids were assigned to which teacher? But that's what Lizzie remembers, that sour teacher and that awful room. The only good part of Lizzie's whole year of kindergarten was that Maverick Brevard was also in her class. On one of the days they spent sixty minutes in Mrs. Jolly's room, Lizzie pretend-baked a beautiful cherry pie and gave Maverick a piece, which he pretended to think tasted delicious and then pretended to kiss her cheek. Much later Lizzie asked her mother how she happened to end up in Miss Beadle's class. "I didn't trust that other woman's smile," Lydia said flatly. "Or her name. What was it, Gaiety? Gaiety Jolly. Almost certainly an alias." * The Quarterback * Of all the participants in the Great Game, the most worrisome for Lizzie to deal with was Ranger Brevard. Partly this was because he knew her as his older brother's girlfriend, and she thought that he might not be as willing--nay, eager--as the others to participate. But mostly it was because Maverick's depiction of her as the older-woman seductress of an innocent boy bothered her. A lot. So it was that on the Friday night of Ranger's week, while they were lying underneath the stands by the football field and heading toward the final activity in the game plan, Lizzie said, as she unbuttoned her shirt and Ranger started taking off his pants, "So, have you done any of this sort of thing before?" She knew it sounded ridiculous--there were surely more elegant ways of asking if he was a virgin without coming right out and asking him--but she felt she needed to know. "What, you mean sex? Are you kidding me? Of course. Freshman year. Violet Burnett." Lizzie was relieved. She wondered if knowing that would reassure Maverick (begone, O Lizzie the seductress!) or make him jealous as hell. * The Post (Great) Game Show * The postgame analyses began the very night the Great Game ended. There were two men in her head talking loudly to one another ostensibly about football, some random football game that they'd been the announcers for, but it seemed to Lizzie that she was the subject of the conversation. They were evaluating her, the quarterback of the Great Game. Some of the things the voices said made no sense. They commented on her throwing arm ("Her mechanics are awful"). The way she read the defense ("So-so at best"). The condition of the field ("Hard to get the running game going with all this mud"). The size of the crowd ("Who'd ever want to see her play?"). They analyzed dropped balls and muffed handoffs. "She's a dead loss," one said. "Can't see how the team can win with her at quarterback. Thinks she's better than she is." They questioned incredulously why she'd juked left when there was a player open downfield on the right ("Throw the ball, you idiot. You're not the running back, remember?"). And often and often, she'd hear one analyst say casually to another, "She's always been a loser, you know." "I do know. And I couldn't agree more," the other voice would reply. "It's been one bad decision after another. Who'd ever want a failure like that on their team?" For the first few years Lizzie just wanted the voices to stop, or, if not stop, at least to let up, to talk about something else, to take a break from judging her, to advertise Chevy trucks or Budweiser. She thought she might have borne it better--it would have been easier for her--if they'd ever talked about another player in a similar Great Game, but they concentrated solely on her. In her mind she saw a blackboard filled in with X's and O's in complicated patterns; the voices were charting plays in which she played some role that wasn't clear but that she knew was something she never should have taken part in. As she and Jack walked through the Law Quad holding hands or sat together in the UGLI, or went out for pizza, or played a killer game of Monopoly or dirty Scrabble--or, worse, even when she was trying to lose herself in making love--the voices in her head kept on with their relentless evaluation of who she was and what she'd done. Over the years those voices diminished to a low-pitched hum, a deep buzzing in her head, so that she couldn't make sense of most of the words. But occasionally she'd clearly hear her name spoken. "Lizzie," someone would say. She'd turn around quickly to see who was talking to her and find nobody there. But when the post Great Game show began, the voices were maddening. Crazy-making. Frightening. She couldn't imagine trying to describe them to a doctor, or really to anyone except Marla and James, who already knew she wasn't nuts. What was so strange, and so difficult for Lizzie to understand, was that when she (and Andrea) first conceived of the Great Game, they saw it as good fun, a prank, an escapade, a joke, a jape, a hoot and a holler, a conversation starter when they got old, and the ultimate showstopper. She (and Andrea) even wondered if the Great Game of their adolescence might have a place in Ripley's Believe It or Not! Lizzie'd thought back then that they'd dine out on it for decades. She'd imagined that years later she'd be sitting around with her friends, having coffee, and she'd tell them about those twenty-three football players, and one of the women would say, "What a great idea," and everyone would express chagrin that they hadn't done the same thing themselves. Or at a dinner party far in the future, a fellow guest would ask her what she had done in high school and she'd reply casually, "Oh, I fucked the starters on the football team," and then everyone would laugh and laugh about her glorious past. What she hadn't realized was that once you got through with high school, nobody but you gave a damn--or even remembered--what happened to you there. There was a moment, before Andrea turned traitor and withdrew from the Game before it even began, that Lizzie believed that all her other accomplishments would pale in comparison, become essentially unimportant if she fucked half the football team. Who cared if you had starred in the school play, been elected class president, gotten into a great college, or won a National Merit scholarship (none of which Lizzie actually had done)? Instead, you'd had all that sex; nobody else could say that. It turned out not to be like that at all; in the first place Lizzie had ended up fucking the whole football team (which was too much sex for any high school senior to deal with). And afterward, for months and months, she was so profoundly tired that she could barely get up in the morning; there were very many mornings she didn't get up at all. She had trouble doing her homework; she couldn't concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes. The voices never went away. There was no one she wanted to talk to, no one who would understand what she'd done and why and what happened as a result. This silence on her part seemed irreversible, possibly making it impossible to change. For a long time she couldn't read anything but poetry. This was when she memorized all those poems by Millay, whose life was a great comfort to her. Vincent--as she was known to her friends--had been with so many men, and yet out of those experiences came all these poems that Lizzie loved so much. And because for years and years the voices in her head never let Lizzie forget that the Great Game had been a stupid idea right from the beginning and that she'd been an idiot for participating in it, her past was always there, a living thing. It shaped her present and her future. There was no way that she could forgive herself because those two announcers in her head continually condemned her behavior in the Great Game. They condemned her. They hammered away at her, a constant reminder of what a terrible person she'd been and always would be. Someone so clearly undeserving of both friendship and love. * Jack and Lizzie Have Sex * Jack saw Lizzie's rather distinctive underpants on Lizzie quite soon after they met. The professed reason that they'd gone to his apartment after the second day of class was that Jack said he wanted to lend Lizzie a paper on Housman he'd written a few years ago, but both of them knew giving her the paper was just an excuse to spend time together, which they both knew was just a euphemism for making love. Lizzie waited nervously while Jack rummaged through the mess on his desk, which was covered with papers, magazines, and books. His search was unsuccessful. "Crap," he said. "I know it's here somewhere. All, right, forget it, I'll look for it tonight." He sat down next to her on the couch and abruptly changed the subject. "You'll skip your anthro class today, right?" he asked, and Lizzie assured him that that was the plan. When Jack put his arm around her and pulled her toward him, there was a long moment when Lizzie resisted. Oh God, she thought, this isn't right. I'm not right. Why am I afraid about what's going to happen next, when it's exactly what I want to happen, what I've thought about happening ever since we sat in that filthy booth at Gilmore's talking about poetry, or even before that, when he started to defend me in Terrell's class? "What's the matter?" "Nothing," Lizzie said quickly. "I was just surprised." "Really? I thought this was what we both expected would happen." "It's . . . it's just that it seems so sudden. No, that's not what I mean, it's not sudden; I mean, it is sudden in a way, but that's not what I meant." She floundered on. "I don't know what I mean. Never mind. Forget I said anything." "It's more what you did than what you said, actually," Jack said. "Okay," Lizzie said desperately. "Let's start again. You put your arm around me and start kissing me and I'll kiss you back, okay?" Jack didn't move. "Look, are you a virgin?" he asked. This was one question Lizzie could answer honestly. "No, of course not. Really, I just had a sort of minor freak-out for a second. Can we please forget it?" They did, and after that it seemed a pretty natural progression that they'd wind up in bed. They were just beginning to undress when Jack said, "Are you on the pill?" Lizzie hesitated. "Why?" "Because if you aren't, then I'll get a condom." "Um, I'm not, actually." "Okay, give me a minute to find one." While Jack looked through the drawers in the bedside table, Lizzie tried to get her underpants off as unobtrusively as possible, but Jack too quickly found what he was looking for and turned back to her while she was still in mid-panty removal. He stared at them, stunned into silence. Finally he said, "Jesus, Lizzie, those are the most anticlimactic things I've ever seen. What sort of subliminal message are they supposed to project to people who encounter them? Where do you even buy them?" Lizzie blushed. Why hadn't she thought to borrow a pair of Marla's? "Actually, nobody else has ever seen them. Except my roommate." "Really. Can I ask why you wear them?" Lizzie fumbled for an answer. "They're comfortable, for one thing." "Okay, I'll grant you that comfort's important, but it's like you're hiding yourself in granny underwear." No one could ever say that Jack McConaghey hadn't understood Lizzie from the get-go. In between the kisses and caresses that followed, Jack promised her that he'd try to block her hideous underpants out of his mind, but the fact that they were so large and so white might distract him at critical moments during the next, say, hour or so. He hoped she'd understand. Afterward, they lay next to one another in Jack's single bed, holding hands, until their breathing returned to normal. "Well . . ." Lizzie spoke first. "I'm glad that in the end they weren't too terribly anticlimactic." "It was touch and go for a while, but lust prevailed over aesthetics." Lizzie didn't much like the word "lust," especially when applied to what had just happened between them. "So, Ms. Bultmann," Jack began, but Lizzie interrupted him. "Don't call me that. I hate it." "Really? Why?" It was obvious to Lizzie that Jack loved the question "Why?" but she wasn't going to explain her parents and her past to him. "I guess it's the double n at the end," she said. "It just seems so pretentious." "Okay. I apologize," Jack said. "It'll be 'Lizzie' from here on out, but what I was going to ask you was--" Before he could finish, Lizzie cut in again. "Are you thinking that you want to have the sexual-history talk now? Because I don't." Jack sat up. "Wow, moving along quickly here, aren't we? That's not what I was going to ask, but if you want to remain a woman of mystery who wears enormous granny underpants, that's okay for now. I'll tell you about me instead. Okay?" Lizzie nodded. "I'd like that." "I'm twenty-two; I grew up in a tiny town in West Texas. My high school was so small that we could only play six-man football, but still people felt that if you weren't a football player you were a wimp. Only they used other words." "And you didn't play, right?" "Right," Jack said. "I think it's a sport for barbarians. It's like we're the ancient Romans watching the gladiators. But life was even worse if you didn't play football and your favorite class in school was English. Then you were in real trouble. But you know what's weird?" Lizzie had no idea. "I still go back there every summer, to the same job mowing lawns that I had all through high school. It's like I have to go home and mow lawns. Either it's the real world--the dust and dry air and the emptiness all around us--and I need to revisit it every year, or this is the real world, the books, and the libraries, and professors wearing cords and suede patches on their jackets--and sometimes I need to be done with it." Lizzie got a peculiar pain in the general region of her heart. "What about this summer?" "Oh, you mean because I'm graduating? Of course I'll go home." Jack waited to see if she had any more questions, but Lizzie remained silent. "Do you still want to remain mysterious?" Lizzie nodded. "Okay, then the question I was going to ask, which started this whole detour, is this: If this"--he indicated their naked bodies--"is going to be repeated frequently, which I definitely hope it is, what would you think about making an appointment at Planned Parenthood to get a prescription for the pill? So there wouldn't be any possibility of babies in our near future? I'll go with you if you want." "Really? Really?" She hugged Jack, the fact of his going home for the summer forgotten for the moment. "I love that question. Let's do it. Let's call right now and see if we can go in this afternoon." * The Offensive Tackles * The right and left offensive tackles were the cringe-worthy Cringebeck twins, and that was the best you could say about them. Lafe (rt) and Rafe (lt) were somewhat attractive in a hayseedy sort of way, especially if you were drawn to very large, loopy guys with freckles and dirty-blond hair. They were known for their weird sense of humor, which had caused Lafe to have lt tattooed on the right side of his neck, while Rafe's tattoo, on the left side of his neck, said rt. They both thought this was hysterically funny and didn't understand why nobody else did. They sometimes were a little unhinged on the football field, which Maverick had assured her was fairly typical for tackles. But in bed they were perfect lambs. Rather than have sex with Lafe the week after Rafe (which seemed to Lizzie to be a little too kinky for comfort), she scheduled the kicker and wide receiver in between them. * Jack Sends Some Postcards * The day after they visited Planned Parenthood, Jack sent Lizzie a dozen red roses, along with a postcard that read "Take your pill." Even more than the roses, Lizzie thought the card itself, which was a photo of Edna St. Vincent Millay, was wonderful. Marla, who hadn't yet met Jack but wondered aloud whether it was entirely wise for Lizzie to become so involved with him so quickly, agreed that it was a very romantic gesture. For the next twenty-seven days that the doctor had said to wait before they could rely on Enovid for birth control, Lizzie got a postcard in the mail that said simply, "Take your pill. Love, Jack." Each card had a photo of a different writer, many of them poets. It was clear that Jack had spent a lot of time at the bookstore choosing cards that he knew Lizzie would like. She saved every one of them until a few days before she and George got married. Afraid that he might discover them and ask her about Jack, she cut them into strips and ceremoniously burned each one of them in a large ashtray she'd taken from her parents' house. Photos of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, and others quickly disappeared in the flames. More quickly, much more quickly, than her memories of Jack. * The Tight End * The tight end Dylan Mosier also ran track. His goal was to compete in the 1998 Summer Olympics in Tokyo in the long jump. He worried constantly about potential injuries, that he'd tear his ACL or wreck a shoulder in a game. He'd just as soon not have played football at all but he didn't want to disappoint his father, who had been Ann Arbor High's tight end back in the day. Dylan was killed when his motorcycle skidded on a dry road late on the night of the senior prom. It was still not clear what happened or whose fault it was, if anyone's. That was a sad story. * Spring Quarter, 1992 * The only times Lizzie didn't think about Jack was when she was with him. She wanted to be with him all the time. She hated that the day contained so many minutes without him. She hated that he couldn't come up to her room in the dorm, that she ate breakfast without him, hated that she had four classes without him, hated the random chitchat with other students. She especially hated that there were times when he told her that he needed to concentrate on some work he was doing and didn't want her around to distract him. She hated that for some strange reason he didn't want her to stay overnight in his apartment. (She would have moved all her stuff over there if he'd let her.) All that mattered to her was being with Jack, although, looking back, it wasn't totally clear to her what they actually did with the time they spent together. Well, sex, of course. Sometimes it seemed as though they were constantly ditching whatever else they were doing to have sex. They walked out in the middle of movies. (Lizzie figured that in the time they'd been together they'd only seen one movie from start to finish. It was a revival of Chinatown, and they almost made it through the credits because Jack loved knowing who catered every film he saw, but gave it up and got back to Jack's as fast as they could.) They snuck out of birthday parties for their friends. They left dinners half-eaten, all so they could go to Jack's apartment and make love. And Lizzie and Jack didn't bother getting to the bedroom before they began pulling off each other's clothes. They'd made the sensible decision to sit several rows apart in Terrell's poetry class so they wouldn't be tempted to hold hands or worse. One day she passed him a note--altogether it went through the hands of the eight people sitting between them--that said, "shall love you always," a line from one of her favorite Millay poems. After he read it, Jack turned and smiled at her. Then a few minutes later he piled up his books and left, and a few minutes after that Lizzie walked out of the room too. Terrell was still droning on, punctuating his lecture by pounding his fist on the table. Outside the classroom, now frantic with desire, they found the nearest place where they could have some expectation of privacy. It was the girls' bathroom, where the tile was cold and not particularly clean, but of course none of that mattered. Afterward Lizzie thought with a malicious kind of pleasure how displeased Mendel would have been had he seen how dirty the floor was. Or they'd be studying together at the UGLI, sitting side by side at a long table, Jack reading and making notes on some important English-major classic like The Castle of Otranto and Lizzie trying to memorize bits of information for her Introduction to Anthropology course. Years later, all she remembered from the class was that East St. Louis was not, as one might think, in Missouri, but actually in Illinois. Why this was important has escaped her, if she'd ever known. She had a vague memory it had something to do with mounds, but wasn't sure anymore what mounds were in an anthropological or historical context. Anyway, Jack would run his thumb over her palm, making her shiver, or she'd stop underlining in the textbook and reach under the table and touch his thigh. They never got much studying done when they were together. This didn't matter to Jack, who'd already been accepted into several MFA programs for the autumn and was trying to decide among them, and Lizzie knew she could eke out passing grades with the barest minimum of studying. They had lots of sex. * The Ouija Board Predicts Lizzie's Future * Lizzie came home late after a date with Jack (which both began and ended up in bed). She found Marla and James sitting in one of the public rooms in the dorm. They'd been studying but were delighted to take a break and listen to Lizzie talk about how wonderful Jack was. "Oh, I know what let's do," she said. "Let's get the Ouija board out so we can ask it about our futures." The Ouija board was kept in a closet with all the other games; Lizzie had noticed other girls using it, but had never done it herself. Marla categorically refused to take part, but James, after some coaxing and then determined pleading by Lizzie, finally agreed. They warmed the board up by asking it simple questions that could be answered by a yes or no. "Are you in Ann Arbor, Michigan?" "Is George Bush the president?" "Is four plus four nine?" Once they were satisfied that the board was working well, Lizzie asked, "Who am I going to marry?" She and James both kept their hands on the planchette. James promised her that he wouldn't try to influence its answer by a well-camouflaged nudge toward any particular letter. Lizzie held her breath as it took off on its own almost immediately, darting around the board to spell out J-A-C-K-M and then refusing to move again. "Oh, wow," Lizzie said, delighted and impressed with the results. "Look, Marla, that's what I hoped it would say. You guys should definitely do it." "We know who we're going to marry," Marla said. Her tone was a bit tart but Lizzie didn't notice. She was floaty with bliss. * Jack Learns About the Great Game * Lizzie came by Jack's apartment one afternoon to study with him before they went out for a celebratory dinner; it was June 1, two months since they'd met. She expected to find him at his desk, working on one of his senior papers, but instead he was sitting on the couch, immersed in an issue of Psychology Today. "Hey," he said, holding up the magazine. "I picked this up at Shaman Drum because the cover story is about poets and depression, but then I saw this article." He gestured to the piece he was reading. "These must be your parents, right? I mean, Bultmann, at the University of Michigan." A ghost walked over Lizzie's grave, and she shivered. There didn't seem to be a way to deny that her parents were her parents, however much she'd like to. The title of the article was "What College Students Think About Adolescent Sexual Behavior." Another ghost started pacing. "I guess it's about sex, then," Lizzie said. "Yeah, and it's pretty interesting," Jack said. "Why didn't you tell me your folks were on the faculty?" He didn't wait for Lizzie's answer. "Anyway, they asked a bunch of undergraduates what they thought about all sorts of different sexual behaviors, ranging from a couple who made a commitment to chastity until marriage at one end to a high school senior who slept with her school's entire football team on the other." Could this be happening? Was it possible that Mendel and Lydia had lied to her when they promised they wouldn't write about it? Well, yes, it seems they did. Why had she ever believed they wouldn't make use what she'd told them? Now they had another publication, plus they'd gotten their names before a larger audience than any academic journal possibly could have. And if, as a result of discovering their perfidy, their daughter was devastated, unable to breathe, what did that matter to them? It mattered exactly nothing to them. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Zero. Lizzie walked carefully to the couch and sat down next to Jack. "I'm not sure I buy any of it," Jack went on. "Do you think they just invented their examples? I can't imagine marrying someone without ever having sex with them, can you? I mean, wouldn't you want to find out if you were compatible or not?" "Yeah, I guess I'd want to sleep with someone before I married him." We are sleeping together, Jack, she wanted to say to him. Let's get married and never talk about my parents again. "But I don't think that other one could be a real case either. Why would a girl fuck an entire football team? Do you think anyone could be that insecure? Or pathetic?" The two announcers in Lizzie's head were gleeful. "He's nailed her," one said. "Pathetic and insecure: couldn't have done better myself." "Absolutely," said the other. "Describes her to a T." Lizzie shook her head, trying to dislodge the voices. She wanted to say something but wasn't sure what. She just wanted Jack to stop talking. "It's not the sex part of it," he continued, "that's just sex, but . . . I don't know, I guess every school has a slut or two. There was a girl in my class that might have done something like that. Everybody felt sorry for her, but it was hard not to laugh at her too. She was so damn desperate. A lot of the guys were happy to sleep with her, but nobody wanted to date her." Lizzie started to cry. She reached over and grabbed the magazine, trying to tear it in half. Jack stared at her in confusion. "What's wrong? What did I say?" Lizzie ignored him. Trying to tear the magazine in half wasn't working, so she began pulling out handfuls of pages and ripping them into shreds. When the magazine was no longer intact and she was surrounded by tattered and torn bits of paper, she said through her tears, "First of all, it wasn't the whole team, just the starters. That's a huge difference. And I don't think that I was pathetic at all. I think I was pretty popular. At least before." "Wait a second," Jack said. "This is you? That part is about you? You did that?" He walked over to his desk and started rearranging the piles of books there. Without turning around to face her, he said, "God, Lizzie, I never would've said those things if I'd known it was you. What I said, I know you're not like that girl at all. Honestly." Lizzie got up and went over to him. "Will you hug me?" When his arms were around her, she muttered into his shirt, "I just have one question and then I don't want to talk about it anymore. Does knowing I did that change the way you feel about me? Are you, like, shocked? Or disgusted?" "No, of course not," he assured her (but it didn't assure her). "I'm just surprised, that's all. If you don't want to talk about it, we won't; but if you ever want to tell me about it, I'm here for you." He pulled away but kept his hands on her shoulders. "Now, on to the important stuff. When are you going to pay me the ten bucks for the magazine you've just destroyed? Should I put it on your tab?" They both laughed (although the laughter sounded false). Lizzie took a collection of Philip Larkin's poetry off Jack's bookshelves and sat down to reread some of her favorites, and Jack sat down at his desk and began making notes on Clarissa. It could have been any evening at all. But when they got back from a depressing dinner--neither Lizzie nor Jack had much to say--and had sex, Lizzie felt disengaged from her body, as though she were floating above it, watching but not participating in what was going on. She understood that Jack was trying to please her, doing everything he knew she liked, but she wasn't any longer inside the experience with him. Her mind, racing madly along a circuitous path that always ended up where it began, and then beginning again, kept her so tense that she couldn't feel Jack's touches. That feeling--or lack of feeling--was all too familiar to Lizzie. It reeked of the Great Game. It was exactly how she'd felt with Rafe and Lafe and Leo and with Billy Jim and Loren and all the rest of the team. Lizzie was panicked now by the thought that, even loving Jack, sex with him was reduced to something much less than pleasure and much more like an onerous task. "Stop," she said. "What's the matter?" "I want to ask you something." "Right now? This isn't such a good time. Maybe we could find a better time to talk." He started to stroke her breast again. Lizzie pushed his hand away. "Jack, do you promise that knowing what happened with the football team won't change anything about us being together? Do you absolutely promise me that?" Of everything that was terrible about that afternoon and evening, Jack's hesitation before he answered her was perhaps the hardest for Lizzie to bear. He finally spoke, very slowly, searching for the right words. "No, I don't think it changes my feelings for you, but I guess I wonder why you did it. It just doesn't seem like you." "For fun," Lizzie answered shortly. "I did it for fun." "But it's an odd sort of fun, isn't it? And then what about everything else? Does that mean that something like this"--indicating the rumpled sheets--"isn't fun? Or what about going to a poetry reading? Or some movie, or to Gilmore's for breakfast with me? Are those fun too? How do they compare?" Lizzie bit down hard on the inside of her cheek, forcing herself not to tear up again but perhaps making her words difficult to understand. "It's too complicated to explain," she said, "but, yes, of course all those things we do together are fun. What I did, it was a huge mistake." "Okay, I can accept that it was a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes, right? Maybe we can just forget that article. I promise that it doesn't change anything about you and me." But it does, Lizzie thought with sadness. Everything is different now. * A Confrontation, or Not * When Lizzie got back to the dorm later that night, Marla was drinking tea and listening to an old Lyle Lovett tape. She took one look at Lizzie, though, and immediately turned off the music. "What's wrong?" she asked. "Jack found out about the Great Game," Lizzie said, giving in to the tears she didn't cry during her last discussion with Jack. "And now he despises me." "He said that to you? Really? That he despises you? That doesn't sound like the Jack I don't really know." "Well, no," Lizzie admitted. "He didn't exactly say that, but it's how he acted after he found out. Like I was all of a sudden not who he thought I was." "Go back--I still don't understand how he found out about it." "It's my parents--it's always my parents who ruin anything good that happens to me." "They told Jack?" "No, of course not, I'd never let them meet Jack. He read an article they wrote in Psychology Today that was partly about that and sort of put two and two together and came up with me. But it was really my fault." "Why?" "I told him the truth, because I was so upset by something he said. It's my fault," Lizzie said gloomily. "If I learned anything from my parents, it's that I can never do anything right." Those ever-present voices in her head, always alert to any weakness she showed, agreed with one another that it was about time to take her out of the game, maybe for good. "She's a loser, pure and simple," one of them said. "Hardly pure," the other replied. "But definitely simple." They mimicked cheerleaders and chanted, "Loser, loser, loser, loser." Lizzie cried harder. "Lizzie, try to stop crying now and tell me exactly what happened so we can figure out what to do." Lizzie tried. She went into the bathroom and blew her nose and splashed her eyes with cold water. Coming out, she said, "If I'd just kept quiet and not reacted to what he said, everything would be okay. I ruined everything." "I have no idea what happened or what you're talking about. You need to start at the beginning. You went to Jack's apartment and . . ." After Lizzie recited what she hoped was an accurate record of the events in the right order, Marla thought for several minutes before she spoke. "Forget what happened with Jack for a second. The important part is what your parents did to you, which was just awful. They'd really promised not to?" "I don't think they promised, I don't remember anyone using that word, but I know they told me they wouldn't write about it." "Wow. You need to talk to them, Lizzie. You need to make it clear how much it hurt you, what a betrayal it was." Lizzie was aghast. "Are you kidding? I can't talk to them about what they did. I can't talk to them about anything. I've told you how they are. They've never cared about my feelings. My feeling bad wouldn't interest them in the slightest." "If it was my parents and they lived a mile away, I'd go over there right now. I'd wake them up and tell them exactly what they did to me. They need to know that." "But, Marla, don't you see, that's your parents. They're normal. They care about you. Mendel and Lydia would just figure out a way to make it seem as though I was the one who was wrong. But I'm not. I know I'm not. They shouldn't have included me in the article." "No," Marla said slowly. "You're not wrong. They are. I really wish you could confront them about what happened." "It'd be totally useless. It's done, and I can't think about it anymore tonight. All I hope now is that Jack was serious when he said that what I did didn't matter to him. But I know it did." That night the voices had the final words. "Know it did, know it did, know it did," they sang. It was the last thing Lizzie heard before she fell asleep. * Jack Leaves for Home * The night before Jack left, they walked to Island Park and sat on a bench and watched the sky turn a deep dark blue, become nearly indistinguishable from black, and then turn really black. Stars slowly became visible, and Lizzie began quoting one of their favorite Housman poems: Stars, I have seen them fall, But when they drop and die No star is lost at all From all the star-sown sky. The toil of all that be Helps not the primal fault It rains into the sea, And still the sea is salt. Jack let her finish before he spoke. "Nice." "Nice? I don't think it's nice at all. It's scary, that nothing really changes, no matter what happens. 'It rains into the sea, and still the sea is salt.' That means that change is impossible--terrifying." "Yeah, I guess you're right," he began, clearly not paying much attention to what she'd said. "Listen, Lizzie, let's head back. I'm leaving really early in the morning and haven't packed or anything. I need to box up my stuff and put it in the storage locker because I've sublet my apartment for the summer." "Can I help?" "No, I think it'll go faster if I do it myself. I need to figure out what I should take with me." They walked back to the dorm in the dark, their arms around each other's waist. At the door they kissed, most unsatisfactorily from Lizzie's point of view. She didn't want to let him go. She didn't want to let go of him. Jack gently untangled himself from her and said, "I'll see you at the end of August." "Will you write me lots and lots of letters?" "Sure," he said, giving her one last kiss. "Don't go," Lizzie whispered to herself, trying not to cry as she watched him leave. "Please, please don't go." Marla was sitting on the floor of the common room, paging through some art books; James was playing solitaire. They both looked up when Lizzie came in. "Gone?" Marla asked sympathetically. Lizzie nodded. "It's only three months till he's back," she reminded Lizzie. Lizzie nodded again, not trusting herself to speak. James said, in a declaiming sort of tone, "'And when it was all over, Arthur said, Well, it's all over.'" Marla looked as though she were going to throw one of those heavy art history books at her boyfriend. "James, you idiot, what's wrong with you? That's a terrible thing to say to Lizzie. Besides, it's not all over, it's just for the summer." Lizzie knew that as much as Marla and James loved her, they weren't necessarily huge fans of Jack's. They tolerated him for Lizzie's sake, but Lizzie could always hear an undertone of disapproval in their voices when they talked about him. James shrugged. "I don't know. It seemed appropriate." "Well, it's not. It's rude and hurtful." "It's okay," Lizzie managed to say. "This part of it is over, so it does fit in a way." The days went by slowly. She and Marla moved to an apartment. Summer-school classes wouldn't begin for another three weeks. Lizzie worked extra hours at the library shelving books, all of which looked frighteningly uninteresting. Nothing she did managed to keep her from brooding over Jack's absence from her life. It was a lousy time. * The Fullback * Dustin Devins, the fullback, was also the kick-return specialist; he ran back five (five!) kickoffs for touchdowns in one game, an achievement that no one before or since had ever come close to duplicating. (When she was bored, Lizzie periodically checked that his record was intact. Last time she looked it was.) Dusty read compulsively, and often quoted Schopenhauer and Heisenberg to the rest of the team, who listened (according to Maverick) in mystification. Everyone thought he'd go to Harvard, but he didn't. He got a free and full ride to Earlham, in Indiana, where he became a Quaker, majored in sociology, and wrote forcefully in alternative newspapers about the intertwining of football and violence, to the great detriment of football. He'd grown to hate the game. * Dr. Sleep * That summer--the summer after Lizzie's freshman year, the summer Jack went home but was supposed to come back to Ann Arbor in the fall to start his PhD program--was the beginning of Lizzie's antagonistic relationship with sleep. Growing up, Lizzie loved going upstairs to bed. She greeted sleep with relief. Mendel and Lydia insisted that her door be open all the time, except when she was sleeping, so bedtime was her only time for privacy. Those relatively few nights when she couldn't fall asleep, because she was worried about school, or something Andrea said, or her stomach ached or her head pounded with pain, she'd get up quietly and take two aspirins (for the headache) and then read until her eyes felt too heavy to keep open and then she'd sleep. She'd decided to take two classes that summer, Political Geography and Transformational Grammar. The geography class met at seven a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Lizzie figured that because there would be so few students in attendance (because who in their right mind would want to study geography at such an ungodly hour?) she'd be forced to focus her mind on something besides Jack in order to get a decent grade. The grammar course met at a much more conventional time, but since Lizzie had only the foggiest notion of what transformational grammar was, and suspected that just a handful of other undergrads might actually understand it, and even fewer find the subject interesting enough to spend their summer hours (usually the most beautiful time in Ann Arbor) studying, the class would be small enough, and the subject difficult enough, that she'd have to pay close attention to what was going on. She was correct on all counts. For a brief six hours a week she had a respite from her obsessive thinking about where Jack was, what Jack was doing, and why he hadn't written her. After a week, and then another week, had passed without hearing from Jack, Lizzie began to yearn for sleep. She'd walk home from class or the library as slowly as she could, in order to give the letter from Jack, because surely this day there would be one, more time to arrive at her apartment. If only there'd be a letter there, waiting for her. It could be as prosaic and dull and short and unforthcoming as "See you in August." Please, Lizzie prayed to Jack, please write me. She and Marla never got much mail. It was easy to riffle through the credit-card offers, the ads, and the requests from various charities and immediately see there was nothing from Jack. But Lizzie was unable to go through the envelopes only once. She'd compulsively examine them again, and then a third time, giving each envelope a shake just in case another was stuck to it. Then she'd begin the wait for another chance to hear from him. She hated Sundays, when no mail came. Lizzie wondered whether it would be better or worse to have lived in England during the nineteenth century, when mail was delivered twice or three times a day, and still there'd be nothing from Jack. Would that have increased or decreased her sadness? She didn't know. She did know how much more miserable she felt every day. When she finally crawled into bed at night, she couldn't fall asleep. She wanted to sleep. She thought that sleep would not only "knit up the raveled sleeve of care" (see, she had paid attention once in a while in her Shakespeare class) but also speed up time until the mail came again. Every day she finished working at the library around four and walked home to the apartment she and Marla and James had rented for the summer, only to find there was no letter from Jack. Then, in desperation, she'd begin counting down the minutes, carelessly doing her homework until she felt it was late enough to go to sleep as though she were a normal college student and not some quivering Jell-O-y mass of misery. Most evenings she was alone. Marla was in the art building looking at slides. James was at the library studying. She couldn't eat. Her stomach had a hollow anticipatory feeling that led her to believe (rightly, it turned out) that eating anything would lead to a disastrous outcome. The lack of sleep made her even more vulnerable to tears. She wasted hours at the end of the day walking around the three rooms of the apartment, hugging herself, repeating "Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry" until the words lost their meaning and became merely sounds. She lost a lot of weight very quickly and avoided looking at herself in any mirror she encountered. Whenever she did fleetingly glimpse her reflection, she didn't immediately recognize herself. One night when James and Marla were home for dinner and Lizzie was pushing food around her plate, James told her that she was way too thin. "You're making yourself sick. Eat something, Lizzie, please," Marla begged. But she couldn't eat. And she couldn't fall asleep. Though her desire for oblivion, even temporary oblivion, was strong, sleep would not come, declining to accommodate her yearning for its appearance. Oh, she tried all the usual measures. First, a cup of warm milk, to which--because she was now an adult--she added a good measure of brandy, purchased specially for this purpose, but later in the summer used it the way it was intended: straight. She didn't sip it either. She ate saltines, sometimes with peanut butter, if her stomach felt up to it. She took long bubble baths. James told her that he'd heard that a good technique for falling asleep was to take each worry you had and dump it into a trash container, one by one, until all your worries were disposed of and you were asleep. She tried it one night, taking her many-claused worry that Jack didn't love her, had never loved her, would never come back, would never be seen by her again, maybe he was dead and nobody thought to tell her, maybe he'd never taken their relationship seriously, maybe she was just like the girl in his high school who nobody would date, maybe the Great Game had ruined any chance she had at being with Jack, maybe he was gone forever. She ceremoniously emptied all those fears into a large silver trash can. But they refused to stay there, jumping up like magic beans and relodging themselves in her mind. She reported to James that, regretfully, it hadn't worked. She played "A . . . My Name Is Alice" but made it harder for herself by adding an adjective to whatever the carload was and the car had to be filled with people, not things, so instead of organic oranges and boring books, she had carloads of dastardly Danes, eager electricians, cowardly criminologists, and nasty neurosurgeons. Q, Z, and X were always difficult, but her years of reading made them easier to do. "Q my name is Queenie / And my husband's name is Quentin / And we come from Queens / With a carload of questionable quislings." That sort of thing. She was bothered a little by the use of Queenie and Queens, so substituted Quebec for the location, which made her feel a bit triumphant but didn't help with falling asleep. Perhaps this game had never been a particularly good sleep magnet. There was too much concentration involved. Maybe she needed something easier. She recited all the Housman poems she knew but had to stop when she got to "Stars, I Have Seen Them Fall" because it took her thoughts back to the last night with Jack, which was disastrous. When that happened she'd get up and smoke some of James's ample supply of pot, but at the beginning of the summer it did ruinous things to her, it made her paranoid, made her heart beat erratically. Her eyes, already red from crying, became even redder. Those summer nights nothing helped. The minute she got into bed her sadness began to smother her. She'd toss and turn, trying not to panic at the thought of a Jack-less future. Much later, when Marla got home, she'd peek into Lizzie's room and, seeing that Lizzie was still awake, she'd come sit next to her and hold her hand, and quietly say, "Come on, now, breathe with me," and, holding Marla's hand, breathing along with Marla's breaths, Lizzie could finally let go of another day without Jack and sleep. When Marla couldn't be there, James sat at the side of her bed, breathing her to sleep. When he took her hand one night, he said, "Lizzie, listen. Jack is an asshole. I never liked him and I thought he was totally wrong for you. You're better off without him." Lizzie wanted to insist James didn't know what he was talking about, but she couldn't formulate the right words to contradict him. It was extraordinarily comforting to have James and Marla with her, knowing they loved her. Even at the time, and more so as the years went by and she looked back on those summer months of Jack's inexplicable silence, Lizzie knew that this was a great kindness Marla and James were doing her. "Lizzie, why don't you just write Jack? Or even better, pick up the phone and call him," Marla asked one night in July. And then Lizzie had to admit to her that they'd never really talked about things like what town in Texas he grew up in, or what his father did, or if he had brothers or sisters. Lizzie realized that she really didn't know much about him, except that he loved poetry and hated football. She knew it was a small town in Texas, near nowhere in particular, and that was about it. Marla sighed. You could eliminate Dallas and Austin and Fort Worth and Waco and San Antonio and Lubbock and Houston and there were still a lot of places in Texas fitting that description. "How could you not know where he's from? Surely that would come up in the conversation one time or another. You were inseparable for the whole quarter." Lizzie felt obscurely ashamed. "I don't know, James. We didn't talk about things like that. I didn't ask him about it, I guess. I don't know why. We were too busy doing other things." "So now he's back home in Podunk, Texas, about to marry his high school sweetheart, who waited four years for him to graduate and come back to her and make babies together." Marla wasn't happy with this. "God, James, shut up, that's really cruel and you're totally not helping, you know," but Lizzie only shook her head, defeated. What was there to say? That was as likely a scenario as anything she could think of. And she had thought of it. By the middle of August, when they felt they'd taught Lizzie how to breathe herself to sleep, Marla and James asked if she would be okay staying by herself so that they could go home for a couple of weeks. Although Lizzie dreaded being alone, she felt she could hardly tell them not to go. Final exams began later in the week, and maybe the concentrated study she'd need to do would either exhaust her into sleep or at least keep her mind on a non-Jack track. The first night they were gone was the worst night she'd so far had that summer. Her eyes felt too gritty to close and she felt too jumpy to settle down. She got up and drank a cup of warm milk with brandy and went back to bed. An hour or so later she got up and had a cup of chamomile tea and went back to bed. An hour or so after that she got up to pee and came back to bed, straightening her pillows so she could sit up and reread her favorite sections of I Capture the Castle, which she normally found extraordinarily comforting. Then she turned out the light and played the easiest variant of "A . . . My Name Is Alice." Then she started reciting all the Housman poems she knew. Then she got up again to check on some verses in "Shot? So Quick, So Clean an Ending?" that she'd forgotten, probably because they were too sad. Then she got back in bed and recited the corrected verses to herself. Then she got up to pee again. Then it was morning and Lizzie had to get up for good and go to her geography class. As she sat down and took out the textbook, the girl sitting next to her said, "You look terrible." "I know," Lizzie said, appreciating the frank assessment. "I can't fall asleep anymore. It's been like that for months." "You should go to Health Service. I hear they'll give you sleeping pills if they think you really need them." Okay, Lizzie thought, I can do that. The nurse took Lizzie into an exam room. "Dr. Teacher will be in soon," she said as she closed the door. There was no chair, so Lizzie perched somewhat precariously at the edge of the examination table while she waited. She was all ready to have a light introductory exchange with him about what it was like being named Teacher and choosing to be a doctor, but it was clear as soon as he came into the room that there wouldn't be any light conversation forthcoming. He studied her chart for a few minutes, although what there was to study on it was a mystery to Lizzie; it was the first time she'd ever gone to the clinic. Finally he looked up at her. "Bultmann," he began. "Any relation to--" Lizzie didn't let him finish. "My parents," she said shortly. He looked a shade more interested in her. "Lovely people," he said. "Simply brilliant, both of them. You're very lucky, you know. They've both made significant contributions to the field." Lizzie's heart sank. This was already not going well. "The nurse says you're interested in some medication for sleeping." "Yeah," she began. "It's just that finals are coming up and I haven't been able to sleep and if I could just get some sleep . . ." "Ah, you're taking some advanced psychology courses, I presume, to follow in your parents' footsteps?" "No, no." Lizzie knew she sounded horrified but couldn't help herself. "If not psychology, then what?" "Uh, a grammar class, and another one in, you know, geography." "Those must be fascinating," Dr. Teacher said in a tone of voice that made it clear he didn't think it was fascinating at all. "By the way, I've always wondered what your mother's maiden name was." Lizzie was bewildered but still game. "LeVine." "Ah," he said triumphantly, making a note in the chart. "Well," he went on, "do we have any idea of what's causing this inability to sleep?" At this point the last thing Lizzie wanted to do was talk to Dr. Teacher any more than she absolutely had to. "No, not really. It's just become a lot harder to fall asleep recently." "Ah. Do you have a boyfriend?" "A boyfriend? Um, I guess not, no, not currently." "But you did have a boyfriend?" "Well, yes, I guess so." "Recently?" "Sort of recently. Sure." "But you don't any longer. What happened?" Lizzie stopped to think. How could she answer that? She didn't know what had happened. "He graduated." "This past May?" Lizzie nodded. "So you broke up?" Yes, she admitted, they'd broken up. "He with you or you with him?" Would this never end? Why did he need to know this? She felt she was entitled to some tactical lying. "Mutual. It was a mutual breakup. Look, all I want is, like, five sleeping pills, just so I can sleep the nights before the exams." "How about if I give you three?" he offered. This was insane. Were they actually bargaining over the number of sleeping pills he'd prescribe for her? Maybe they'd split the difference and he'd give her four. "Sure," Lizzie answered wearily. "Three is fine." Dr. Teacher stared at her stonily. "I'm going to give you a prescription for five pills," he said sternly, "but I'm going to put down on your permanent record . . . your permanent record," he emphasized, "that you're suffering from insomnia due to an unsuccessful love affair." Lizzie left the clinic with five sleeping pills and what, even in her misery, she recognized was a terrific and endlessly reusable sentence. "Where is your permanent record, anyway?" James asked when they'd returned from Cleveland and she told him and Marla about the visit to Dr. Teacher. "Do you think it's what Saint Peter looks over when he decides whether you're fit for heaven or bound for hell?" Or Marla's mother would send her a particularly unattractive sweater as a gift, one with, say, reindeer on it. Obviously this fashion blooper on Mrs. Cantor's part would end up on her permanent record. James wondered if good things also went on your permanent record. "I won the fourth-grade spelling bee. Do you think that's on it?" "Gosh," Marla said, "I think that's the year I lost because I couldn't figure out how to spell 'niece.' I remember asking myself if the i-before-e rule worked in this case, or if niece was an exception, like in 'neighbor.' Not, as I came to find out, an exception. Do you think that's on my permanent record?" "Do you think the permanent records are kept in a huge bank vault in Washington? Who has the key? What if they lost it? Would that go on their permanent record? Would they have to start setting up all-new permanent records, sort of a clean slate for everyone?" Lizzie wondered. They could go on for hours like this. And frequently did. * A Letter from Jack * It was December 8, and Lizzie's last class on the last day of classes before finals week was just ending. It was also, if anyone was counting (and Lizzie was), six months to the day since Jack kissed her good-bye and vanished from her life. After the bowling debacle, she had tried to cut back on her marijuana intake, but wasn't quite as successful as she might have wanted. Weed was a blessing and a curse, Lizzie thought, stoned, as she stood up from her desk and stuffed the Collected Chaucer into her backpack. Pot took away the immediate pain of Jack's absence because all that she experienced in the present moment seemed so compelling that the fact of the loss of Jack was much less interesting than seeing the shape and shifting colors of the emptiness that surrounded that fact. And pot gave her so much more: she saw, for example, the scaffolding of crossword-puzzle grids. Certain words, like "ontogeny," "regency," and "exculpation," delighted her, and despite having no idea when or even if she'd heard them before, she knew their meanings because of the sounds they made as they sang in her mind. When she was stoned she could study her toes, which she normally hated, for hours, and realize, as she wiggled them appreciatively, that in fact they weren't any uglier than anyone else's. They were just toes, and hers, and, in their own specific way, were quite lovely. When she was high she could tune out the voices in her head more easily, although one terrible night when she sat around with James and Marla, all of them high, the announcers started speaking in a slow, deadly voice. Every criticism was enunciated clearly: Horrible. Ugly. Stupid. Crazy. Inept. Selfish. Clumsy. Evil. It felt as though they were pelting her with bits of ice that had been sharpened to a point at one end. Lizzie also knew that when you were stoned, all you could do was be stoned. You couldn't study because you were hyperalert to every sight or sound. Classes were a joke because there were too many distractions. Being so stoned all the time didn't have a salutary effect on her grades. She was perilously close to failing all her courses. She'd managed to eke out a C in her geography and grammar classes in the summer (blessed be the sleeping pills), but this quarter she'd taken a full load of five courses. Even the Chaucer, which she'd looked forward to because Jack had once told her how much he admired the teacher, didn't hold her interest, whether she was stoned or unstoned. She'd tried it both ways. And without the pot the pain came back two- and threefold, a dreadful rebound effect from exiting the stoned world. It was going to be a long weekend, trying to catch up with the readings so that she had a decent chance of passing an exam in anything but sadness. Already, most of what the teacher had said about Chaucer, his life and times, and his poems had faded away. She could remember only the first three or four lines from the Prologue (although she could recite them in a credible if midwestern-inflected Middle English). Her major takeaway from Chaucer's life was his peccadilloes (or worse) with Cecily Champaign, whom Dr. Ragland referred to cheerfully as "Bubbles." Bubbles Champaign. Lizzie did love that, stoned and unstoned. Her Literary Theory and second-year French classes had both become a blank. Did the semioticians have a theory of despair? Could she say it in French? Worse, she couldn't at this moment even bring to mind the two other classes she was taking fall quarter. Lizzie found herself outside, although she had no actual memory of leaving the classroom building. Indian summer had made an appearance after a chilly fall in Ann Arbor, and the brownish-colored leaves of the maples were still drifting off the trees. They made a satisfying crunch as she walked back to her apartment. It was warm enough for people to open their windows; she could hear music coming from the dorms. Lizzie stopped and listened to a woman singing a lightly jazzed-up version of "I'm Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter." She suddenly got a dazzling idea. Lizzie decided she was going to go home, sit right down at her desk, write herself a letter, and make believe it came from Jack. Reading it, she'd learn why, exactly, he never came back. Brilliant. She dumped her backpack and jacket on the couch and sat down at her desk and began writing. Dearest Lizzie (because you are): I'm writing to apologize and explain--or try to explain--why 1) I didn't come back to Ann Arbor this fall and 2) I haven't written before. I think that perhaps I gave you the wrong impression about me. Not the wrong impression about the way I felt about you. I loved you. I really did. I just realized, slowly and with difficulty over the quarter, that I simply couldn't do it. I don't even know if I can make you understand what it is I couldn't do. I could love you (I do love you), most likely shall, as Millay says, love you always. I can write you love poems forever. But, Lizzie, oh, Lizzie, I don't want--I can't have--a relationship that's so confining that I can't breathe. I don't want someone who's everything to me and I don't want to be everything to someone else, even you. I don't want to be part of a great love story. It sort of reminds me of those lines by Auden that we read in Terrell's class about not wanting everyone's love but to be the only love of someone, that the person who loves you loves only you. Isn't that how you feel? But I don't. That's not me. The thought of that makes me physically sick. And it was happening, Lizzie, it was. You know it was. We were just too entangled with one another. Every day, every hour, it was harder and harder to see where I ended and you began. I still feel like slitting my wrists when I even think about what was happening to us. Will you forgive me for being unable to talk to you about how I was feeling and just leaving? Can you forgive me for being the way I am? I hope so. I hope that we run into each other somewhere someday--leaving a movie, or more likely it'll be at a poetry reading--and smile and remember how wonderful it could be when we were together, and not think about how it ended. I hope we can someday be friends. With all the (imperfect) love I'm capable of, Jack After she finished writing the letter, she folded it up and put it in an envelope and addressed it to herself. For the sake of verisimilitude (verisimilitude! great word!), she supposed that she should actually put a stamp on it and drop it into a mailbox so that she'd get it in a day or two, but that seemed, even for her, a bit too much. Sealing and addressing the envelope would just have to be enough. She walked around the apartment for a while, unpacking her book bag, getting a can of Diet Pepsi, and grabbing a handful of pretzels. She arranged her books on her desk in the order she'd need them for studying for her finals, which began on Monday and ended (for her) on Wednesday. Who makes up the finals schedule, anyway? She went into Marla's room and felt her familiar awe at how neat Marla was. It looked as though no one had lived there for weeks or months. She walked around the apartment a few more times. She wished she had stocked up on champagne, just in case this moment--a letter from Jack--actually ever arrived. And now it had. She sat down on the couch and took a deep breath. Then she opened the envelope and started reading the letter. After encountering the first word, she got up, rummaged through her desk for a pen, which happened to be red, and sat down to finish it. Dearest Lizzie (because you are): NO!!! YOU DON'T GET TO USE THIS WORD NEXT TO MY NAME. WHAT A LIAR YOU ARE. I'm writing to apologize and explain--or try to explain--why 1) I didn't come back to Ann Arbor in the fall and 2) why I didn't write before this. I think that perhaps I gave you the wrong impression about me. IT'S ALL TOO LATE NOW. CAN'T YOU SEE THAT? Not the wrong impression about the way I felt about you. I loved you. I really did. BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. THEN WHY DID YOU WAIT SO LONG TO WRITE ME? WHY DIDN'T YOU CALL? HOW COULD YOU JUST LEAVE ME LIKE YOU DID??!!??? I just realized, slowly and with difficulty over the quarter, that I simply couldn't do it. I don't even know if I can make you understand what it is I couldn't do. I could love you (I do love you), most likely shall, as Millay says, love you always. GOD, WHAT A BASTARD YOU ARE, JACK. I can write you love poems forever. I DON'T WANT THEM, NOT FROM YOU. But, Lizzie, oh, Lizzie, I don't want--I can't have--a relationship that's so confining that I can't breathe. I don't want someone who's everything to me and I don't want to be everything to someone else, even you. I don't want to be part of a great love story. YOU WERE NEVER EVERYTHING TO ME. NEVER NEVER NEVER. DON'T FLATTER YOURSELF, YOU ASSHOLE. It sort of reminds me of those lines by Auden that we read in Terrell's class about not wanting everyone's love but to be the only love of someone, that the person who loves you loves only you. Isn't that how you feel? WHAT DO YOU CARE WHAT I FEEL? YOU KNOW, YOU'VE JUST RUINED AUDEN FOR ME FOREVER. But I don't. That's not me. The thought of that makes me physically sick. And it was happening, Lizzie, it was. You know it was. I DON'T KNOW THAT AT ALL. WE LOVED EACH OTHER. ISN'T THAT WHAT LOVE IS SUPPOSED TO BE? We were just too entangled with one another. Every day, every hour, it was harder and harder to see where I ended and you began. I still feel like slitting my wrists when I even think about what was happening to us. I WISH YOU HAD. I WISH YOU WERE DEAD. IT WOULD HAVE BEEN EASIER FOR ME IF YOU WERE DEAD. Will you forgive me for being unable to talk to you about how I was feeling and just leaving? NO NO NO NO NO NO. YES, JACK, THAT'S A NO. NEVER. Can you forgive me for being the way I am? I hope so. NOT GONNA HAPPEN, DIPSHIT. I hope that we run into each other somewhere someday--leaving a movie, or more likely it'll be at a poetry reading--and smile and remember how wonderful it could be when we were together, and not think about how it ended. AS SOMEONE FAMOUS ONCE SAID, NOT IF I SEE YOU FIRST. I hope we can someday be friends. CAN YOU REALLY THINK THAT? AIN'T EVER GOING TO HAPPEN EVER EVER EVER EVER. With all the (imperfect) love I'm capable of, Jack I'M TOTALLY NOT INTERESTED IN YOUR (IMPERFECT) FUCKING LOVE. STICK A FORK IN ME--WE ARE DONE DONE DONE DONE DONE. AND YOUR PARENTHESES MAKE ME FEEL LIKE SLITTING MY WRISTS. HOW FUCKING PRETENTIOUS YOU ARE, JACK. AND THAT'S THE LAST WORD. Lizzie put down the red pen and went into the kitchen. She got another can of soda. When she closed the refrigerator door she searched among the pictures, the long-outdated invitations, the cartoons and notes all stuck on with magnets, and finally found what she was looking for. She studied it for a few silent minutes, smiling as she remembered the bowling debacle, and then she picked up the phone and called George. * The Kicker * The kicker Steve Wender had an extreme outie belly button. It seemed awfully petty of her to find it so off-putting, but that's what Lizzie felt. Her time with Steve was highly educational if you were majoring in football. During his five days of the Great Game, Steve talked about nothing but that, focusing on his great hero, fellow kicker George Blanda, who, Lizzie learned, played in the NFL for an unbelievable twenty-six seasons, first as a quarterback and then, in the last eight years of his career, as the kicker for the Oakland Raiders. Steve's ambition was to play twenty-seven seasons in the NFL, but admitted to Lizzie that it wasn't likely. Blanda retired in 1975 when he was forty-eight but that was a different era entirely. * George and Lizzie's First Date * George and Lizzie met for lunch at Drake's Sandwich Shop. As they sat down, Lizzie could hear the Baird Carillon chiming the quarter hour and murmured, "'Oh, noisy bells, be dumb.'" "What?" But Lizzie knew that if she began explaining to George that it was a line from a particularly depressing Housman poem that was one of Jack's absolute favorites, it would open up the conversation in ways she wasn't prepared to follow through on. "Oh, nothing, really. I was just mumbling." Lizzie ordered a grilled cheese on rye bread sandwich. It was her go-to choice for stressful times, and George, seemingly unfazed by her prevailing winds of tension and anxiety, a BLT. They both had iced tea, which seemed counterintuitive, since it was the coldest Ann Arbor January since 1908. Lizzie apologized again for the bowling fiasco and ruining George's game, and after George gallantly said that it was unimportant, in fact he'd totally forgotten about it until she mentioned it, and that he was sorry they hadn't been able to get together in December after she called but he'd been swamped with assignments because it seemed that the second year of dental school was much more demanding than the first, and then he always went home for Christmas, so this was his first chance to see her, a silence fell. They chewed companionably. It made Lizzie happy that George was also drinking iced tea. She'd always been the only one she knew who ordered it no matter how cold it was outside. Lizzie felt pressured to say something in return. The bells, thank God, were quiet. She had about ten minutes before they rang again. Why had she agreed to come here, anyway? Okay, here goes. "Where's home?" "Tulsa. I'm pretty sure I'm the only Oklahoman in the dental school. At least, I've never met anyone else from home." "Me either," Lizzie said. "I mean, you're the first person from Oklahoma that I've ever met. I did know someone from Texas, though. Does that count?" "Absolutely not," George said. "We hate Texas, except maybe for the Cowboys. You know, the football team from Dallas. Are you a football fan?" Lizzie hesitated, thinking about Maverick and the Great Game. "I kind of have a love-hate relationship with it, actually." "That sounds pretty mysterious." "Yeah, well, maybe we can talk about it another time," Lizzie said. "So tell me, what's it like there in Oklahoma?" "Hot and dusty and lots of tornadoes. We had a dog when I was a kid, and we could always tell when bad weather was on the way because he would start shaking and whining and immediately go hide in the front closet, where we could hear him whimpering. Even though I was always really scared, Doodle made me look good by comparison." "Doodle's a great name." "Doodle the Poodle," George said happily. "He was my mom's dog from before she and my dad got married. His formal name was Drummer Boy the Fourth, but we called him Doodle." "I always wanted a dog, but my parents aren't pet people," Lizzie told him. "So I always envied my dog-owning friends here." "Here?" George asked. "You mean you grew up in Ann Arbor? Do your parents work at the university?" Lizzie delayed answering until she'd gotten the waitress's attention and requested a refill on her iced tea. Then she tried to change the subject. "Do you want to hear something funny? I always thought that only women drink iced tea. You're the first guy I've ever met that drinks it too. Even the words 'iced tea' seem kind of quaint and southern somehow. You know, big houses, wraparound porches, ladies with their fans, rocking chairs, the Union Army rumored to be on its way." George laughed. "And now you know at least one man who's pro-iced tea. Plus, as my mom would tell you, Oklahoma is definitely a southern state. She's a real tea drinker, and I got in the habit from her, I guess. Plus I think it's a lot healthier than soda is, although tea can really stain your teeth." Lizzie, who also drank a lot of tea, both hot and iced, immediately resolved not to open her mouth again just in case her teeth were stained. "So you didn't say where you grew up," George reminded her. By now Lizzie was ready with her answer. "Oh, I grew up here, a faculty brat. Both my parents teach here." "What do they teach?" "Psychology. They're pretty weird." "Weird how?" "When I was little," Lizzie began, "maybe about three, I was in the lab preschool that the School of Education runs here. One night at dinner I asked my father if I could aim his penis when he was urinating. In our house we always used the correct word for body parts--no wee-wees or pee-pees for us." George smiled. "What did he say?" "He put down the book he was reading, probably something about school testing, then looked over at my mother, who was also doing something else at the table at that moment, probably making notes on an upcoming lecture. I'm sure that he was hoping for some help from her as to what to say to me, and just as clearly, at least to me, was the fact that he wasn't going to get any. "He finally said, very kindly, 'No, Lizzie, I have to aim my own penis, to keep things neat in the bathroom.' And I said, 'But, Mendel, I always aim Sanjay's at school.'" "You called your father by his first name when you were three?" George asked incredulously. "Yes, both of them, Mendel and Lydia. I used to think that everyone did." She paused. "This is a weird conversation to have." "I think it's nice. So don't stop now. What happened next?" "Mendel started chuckling. Lydia put down the pen she was using and began laughing too. It was actually quite wonderful for a moment or two. Then they both went back to what they were doing." "Well," George admitted comfortably, "we were definitely a wee-wee or pee-pee and poop family. But here's a story you'd like, I think. We were all sitting down together, eating dinner--my mother's big on meal-togetherness. My dad always began by asking us what we had learned in school that day, or from the newspaper, or if we had any questions. I must have been a bit older than you, maybe six or so, and Todd, my older brother, was seven. "I said that one of the boys at school told me babies are made when a man and a woman stand on opposite sides of a room and then the man holds his penis out and runs at the woman yelling 'Charge.' And my dad, very seriously, said, 'No, George, that's not usually the way it's done, although it does sound like a compelling idea. Would you like me to explain how and where babies come from?' "Well, by now I was really embarrassed, and I told him no, not right then, maybe later, but Todd said that, yes, he really wanted to know, that he had a lot of theories about it but was interested in the truth." "The truth," said Lizzie, giggling. "So were you there when your dad explained it to your brother?" "No, I didn't want to be there," George said. "I waited another year or two before I got my own sex-ed talk. What about you?" "When I was six, Lydia gave me a book called From Egg to Chick. That was her way of eliminating any chance of a discussion. I think maybe one of her grad students told her about it. I must have lost it or something. I'd love to know now what it really said." "When you got older, did you think that's why girls were sometimes called chicks?" George asked. "I did! How'd you know that?" "A wild guess," George said. They smiled at each other. * George Calls His Mother * George called his mother. "Hey, Mom," he began. "Georgie," she answered, her voice delighted. "Drill any producing wells recently?" She chuckled; chortled, really. He felt the reality of her, warm and loving and so solidly there, although there were almost a thousand miles between them. Her joking question referred to one of a number of possibly apocryphal stories she'd recounted over and over when George and Todd were children, stories of her own experiences as a kid going to Dr. Ted Gratz, her family's dentist in Montreal. He was, Elaine said, probably the nicest man she'd ever known, hands down, although this was not always a good thing. He was so nice that he was unable to turn anyone away who needed him, so making an appointment for a cleaning, say, was pretty useless, because when you arrived at the office, it would already be filled with people waiting patiently to see him too, whether they had an appointment or not. Here she'd pause and say with a wink and a smile, "Do you get it: they were waiting 'patiently'?" When Todd and George nodded that, yes, they got it, they got it, Ma, they always got it, every single time she retold the story, she went on. "And then there were those who weren't waiting patiently, so that there were always muffled and sometimes not-so-quiet cries of pain echoing throughout the waiting room. But we got used to that sort of thing. We'd pack lunches and get ready to spend the whole day there. "Occasionally," Elaine went on, "there would be people kneeling on the floor, praying to God to deal with their aching tooth before the dentist could get his hands on it." Evidently Dr. Gratz was also unable to keep any staff for very long. "Despite his niceness?" George asked Elaine once. "Probably because of it," she said, an answer that George didn't understand until he became a dentist himself. This meant that while Novocain injections were taking effect, or X-rays were developing, Dr. Gratz would grab a broom and energetically sweep the floor. Or answer the phone, or whatever else needed to be done, depending on which employee had quit or hadn't shown up that day. There was never any privacy in Dr. Gratz's dental offices: his was a booming voice and he never tried to modulate it to hide what he was saying to his patients. "You call those teeth?" Elaine once heard him say, admonishing the poor patient in the adjoining room. "They look like cigarette butts to me." This, Elaine added to her sons, was the major reason she never smoked and wanted them to swear they'd never take up smoking either. Plus, the cigarette-butts comment was also an incentive to brush morning and night. Sometimes at noon too. But the neatest thing about Dr. Gratz, she told them, was that he always inscribed the silver fillings he used with "Ted drilled here" and the date. This just had to be something Elaine invented, George felt. How could someone do that, write so small? But wasn't it true that there was a whole industry of people who wrote on tiny grains of rice? "Let me see your teeth," he demanded of his mother when he was seven and she'd finished telling him the story for the bazillionth time. "Oh, Georgie, I'm happy to, but I'm afraid it won't do any good to look at my teeth, because all those old silver fillings that Dr. Gratz did have been replaced with composite ones." "Let me see," he repeated, and she obediently opened her mouth and allowed him to peer in. "There's a silver one," he told her, "way in the back." "Oh, that one," she replied quickly. "I didn't have that filling done until after Dr. Gratz had retired and I was in college. That was done by this young guy, Dr. Sidlowski. He didn't ascribe to the inscribing that Dr. Gratz did." George was still suspicious but couldn't think of what to ask next. "Oh," Elaine would continue, nostalgic, "those were the days when going to the dentist was a real test of courage. And the spit-sinks. Did I ever tell you two boys about the spit-sinks?" "Yeah, Ma, you did," Todd would say, already way past boredom into desperation to get away. "You did, but tell us again," George amended his brother's statement. "Well, these days, the dentist drills or the hygienist cleans, and they spritz water in your mouth and then they use a suction tube, so you can never see what they're vacuuming up. In the olden days, when I was a child in Montreal," she'd say dreamily, "Dr. Gratz would work for a while, drilling away, and then he'd stop, thank goodness, and say, 'Spit now.'" "Why'd he stop drilling then?" George asked. "His hand got tired," Todd responded before Elaine could. "Oh, I imagine that he felt you needed to have a rest from opening your mouth so much," Elaine speculated. "You'd take a sip of water from this teeny tiny paper cup and then you'd spit, and out would come bits of tooth, and blood, and sometimes pieces of popcorn. And there was water running around the sides of the sink, so you'd see all that stuff be washed away. Dr. Gratz's spit-sink was green, I remember. Those spit-sinks certainly made you feel brave. Now I feel as though I'm missing out on the best part of going to the dentist." George, at nine, already suspected he wanted to be a dentist, although not at all like Dr. Gratz, and his mother's stories always gave him much to ponder. "Why were there pieces of popcorn in your teeth? Didn't you floss enough?" "Georgie, you ask the best questions. It's because they didn't have floss when I was a little girl. Dr. Mordecai Floss hadn't invented it yet." Todd, the (young) man of the world, rolled his eyes. "That cannot be his name, Ma. You're making it up." "Maybe, maybe not. I might be mistaken in thinking his name was Mordecai. It may have been Milton." Todd stalked out, highly insulted at not being taken seriously, but George always hung around, waiting for more of his mother's stories. George adored his mother, always had and always would, but he felt that as a loyal son he needed to curb her tendency for puns and bad jokes, especially when he knew for a fact that she'd told those same stories to his father back in the years before Allan left dentistry and returned to school to become an orthodontist, and tightening braces became his stock-in-trade. "Way not funny, Mom. As I'm sure Dad told you once upon a time. And for that matter, it's unseemly to mock your son's profession. Plus your jokes would be a lot funnier if you didn't laugh at them yourself before anyone else has a chance to respond to them. I might have laughed," he went on, "if you'd given me the chance." "Oh, Georgie, don't be such a stick-in-the-mud. Laugh now. Make me happy." "Ha ha," George responded obediently. "Mom, I'm not coming home for Thanksgiving." Her voice lost some of its timbre of happiness; a stranger wouldn't have noticed, but George, who was so attuned to his mother's feelings, did. "Oh, what a shame. Do you have to work?" "Yeah, I'm on call Saturday, so it would have been hard anyway, but it's mostly that this girl invited me to have dinner with her family." "A girl?" The lightheartedness was back in her voice. "Someone new? Is she in school with you? Where did you meet her? When did you meet her? What's her name?" George answered her in order. "I met her a while ago, bowling. She grew up here, and her parents are professors. She's still an undergrad, a junior. Her name's Lizzie. We've been dating since January, I guess." "Since January?" Elaine was incredulous. "It's October now. How come this is the first time I've heard about her?" He imagined his mother sitting down at the kitchen table, winding the telephone cord around her wrist, and settling in for a long talk with her younger son. "Because I knew if I told you that you'd respond just like you're doing. And besides, I can't really tell how serious it is yet. I sort of wonder if she thinks it's serious at all. Are you in the kitchen?" he went on, in an attempt to derail the next set of questions he was sure were coming. "Did I interrupt anything? How's Todd doing? Still surfing away in Oz?" "Don't distract me," she said, effectively closing off that avenue of verbal escape. "Have you thought about what you're going to bring? What time do they eat?" "Oh, Mom," George groaned. "She just invited me. We haven't gone into a time schedule or menu options." "Wine for sure," Elaine went on, unheeding. "A couple of bottles, one each of red and white. How about if I send you a loaf of my cranberry bread, and maybe a zucchini or pumpkin bread too? It's too bad I can't send my wild-rice casserole. Would you make it, if I sent you the recipe?" "Don't send anything. I'm sure they'll have enough food to feed me without any additions from the Goldrosen family. I'll bring wine, though. How's Dad? Is he home? I'd like to say hi to him too." "Oh, I wish you'd bring Lizzie home for Christmas, especially since Todd won't be here. It's been so long since we were all together. Do you think you might?" "Probably not," George said. "But I'll see. Maybe I'll ask her." "That would be wonderful if you would. I'd love to meet her." "Let me see how Thanksgiving goes, okay?" "All right, but just remember that I'd be so happy if you brought her to Tulsa for Christmas. And if she asked you to spend Thanksgiving with her family, that's surely a sign that she thinks it's some sort of serious." "It's hard to tell with Lizzie what's serious and what isn't," George said a bit glumly. "Sort of like with you." Elaine laughed. "I'll get your father." * The Running Back * It was generally believed that Ranger was the best player on the team, but the running back Mickey Coppel had many supporters who thought that he should be considered numero uno. During Lizzie and Maverick's junior year, Mickey was a wonder. There was no other word for it. He was a solidly built five feet ten inches and had an intuitive sense of what was happening on the rest of the field. Plus he was a devilishly fast runner who always seemed to be moving at top speed and yet could come up with another, faster gear when he needed it. His career rushing total was 11,232 yards, which made him the number seven high school running back ever, according to The National Federation of High Schools Record Book. Although he had an excellent college career playing for Florida State, his Ann Arbor fans always wished he'd stayed at home for college. He was drafted in the second round by the Buffalo Bills to back up Thurman Thomas, which was a mixed blessing. Because Thomas was one of those suck-it-up players when it came to playing hurt, Mickey never saw much playing time. On the other hand, he was on the team during the period they won four consecutive NFC titles and went on to lose four consecutive Super Bowls. After he retired from the Bills, Mickey had a great career as a color analyst on ESPN and was a familiar face to millions of football fans. But during his participation in the Great Game, Lizzie found his front teeth so prominent that it made kissing uncomfortable. Naturally he'd gotten them fixed once he hit the big time, and it was now difficult to imagine how he looked in high school. * The First Thanksgiving (with George) * Since neither Mendel nor Lydia cared much about food or drink, Lizzie was always surprised at how they chose to celebrate Thanksgiving. For as long as she could remember, every year Lydia and Mendel invited all of their advisees and friends of the advisees who weren't going home for the holiday, as well as stray faculty members, to come for dinner. This added up to a lot of people, and the year George came was no exception. Many of the faculty members brought along their own folding tables, which were set up all over the first floor of the house. Everyone also brought food of some sort, which could range from baked ham to lasagna, stuffed dates to shredded carrot salad. You never knew what the final meal would look like. Mendel and Lydia always assigned their most favored students to various shopping and cooking tasks. The chefs showed up promptly at nine a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, arms full of groceries, and took over the kitchen. One stuffed the turkey, another made pies, and the third was in charge of everything else, which included a sweet-potato casserole as well as green beans made with cream of mushroom soup with fried onion rings on top. To give the impression that she was interested in what her students were doing, Lydia sat at the kitchen table and chain-smoked while she proofed an article or read a book. Mendel futzed around the cooks, a cigarette in one hand, a bottle in the other, pouring generous glasses of wine for everyone. The wine was accepted, but his offers of help were always refused. After the cooking and baking began, Lizzie kept well out of the way. For many years this was when she and Andrea used to meet at Island Park and sit on the swings and compare notes about their horrible parents. Freshman year she'd gone home with Marla for the Thanksgiving holiday, and last year James and Marla had been at the Bultmanns'. This year she was upstairs in her bedroom, trying to write something meaningful about Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage for her American lit class, but failing badly. What she wanted to do was sit on her bed and wring her hands. She already regretted her rash decision to invite George to come for dinner. They had been sitting around George's apartment, competing in a game of Jeopardy! James was Alex Trebek and Lizzie, Marla, and George were each holding a buzzer. Before George's arrival in Lizzie's life, the other three had devised a three-person version of it and played regularly. James usually won, Marla came in second, and Lizzie was almost always a distant third. All she knew about was literature, and questions she was sure of didn't come up nearly often enough. This was the first time George had played with them, and halfway through the game he had a comfortable lead over Marla, while Lizzie, as usual, lagged far behind them. "Okay, here's a difficult question that I somehow doubt any of you will get," James said. "I sure wouldn't. 'A movie title from the 1980s that also describes a kind of carpet.'" "I know this!" Lizzie yelled as James finished reading the clue, and smashed her hand onto her buzzer just as George was saying "I got this!" and hitting his buzzer. "Lizzie, you were a nanosecond faster," James said. "What's the answer?" "What is Shag?" Lizzie said proudly. She knew it was the right answer. "I love that movie. Is that what you were going to say, George?" "Uh-huh, it's my mother's favorite film, and she made my brother and me watch it with her. It's pretty good." "Wow, nobody else I know has even heard of it. And I'm shocked that you like it, George, since it's such a girlie sort of movie. You know, it's so sweet--the whole romance subplot with Annabeth Gish." "Sweet's the right description of it, but it's not so sweet that it makes your teeth ache." Lizzie laughed. "Only a dentist would make a comment like that." "Well, I've never even heard of it," James admitted. "Have you, Marla?" "Nope," Marla said. "But I'm not fond of sweet movies and usually Lizzie isn't either. But you know, George, you've found the road into our finicky Lizzie's heart: not only do you like a movie she likes, but you said 'made my brother and me watch it.' If you'd said, 'my brother and I' you'd have no chance with her. You've now passed two of her secret boyfriend tests. Oh, wait, I forgot one, you both like iced tea in any weather. That's three tests you've aced. It's a match made in heaven." George smiled and Lizzie frowned. "Shut up, Marla," she muttered. But it was true. The more time she spent with George the better she liked him. At least he wasn't boring. And he was doing awfully well at Jeopardy! She turned to him. "Marla and James go home for Thanksgiving, but if you're around and don't have anything to do, would you like to come to my parents' house for dinner?" "Is that another test?" George asked Marla. "I'd love to come to Thanksgiving," he told Lizzie, without waiting for Marla's answer. "It'll be different, that's for sure," James warned him. "We were there last year." George arrived in a scrum of other guests, doddering professors and their doddering wives, widows and widowers of doddering professors, and all of Mendel's and Lydia's students who had no other place to go. George was laden with packages. Even though he'd specifically told her not to, Elaine had FedExed several loaves of cranberry and zucchini breads. For some weird reason she'd also sent a challah, along with some jars of homemade jams, a large box of Frango chocolates, and several bags of gourmet popcorn. He wasn't sure whether the popcorn was intended for the Bultmanns or not, but he brought it with him anyway. All that, along with the wine (he'd bought two bottles of white and one of red), wasn't easy to carry. He didn't want to drop anything but was equally worried about bumping into one of the many elderly guests who probably couldn't keep upright if someone tapped their arm. Everyone was carrying food, but nobody was as weighed down with packages as George. He'd been counting on Lizzie answering the door, but instead it was an older man who first greeted the other guests and then looked at George. George assumed it was Mendel. "You are?" the man asked, raising an eyebrow. George attempted to transfer all his packages to his left arm so he could shake hands, but was unsuccessful. He resorted to nodding politely. "I'm Lizzie's friend George." The man didn't look any more enlightened as to George's identity. George went on, "She, um, Lizzie invited me for Thanksgiving dinner." He looked around. Why wasn't Lizzie coming to his rescue, either by assuring her father that George was who he said he was or by unburdening him of Elaine's gifts and the wine, which together were growing increasingly heavy? Ah, there she was, dashing down the stairs. "Mendel, this is George," she said. "George, Mendel." Mendel finally nodded, and George nodded back, feeling ridiculous. Lizzie took him into the kitchen and lined up everything he'd brought on a counter. "Wow, this is all from you?" "Well, my mom sent it for you and your parents." Lizzie shook her head. "Totally unnecessary. But awfully nice of your mom." She poured them each a glass of wine. "Listen," she began. "About the food . . ." but he didn't hear what she said next because--at no signal that George detected--everyone around them suddenly rushed into the dining room, took a plate, and lined up at the buffet tables, which were crowded with an array of food. George was swept along with the crowd. He lost sight of Lizzie momentarily. It was hard to know what to choose. He wished he knew what Lizzie was going to say. What was it about the food that she wanted to tell him? He wished he'd grabbed hold of Lizzie's hand and held on tight. She was still nowhere to be seen. George sighed. He took a piece of turkey and ladled some stuffing on top of it, then poured gravy over it all. His plate still looked pretty barren. He added some mashed potatoes and then couldn't resist taking a square of lasagna as well. The lemon-yellow Jell-O salad filled with miniature marshmallows and canned fruit cocktail precipitated a wave of nostalgia for his childhood. When he visited his grandparents in Stillwater the dinners would always include Jell-O salad of one flavor or another. But whatever the flavor, the Jell-O would be filled with miniature marshmallows and canned fruit cocktail. He hadn't had it for years. He took a large helping. While he was scoping out the dessert table, there, finally, was Lizzie, making her way toward him, carrying a plate that was empty except for a few carrot sticks and pieces of celery. "Is that all you're eating?" "Didn't you hear what I said about the food?" "No, I was dragged away by the screaming starving hordes of your parents' friends." "What I said was that the food's basically inedible, no matter who made it or what it is." "All of it? Really?" He indicated the Jell-O, which he was dying to sample. "And what about the desserts?" "All of it," she said firmly, "except maybe the desserts." "Okay, can we go check out the desserts? And can I just taste the Jell-O? I'm pretty sure nobody could possibly ruin that." "With this crowd you can never be sure of anything. You should hear some of my Bultmann family Thanksgiving food stories. The trips to the emergency room at St. Joseph's, the failed Heimlich maneuvers to dislodge an errant turkey bone. The fight to the death over the last chocolate brownie on the tray." "You're very funny, Lizzie," George said. "I am, it's true. Not many people know that about me, though." "Despite your warnings, I'm going to try some of the desserts." "I suppose lots of people have remarked on what a good eater you are," Lizzie surmised. "My Montreal grandmother loved it when we visited because between me and Todd she didn't have leftovers. The human garbage disposals, she called us." George laughed. Rather than share a table with other people, they ended up sitting on the stairs. Lizzie crunched on her carrots moodily, and George carefully tried little bits of everything he'd taken. The Jell-O was disappointingly, cloyingly sweet. And the fruit cocktail didn't really taste like fruit. It didn't taste like anything at all. How disillusioning. Was this what becoming an adult meant? That you pulled aside a curtain and saw a sad truth you hadn't understood before? He was grateful that the brownie was delicious, though. He moved up a stair to sit next to Lizzie and put his arm around her. They left right after dinner. George wanted to say good-bye to the Bultmanns but they seemed to have disappeared. "Don't worry about it, George," Lizzie said. "Let's just go. They wouldn't care either way." George was unconvinced but tried not to worry about it. "Awful, wasn't it," Lizzie said, not as a question. "Yeah, it was a little odd, I guess. Just like James said." "You're too nice, George, do you know that?" "My brother once accused me of the same thing, actually. But I didn't agree with him. I like being nice. So, no, it wasn't awful, it was just . . . weird." Lizzie sighed. "They're just not normal, you know. All they care about is their work. I don't know why they put on this charade of celebration. Did you notice how all the hot food was actually cold?" "Well, I guess that if it's a buffet and you get your food and then sit down, things are often cold by the time you're ready to eat it." "Marla's mother has warming trays." "So does mine, actually," George reluctantly admitted. "The desserts were good. But the turkey looked really undercooked." "Yeah, it was raw. It always is. I tried to warn you. I always pretend I'm a vegetarian at Thanksgiving. I wonder who brought the macaroni and cheese this year. It looked okay. God, I'm starving now. Are you hungry? I rescued the popcorn, the chocolates, a bottle of wine, and the cranberry bread. We can have a feast tonight." George laughed. "Do you think your father would even recognize me if he saw me again? And I never even met your mother. Damn, I really wanted to make a good impression on them. Aren't they interested in who you're dating?" "Nope, never have been and never will. Sometimes that's good and sometimes that's bad." "My folks are so different," George said. "If I brought a girl home for Thanksgiving, my mother would be all over her, grilling her, asking her what her parents did, what's she studying, if she has brothers and sisters, her favorite books and movies--" Lizzie interrupted him. "Your mother and I would have at least one thing in common: that we both love the movie Shag." "My mother would love you, Lizzie." "Really? Are you sure? Nobody's mother loves me." George took her hand. "Elaine would be the exception that proves that rule." * An Invitation * George was on call on Saturday after Thanksgiving, but he and Lizzie decided to take a chance and go see the Coen brothers' new film, Barton Fink. As they walked back to George's apartment, Lizzie congratulated him on not having to leave the theater and attend to someone's emergency tooth issue. "I would have thought that Thanksgiving was a prime time for disaster, especially with food like pecan pie." "You'd think so," George agreed happily. "But maybe the dental gods knew that we wanted to spend the day together and planned accordingly." They were in general accord about how much they'd enjoyed the film (George perhaps a tad more than Lizzie), how great the casting was, how they couldn't think of anyone better to play those roles than John Turturro and John Goodman. Lizzie had read in the newspaper that morning about all the literary allusions in the film, but she and George could only name one: Shakespeare. "That doesn't say much," George said. "It's probably hard to find anything written after 1600 and probably even earlier that doesn't have some allusion to his plays." Lizzie agreed. "I remember reading a novel in which one of the characters, a college professor, was writing a book on the influence of Emily Dickinson on Shakespeare and how his colleagues always misheard it and thought it was the other way around. I wish I could remember the title, because talking about it now makes me want to read it again. It's so interesting to think about. Do you think we read Shakespeare differently because of Dickinson's poems?" "I don't know," George said. "You'll have to read me some of her poems. I haven't read anything by Dickinson since high school, and that was the poem about death, the one that's always included in anthologies. Maybe I'd understand it better now. Anyway, how would you even demonstrate that it was true, though?" "I guess you'd study a lot of Shakespeare criticism written before and after Dickinson and compare them." "I don't see how that would work," George argued. "There's no real way to know in any case. It's all down to interpretation, anyway." "All I was saying is that I think it's such a cool idea. Pascal's influence on Sappho; Saint Aquinas's influence on Homer. Gosh, the possibilities are endless." Lizzie untucked her arm from George's and moved away a few inches so they were no longer touching. "You're no fun, George. I really hate it when you have to have all the facts before you can even wonder about something." George was deep in thought and gave no indication that he'd heard Lizzie. He didn't seem to notice they were now walking separately. Finally Lizzie couldn't stand it any longer. "Are you still thinking about what facts you'd need to in order to prove influence works backward in time?" He took her arm and firmly tucked it back in his. "No, actually. I was wondering if you'd like to come home with me for Christmas." Lizzie was flabbergasted. "Go with you to Tulsa for Christmas? Really? Tulsa, with you? Why?" He stood so that they were facing one another. "Because we've been going out for almost a year, which is longer than I've ever dated anyone, and because I'd very much like to have my parents meet you. And you to meet them. Will you think about it? We probably have a few days before we need to get our airline tickets." When they got back to the apartment, they turned on the television to watch the Eagles beat the Giants in a meaningless game. George didn't care who won--he suspected that nobody but the coaches and probably some of the players on both teams did either--but he always got a kick out of telling Lizzie about what OSU players were on which team and how high they were drafted and whether he'd seen them play. Lizzie wasn't really listening. She was worrying up a storm. What did this potential visit mean? Did she even want to meet his parents? Was this going to be like the thin edge of the wedge, après lequel, le commitment? And, gosh, she had begun it, really, hadn't she? She'd initiated every forward movement in their relationship. They wouldn't be together if she hadn't called him way back in December or agreed to go out with him all year. And, true, she had brought him to her family's disastrous Thanksgiving (which in retrospect had somehow brought them closer together), but that wasn't because she wanted her parents to meet him or vice versa. She'd invited him because she couldn't stand being home and hoped his being there would help her get through the day. Maybe the role George played in her life was to distract her from the voices in her head and all her despair about Jack. Ugh, Lizzie, she said to herself, that is a terrible thing to think. Unfortunately, it sounded very true. Maybe she needed someone in her life besides Marla and James, another person who didn't despise her or think she was an awful human being. Maybe that someone was George. It was quite possible that George had unaccountably fallen for her, and fallen hard. He didn't know about Jack or that biggest, stupidest, most awful mistake, the Great Game. He had no idea of all her many sorrows and her multitude of flaws. She remembered a line from a poem by Stephen Dunn, one of Jack's favorite poets, about wanting to be loved beyond deserving. That's what she wanted. And Jack couldn't. Or wouldn't. But maybe George could, and would. Still, the decision to go to Tulsa had big stakes and lots of possible repercussions. "It's such a family holiday, maybe your folks wouldn't want you to bring me." "Are you kidding? My mother loves company. Really. She begged me to invite you. Please come." Lizzie hesitated. "I don't know. Let me think about it, okay? " That evening, in a panic, she asked Marla whether, if she went to Tulsa, she needed to bring presents for George's parents and, if so, what she should bring. Marla loved buying presents and did it brilliantly. She had an instinctive sense of what someone would enjoy receiving and didn't mind shopping until she found exactly what it was she was looking for. Lizzie knew from firsthand experience that Marla could figure out what you really wanted even before you knew it was what you wanted. Marla's talent was how Lizzie now had a supply of bath accoutrements, salts and oils and nice-smelling soaps, none of which Lizzie had ever thought she wanted and would certainly never purchase for herself. Lizzie, on the other hand, had no facility for either part of the process. She tended to be so overwhelmed by the quantity of choices available that she left the store empty-handed, feeling both guilt and relief. Plus there was no way she could ever fathom what someone else would want. Marla's firm opinion was that, yes, Lizzie needed to bring George's parents a gift. At the very least, a hostess gift, to thank them for their hospitality. She ruled out candy and liquor. Too much of a stereotype: the new girlfriend arriving with candy and liquor in hand. Marla favored the dramatic and inventive. She instructed Lizzie to ask George some questions about his parents. The next day she reported the answers back to Marla. Yes, they both liked to read. Yes, they liked to travel, or at least George's mother did. His father was a hug-the-hearth. "George didn't put it in those words, but it's what he meant. You know, I've always wanted to say 'hug-the-hearth' and never thought I could find a way to use it in a sentence. It's from a poem by the oh-God-the-pain girl." "Move on, Lizzie, time's a-wastin' and James is awaitin' for me." "Okay, okay, but how come nobody except Jack ever likes it when I quote poetry to them?" "Shouldn't you be putting the verb in that sentence in the past tense? For your own sake? True, Jack let you quote poetry, many months ago now. False, Jack is still here. He is not here. He left you and didn't come back," she ended astringently. And partially made up for what she'd said by adding lovingly, "And I'm happy, and James is happy, and I bet George would be over the moon to have you read poems to us. But, Lizzie, that particular Jack McConaghey train left the station months ago. It's done gone." Lizzie went on relaying George's answers, now feeling a little chastened and somewhat depressed. She wished Marla hadn't been so definite about Jack's absence. Yes, both Goldrosens were interested in politics. They had both marched on Washington and volunteered at the local Gene McCarthy for President campaign in the 1960s when they were young. Yes, they listened to music. Allan preferred jazz and Elaine was still addicted to the music she'd listened to in her twenties and thirties, which included all those now iconic singers like Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. No, Elaine didn't particularly enjoy cooking, but loved baking and reading about food. No, they weren't both sports fans. Only Allan was. No, they weren't particularly collectors of anything. Yes, they liked the theater. They went to New York three or four times a year to see the latest plays, and saw whatever plays were offered in Tulsa. Yes, they had a lot of family photographs around the house. "You can stop there," Marla told Lizzie. "That gives me enough to go on. I'll have a list for you by this afternoon." "Don't hurry. In fact, don't work too hard on it. I haven't decided yet whether I'm going to go or not." "You're going," Marla said, either encouragingly or forebodingly or perhaps a mixture of both. Lizzie couldn't tell for sure. A few days later at breakfast before they left for class, Marla asked, "Have you decided yet?" Lizzie swallowed the piece of toast she'd been chewing. "Nope." "Well, get cracking, girl. I assume George is waiting for you before he buys a ticket." "Do you think I should go?" Marla sighed. "Of course. Why wouldn't you? It's not like you're committing yourself to anything. You're just going for a visit. What's the worst that could happen? You might be a little uncomfortable or bored, but you'll be more bored here. James and I will be gone and Mendel and Lydia are hopeless, as you never tire of telling anyone who'll listen. Of course you should go, especially because I have some great ideas about what presents to give. But before you actually buy anything, don't forget to check with George to make sure he thinks it'll go over well and that they don't already have it." "Yes, Mother, I won't forget. And will you come shopping with me?" Marla sighed dramatically. "Yes, dear daughter, I guess I will come shopping with you. I can get started on my own Hanukkah stuff. Maybe I'll buy the same presents for my parents and James's. Now go call George to tell him you're going. I mean it. Do it." "Yes, Mother, I will." "Now. Go call him now." Lizzie stood up and then sat down again. "Do you think I need to get George a present?" "I'm not sure what the etiquette books would say, but I'd say no, it's not necessary. Your going with him is his present." "That would be really good, because I have no idea what I'd buy for him." So the die was cast, the decision taken, the tickets bought. Needless to say, George was thrilled. His mother, when he called sounded--was it possible?--even happier than George was to hear the news. George knew better than to tell Lizzie that. She studied the list Marla gave her. She had a lot to choose from. There were many suggestions of books, and Marla had starred the ones she thought would be especially appropriate, which included Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang (biography and history); David Simon's Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets (sociology and crime); Beryl Bainbridge's The Birthday Boys (fictional biography of Scott's journey to the South Pole); Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol (sociology and education); James Stewart's Den of Thieves (financial chicanery); books by the food writers M.F.K. Fisher and Elizabeth David. If none of the books met her approval, Marla had added a CD of the original soundtrack from the Broadway version of Evita (which encompassed, conveniently, politics plus music); unusual picture frames; and a subscription to Harry & David's fruit-of-the-month club. Lizzie went over the list with George, whose already high opinion of Marla increased tenfold. What a terrific job she'd done, he told Lizzie. He could swear, looking at the list, that she'd spent a lot of time with Elaine and Allan and knew them well. Lizzie relayed this to Marla, who was very pleased with herself. Lizzie ended up buying books: for Allan, Den of Thieves, and Elaine, The Art of Eating. George decided he'd get his dad Savage Inequalities and his mother Evita, since he knew they'd seen it and didn't think they'd ever gotten the CD. Lizzie's Christmas shopping was done. Of course the Bultmanns never exchanged presents. Lydia was on principle violently against any religious holidays and Mendel simply wasn't interested in celebrations. When Sheila was Lizzie's babysitter, she'd always bring her a holiday gift or two. Lizzie recalled with much embarrassment the presents she'd foisted upon her beloved Sheila in return: one year there were guppies in a fishbowl; another year (a particularly painful memory) a set of oversize jacks that she'd coveted for herself. Stop thinking about the past, Lizzie! * What You Remember and What You Forget * Lizzie well knows that what you remember and what you forget is surpassingly strange. She can recall some things from the past with an almost eerie clarity. She can, for example, still remember the chalky taste of the powdered milk Mendel and Lydia favored and the socks Cornball Cornish wore the night they fucked in the Great Game (he never took them off; she remembers that too). And yet there's so much she's forgotten: the exact shade of Jack's blue eyes; the name of the woman that Todd almost married; Andrea's mother's first name; the plot of Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose, a novel she'd actually liked quite a lot; the name of the girl she'd won a double-Dutch jump-rope contest with in eighth grade; the sound of Jack's voice when he said good-bye to her for what she didn't realize was the last time--oh, the list of what she's forgotten goes on and on and on. But here's what she does remember: 1. Sheila telling her that Lizzie should never ever learn how sausages or laws were made. And if she happened to find out, she most definitely shouldn't tell Sheila about it. 2. The crackly, sticky, generally uncomfortable feel of the torn leather booths at Gilmore's, which, regardless, is her second favorite coffee shop, because it's where she and Jack used to go. 3. Being at a family Hanukkah party at Andrea's house when she was about ten and hearing Andrea's married cousin Ginger saying to someone (but who?), "I have to sleep under the bed if I don't want to get pregnant." 4. The painting of a naked woman on the wall by the stairs at Andrea's house, and how embarrassed she was each time she saw it. 5. Finding the rhyme "Monday's child is fair of face" in some book from the library and, after figuring out that she was born on a Wednesday, realizing that it was why she was filled with woe. Too bad she hadn't been born on a Tuesday, full of grace, or, even better, on a Friday, since then she'd be both loving and giving. 6. Taking a chance by telling a Health Service doctor that she felt awfully blue much of the time only to have him respond by telling her that she had an unreasonable expectation of happiness. Lizzie wonders whether her desire for happiness, as opposed to an expectation of it, is unreasonable as well. 7. The smell of Wind Song, the cologne Sheila always wore. 8. Her father telling her angrily that there were more important things to cry over than the fate of a fictional horse and being shocked that he knew that Black Beauty was a horse. 9. Her Halloween costume when she was seven: a traffic light, which Sheila created. 10. Naomi Abrams telling Lizzie (in third grade) that her mother looked like a witch. The thing was, Lydia's appearance was somewhat witchy. 11. Her first-grade teacher announcing that the next person who talked out of turn would have to stand in the corner for five minutes, and, wouldn't you know it, Lizzie was that person. She spent a significant amount of time in the first grade standing in that same corner. 12. How, when she was nine, in third grade, right before Sheila stopped working for the Bultmanns, Lizzie told her parents at dinner--it was dispirited pork chops and undercooked scalloped potatoes (although she knows full well that "dispirited" is not a word she'd have ever said back then)--that her homework was to draw a family tree and present it to the class, with stories about her ancestors. Mendel looked down at his plate and took a small bite of potato. Lizzie could almost hear it crunching between his teeth. Lydia said grimly, "Ah, the family genealogy. I wondered when that would rear its ugly head. You'd think the Holocaust would have put paid to that particular assignment." (Lizzie also knew that she had never heard the word "genealogy" before Lydia said it. Or what "put paid" meant.) Lydia continued, "A study of genealogy does not work for such happy few as we, since we have no ancestors." (It was many years before Lizzie realized that Lydia's "happy" was to be understood as ironic.) "But," began Lizzie just as Mendel shook his head. "No. Your mother is right. Use Sheila's family instead. Pretend they're your own. She'll be happy to help you draw a family tree and you can ask her if you can meet her grandparents. They'll tell you all the stories you need to make a presentation." Which is how for a while Lizzie's father (Warren) was a man who worked at the Bendix factory outside Ann Arbor and her mother (Adele) was a secretary at the university. Warren's parents were a minister (Jacob) and a housewife (Lorene). Lizzie's pretend paternal grandparents met when Irv was working as a chassis assembly-line supervisor at the Ford River Rouge plant in Dearborn and Mary was the waitress at a restaurant where he went on his union-authorized breaks to drink coffee and smoke. The minister collected model trains (HO gauge), which he bequeathed to his son Warren, who turned his garage over to the collection and enthusiastically built it up to an impressive degree. The garage was filled with several Ping-Pong tables that had been pushed together to display the complete setup. During her oral report to the class, Lizzie noted that it was almost time for him to find another, much bigger place to keep his trains, because the collection was rapidly outgrowing the garage. "My dad," Lizzie continued, "loves trestles, so there are lots of them that the train has to go over as it makes its way through the big towns and small cities. There are farms and schools and lots of houses. There are even people living in those places, and they have dogs and cats and one of the houses even has a tiny rabbit on the front lawn. Kids stand on the steps of their house and wave at the conductor and engineer when the train goes by. "My dad," Lizzie went on, "was sorry he didn't have a boy to share his hobby with." Her mom, she said, wasn't much interested in the trains. But she, her father's daughter, loved them, although she was forbidden to play with the trains unless her dad was there. Lizzie passed some pictures around for the class to see: a Polaroid of the railroad's layout. Another one of her grandfather Jacob's first church, in Milan, Ohio. And another taken at her parents' wedding, which was at Greenfield Village, the indoor-outdoor museum that housed Henry Ford's collections of cars. Nobody challenged her, not even the teacher, whose name Lizzie didn't remember, and who definitely knew who her real parents were. She might even have gotten an A on the assignment. Excerpted from George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
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George & Lizzie : a novel