Sunday, September 19, 2010

Without and Until

It's Great, It's Strange

Joan played clarinet.

In High School, she was a star. No one played better. And no one was smarter.

There were definitely girls who were prettier, but that didn't matter to her.

We were friends briefly at the start of college. She lived across campus in one of the two dorms that was segregated by sex.

Well, kind of. There were four floors -- two male only and two female only.

It certainly wasn't unusual to see guys on the female floors or girls on the male floors -- but I guess it gave some people a sense of propriety. Or modesty. Or something.

Joan had a crisis the first month of school. She discovered that she wasn't that great at the clarinet and was encouraged not to join the band. She felt lost in most of her classes (and realized for the first time in her life that there were people who were smarter than her). And her roommate wasn't necessarily prettier, but was lots more fun and outgoing.

Joan felt lost.

She called me late one night and told me she was going to drop out and go back to Chicago. She said there was a train she could leave in a couple hours that would get her there in a couple days.

I went over to the single-sex (by floor) dorm and talked to her for several hours about all kinds of things. Music. Her dreams. The guy we both knew who had a southern accent so thick we both thought it was a put-on.

After a few hours, she played a little clarinet for me. It sounded pretty good -- but what did I know about the clarinet?

At some point her roommate came home and we all sat around talking about our classes for another hour or so.

Joan never brought up the train that night.

But I stayed there until ten minutes after it was scheduled to leave.

Let's Active - Waters Part
Uploaded by EMI_Music.

(Side note: yeah, that's Don Dixon with the metronome at about 1:50.)

About a week later, we had lunch together. And I asked if she was still thinking about going home, if she still thought about getting on the train to Chicago.

"I was never going to get on that train," she said. "I just wanted you to come over and talk to me."

"You could've just asked me," I said. "I would have been happy to come over."

She shook her head and told me that girls don't do things like that.

I was floored. Is this really the way girls act when you get out of High School?

We drifted apart after that.

I never again went over there late at night. We stopped having lunch together. And she dropped the one class we had together.

Just before she left for Christmas vacation, she came over to my dorm and gave me a present -- a jazz clarinet cassette.

I carried that cassette around with me for two years, but never even took off the plastic (never mind listening to it).

It was like an artifact from a planet I didn't understand (and wasn't sure I wanted to understand).

Ironically, I'd lose it on a train in my junior year. Maybe someone took it from my knapsack. Maybe it just fell out. It took me a week to realize it was gone.

At which point I looked up at the stars, wondered what had happened to Joan, and hoped that whoever found the cassette would take off the plastic and enjoy it.


Perplexio said...

Brilliantly written post. I wandered over here from Kinky Paprika's blog. Hope you don't mind!

Alex said...

Thanks Perplexio and welcome. Hope you stick around.

Holly A Hughes said...

Hmmm...having been a Joan myself...this gives me great insight into all the dunderheaded males who failed to follow through. I have to admire your honest assessment of the situation, though!

And you just know that jazz clarinet cassette was spectacular, don't you?

Alex said...

I'm sure it was spectacular... but I guess I always would have been reminded of this situation that bothered me so much (and that's why I never listened to it).