26 October 2006

"I challenge you to a game of Beer Pong"

The quoted sentence above was said to me exactly half my life ago. My senior year of college, which had just begun, was proving...tricky. I had just completed my final officership in my coed fraternity, AD--I'd been Fall Rush Chair. And the sentence above was said to me by one of the new pledges.

Fair to say that I had been flirting with this freshman since I'd met him at Rush. Although I'm by no means an overt or even terribly effective flirt. And I knew from my frathouse intel that this freshman was scoring quite well among the women of Bowdoin College (primarily the upper classes, which impressed us). His success didn't surprise me--he was, somehow, slightly more knowing than his classmates. Not full of himself at all, but a subtle, beguiling confidence in his manner. He was phenomenally tall--6 foot 5--and his lankiness just accentuated the skywardness. Still, despite the lack of bulk on him, you could tell he was a jock (of the tennis-squash ilk).

What made me flirt with this tall drink of water were the following things:

--he loved wry observations, both making them and hearing them

--when he laughed, the room brightened a little

--he was a kickass beer-pong player, right from the start...and I practically lived at that pong table

--whenever I couldn't finish a meal, he would gladly reach across and grab whatever was left on my plate

--his eyes were this undefinable shade of blue-green that I still haven't figured out

--I liked looking at him

Mind you, none of these things had really coalesced in my mind on October 25, 1985, when he uttered the title statement. I was frantically busy and emotionally off-balance at that moment--in a relationship that was sputtering, partying too much, taking honors-level courses that were truly tough, confronted with what the hell am I going to do when I graduate?, and desperately missing my former roommate and partner-in-crime, Geoff, who had left for junior year in Scotland. Yup, I was a box of broken toys right then, so any flirtations were happening despite myself.

Peter challenged me to beer pong on a nondescript Friday evening. The main party of that night had not kicked in yet; house members were scattered around doing other things. I looked him (upwards) in the eye and accepted his challenge. So we clattered down the basement stairs of our house, flipped on the light, and seized our paddles.

The stereo was locked up because the party hadn't started yet. That kind of thwarted me, because beer pong thrives on cranky rock music--I always felt awkward when pik-pok-plunknoises were all that you could hear. Kind of played up the absurdity of the enterprise at hand, plus it's hard to shout in triumph or despair when there's no loud wall of music to absorb the sound. [Quick insertion of pong rules: you put your beer cup right in front of you on the table, as does your opponent, and you play regular ping-pong, only you must try to hit the opposing cup. Hit on the side, one sip; hit the rim, three sips; if the ball sinks into the cup, chug. Repeat.]

That night I was feeling the ambient awkwardness. Pete and I were both going for it 100%, as I was widely considered a champion pong player, and he was impressively good and intensely competitive. A few pik-pok minutes passed, and I said with a surge of senior ennui, "I can't believe I'm playing beer pong with an 18-year-old."

(What did that mean?! I was 21!! Back then, it felt like a chasm.)

And across the table came a subtly confident Peter answer: "I'm 19."

In my mind, there was a sound effect like a Looney Tunes anvil hitting the ground. I looked across the table with totally new eyes and saw his smiling face...that brightening. Not only did his adjusted age make me feel better about my suddenly so-obvious-to-me crush, but the way he said it showed that he had something else in mind, too. A-ha.

We played pong till giddiness set in. I cannot remember how long that took; I cannot remember who won. Then we retreated to the TV room, which was at that time the incubator of all AD romances. Here was the drill: emergent couple sits stiffly alongside each other on a mushy old sofa, watching MTV with whomever else happens to be in there. You wait the others out...they trickle upstairs to bed, one by one...and then when they're gone: let the making-out begin.

Peter and I brought an innovation to this plan: we tossed a blanket over our legs and held hands underneath. I recall so vividly what that secret touch felt like: an inner thrill that has never left me, ever since.

We made out for awhile, but it was late by then (3 a.m.--damn you, Kester! :) ) and I craved being warm and horizontal in the dark. So I invited him upstairs. That smile again...we both stood up. Walking toward the stairs, we paused in the front hallway, which was bathed in light from the grand old center fixture...the rest of the downstairs was deserted and dark.

We faced each other and Peter pulled me into our first real embrace. My nose met him at chest-level, leaning into his soft-grey Bowdoin sweatshirt. And I breathed a scent, I kid you not, that was home. This man, this was the one. I knew it right at that moment, and I sighed.

As we separated to look at each other, I said, "Mmmmm...what is that smell?"

Peter pondered, then he said "...Bounce." Which made me smile, because it was so mundane and unassuming. And I knew it was so much more than that. I took his hand and we started up the stairs.

I love you, Peter. Happy anniversary. Be near me, be near....

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