Dean did better in his classes that second semester than he had in the first, which itself had not been too shabby. He was proud of his continuing academic accomplishments but he wanted to do even better. And in some ways he was even prouder of his management of Bitch Cassidy, as he had come to refer in his private mind to his former friend. In those days, until he started up with Chelsea, his private mind was where all his relationship thoughts and feelings remained, safely hidden from the view of others.
The stubborn choice Dean had made upon seeing Maggie and Gene locked in their embrace as they negotiated the stairs of the 33rd Avenue apartment building, that choice to play dumb, to let them come forth on their own with some acknowledgement of their error, continued to inform his posture toward Gene whenever the two had chance encounters on the campus.
One early March evening, shortly after Dean queued up at a food counter in the Student Union, the woman in front of him looked at her watch, said, “Oh, shit!” and hurried off. The man who had been in front of her, now in front of Dean, was Gene Cassidy.
“Hey,” he said to Dean, a big grin on his face. “How’s it going?”
“Could we maybe talk sometime?”
“Dean, come on, man, grow up, OK?”
“Talk about what?”
“You know, you know.”
“We’re not in the same study group. So, what’s to talk about?”
“You know. Come on. What happened over semester break. You know, man.”
“Yeah, and so do you.”
“I broke up with my girlfriend. She got lonesome, and you started to date her. Now she’s your girlfriend. No big fucking deal. Is that not what happened?”
“No, Dean, that is not what happened. And you know it.”
“Oh, really? Then what did happen?”
“You are being a little bitch, man.”
“Ah, hip-hop. Isn’t that one of the topics that your group is exploring? The rhetoric of hip-hop? Been listening to a lot of it, I see.”
“Next,” said the woman at the counter, leaning out over the glass shield above the steaming pots that held ingredients for making tacos and burritos.
Gene looked at her and back at Dean, who had screwed his face into a smile, a grotesque mask held together by the tension he was feeling. Gene ordered a burrito, took his plate and left the line.
Dean ordered next and found a table as far from Gene as he could. He opened a book and stared at the print without comprehending one word.
In the mental pathology of a 22-year-old grad student whose older — OK, by only two years, but a fact here — whose older girlfriend has taken up with his much older friend and formed this couple that can now be seen walking hand-in-hand around the campus or sitting next to each other in the library, in that mental pathology, Dean’s faked aplomb gave him a sense of bitter victory, a rearguard action that, he hoped, inflicted wounds on both Gene and Maggie. It was a sad but consoling aggression that partly neutralized the acid of his defeat.
This chance encounter in the food line was the most extensive conversation that Dean and Gene had about anything that semester. Dean replayed it in his mind several times in the next weeks, as if he needed to wring from it every last drop of sensation.
He was in a holding pattern with his heartbreak, though we are reluctant to use that word to describe his particular turmoil. While it is indisputable that his heart had been broken, the nastiness that he felt toward those he deemed had broken it was not in keeping with the weepy guy one thinks of when the word “heartbreak” is used.
Dean’s frozen emotional state began to thaw in the spring. The turning point was the Saturday that he went to Candlestick Park with Scott to see that Giants game, the chance encounter that brought him to the seat next to Priscilla Islenest. Chance, and that killer headache, and the forgotten meds that had removed his brother from the stadium. And, of course, the security personnel who had removed the drunken lout whom Priscilla had earlier persuaded to try out a baseball game.
It would be their last date.
For Dean, the outing with Scott was out of their routine. They had not had much shared recreation since Scott’s accident back when Dean was only ten.
A brief recap might be helpful here. Scott Colfax had been a vibrant, joyous young man with limitless energy. He had been Dean’s idealized big brother who, on his visits home from college, shared with his kid brother stories about alcohol, bong hits and ‘shrooms, horny girls on spring break in Cabo, how to get OK grades by gaming the system, how to live life, in general, as if it were one endless party.
Then the accident.
Scott was enrolled at Danshell College, a small, private liberal arts school near Big Bear in the Southern Sierras. Together with the neighboring Jarmont College, the schools make the pair called “the Mountain Sisters.”
There were a couple of reasons that Scott shared with his little brother his experiences as a college kid, both of them out of immature intentions. One, he wanted Dean not to have to go through what he had to endure his first year at Danshell.
His father’s union sponsored a scholarship for a child of their membership who would get accepted to a prestigious school. Scott had won it the year he graduated from General Vallejo High School. That prize and some substantial loans and a little pot of savings the parents had squirreled away got him started at Danshell.
Scott had not felt prepared for college, though he had earned fine high school grades. He went through culture shock his first year, and wanted his kid brother to skip this rough passage when he got to college. Scott had found himself woefully naive about things that kids of more affluent families knew instinctually. He had been embarrassed several times by students his age who had looked at him incredulously as they said, “What? You’ve never been…?
So Scott took it upon himself to give Dean a big leg up when he himself was launched into the world.
But there was also some ego inflation for Scott. The older brother loved the idolatry of Dean. The ten-year-old slaked his thirst for world knowledge by listening to every word his brother told him about the “grown-up” world of college students.
We have also alluded to a dominance/submission dynamic, wherein Scott would require that Dean do him a favor, bring him a Coke, with ice, not too much, or wash his car, in exchange for the ramp-up in experience the kid brother yearned for. All of this would leave a mark on Dean, more so because of the accident.
In his junior year, the night before the final game of the regular basketball season — against Jarmont College, Danshell’s sibling rival — Scott and some of his fraternity brothers climbed up to the roof of the Jarmont gym, to hang a banner depicting the Jarmont Jaguar performing fellatio on the Danshell Dragon. The “artists” who did the painting committed esthetic crimes that went beyond even the vulgarity of the images. The only good fortune in the aborted prank was that the banner was never hung over the front of the entrance to the gym, as had been the plan.
Before they could complete the job, three of the pranksters slipped and fell from the curved roof. One died on life support. Another suffered a broken neck and was transformed, in that one evening of drunken hilarity, into a quadriplegic.
Scott was the lucky one of the three. Brain injury. Hospitalization. Rehab. He had to drop out of school, and never went back to pursue higher education. Not only had his injured brain made further matriculation a major challenge, the funds that were intended to pay for that education now went to his medical care.
Gone also were the vibrant jokes, the wellspring of joie de vivre, and the big brother that Dean had come to rely on for guidance on how to be a “successful” young adult. Now all those messages, those confident instructions in life, were turned inside-out and became warnings on how not to be.
Scott recovered enough to get a job at an auto parts warehouse, driving a forklift from the loading dock to the inventory counter. Boring, and deadly so, but with union pay, benefits, and a measure of blue-collar camaraderie, he considered himself lucky, the luckiest of the three pranksters who slipped off the curved roof of the Jarmont gym that night.
As Dean progressed in life, he and Scott had less and less to say to one another. Scott looked different, simple and out of kilter, after the fall. When their mother was still alive, there were the obligatory family visits to the old home in the Richmond District, the customary gatherings on birthdays and holidays.
On those occasions, it appeared to Dean that Scott did the brave thing and half faked it. Sometimes an invidious look would cross his face when he looked at his younger, more competent brother. Then Scott would drum on the arm of his chair and sip his beer while he looked vacantly into the distance. He usually fell asleep early at these family affairs. Hazel, Scott’s wife, would stay to visit a little longer, and then wake up her snoring husband and drive him home.
The ballgame that Saturday in spring of 1994 had been an attempt at normalcy. This was valiant on Scott’s part. Too bad he did not listen to Hazel when she asked him if he had remembered his meds, otherwise that headache might not have curtailed so abruptly this effort to connect with his little brother, the college graduate now in grad school, going miles beyond his older brother, doing the right thing.
Dean, looking back at this momentous day in his life, suspected that Scott’s headache was accompanied by a wave of dark blue remorse, and not just for the neglected meds, but a lifetime of remorse, poorly-understood by the older brother but felt deeply enough that he did not want to be in the ballpark any longer. And just as well for Dean, really, given what transpired during the last part of that game.
Later, Scott would always beam a little, with a look of non-complicated joy, when the story of how-Dean-and-Scilla-met was told, the big brother’s departure one of the two crown jewels in the circumstance of their first encounter.
The other jewel was the ejection of Scilla’s soon-to-be-ex boyfriend, the drunken cricket fan lecturing “you fockin’ Yanks” about the supremacy of his favorite sport.
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