“Pastoral literature,” I groaned. I leaned back in my chair, and let out a heavy sigh. I fanned myself with the manila folder that held the notes I had taken that semester. My room was hot, so hot that I was sweating. The air being forced against my body by my floor fan was hot, so I didn’t really feel any cooler. The bright spring sun was beating in my window. The brown sandstone building that housed my dorm room felt as if it was radiating heat, both in and out. A year ago, when I started receiving brochures about attending this small, liberal arts college in the rolling fields of Ohio, there was no mention of hot and humid spring oppressing me now. There were images of students playing on green, grassy quads outside collegiate looking buildings, of award winning writers giving lectures, and students smiling pleasantly as a professor pointed towards her chalk board. It all seemed so idyllic, the type place that years later would evoke feelings of nostalgia and longing for my carefree college days.
Instead, I was regretting letting my academic advisor suggest I take a composition class despite the fact that I had earned enough AP credits in high school to already fulfill my requirements.
I reached over and turned up my radio. I had a Cure tape playing. Boys Don’t Cry. “How ironic,” I said to myself. I felt like screaming at the top of my lungs “I hate Pastoral Literature!” Why had I taken this class? For having spent 12 weeks listening to the chair of the English department lecture three hours a week, I knew nothing about Pastoral Literature. And now I had to write a paper on the subject. Not just a paper, but a final paper. There was no final exam in the class, just this 10-page paper. And I did not want to write it.
I looked at my watch. Five o’clock. I decided to go to dinner. I needed an excuse to leave my desk, and the world of sentimental stories about rustic people. To lend a little credence to my procrastination technique I decided to tell my roommate it was time to eat. I looked across the room to Steve, lounging on his bed. Steve was what the college called a ‘scholar-athlete,’ a student who supposedly met the admission requirements as all the other applicants, but whose greatest contribution to the school was keeping the wealthy alumni happy by seeing their alma mater’s name appear on the sports pages. The college was a division III school, which meant there were no scholarships for athletes, but everyone knew that a marginally qualified student who planned to join one of our better sports teams – soccer, swimming, lacrosse, or tennis – did not have to have the same academic qualifications as their non-athletically inclined counterparts did. Steve, like most of the other scholar-athletes, was well aware of this. We all were, and usually the college assigned the ‘Steves’ of the campus to live together. But somehow, I ended up as his roommate. Despite our differences, it worked out well. During the week we usually went to dinner together with other people from our dorm, and had no problem procrastinating late at night by sharing stories about high school, or Steve filling me in on the happenings of the weekend lacrosse team party. Most often these were stories of extreme drunkenness, and near-successful attempts to hook up with ‘a hottie,’ as he referred to most the girls he found attractive.
At the moment, Steve had on a pair of headphones, and had his eyes closed. I could barely hear the music coming out of the speakers snug against his head, and for a moment I fantasized that my ‘scholar-athlete’ roommate might actually be a true intellectual and was listening to a pastoral symphony. Maybe he would know something about pastoral literature. Now I am being ridiculous. Steve usually spent his spare time hurling a small white ball down the length of the hallway with his lacrosse stick. One day he actually had someone draw his outline on a large piece of butcher paper he bought at the local grocery store, and then tacked it to the wall. Then he dipped his lacrosse ball in a can of cheap paint he bought, and hurled it at his own image. When he scored a hit in the crotch of his own silhouette, he called everyone out into the hallway to see it. “That,” he said, “is what makes the other teams fear me.”
Any conversation I would try to have with Steve about Pastoral literature would involve lewd acts and sheep. I wadded up a piece of paper, and threw it at him.
“What do you want?” he asked without even opening his eyes.
“Dinner time. Wanna come?”
“What are we having tonight?”
“How the hell should I know? What we always have – a plethora of nastiness.”
“Wiseass,” he said, and sat up. “Did you call the slime line? I really do not want to venture out into the heat for broccollini and breaded cod tail.” He walked over to the phone, and dialed the dining hall’s hotline. Steve closed his eyes, and began to repeat what he heard over the phone.
“Tonight, we are serving Big Beefburgers, home cut French fries, three cheese lasaaaagna, vegetable medley, soft serve ice cream, salad bar, fresh fruit cocktail, assorted beverages.” He put the phone down, and walked back over to his bed, rubbing his eyes and knocking a piece of sleep to the ground. It drifted into the current of the fan, and was shot somewhere off into the corner of the room. I watched the whole event with more interest than I realized is healthy, and quickly turned my attention to my roommate. My tape clicked to the end, and all was silent.
“Well?” I asked.
“Ah… fuck it,” Steve said, scratching just above the band of his white cotton boxer-briefs. “Let me take a shower. I’ll be ready in ten minutes.” With that, he stood up, walked over to his dresser, and dropped his shorts. He wadded up the underwear, and tossed it into a dirty clothesbasket. He then rummaged through the closet, muttering the entire time. Finally he turned to me and said, “Hey, do you know where my bathrobe is?”
“Why the hell would I know that, moron?” I said as I stretched in my chair. “If you can’t find yours, then wear mine. Just hurry up, cause I’m starving.” He scratched one more time, and then opened my half of the closet, and pulled out my plaid robe. He drapsed it over his shoulders, and not bothering to close the front, grabbed a towel and headed out the door.
I reached up to my radio, and flipped my tape over. More Cure to brighten my mood, I thought. I rubbed my eyes, and opened my folder again. I stared blankly at the semester’s worth of notes I had taken, and wondered what I was getting out of the $100 per class hour I was paying to go to school here. What use was it to study about mid-sixteenth century peasants? I really did not care to hear idealized stories about rustic people living simple country lives. As Dr. McCall read long sections from works by Virgil and Spenser, I realized that not much happened in the lives of their characters; instead shepherds engaged in impromptu singing contests (with lots of text dedicated to the lyrics), or took turns delivering elegies of deceased friends. In some regards, my having spent the afternoon sitting at my desk, attempting to write a paper on pastoral literature was a close to a modern-day pastoral poem. I was saved from the truly depressing nature of that thought by a knock on my door.
“Yeah… come in,” I yelled, not getting up from my chair. Rebecca opened the door, and walked in my room. She lives two floors beneath Steve and me, with her roommate Penny. They are both from Michigan, and got along great as roommates. Of the two, Rebecca was definitely the more social one. She spent most her evenings hanging out on our floor, and was friends with most the guys. On Friday nights, she usually entered the floor from the stairwell, and called out “Fourth floor men, let the party begin!” And the floor would respond by calling out “Rebecca!”
About two weeks ago, Rebecca asked if Steve and I were going to be roommates next year, and if so then the four of us should try to get in the same dorm again. “It would be fun,” she said, and I took a strange sense of pride knowing that she associated me with fun. Although Rebecca was friendly with all the guys on the floor, I secretly harbored the belief that Steve and I were actually her friends. Her plans for being near us next year confirmed it. I finally worked up the nerve to ask Steve what he thought about us rooming together again, and passed along Rebecca’s idea. “I like that everything will be the same next year,” I told Steve. Steve shrugged, which I learned was his way of agreeing to the idea, and then said “I like the that I will get to see Rebecca’s tits everyday again.” I decided to keep that to myself when I reported back to Rebecca.
“Hey, how’s the paper coming?” she said, as she plopped herself onto my bed.
“Well,” I said. “Not bad. I only have 10 pages to go.”
“Ten pages? You haven’t gotten anything done? Weren’t you going to start on that when I was here at three? What have you been doing?
“Nothing. I haven’t moved from this chair all afternoon. I just don’t know a thing about Pastoral Literature. So it is impossible for me to write about it. I am such a loser for having taking this course. I just do not care about Pastoral Literature. I think I want to be a mechanical engineering major. What does a mechanical engineer need to know about pastoral literature?”
“You study it,” she said, half yawning, “because it makes you a better person. You know, you’re more well-rounded, and it helps you get good jobs and stuff.”
“I truly don’t think anybody is ever going to say, “Well, he’s only an okay engineer, but did’ya hear him discussin’ pastoral literature at lunch? We gotta take him,’” I said.
“You’d be surprised,” she said.
We both laughed, only half-heartedly because only half our hearts were truly in it. We sat quietly for about five minutes, listening to Robert Smith moan about not having someone to love. Having grown tired of sitting on my bed, Rebecca flopped back in full repose. She threw her hands back over her head, and in doing so pulled her shirt just the slightest bit up her smooth, flat stomach. Right then I thought about Steve’s comment, and wondered why I had never thought about Rebecca’s tits? And if so, what did that mean? When Steve had made that comment, I actually just sat there, stunned, and did not say anything in return. Finally, Steve just shook his head and said “Dude, you need to pay attention more.”
I realized that I had been just staring at Rebecca – or at her tits, actually. She turned her head, and smiled at my coyly. I dipped my hands into the glass of ice water I had sitting on my desk, and with all the skill a completely un-athletic bookworm could muster, I flicked water at her. I hit my mark. She immediately jolted upright, pulling her t-shirt down tight against her flesh.
“Hey, bucko,” she warned.
“What?” I asked. “You mean you didn’t like it? I mean, you looked hot lying over there on my bed.”
She struck a most pious look on her face, and said, “I will not tolerate blatant come-ons.”
“I meant you looked as if your body temperature had exceeded normal due to the conditions of the environment,” I said back. “It would be so inappropriate of me to call you hot,” I added with a smirk.
She giggled. “So, where’s your slacker of a roommate?”
“In the shower. I think this is something like his third shower today.”
“Seriously? What’s he do in there?”
I gave her an “are you kidding” look, and said “Boxing with the bald champ, if you know what I mean.” This time, we laughed uproariously, with all our hearts.
“So whenever he isn’t in the shower, he’s between rounds then,” Rebecca added. By this time we were both laughing so hard, I couldn’t talk. I only doubled over in my chair and pointed to her as if to say “good one.”
The door swung open, and in walked Steve, dripping from his last round. The timing was too much, and I fell off of my chair laughing so hard. Rebecca once again lay sprawled on my bed, her body heaving as she howled with delight. Steve rubbed a drop of water from his nose.
“What the hell is your problem?” he asked, just slightly upset by the outburst that occurred when he entered. He had decided that my bathrobe was unsuitable for wearing, as he had it flung over his left shoulder. His white towel was wrapped around his waist. “So, what’s so funny?” he asked again as he dropped my on the closet floor.
“Nothing, really,” Rebecca said, gaining some composure. She started to stand saying, “Well, I’ll wait outside until you’re done Steve.” With that, she started to giggle again.
“Hell,” escaped from Steve’s lips. “I ain’t got nothing I’m sure you haven’t seen before. Don’t bother.” He walked over to his dresser, loosening his towel as he went. With a shrug, Rebecca sat back down on the bed, which was directly behind the dressers. Steve dug through his dresser looking for some boxer-briefs. He found a pair, let the towel fall to his feet, and bent over to pull up the (this time gray) cotton shorts.
“Are you coming to dinner with us?” he turned to Rebecca, adjusting the band about his waist.
“Dinner?” Rebecca asked. “No one told me you were going to dinner,” she said, giving me a hurt glance.
“Hey Rebecca,” I said, “want to join us for dinner?”
“Am I intruding on a roommate thing?” she said mockingly.
“Hell no,” Steve said as he pulled on a pair of linen shorts.
“Great, but we’re not leaving yet,” Steve said as he rummaged through my half of the closet looking for a shirt to wear.
“What?” I exclaimed. “Look at me! I’m wasting away to nothing! Why aren’t we going to dinner now? And yes, feel free to borrow my shirt.”
“Thanks,” he said with a smile. He turned to the mirror that hung next to the closet door and began fussing with his hair. “We aren’t going to dinner now, because we will go as soon as I get back.”
“And where are you going?”
“Upstairs, to Heidi’s room. I’m gonna ask her if she wants to go with us. So, wait huh?” he turned, with an open, honest smile.
“Okay,” I said. “But hurry up, because I am really hungry. You might need to borrow my suit when you get back, because you’ll need it for my funeral after I starve to death.”
“No, you won’t,” Steve called as he disappeared through the door. “From the way this shirt fits me, you could stand to lose about ten pounds.” He pulled the door shut and was gone. The Cure was still playing, and Rebecca and I just stayed where we were. Since I was still sitting on the floor from when Steve had walked in the room, I decided to crawl my way to my bed. I flopped down beside Rebecca, and let out a heavy, discontented sigh.
“So,” she said, turning towards me. “Are you gonna come on Saturday?”
“Tell me about this again,” I said, rolling my head and rubbing my eyes.
“Okay,” she said, sitting up in excitement. “You go up, and we all sign-up for the class. Then, we spend like, four or five hours or something like that, learning how to dive. Right? You know, how to pack your chute, how to fall…”
“Wait, wait, wait,” I said laughing. “They think they have to teach me to fall? I mean, you basically step out of the plane, and you fall. That’s what gravity is for.”
“You know, like how to slow yourself down, work with the wind resistance. Come on, you said you’d listen seriously about this.”
“I did not,” I quickly countered. “What I said was, I said I would listen to what you had to say, and think about it. I never said I would be serious. I always reserve the right to not be serious.”
“Well, just for once, be serious. Because I really want you to come. I think you would like it.”
“You think I would like spending $300 to fall to the ground from 3,000 feet?”
“It doesn’t cost $300. It costs $180 for the first time. That is why we get there at 5:30 am. We spend all morning in the class, so we can get a jump certificate. Then we jump, with an instructor. After that, whenever we want to jump it is only $40, because we are certified.” She sat there quietly for a moment, as I said nothing. I ran my tongue over my teeth, an annoying habit I had whenever I was really thinking about something. I really didn’t know if I wanted to do this or not. It sounded fun, no doubt. To sky dive, with your friends at the end of your first year of college. But there were so many things that I just could not get past. The cost was just about what I had left in my bank account, and unlike Rebecca’s parents, mine did not have extra cash to send me. What I earned over the summer and each semester was all I had to spend at college. I had explained this to Rebecca, and she had offered to help pay, which made me feel both excited and lame.
Then there was a silent, crazy fear I had. Something I had not shared with Rebecca, or anyone. I kept having thoughts of myself falling from the plane, and not pulling the ripcord. That I would somehow forget, or be so paralyzed with the whole aspect of having just jumped – voluntarily jumped, no less – from a plane, that I couldn’t do it. I knew that I would be jumping tandem, attached to a jump instructor whose own life preserving instincts would intercede even if mine did not. The last thing I wanted, however, was for everyone to know that I could not even save my own life when I needed to. And strangely enough, I found myself torn. Part of me wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t a chicken, and would be fine. And part of me just wished Rebecca had never dreamed up this whole scheme at all.
“Come on,” Rebecca said, grasping her hands in her lap as she leaned forward to plead. “You won’t regret it. I promise.”
“Well, you know, I want to. I do. But it sounds so, just dangerous or something.”
“It isn’t dangerous. God, loosen up,” she said exasperatedly. “You aren’t in any danger. You have a parachute. You’re falling toward the earth, fast as can be, and POP…” she jumped up from my bed and stood in front of me. “Suddenly, everything is just kind of drifting. It’s a jolt, a great shock, and you realize that the falling was fun. It was the falling that makes the landing so worth it.”
“The falling, huh? You’ve done this before? You know about the falling, and the landing and jolt and everything?” I sat up.
“No, I haven’t,” she droned and rolled her eyes. “But I know about living. I know what it is like to feel the rush of taking a chance. I know how to live life, and take a chance and not be safe for a moment.” She leaned forward, and put her lips right up against mine, kissing me with enough force to push me backward onto my bed. I stopped breathing, only for a second. Not knowing what else to do, I kissed her back.
She pulled away from me, hoisting her body up from mine with her arms locked at the elbows. We looked at each other for a moment. Then the door flew open, and there stood Steve stood with Heidi smiling beside him.
“Hey, ready? Are you guys coming?” he asked, with a quizzical look on his face.
“You know, I’m not really in the mood for Big Beefburgers,” Rebecca said as she stood and adjusted her t-shirt. She pushed past Steve on her way through the door. “I think I’ll order pizza later tonight. In my room. At ten.” She looked right at me.
“What about you?” Steve turned to me.
“I’m not hungry either,” I said, still leaning back on my elbows in my bed. Steve’s face simultaneously dropped to the floor and flushed with frustration. “Fine, whatever,” he intoned. “Whelp, its you and me Heidi.” The door closed and I was alone.
I rubbed my hands over my head and rubbed my eyes. I got up, and headed over towards my desk. I took out the Cure, and shuffled through the random tapes on the shelf until I found U2’s Joshua Tree. I dropped it in, hit play and “Running to Stand Still” filled the empty room. I sat down at my desk, and began to tap my fingers. Finally I picked up my pencil.
“Pastoral literature,” I wrote, “is about life.”