Lilly, the pupil
I was teaching creative writing, part-time, at a private high school down in Palo Alto. The gig felt pretty humiliating. Here I was – in my mind, one of the premier literary voices of my generation – reduced to helping the children of privilege express their petty, overwrought dissatisfactions with life or, alternately, craft an admissions essay to the earn them a spot at one of our nation’s elite universities. Needless to say, I drank often.
The next day, after a surprisingly lively discussion of Fitzgerald, I asked Lilly to stay after class.
“Is this about my essay?” she asked, once the class emptied.
“What do you think?”
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying make fun of you, or anything. I, like, just thought it’d be interesting to delve a little into you, as a character. I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings.”
“You actually hit the nail on the head, Lilly,” I said. She looked up at me. “Which generally hurts more.”
I forgave Lilly for the paper, but told her she’d have to write a new assignment, as I couldn’t, in good conscience, give her a grade for a spot-on examination of my psyche.
“Go to a city,” I said. “A big college in the city. The more you can expose yourself to, the more you’ll learn. And you just won’t have that in some podunk college town.”
I fantasized about kissing Lilly more times than I’d like to admit, but had the decency to stop myself. At least I think it was decency; it could have been just self preservation.
Lilly ended up getting into Columbia and she left in August. She sent me updates of her life, which I happily read and responded to, my heart all a pitter patter. When she came back to town the following summer, we met up for coffee again and discussed how lame college students are. We took a walk through the park where she presented me with a bottle of ’82 Margot she’d stolen from her father. We drank it from a brown paper back and threw bread into a duck pond.
“You ever feel like you were born at the wrong time, Knox?” Lilly asked, making a bit of a pass at me.
“Lilly, I don’t even know when I was born,” I said.
Lilly wrapped her arm around mine and laid her head on my shoulder. We watched the ducks, sipped from a bottle worth a semester of my salary and thought of what things could have been like. And that was enough for me.
Filed under: stories of heartbreak | 4 Comments