Benita, the disgusted
Benita was all wrong for me, but maybe that’s why I liked her. We met during a semester I took off from college. I’d received a letter from my old friend, Caleb, saying that he had a couch I could crash on in Toronto and that I could probably get work as an extra in movies there. The extra work was complicated by the fact that I wasn’t a citizen and could only go in on days Caleb didn’t, using his name and social insurance number. On days that I didn’t work, I haunted the university, read books in the library. When I found courses that sounded interesting, I’d sneak into the back of lecture halls.
Benita made insightful comments in a class on “Postmodern Aesthetics”, so I stalked her to a café one afternoon and sat across from her as she was trying to study.
“Mind if I study across from you?” I asked.
“OK,” said, a little uneasily. “Have we met before?”
“Um, I think we’ve been in the same class a couple times. What are you working on?”
“Some Arabic homework. How about you?”
“Well, I don’t actually go here, so I was just going to read these Spiderman comics I found.” When she laughed, I reached my hand across the table and said, “My name’s Knox. You seem smart, so I figured I should get to know you.”
“Benita,” she said, as she took my hand, smiling.
We chatted for a while, where Benita told me about growing up in Manitoba and I shared my dreams of perfecting the art of “intellectual adventuring.” “That sounds somewhat pretentious,” she said, “But still kind of fun.” I walked her back to her apartment and invited her to see a film later that week.
It was a lovely college student date, first eating cheap noodles then going to see Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits at an arthouse theater. Afterwards we went back to her place. We didn’t get more intimate than kissing that night, but I confessed to Benita that I wanted her to be my girlfriend. I said, “Don’t decide yet or anything. It’s too soon. But I thought I’d lay my cards on the table.”
Two days later, I invited her to a party at my adopted apartment. I think Benita was expecting something along the lines of a handful of people, drinking wine, eating hors d’oeurves and politely chatting – the type of party that nice Canadian students throw. What she found was more akin to an American punk rock frathouse – a filthy apartment filled with sweaty drunks, mostly dudes, reeking of cigarette smoke and stale beer. NWA was on the stereo.
Within ten minutes, I registered her discomfort, so I suggested we get some air. We walked around the neighborhood for a while where I apologized profusely for my lifestyle, to which she was mostly silent. We got back to the apartment, stood in front for a while, and she explained to me that she was trying to be a serious person.
“I’m trying to be a serious person, too!” I said, which was sometimes, maybe true. Our conversation was pierced by shattering glass behind me. My friends were throwing bottles from our third-story balcony, trying to get it into the public trashcan on the sidewalk. After three or four tries, someone made it in, and everybody cheered. I put on a what-can-you-do smile and shrugged.
“Well, Knox,” Benita said, “It was nice knowing you.”
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