College years. I chose Grand Valley because they gave me a scholarship and said I could be in their Honor’s College. I liked the sound of that. Plus, I could commute from Coopersville, and ‘save money’. That was a serious mistake, but, hey, I was 18.
So after my final day of working at the Dairy Queen, I packed up, and entered school with two goals: 1) To have all night conversations about poetry and 2) To finally Do It. And by Do It, this time, I mean, Do It. According to my timeline, this is what you did in college. And you learned how to drink coffee.
Classes were fun, important. There was one super cute guy I followed into my first class: The Renaissance. He had floppy hair and wore plaid, flannel shirts. (This was 1991-92 and that was the thing.) I stared at him, enamored. He also wore Polo and was extremely smart. Clearly out of my league. I gave up on that idea and focused on where I belonged, the dark recesses of the theater.
And in the dark recesses of the theater I met my First Love. Honestly, he wasn’t even a First Love. He was more like the First Time. He was perfect. He was tall, and dark, and tormented. He smoked. He wore a long dark trenchcoat. And they called him Darkman (after the movie) .
I’m not even kidding. He also had a girlfriend. It didn’t matter. Torment called to us. One night, we bonded over coffee and cigarettes while Nirvana played on my boom box. I read my poetry to him. He nodded in the right places. He listened. And then Darkman showed me his arms.
He’d carved LOVE on one arm and DEATH on the other. I traced the red lines with my fingers. Here was a boy whose torment was deeper than mine. And while it’s sort of funny and dramatic now, at the time, it was rather heartbreaking. Actually, it still is heartbreaking. He told me that he was a Jehovah’s Witness and his parents had disowned him. He’d never had a birthday, a Christmas. He felt invisible.
I didn’t have scars to show him, but I had stories. I felt invisible too. And I told him about my parents and the house and the fear. It was comforting meeting someone equally damaged. We took off our cardigan sweaters, our plaid shirts, our baggy jeans. Put “Prospero’s Books” on the VCR and that was my first time. It was heartbreaking, and dramatic, and filled with angst and I remember thinking while it was happening “This is a really weird movie” and “This is what all the love poems are about? Really?”
By the time Kurt Cobain committed suicide, Darkman and I broke up. I got that Cobain’s death was sad, but I also thought it was stupid. Darkman felt like his world was shattered. Mostly, I wanted to get away from the darkness. I wanted something happy. Something secure. I didn’t like coffee and cigarettes and even poetry was beginning to bore me. So I fixed Darkman up with another girl, and then went back to school.
The next semester, the cute boy in the Polo shirt knocked on my desk. “Hey, Tanya,” he said. “I was hoping I’d have you in another class.”
“Really?” I said, and what I meant was “You noticed me?” It seems he did. We were together 5 years. We moved to Detroit and Miami. We were engaged. I broke his heart. He wrote a New York Times Notable Book. And, yep, that’s another story too.