Written: November 24th, 2007, 4:52 (UTC) By: omer
Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.
The novel continues here.
He and Toff spent much of their time together, because they felt so comfortable together and so uncomfortable around anybody else. And, when around other people, their comfort around each other would help temporarily expel their natural shyness, which in turn helped those others to similarly disrobe. At dinner, their table often became the most uproarious. And, soon, friends from previous dining excursions would invite them for new ones. It was widely held that they were the "best couple ever" (a claim whose implicit assumption he would correct whenever the term was used in front of him, but which spread widely and quickly regardless), and by the end of the first week, they were invited at least twice to every decently-sized party in the area.
Though Toff expressed little interest in going to any parties, Tom convinced her that she should at least gain experience at one party before abandoning them entirely, and classes having not yet begun, this would be the ideal time to experiment. So, the first Saturday night, the two met a group of several other newly-made friends and drifted across uptown Manhattan to a street somewhere a few blocks from Columbia, where the first party of the night was located. Tom found, to his surprise, that he already recognized several people attending, and that they recognized him. So, he dragged Toff to th area most heavily-populated by people he knew and proceeded to enjoy himself excessively. People were sillier at parties, and the social atmosphere (along with, perhaps, the alcohol) helped people move beyond the standard superfluous introductions to deeper and more interesting topics, from favorite music to opinion's the the government's "War on Terror," especially its current manifestation in Iraq. Students spoke about why they chose to come to Columbia, but they also expounded on a how mixture of idealism and intelligence can revolutionize the world. Their arguments were flawed, and they jumped from topic to topic like lily pads, but Tom found the progression of topics fascinating in its own right (and the topics themselves doubly so), so he goaded them on, imploring them to continue talking whenever there was a moment's silence. And, it should be no surprise, given people's irrepressible desire to concentrate on themselves, that Tom became friends that night with fully half of the people at the party.
Toff didn't speak a word, and at every half hour suggested that her experiment, though worthwhile at first, had lost steam, and she was ready to depart.Tom would nod understandingly and tell her that he only wanted to hear the rest of some anecdote, and then he would be ready to leave, only to discover that at the end of this anecdote, three new people would have relevant topics on which to expostulate.
Finally, after two hours, Tom managed to extract himself from the conversations, and Toff led him out of the house. Unfortunately, since neither of them knew the area, and the best directions they could get were "down a ways, until you hit this big street, then left, and I think it's on your right," they were forced to remain at the party for another hour, until one of their friends agreed to walk them back, taking first a right, and then a left onto campus.
The next day, Tom apologized profusely to Toff for what he termed "the uncomfortableness" of the previous night, and with a feat that Tom would later call the best persuasive essay he'd never written, convinced her to try another party the following night, this one close by and unconventional in its intellectual atmosphere. It looked, reeked, and sounded exactly like the previous night, with the exception of the two hosts, who wore highly clever "Kiss Me, I'm Geeky" shirts. Toff apologized to Tom and left after ten minutes. He, on the other hand, stayed for another hour, then moved on to other parties and more people and, for the first time in his life, alcohol.
The growing distance between Tom's mannerisms and Toff's was poised to quickly place emotional space between them that would eventually end their friendship, but the following day, courses started, and though Toff never joined Tom on his weekend-night excursions, they became partners in studiousness.
In short, for two months, Tom lived an ideal life: during the week, he was paid to read interesting texts and papers about those texts that had come out in the past few years and were filled with interesting ideas about technology, language, and how the two interacted. And, sitting next to him was one of his best friends, always ready to relax for a while with a game or two. During the weekend, he was one of the most popular students in the fledgling class of 2006, roving from party to party, recognizing and being recognized, and having a wonderful time relaxing with buzzed, intellectual conversation.
And, when the two months were up, he started to wonder if any two months had ever been better or ever would be better than those first ones as the beloved intellectual of Columbia.
Toff would later describe her first two months as delusional, or more accurately, as under delusion. She built her entire world around a false presumption, and when it finally collapsed, he real undergraduate experience began. Or, at least, so she would say.
Toff did not have a specific plan upon entering Columbia, and while Tom wooed his Professor Milly, her advisor, assigned arbitrarily to her in the music department, one professor Roy Suive Pinsky, attempted to help her choose a track to follow for her undergraduate career. Her obvious disregard for the study of music rendered his knowledge relatively useless, but he'd dined with several professors in other departments and knew some by name, so he would search for one, and read off her classes to see if Toff found any interesting. Finally, he hit on a professor he knew in philosophy, and started reciting classes, the first of which (graduate level, admittedly) was called, "Life as a Puzzle." As soon Professor Pinsky had read this title, Toff stood up and said, "Thank you, Professor. I think I just decided on a major." And, she proceeded to sign up for all of the introductory philosophy courses, including (incidentally) introductory logic.
By the time that she had settled on a schedule, including logic, Greek philosophy, and two generic "art and society" types of courses, required for students to graduate. She was so excited to be taking at least one course with Tom, that when he finally emerged from his long discussion with Milly, Toff jumped on him and gave him a hug. When she let him go, he grinned at her and said, "Nice to see you too!" But, she made the mistake of asking him how the meeting had gone before telling him her news, and by the time he had finished talking about it, they had diverged to a new topic, which was interrupted by dinner.
The following days were so hectic, and the weekend so think with the talk and drama of partying, that she had still not divulged her exciting secret on the first day of class. But, by then, she had gone over the conversation so many times in her head, and it had been so long, that she no longer felt capable of actually telling him. So, she took a seat a few rows behind him, half-awaiting and half-dreading the moment that he would look back and notice her. But, the only direction he looked other than the professor's was Orr's on the other side of the room and closer to the front.
Though disappointed at first, she soon turned her invisibility into a game. When she and Tom began studying together, she left her logic homework in her dorm room, and did it on her own time, usually all at once during the weekends, while Tom went partying.
The weekends were the hardest for her, because she had not yet managed to make any friends outside of the group with which Tom went out on weekends, and obviously, they were predisposed. So, she exchanged e-mails with Kelly, played a few online games, and worked on whatever homework and reading she had not finished during the week.
The work itself was a radical departure from what she had envisioned in her ideal "Life as a Puzzle" world (in which every philosophy class was really about some interesting logical puzzles and how to solve them), but she discovered an appreciation for it regardless. The Greek philosophy class was, in one sense, about how to make sense of the real world as if it were a giant puzzle, and though the Greeks' conclusions were at times ridiculous, and usually dated, Toff found the notion of taking the real world and mapping it onto a puzzle fascinating and spent some of her class periods attempting to develop puzzles about her life. One of her first was, "Given that Toff has N hours of homework to do every week, and M hours of class, and approximately one quarter of her homework must be done over the weekend, and she wakes up every weekday morning at 8:00am and weekend morning at 10:00am, what are the highest values of M and N for which she can, every day, be done with her homework by dinner (6:00pm) but still never get behind? The advanced puzzler should also consider O, any extra time spent, including time for breakfast and lunch and traveling between courses." Many of her riddles followed this strategy, more math problem than riddle, and always incorporating some aspect of her life.
In all, she was quite satisfied by and thoroughly engaged with her academic work at Columbia, so her hardship came largely from her lack of interactions with anyone but Tom.
Alone, this would not be much disappointment for her. She considered Tom the epitome of success and intelligence and loved having a portion of his life to herself. She envisioned them falling in love, having children, and living the intellectual dream: him a professor, and her a puzzle-maker or perhaps a professor too, happy children, happy marriage, happy world.
She had been in love with Tom for years, after only knowing him for a few weeks during their first year of high school, when she was still newly moved to New Mexico, and Tom had been the first person to greet her warmly and remember her name afterwards. And, though she had no expectation that he felt anything for her in return, nor did she have any intention of revealing her feelings for him, seeing him disappear on the weekends, to live in a life that did not accord with her ideal of him confused her.
She wondered for the first time, after a month in New York, whether she had moved their for him. Although she concluded that, regardless of her original reasoning, the school was a wonderful place to end up, the fear that she had moved across the country to chase after something that was drifting slowly away frightened her drastically.
More complicated still, the party scene accustomed Tom to physical proximity, so not long after Toff's distress began, when the two would study together, he began to slowly recede the distance between them. At first, she worked to keep herself equidistant from him at all times, but as his seating choice coincided more and more with an area close to where she was ready to sit, she eventually convinced herself that perhaps Tom had finally overcome his shyness about feelings for her, and she soon worked equally hard to find a spot to sit near him.
And, without warning, they were soon studying right next to each other, legs and hips touching, able to hear each other's breathing and see each other's lips as they followed the text. It was enough to distract Toff so much that her equation for M and N fell apart, and she had to stay up later to redo some of the studying that had simply escaped her while working with Tom.
This progression lasted for another few weeks, until just before the midterms, when studying began to overwhelm all other activities, and Tom even stayed in on the weekends.
In Greek philosophy, as a treat for her students, the professor assigned sections of The Symposium, which the class would analyze in more depth (along with The Republic) after midterms. One of the sections was Aristophanes's infamous claim that love is the reunification of two people into one androgynous giant who was originally cleaved in two for declaring war on the gods. Out of context, this argument appears ridiculous, but it has thoroughly pervaded our society, as evidenced by the even more infamous claim from Jerry Maquire: "You complete me." What finally set Toff over the edge was a line early in Aristophanes's monologue, that (regarding the giants), "Terrible was their might and strength, and the thoughts of their hearts were great, and they made an attack upon the gods" (emphasis Toff's), or (in Toff's mind) that a couple united by love can be intellectually and emotionally challenging even to a Greek god. And, she imagined that, as two intellectual people individually, she and Tom stood the best chance of reaching an exponential growth in intelligence by being together.
So, she decided to finally confront Tom regarding her feelings for him.