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The Poison Ivy League Part 59-Summing It Up

May 3, 2011

The Slattern eventually left the apartment for a whole night—long enough to collect her possessions, anyway During this respite, Sulla B and C returned to DeWolfe. Laughs were shared over drinks and video games, and thoughts for the upcoming year were thrown about. This would prove to be the final meeting of this kind, and Kimel wasn’t there.

Assuming that the night would be no different from any other, he made plans to spend the evening with Verginia, the Novice of the Yeat and Sulla B’s former girlfriend, who’d impressed him over the Internet by correctly identifying a very obscure quote from “Anna Karenina.” An early evening turned seamlessly into a late night, and Kimel unexpectedly found himself sleeping over at her apartment, news which did not fail to reach the party at Dewolfe.

An ascetic when it came to appetites of any sort, this was a rare occasion when Kimel would have really valued physical intimacy for its own sake. He looked back ruefully in those days to his romantic awkwardness in early college. But in fairness, those were days before he’d even shared a kiss with anyone yet, and he was afraid of intimacy and embarrassed by his body. Perhaps too some lingering notion from film or literature rendered sex without love distasteful. At least now, though he was virtually just as inexperienced as he ever was, he’d come to realize that filet mignon does not negate the existence of more humble cuts of meat. He thought back to his role in “Sweeney Todd,” in which he’d removed a girl’s bra strap with his teeth. His lips brushed against her chest once. The thought of soft skin and thoughtlessness was comforting now.

But nothing came to anything. If the embarrassment of psoriasis and romantic inexperience had defeated his chances with Lucretia, he had no higher hopes with Verginia. They soon fell to talking, to Kimel’s chagrin. Her style of conversation either resembled Kimel’s in that it hopped from one non-sequitur to another, or she was passive enough that his own erratic preferences determined the course of the conversation.

“If you were going to die tomorrow, what would you most regret not doing?” she chirped.

“In the first place, I would regret not publishing a book of substance and popularity. I consider not having done so already a real personal failing. It enervates me—makes me listless and pessimistic. I take most things as they come, but this unrealized dream is something that festers. It makes me actively unhappy. It makes me ashamed of myself. I’m not powerless to do anything about the problem, of course. But the nepotism in the publishing world scares me—I’d almost rather entrust my work to no one than to someone who’d carve out a mediocre fate for it. Then at least in my imagination, I might have achieved great things. There are so many characters I want to bring to life. Sometimes, it’s all I can think about, meeting new people and wondering how to combine the best and worst in them into new souls. The thought of one stillborn birth after another is almost too much for me to stomach. But these are the sorts of things I learned not to talk about a long time ago.”

“And in the second place?” she asked as if he’d said nothing.

“I would regret not having had sex with more people.”

“Is that really so important? Sex is so mundane, so common. Everyone has it. It’s pretty boring.”

“The same could be said about money, my dear, but I’d still like to have as much of it as possible.”

She laughed at that. Kimel pressed his advantage,

“If we’re really on the hunt for a good analogy, sex is like conversation, isn’t it? Everyone has their own tropes, their own secret anecdotes for when the party turns tedious and a joke is in order. Yes, repeated jokes aren’t very funny, and listlessness sets in with repeated conversations about the same things with the same people. But isn’t there something to be said for a free discourse of minds and ideas? Even if everyone talks, doesn’t everyone talk differently? And doesn’t it follow that we should talk to as many different people as possible?”

“Your metaphors aren’t very subtle. This isn’t really how you think, or you would make different life choices.”

“Would I?” Kimel laughed. “You might be right about that. I still think there’s something tragic about rabbits in a cage fated to reproduce only because their captivity happens to unite them. True love is a cousin to beastliness. But we’re trapped no matter what we do—even realizing you’re a cliché is a cliché. I’m humble enough to realize that now.”

“The same things you said about sex can be said about debate—the same talented mix of people losing to each other every year, some good, some bad, all balancing out to nothing very unique.”

“But it’s better to have questioned each other than never to have spoken at all, right? Better to have gone for it, to have created a memory. All that we have to live on are memories.”

Kimel kept his eyes fixed on the girl, but the subject of creating memories was uninteresting to the novice.

“I was talking about a debate case with Lucretia and wondered what you thought. Do you think that debate make you a good person?”

Defeated, Kimel launched into his concession speech.

“Good and bad are relative terms, Verginia. From the vantage point of deliberately twisting the truth to win rounds and insisting on seeing both sides of one-sided issues, even the ancient Greeks condemned debate, and the Romans periodically banned rhetoricians and philosophers from the city. Friendships might be made in the trenches, but the activity lends itself to jealousy and schadenfreude because it gives the illusion that academic discourse is a zero-sum game, and no one likes to lose an argument.“

“Is that the whole story?”

“Not necessarily. Debate also teaches you to weigh both sides of an issue carefully and to determine what percentage of black and white is mixed into a particular patch of gray. It makes you clever, open-minded; it rewards hard work and ambition, and it breeds the most intelligent conversations most people are likely to have at college. Ultimately, I can’t complain. APDA rewarded me with the distraction of competition, the thrill of the chase, and some memorable, superficial friendships. It taught me about the sacrifices people make to actualize the dreams for which they settle as they become adults.”

“A lot of people love you, David.”

“Love is a dangerous word when it’s used too carelessly.”

He took a deep breath. Then he said that he was tired, and laid awake.

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