Musée des Beaux Arts, by W.H. Auden
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
(a little piece i wrote for a writing class)
“O God make speed to save us.” If we were concerned with our salvation, we would take these words seriously. The crumpled flyer for Christ Church, snatched from a campus bulletin board and haphazardly Scotch-taped to our common room wall, watches over us and passes judgment. The wall is splattered with strange documents: cross-dresser Jodi Jolt’s business card, the agenda from a Black Power conference, and an ad for Pole Spin: The Leading International Pole Dance Fitness & Lifestyle Magazine. The mantelpiece below displays an industrial-sized paintbrush, two handles of rum, a baby blue velour belt, and a Solo-cup-turned-fly-trap filled with dish soap, beer, and small corpses. Welcome to the Sex Cave, my senior year suite and the first place I’ve felt at home at Yale.
When you enter the Sex Cave, your feet will probably stick to the ground because of the strata of beer residue. Then you will shriek. Your eyes will attempt, in vain, to adjust to the absurd and repulsive combination of things—things that don’t make sense, things that should be elsewhere (maybe the trash)—and you’ll begin to notice what these things are: bottles, boxes, computer mice, real mice, and most likely a pair of my unlaundered jeans. We have two pleasant landscape paintings, inherited from our predecessors: one hangs on the wall, and the other rests on a propped-up mattress. If you’re lucky, the room won’t smell like the half-eaten chicken Parm sandwich reposing precariously on the windowsill.
To ask why we call our home the Sex Cave would be beside the point. The name of the suite, just like everything in it, is meant to be ironic. Mostly. Yet underneath the irony and the three-inch layer of trash you’ll find a bit of earnestness And perhaps my glasses. I’ve been looking for my glasses.
My whole life I have had to deal with the burden of being disgusting. Of not using trashcans or hampers, of sleeping on and under crumbs because I eat in bed. I have had to live with the disappointment of my parents, who’ve only recently come to terms with their failure to raise a civilized human. Instead, they raised me, a human who leaves cans of Diet Coke behind the couch, chewed gum on post-it notes, and socks in the kitchen. I am physically incapable of putting objects where they belong. When I’m gone, my mother attempts to clean my room, wearing washing-the-dog clothes and armed with a box of trashcans. She’ll often cry when she comes to “that space between your bed and the wall,” where moldy teacups, soccer trophies, video games, spoons, and apple cores lie dormant, “since God knows when,” waiting for her to excavate. My sister always asks me, “How do you have friends?” I never know how to respond.
Freshman year, there was Annabelle. Some nights at 3:00am I would squeak open our suite door (which was aggressively covered with stickers of cats and shooting stars) and stumble into the common room, reeking of irresponsible decisions. Annabelle would be vacuuming, or arranging the DVD’s by genre then alphabetizing within the genre, or simply sitting on the couch, legs crossed and smiling with disapproval. Once she told me my red nail polish made me look like a hooker. Sophomore year, there was Lauren, who claimed that my single’s disorder caused her psychological distress, “even just thinking about it.” That was the year maintenance deemed my room a health hazard and threatened to charge me a hundred dollars. Junior year, there was Becca, who lived in a double with me and endured two months of a rotting smell before I finally stumbled upon an old ham sandwich in my closet, wrapped in tinfoil and stuffed towards the bottom of a Dora the Explorer Backpack.
This year, my last year of college, I have finally found people who understand me, who are not disturbed by colonies of fruit flies breeding in the common room, who worship the quirky, the bizarre, the uncomfortable. The inhabitants of the Sex Cave are a strange microcosm—of what, I haven’t yet decided. There’s Kevin, a fiesty political science major with an enormous mouth. We call him “Mami,” which accounts for both his nurturing and threatening nature. There’s Alice, a delicate blonde from New York suburbia who discovers chemical compounds in the rainforest. She has never frowned. There’s Sasha, a Bonaroo-frequenting anthropology major with thick-rimmed, non-prescription glasses. We call her “Big Daddy.” There’s Cory, a Korean valley boy who wears cologne to the library, a pre-med and aspiring ballerina. And then there’s me, Maria, disheveled and loopy, studying French existential literature and attracting cockroaches to the suite.
We’re all madly in love. If you come into the Sex Cave on any given evening, you will likely find us sitting in a circle—some on the mattress, some on the temperamental couch, some on a box—drinking beers and contemplating existence. Sasha might be telling us about her ant-eating days as a child. I might be warning Alice not to drink the open bottle of Jim Beam because of the four dead flies. Alice might be examining the four dead flies and commenting on their exoskeletons, wings dissipating in the alcohol.
One Saturday morning, not too long ago, Kevin opened my door, clapping his hands and singing “Rise and shine and give God your glory, glory. Rise and shine and give God your glory, glory. Children of the Lord!” I woke up.
The beauty of this song is that it can be repeated over, and over, and over again. Slowly I emerged from my bed, and Alice and Sasha stumbled out of their rooms, moaning and grunting to Kevin’s clapping and laughing. It was time to tailgate. We dressed ourselves, convened in the common room, and opened our cans of watery beer. I lay on the mattress and sipped mine, spilling as much on my face as in my mouth. I peered into the hallway through the sliver of our propped-open door: there stood our neighbor, a lanky sophomore with a compulsive bean-washing habit, holding a pot of beans on his way to wash them. I looked at him and he looked at me, and we both looked at each other with unmistakable repulsion and sympathy. He continued to the bathroom and turned on the faucet, and I turned back to my family, my Sex Cave, and we all shot-gunned beers.
I have lived with bean-washers my whole life.
When I told Alice about the dead flies in our whiskey, before she examined them, I saw her frown for the first time. “Damnit! I drank that last night. I thought it was just backwash.”
How do I have friends? The answer is simple. I found people will drink backwash in their whiskey.