Next to the library was Hampshire House, the womens dorm
named for the benefactress Betty Hampshire. Betty, a bankers daughter was
an only child. She inhabited her parents mansion until she died from
complications of bulimia. There had been no media buzz about her illness; her
life, though, became legacy for her former sorority.
Sam, in contrast, was neither a socialite nor eating disordered.
The seventh child of a steelworker, she lived in the attic of a building joined
to others by common side walls, in a blue collar neighborhood. Once, her scout
troop had driven through Bettys neighborhood to reach a park, where ducks
swam on clean water and where the playground equipment was not broken. Greek
membership had never occurred to Sam. Sam attended the university forty years
after Betty had left it.
Clarene was Sams age. She had attended the same high
school as had Betty, but had neither heaps of gems nor exquisite furs. She did,
however, have a mother who allowed her to eat cookies without her having to
finish her vegetables. On campus, she joined one of the small number of
womens social clubs.
Betty had few friends. A chauffer drove her to the university
and returned, later, to pick her up to bring her home. Her parents dissuaded
her from engaging in practical experiences, such as internships, and questioned
the utility of her exploring theory-based experiences, such as independent
Sam, who regularly exchanged pleasantries with classmates, left
her sociology major because she was told to do so by her mentor. The
schools head baker, a crone whose domain opened out into the heart of the
universitys subterranean food complex, and whose favor could be purchased
with kindness, had admonished Sam, her work-study aid, to stop seeking only
feel good outcomes, that is, outcomes that made Sam feel intellectually or
creatively accomplished. To wit, Sam began to study statistics. She also
dropped the boyfriend who preceded Roger.
Clarene was suited to learning arts or humanities. Like others
of the girls enrolled in those subjects, her parents had retirement funds.
Degrees in marketable fields were more appropriate for girls whose home lives
were synonymous with alcoholism, with child beating, and with incest. Clarene
meant to raise up those wretched and to otherwise bestow upon those masses her
castoff designer shoes, handbags and clothing. She would grasp the verities of
the lower classes and, in doing so aid her advisors in writing glowing letters
for her graduate school applications.
Betty dallied among topics. She was as uncomfortable taking
private lessons in French horn as she was studying Russian, algebra, British
literature, or basket weaving. The stress of trying to find a niche, combined
with her gaping diet made her hair fall out. Neither of her parents noticed
that she had taken to wearing hats.
Sam studied data analysis, matrix algebra and calculus. She
learned the ins and outs of differential equations, of operations research and
of imperative computation. She made friends with Clarene.
Clarene, who found Sam to be a low graben from which to jump,
that is, a social cog so far below her accustomed threshold as to be a novelty,
encouraged their relationship. Sam could be the first among the many
minions, who spent spring vacations at home, instead of on sunny,
Mediterranean beaches or on ski slopes edged by European forests, who Clarene
Betty, eventually, settled on a self-declared major.
In her generation, such a direction was considered odd. No family member
contested her choice, though; that year, her mother had bought and filled a
Parisian apartment. Her father was absent, on business, as usual.
Sam met Roger, another cafeteria employee, when the two were
mutually charged to set up a buffet for guests of the universitys CEO. He
noticed her cleavage. She noticed his lack of compunction ordering other staff
members around. He recognized, in her face turned toward the floor, slouched
shoulders, and bright features hidden in shiny, nondescript hair, a girl who
was ripe. Despite the fact that he invited Sam to a campus movie that night, it
took him an entire half of a year to get her pregnant.
Clarene positioned herself to dig in the ledgers of the
schools activity funds and in the record books of her dormitory. Clarene
believed that such delvings would yield desirable data on a portion of her
schools have-nots. At best, she would extract enough data to complete her
project. At worst, she would find new persons to whom to feel superior.
Bettys eyes became increasingly sunk in. Her skin
deflected light. Her French horn tutor, enchanted with the apparition that
sought him weekly, propositioned her.
Roger worked in the underground kitchens for the free food; he
needed no wage since he possessed a generous, albeit mysterious, source of
income. Whats more, he needed no dupe since he habitually ranted at Sam.
Frequently, he discredited her for putting up with her misogynist,
opportunistic professors and their graduate assistants. Hed admonish her,
pointing out how her clothing left little to the imagination, and how she could
have relied on brain power, instead, to earn her grades.
Clarene gave up some club time. She issued a few, small bribes,
too. Consequently, she ably accessed most of the figures she sought. As well,
she exposed Roger, who had been taking loans from the campus
playwriting workshop and from the dormitory counsel.
Betty began to cut herself when, a semester after consummating
their affair, her French horn tutor took a position with a symphony on the
other side of the continent. Her fathers Old Winchester Whittler served
Clarene, initially, had liked Roger, having gone so far as to
pose herself as a woman, who was possibly interested in his attentions. She had
spied on that fellow on Sams behalf, believing Sam to be too naïve
about the workings of the world to discern good boys from bad. Roger had
obligingly flirted with Clarene, telling her of her beauty. Afterwards,
however, he had smirked to Sam about that affluent girls arrogance.
Sam, who had become besotted with Roger, avoided her sagacious
baker, preferring, instead, to associate with Rogers friends.
That her grades slipped, her necklines dropped, and her need to impress Clarene
increased, escaped her notice. Meanwhile, Roger was busy romancing Louise and
Tammy, students, respectively, at a local girls college, and at a sports
facility in another town.
Bettys mother noticed some rust on her
husbands favorite antique knife. She ordered her maid to be more careful
when cleaning the collection.
Sam was more than a trimester along, but had not yet found a
resolution to her dilemma. At about that time, Clarene came across the data
incriminating Roger. Somewhat reconciled with Sam, Clarene hosted her, for
frozen yoghurts and for tidbits of wisdom. Across their chilled
desserts, Clarene whispered that even simple abortions could risk reproductive
futures. She enforced her sentiments by humming refrains from contemporary
horror movies soundtracks.
Clarene, in a new effort to observe the working poor, had taken
a job at the campus frozen yogurt shop. Eagerly, she swirled flavors or
restocked cellophane paper, milk, and fresh fruit. She chatted with cleaning
staff and gardeners about fashion and investment. Wiping down tables and
disinfecting counters beat studying Piaget or Proust. If her parents had let
her spend a gap year in South America or had let her sign up for Peace Core
service in Malaysia, she would have discovered such pleasures sooner. As it
were, her new activities might help her avoid the decades-long marital
disharmony she witnessed between her mom and dad.
Betty was hospitalized. She was bound to a bed in a psychiatric
ward and doped with sedatives. Her mother returned to Europe.
Sam began, in earnest, to investigate all of the maternity
farms that were located at least a days drive away from campus. She
again lingered in the underground workshops and spoke to the baker. That elder
listed compassionately as Sam protested that pregnancy made Sam no less
spiritual, intelligent, or funny. Before taking her leave of absence from
school and, eventually, giving up her newborn for adoption, Sam completed
coursework in introductory and intermediate level statistics.
Clarene abandoned sociology for a double concentration in
theatre appreciation and French literature. She announced to her family that
Voltaire was underappreciated.
Roger was arrested, expelled, and sentenced both to multiple
years of community service; the court had deemed him too young to be
imprisoned. Roger continued to feed his mojo at both the senior citizen center
and the juvenile hall, where he worked.
Betty was eventually released on her own recognizance. When both
the maid and her mother were on vacation, she used a few handfuls of
drugstore-strength sleeping pills to bring closure to her collegiate life.
Upon being reinstated at the university, Sam studied Statistical
Consulting, Probability and Stochastic Processes, and Statistical Problems in
Toxicology. Briefly, she toyed with the idea of getting a graduate degree and
becoming a professor, but decided to do otherwise, given her growing mistrust
of academics. As well, Sam took on a second job so that she could buy into an
apartment rental with other girls; at home, her brothers still tittered at her
and tried to touch what was forbidden. Her lone aunt still called her a whore.
Her father still drank. Her mother still screamed.
Clarene transferred to a less rigorous school. She would study
Kierkegaard in translation.