The following piece of creative nonfiction is part of a series I started on my personal blog a few years ago called “Alphabet: A History,” which is a collection of short, autobiographical vignettes, focusing mainly on relationships (familial, romantic, platonic, and self). I will be publishing the series on Fridays.
Alphabet: A History (H): The Hollow Men
It’s August, 1994 and I’m in my second week of college in Springfield, Missouri. I live in Woods Hall, the only all-women dorm on campus and share an 18′ x 12′ room with a square dancing, biology major from Colorado. Across the hall are my new friends Katy and Jessica. They’re both in the dorky new student showcase with me, a performance where incoming theater students show themselves off to prospective directors…and suitors, I suppose. Katy and I have decided to do a piece together since we’re both totally interested in being avant garde and making people think and stuff. Somehow, we decide to act out a poem and before one of us gets the brilliant idea of writing an original, I suggest “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot.
I find the poem in a book at the library and make several photocopies for us. In the evenings after we eat dinner in New Hall cafeteria, we practice our performance in our lobby and sometimes walk down to the tent pad where we hope cute boys will notice us. We’re assigned a senior theater major to help us prepare — this guy, Kory, who really spends more time making passes at us than anything; we’re not interested.
Katy drives a brand new Honda Prelude and promises to take me on a road trip to her parents’ house two hours away in Rolla some weekend. I’ll go with her several times, but the visit I’ll remember the most is the time her parents are out of town and she invites her friend Paul over who goes to the University of Missouri and he brings a friend and the four of us order Chinese food from Lucky’s and watch “Jaws” on TV and drink vodka and grapefruit juice cocktails all night long and I end up barfing on my orange striped sweater sometime around 4 AM and I’ll never be able to tolerate the smell of grapefruit again.
For some reason, I decide it’d be an awesome idea to write the name of our poem vertically on the wall of my dorm room, and so I use some sidewalk chalk and write in capital letters in the corner, “The Hollow Men.” It speaks to my sheltered existence thus far, that this act makes me feel suddenly rebellious, like the first time in high school I paired my new Doc Martens with a flowy skirt.
My favorite part of “The Hollow Men” is where Katy and I say, “Here we go round the prickly pear/Prickly pear prickly pear/Here we go round the prickly pear/ At five o’clock in the morning.” I even act out the part of the prickly pear! While Katy walks around me! Needless to say, the night of the showcase we’re a huge hit — totally avant garde and provocative. If it were ten years later, HBO so would have given us our own show.
I leave “The Hollow Men” up on my wall for a few weeks and then wash it away one afternoon while watching Ricki Lake on my little 12-inch television. I’ll live with Katy the following year in a different dorm — a co-ed one. We’ll make up a card game we call “fortune” with our two other roommates and every time we play we have to name four boys we like to see who’s good for us and who’s just all wrong. One October evening 14 years later, Katy will text me as I’m writing a blog post about us and say, “In that fortune card game we played all the time in college, hearts were love, spades were sex, diamonds were money, but what were clubs?” And I’ll immediately text back,”Trouble. Clubs were trouble.” And then I’ll imagine us as freshman on that big, empty stage, saying with earnest gusto to a theater full of people, “This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper,” right before we head out to Applebees in Katy’s Prelude for a big old plate of chili cheese fries.