His name was Zac and, for a few weeks during my freshman year of college, I thought that I might be very deeply in love with him. He was a tall, muscular 23 year-old with thick blonde hair that fell clumsily down to his shoulders. His face wasn’t really handsome. The sight of his pink lips surrounded by his messy blonde beard always left me wanting to buy him a razor. I often told myself that, whenever we had grown close enough, I would talk him into shaving his beard and revealing his true face, scars and all. I assumed he had scars though, in retrospect, I guess the beard could have just been there to try to disguise the fact that he actually had the face of a 12 year-old.
Zac wasn’t handsome but that was his appeal. I was 19. I was away from home for the first time and I was desperately trying to not to let anyone see just how scary that was for me. I’d already given the socially acceptable, alcoholic frat boys a try. I’d had my flirtations with the painfully sensitive types who wore their hearts on their sleeves and cried whenever I said I didn’t see myself getting married before I was legally old enough to drink. I’d had the fantasy men. Now, I was ready for a real man and I was convinced that reality was hiding underneath Zac’s grotesque mask of a beard.
I sat directly behind him in Intro. To Creative Writing and the first day of class, I sat there and I stared at the blonde hair cascading down over his shoulders. Over the winter break, I’d had a very brief fling with an aspiring screenwriter who, even at the age of 20, already had a bald spot. It had reminded me of the importance of a thick head of hair and, if nothing else, Zac had that.
The first day of class, each student took a turn going up to the front of the room, sitting on top of the teacher’s desk, and telling the class who we were and what we hoped to express with our writing. When Zac was had his turn, he told us that Jack Kerouac was a major influence on his life and that “No one is going to tell me how to write!” His nostrils flared as he spoke. When my name was called, I briefly stopped fantasizing about running my hands through the thick head of hair in front of me and I went up to the front of the room. I hopped up on the desk and I immediately mentioned that my ancestors came from Ireland, Italy, and Spain. No one appeared to be impressed by that unique combination. I said that I was a city girl with a lot of country inside of me. I paused and waited for a reaction that did not come. In my usual rambling manner, I continued to go on about myself. I was already feeling awkward and it didn’t help that it was obvious that, despite my best efforts to be cute in a flighty way, none of my fellow classmates were really listening to a word I had to say. Some were talking amongst themselves, some were looking over the class syllabus, and a few were just staring blankly at the wall behind me.
No one was paying attention to me. No one was looking at me as I spoke.
Except for Zac. As I rambled through my introduction, Zac never stopped looking at me and soon, I felt as if I was talking to him and him only. Of course, looking back, I also remember that I was wearing a short black skirt on that day and Zac wasn’t quite looking me in the eye. In retrospect, it’s probably a lot more realistic to assume that Zac was more fascinated by the color of my panties than anything I had to say about myself. If I remember correctly, they were hot pink. I always made it a point to wear colorful underwear whenever I was otherwise dressed in all black. It was my way of embracing the duality of nature.
But, on that day and at that moment, I wasn’t thinking about the duality of anything. All that mattered was that he paid attention to me and after that one class period, I decided I was in love with him.
As the semester continued, I would look forward to every Tuesday and Thursday because I knew I’d get to sit behind Zac and stare at his lion’s mane of blonde hair. Some days, he was very talkative in class as he would tell us why another student’s story was or wasn’t honest. Other days, he would sit in a sullen silence and I would wonder what inner darkness he was wrestling with. As the days passed, I wondered when he would finally read us something he had written. What mysteries would be revealed when he finally opened his soul.
One day, he came into class, turned around in his chair to face me, and held up a thick bundle of papers.
“I wrote this last night,” he said.
“Are you going to read it?” I asked, trying to hide my near-giddy excitement.
“No,” he replied before suddenly ripping the pages in half, “a true artist has to be willing to destroy what he creates.”
I sat there, shocked. I wondered if I would have the courage to be a true artist. I wondered if Zac would ever trust me enough to let me know what he had just destroyed. Yes, I decided, he would trust me. If I had to, I would spend the rest of the semester earning that trust.
Unfortunately, at our next class, Zac did read us the story he had previously “destroyed.” It was about an angry, rebellious, bearded 23 year-old who, one night, spotted a dead dog in the middle of the road and it caused him to reconsider everything that he felt he knew about his girlfriend, his friends, and the father who never understood why his son didn’t want to take over the family hardware store. It was a long, angry narrative about crushed idealism, spiritual ennui, and lots of profanity. The main character had a habit of responding to every comment with an angry one-liner and no one could ever refute his arguments, which I guess is the advantage of writing about yourself. It included a lengthy sex scene between Zac’s doppelganger and a high school cheerleader who was secretly fed up with being popular and I had to swallow a giggle when Zach hit the line, “His hands found her breasts,” as if they had previously gone missing. In short, it was really, really bad.
That was pretty much the end of things for me and Zac. The beard, the intensity, the self-righteous anger; it was all kind of annoying without any talent to go with it. Still, it was a good few weeks.
Zac read a few more stories over the course of that semester, all of which were about the same angry and profane 23 year-old who didn’t get along with his Dad and who spent his time “telling it like it is.” Usually, I zoned out whenever he was reading. Occasionally, he would still talk to me about his artistic insights and I would nod and smile without actually hearing what he was saying. He mentioned Keroauc a lot but I couldn’t help but get the feeling that Zac would have been one of the fans that Keroauc complained about in Big Sur, always dropping by unannounced and demanding to know if Kerouac had written anything else about Dean and Sal. About halfway through the semester, I think Zac finally figured out that I was bored with him because his stare became a bit less intense. I caught him rolling his eyes once as I read a story about an angry 19 year-old who always knew the perfect thing to say and who spent a lot of time considering the duality of nature. After the end of the semester, he disappeared from campus. Whether he graduated or dropped out or transferred somewhere else, no one knew. Actually, to be honest, no one cared.
I do sometimes wonder what happened to Zac. Is he still writing or did he eventually take over the family hardware store? And did he ever shave that ridiculous beard?