Benjamin Anastas: An Underachiever’s Diary

An Underachiever’s Diary
by Benjamin Anastas

“I’ve kissed lots of boys,” she said out of the blue.

“I’ve kissed lots of girls, but then they reject me.”

She buttoned her cardigan against the chill. “I just don’t think I’m ready for a serious relationship. Not until I’m twenty, at least.”

We sat there in the moonlight for a while, listening to an artificial stream trickle across the fairway below us. My heart was full with her, but I lacked the means to express myself, other than the usual words, and tender actions, which seemed like inherited wisdom to me, universal LOVE, the failing panacea of my parents’ generation: flower children, baby boomers, whatever name you’d like to use. Exactly what had the sexual revolution gained them, after all? Some measure of bodily happiness, a sex instinct unfettered, the herpes virus, the social acceptability of T-shirts and cutoff shorts, but what else? Had they really changed our values and attitudes? And there I was, on a golf course at midnight with a girl I really liked, underachieving all over again in a misguided attempt to make it new, and pioneer a romantic avant-garde where nothing started, in the moonlight, would ever finish, and the greatest love, or kiss, would be the one that never grew beyond its promising beginning; that way no one would have to live with an imperfect lover’s guilt when things came to an end, as they do, inevitably.

“I have to go,” I said, standing up.

Mary Kate looked confused for a second, and then what must have been a familiar, hardened look befell her face. “I’ll meet you at the car,” she said, tightening her braces.

I let her believe the worst of me, and left.

That night, as I lay in bed, I saw for the first time in its entirety the lonely road ahead, and I felt exhilarated. No one would ever know me. No one would think of me first thing in the morning, call me to fill an empty afternoon, sit beside me in a movie theater and shudder, for a second, when I slipped my hand over the soft skin on the inside of a knee, remembering a deep caress. I would reject real love, and frown on human tenderness. This was my plan, anyway, and like all the others I have made, it would end in failure. I have fallen in love, however misdirected, known sexual obsession (does it count if she never met me?), and felt my love returned by more than a few women, if only briefly. I have knelt and prayed halfheartedly for my survival, so that I might, in my own circuitous fashion, come to face to face with happiness. The seminarian in me would ask What does God think? As if He would ever care about a nameless wanderer among His baptized children. As if my disease were real, and not invented.

An Underachiever’s Diary, p. 77–78

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