You are studiously minding your own business in the library one sharp, grey winter afternoon.
The undergrad is a table and a generation away, typing on his black Acer. Your eyes wander and meet. A clinical glance is exchanged. Some time later you cause a hideous copier jam, which the undergrad happens to witness and very kindly, very messily resolves. Both chagrined, hands blackened.
Suddenly you know each other. You exchange greetings in the quad, pleasantries at the rugby game, conversations at the bar and it’s not too long till you’re naked under the undergrad’s Homer Simpson duvet. Naturally his lodgings are closest by.
Behind any closed door after several drinks undergrads surrender their souls, unbidden.
They want to do everything all in the same night, sometimes all in the same hour. Easy, you exclaim with amusement not irritation because you’re perfectly drunk and the undergrad’s panting exuberance strikes you as comical.
I want you, the undergrads whispers, assailing you with kisses. I want you.
Whine, flatter, cajole, beg – these are their favorite tools. Supposedly some can be trained in using more sophisticated methods but fun’s over the exact moment mastery is attained.
Easy to silence a measure of discomfort by rationalizing: What are we all doing here on this campus? Isn’t it precisely to go beyond our own personal and cultural conditioning? Oh yes. Yes, yes.
Dalliances with undergrads are mostly made up of talking for the sake of talking, urgent spontaneous rookie sex, a rotation of indistinguishable bar nights and quasi-religious adoration.
A month, tops, before it devolves into utter banality. If you wanted this, you would have married the undergrad you laid under regularly back when you were an undergrad yourself. So you make excuses, find an alternative study nook, take up residence again in the vast wilderness of your imagination.
You’re ignoring me, huh?
The undergrad’s pride is a slippery thing. It disappears and reappears at random. They thrive on attention (negative or positive, it doesn’t matter, they’ll take either) but you better not ignore them or that’s grounds for showing up pissed and ready to make a scene.
And this showing-up-pissed catches you off guard, because adults injure each other much more freely. One little hurt feeling is no cause for discomfort all around.
No! Just super swamped. Friday our major assignment’s due and –
Exactly. Crazy busy.
So this is your lunch break? Dinner?
Sort of. Where are you going with this? Keep your voice down.
Keep your voice down, the younger person’s mimicry is inaccurate but effective.
OK, you sigh, done.
See you later, they taunt as you leave the premises.
Know you will show up late at their dented door some Saturday night, bombed, in heels, and shamelessly, brainlessly, again that’s what you do. Except by now it’s like two crude androids doing damage.
Hunting for your thigh-highs just after sunup, you tell them it’s over. They say they don’t care.
They are lying.
All they do is care. And hide their caring like it’s a fatal, shameful illness.
So then the stalking starts. Not criminal-grade stalking since it’s a small city and you and the undergrad are just everywhere everyone else is. But open sulking; a kind of atmospheric assault; bad vibes and dirty looks polluting the fun in the air.
As a result you have to gently steer a classmate, clearly a more suitable object of your affection, out to the patio and away from the undergrad’s noxious aura. What’s with the daggers you’re getting over there? the more appropriate person notices. Huh? you feign. No idea. Off to a great start with fakery.
After semi-stalking with no progress, the baby will resort to crying to a mutual acquaintance about how much in love they are with you. Which is reported to you in a fetid laundry room with pointed looks.
Oh please, you scoff, that’s preposterous. The undergrad knows you about as well as your gynecologist does and this is an insult to love. Also embarrassing to involve the mutual acquaintances.
What’re you doing? the mutual acquaintances ask-accuse, and you shrug in defeat.
And that’s not all. Apparently you’re in love with him too. But you’re too scared.
Oh my God, you laugh, nearly choking.
You’re not, right?
How can you even ask that?
Sorry. But seriously, stop messing around.
The ignoring goes on. A few ranty texts test your patience but you remain wearily non-responsive, waiting for the anger to run its course.
Which it does.
Many weeks later the irony knifes you deep in the soft tissue of your heart.
You have merely used on the undergrad the same weapons men your own age used on you. Indifference. Avoidance. Silence.
It sickens you, this role reversal. And instructs as well.