This is the final chapter to “Revisiting Carina.” I now begin the process of editing the entire piece, so stay tuned for a brushed up version of the entire work at some point in the future.
Revisiting Carina / Part IV: The Second Day of School
The town of Avon, Connecticut, once I had left for College, was apparently voted the third safest place in the nation to raise a family. Where it ranked during the years I lived there, I do not know. I knew that our high school was competitive with our two peer towns in all aspects of life (academics, sports, private schools, property taxes, and number of SUVs per square mile), but was not, at the time, aware, of our safety rating.
In the fall of 2000, we, the senior class of Avon High School, knew the town not as safe, but as boring. That was the adjective most of my peers immediately used to describe that suburb of Hartford County. Many, as their college searches turned into college applications, pined for urban centers, warmer climates, and anything else that would divert them from their adolescent ennui; I had my own heart set on moving north, to smaller things.
But before that could happen, there was senior year. And the day before the first day of school, I rummaged around my bedroom, on the phone with my girlfriend at the time, debating the various combinations of outfits that might suit me best for making our grand entrance to the cement and brick building where for four years we had learned, and where our parents had annually fought over the town budget in the gym (except for freshman year, during the renovations, when it was held in the auditorium). The senior caravan meandered from the parking lot at Sycamore Park (the town’s public swimming pool), and I had a first day of school that does not merit mention, apart from my impeccable sense of late 1990s fashion. The morning found me discussing a switch of calculus sections, becoming immediately enamored of my English teacher’s style, and the afternoon saw me setting up a meeting with our school principal, a green beret or ranger in Vietnam, to discuss graduating with one less physical education credit than the norm (gym class would later become optional due to budget cuts a few years after I left).
I had known in the spring of my junior year that the fall would find me hosting another student from overseas, our second from Spain, our first from Barcelona. The summer before found me busy, picking up as many hours as I could working as a pharmacy technician, and making it through my summer reading for AP English, which included Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Magic Mountain, and many hours on the phone with my girlfriend at the time, who took great pleasure in explaining why I should be enjoying the former two more than I was at the time.
Then it was the second day of school, and a bus load of students from the Deutsche Schule of Barcelona disembarked in the parking lot of the high school in the third safest town in the country. They were chatty, the boys with copious amounts of gel in their hair and track jackets, the girls, regardless of hairstyle or garb, possessing a general ability to catch my adolescent eye. As they formed a small mass, the students wide-eyed and the teachers drained from constantly corralling bodies and counting heads, one could hear a wonderful, incomprehensible mess of Spanish, Catalan and German, with English slowly permeating as we Americans hovered around them, hoping to find our match.
I stood there, with a large sign with my prospective student’s name on it, and waited patiently as they continued to pour out of the bus. We intersected, hugged, greeted each other in Spanish and English, headed home, met my parents, ate, played ping-pong, talked about Canada, then went to sleep.
The next morning, students from both schools gathered in the library classroom (only the second time I’d been in that room in my four years; the first time I was there I heard a friend’s presentation on neutron bombs, and witnessed an unfortunate Freudian slip as he claimed that the bombs’ method of causing damage was the subject of ethical debate since it was well known that such devices would harm many orgasms), to talk about the week ahead, the schedule, the expectations, etc.
Owe it to whatever factors you might want, but I could not help but note aloud to Xavi, who would within the year be a great friend (but who at this point was one of the few people whose name I could remember), that, in my esteemed opinion, with respect to the females that hailed from his school: “They’re all fucken models.”
He would return the cultural compliment, shocked at the percentage of blond girls that peppered the green and blue hallways of the school.
So how was it that Carina, who has appeared in person less than two weeks of my life, became so quickly a subject of my nascent prose and stumbling verse? To be sure, she was attractive as the others, but there was something beyond the mere physicality of it. Perhaps it was because she was German and qualitatively different than the Catalan crowd. I owed it, however, to a certain fragility, or vulnerability that made its way to the surface of her skin each time that I saw her. It manifested itself as shyness, but I think it was the underlying breakable quality, and pondering the source of the underlying reticent nature that intrigued me, that drew me to her and is the reason that now, nine years later, I still think things every time I write to her, and every time that technology allows us to connect, I still find myself wanting her in my life, in ways I still haven’t quite figured out.
Although I can’t be entirely sure, I remember the first time conversing with Carina one-on-one when giving her a ride to her host family’s house one evening. It was late afternoon on a late August day. I had something after classes (meeting with a teacher, meeting with a club, who’s to say?), and Alex, the student that I was hosting, was at a friend’s place for dinner. I was walking out of the school’s main building, and I saw her standing there, alone, looking somewhat forlorn, but well practiced at looking somewhat forlorn.
“Yeah. You’re Jeff?”
“Yeah. You waiting for a ride?”
“I think. Sarah hasn’t showed up yet.”
“Oh. Where does she live?”
“Down that street,” she said, indicating West Avon Road.
“I can give you a ride.”
“Oh, no. It’s fine.”
“Seriously, I don’t mind.”
“You’re sure it’s not a problem?”
“Not at all.”
So we walked to my car (“They let you drive at 16?” I was asked by her and others), which, as a result of good mothering coupled with very exacting maternal scrutiny, was relatively clean. I do not recall what we discussed, but I’m sure it was something along the lines of recapping her stay so far, was she enjoying it, oh, me? What do I do? Where did I learn Spanish, and whatever bits of her story I could capture before we were at the large but inoffensive blue colonial, a few minutes later.
There were words of thanks, a quick exchange of phone numbers, and, in closing, we made it a point to try to see each other soon.
Days laters, I was back at her host’s house, in a room full of people at or around my age, squeezed together on a couch and a love seat, and also on the floor, arms around each other in some cases, smiles all around, many of those abroad rifling through small backpacks or handbags to find a cassette or CD with the summer’s greatest techno and house music. The Americans fawned over every song, imagining our lives outside the third safest town in the country, in a city with nightlife, where we could go to these elusive establishments called discotheques, where this type of music was played, and people wore shiny shirts and expensive shoes and there was smoke from cigarettes and fog machines and there was even the promise of drinking.
I imagined the lot of the Deutsch Schule students doing just that, living in a world without socially conservative parents, but with public transportation, with a Mediterranean climate, with many things which my life was not yet allowed to be.
I had gotten up and gone to the restroom, and on my way back to the living room, that place of juvenile merriment, I noticed Carina in the adjacent dining room, dark and somber lit indirectly by the kitchen, speaking on a phone by the staircase. I assume she was talking to her parents; that seemed to be the only logical explanation to me; calls to parents were the only time I’d ever called home from abroad, and Alex’s experience so far seemed to lend credence to that bit of conventional wisdom.
The conversation was in German, so I couldn’t understand it, but in the time that it took me to walk slowly across the width of the dining room, I noted that while she was speaking normally, she sounded like she was on the verge of tears. When I first wrote about her in the months after she was back in Barcelona, I recalled that conversation, and mentioned that she spoke as though she were naked and her audience was clothed. I think I’m still right about that. And I think, in a way, that confirms the basis of my attraction.
The trip itself strained the fragile peace with my parents. I was asking to socialize on school nights, with students that they had never met, but about whom the parental whispers ushered in questionable news (boyfriend from Hartford, cigarettes). This was new behavior for them and for me as well; I wasn’t expecting the resistance with which the appeals were met, and admittedly, my handling of the situation was appropriate for my age.
In an effort to mimic the life we imagined our guests lived daily, there was an evening (I believe on a Friday, who’s to say) in which a fair number of us headed to an under-18 club, to dance. I was delighted at the movement of certain females from abroad, and amazed at how confident they were and how it appeared as though there were there to dance and have fun as opposed to dancing to segue into grinding. Later in the evening, we all stood with mouths agape at the display that certain natives were putting on for all to view.
“Does that happen in Spain,” I asked Alex.
“Not like that it doesn’t,” he replied.
Throughout the evening, Carina was on and off the floor, finding herself often by the bar where one could order soda and juice and other non-alcoholic drinks. It was a pretty open space, with a lounge area and some chairs arranged in a deformed circle, facing in towards one another. She was sitting on the arms of one the chairs and I walked over to her.
“Not my kind of music.”
“Do you go out in Barcelona?”
“Yes, but I prefer hip hop.”
I had a drink in my hand and she did, too, so we talked above the noise, into each others ears with the help of our hands, until I convinced her to come back onto the dance floor for the remainder of the evening fast approaching its end as demarcated by a minivan which would soon be half-patiently waiting outside.
Suddenly, there were only two nights left to their suburban stay. I had finished my homework so, after much internal deliberation, I called her at her host’s house.
“Are you coming tomorrow night?” I asked her, referring to the going away party that I’d be hosting at my house, the result of several hours of parental diplomacy and negotiations.
“Yes. Sarah and I both.”
“Thanks for having the party at your place.”
“So, Alex said you didn’t know what race I was,” I said, joking.
“Said you didn’t know if I was Asian.”
“It’s not a problem.”
“That’s so embarrassing.”
“Hey, don’t worry.”
“So, what did you think I was?”
“I don’t even know – your Spanish threw me off.”
“So something like Mexican or South American, I don’t know, I’m sorry.”
“Carina, seriously, don’t worry about it, it’s fine.” Three years and a few months later, the French would be stuck at the same crossroads of linguistic and racial logics.
We talked about music, a field I knew through piano lessons, but when it came to songs on the radio, I was always a little slow to catch on to the latest trends, getting around to hearing artists as their airwave popularity was just beginning to wane, and inevitably feeling as though I had missed the boat. Fortunately, Carina seemed to be more plugged in and patient to narrate her preferences to me.
We did find common ground on oldies, with which I had a relatively good degree of familiarity given my parents’ taste in music and frequent summer drives to Boston and Pennsylvania. Here we were able to talk about our favorite songs and singers for a while.
“I’ll make you a mix!” she exclaimed.
“I’ll try to make it for tomorrow.”
“Wow, okay.” I, never having mad a mix tape, wasn’t certain how the process worked.
Somewhere soon thereafter, the conversation ended like this:
“I wish you weren’t going,” I said.
“But we’ll see each other again, no?”
“See you tomorrow, I suppose?”
“Yes, see you tomorrow.”
A year later, I would, in a calculus class at Middlebury, learn the formula which is used to calculate the rate at which rumors spread, which takes into account, in simplified terms, size of town/school/region, etc. and population. While the exact composition of the formula eludes me, what I can say is that in a high school of about six hundred students, where the building is two floors and includes one cafeteria, one gynnasium complete with locker rooms, one auditorium and stage, a room for chorus and a room for orchestra, classrooms for every teacher in each department, the fact that I had spoken with Carina for about an hour last night and that it was flirtatious and we talked about music had caught the ear of Senorita O—–, my Spanish teacher three years prior, for whom I was now a TA, by the time I came to her classroom to assist her sixth period Spanish 1 class. She proceeded to tease me, pry for details and try to corroborate the version that she had heard from an undisclosed source. All I could do was shrug, and when the students got excited with the news, I deflected the conversation by asking to see their homework.
After classes had ended and I had picked up victuals for the evenings festivities, I made a cursory attempt to complete my homework by the time guests began arriving, knowing full well that I would be reading AP European history only after the party had finished. I knocked off calculus, after which point the doorbell saw much use.
Carina eventually arrived with her host. We kiss-kissed hello.
“Hi. You came.”
“Yes, I told you I would.”
“I know, but, well.”
She smiled, and put something in my hand. It was a cassette tape, with a green background, and vintage Coke ads on both sides, with smiling Caucasian families perched around a bottle or two.
“Wow. You did make it last night. Thanks!”
“I hope it wasn’t too difficult.”
And we made our way to the kitchen, where her host dropped off some chips and dip. People were on the deck and in the sunroom, so we joined them. A host of students from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean found themselves in the jacuzzi in the sunroom, an object of much curiosity and ample employment. Admittedly, I had encouraged Carina to bring her bathing suit, but in the end, she did not. And so I did not join the others when beckoned, indicating that I had to be a good host and make sure everyone was enjoying themselves. The steam and other bodies proved a hard menace to resist, but in the end, I somehow remained on land.
On the deck, she observed the backyard, the source of some mild fascination, I suppose, or perhaps something distinctly American. As we stood there, someone took a picture of us, and a copy of the photo found it way to me later in the semester. We were both smiling, our arms around each other, me with the chipmunk cheeks of a husky teenager with spiked hair and her with her slim frame, blue bra and maroon tank top with kanji running down it, captured there forever, when we were young dreamers, thinking that this could be great.
At this point, I must address the question of why my relationship with Carina and the development of our adolescent love remained imagined, and I fear the answer is as predictable as it is unsatisfactory. In August of 2000, it should be recalled that I was, in fact, in a relationship with someone and had been for approximately one and a half years. It was rocky, it was full of fights and late night phone calls, beseeching reunification, but it was still, in its own, teenage form, love, enough such that one year after this party, when I dropped this someone off at her house the night before she left for college, and as she shut the car door, and I saw her walking with her hands across her face, my headlights shining brightly upon the scene, I was compelled to do the same, and my then wet nose found itself sliding back and forth across the steering wheel, as I let loose and honestly convulsed. By the time I reached the stoplight down the street, I had, for the time being, stopped.
So in that moment, as Carina was there, with me, and my then girlfriend, as a result of a quarrel, stayed home, I found myself petitioning for a moral transgression that I couldn’t internally justify. And so, arms around each other is as intimate as we got, as close as we would ever get to together.
Later in the evening, a small lot of us, who had become quick friends in the 10 days since their arrival, found ourselves on the front lawn, both recollecting the trip and bemoaning the seemingly truncated sojourn.
Demarcating a dramatic juncture in the conversation’s course, Carina noted out loud, “It’s a full moon!”
Puzzled, we all looked at her.
“Well, don’t you know what you’re supposed to do on the night of a full moon?”
We shook our heads.
“You moon it!”
“Eh?” one of us asked.
“You do! You moon the moon!”
None of us had heard of this tradition before, but we were willing to go along with it.
“So, what do you propose?” I asked.
We all looked at her, awaiting instructions, ready to expose our collective buttocks.
“We probably shouldn’t aim towards the road,” I suggested, knowing that that might upset the sensibilities of some innocent passerby in the third safest town in the country.
“Let’s all face away from each other then, in a circle, and do it,” she suggested.
We shrugged and nodded, satisfied with this improvised version of her tradition.
We assembled ourselves accordingly.
“On three,” she said. Someone assented verbally.
She gave the count, and we all dropped our pants, giggling like the children we were, our asses staring at each other, our necks craning to see the moon we were hoping to offend.
The next morning was a somber event. I had listened to the mix tape she had made me in its entirety the night before, with my headphones on, as I made the novel attempt to complete my homework. I therefore found myself at the high school a little sleepy, not entirely prepared to face the day, which would begin with bidding farewell to the students of the Deutsche Schule of Barcelona.
When we were all gathered there in the courtyard, I was a little amazed at just how large a group we formed, probably about fifty in all. Most of those collected there did, at some point the evening prior, pass through my house. We were taking group pictures, making promises to keep in touch, exchanging hastily transcribed bits of contact information, and all dreading the ennui of life back to normal.
A few were crying, namely those that had tried their best to fall in love.
The waiting bus would soon turn into a driving bus, a point which became ever clearer as the driver started the engine. Thus the pace of our last hugs, kisses, smiles and sniffles quickened, and I finally found myself directly facing and in very close proximity to Carina.
We kiss-kissed on the check and hugged one another. My hands were on her waist, flirting with the belt loops of her jeans, and her arms were draped upon my shoulders.
“Thank you for everything,” she said.
“For everything. For making the trip better for me.”
“Thank you for spending time with me.”
“We’ll keep in touch?”
“We’ll keep in touch.”
“We’ll see each other again?”
“We’ll see each other again.”
And we detached. The blob of students was slowly disassembling, half moving reluctantly away from the building, half waving with great zeal at the departing. The teachers from the Deutsche Schule began to usher with slightly more persistence as the remaining members of their flock clung on to the hands of their American counterparts.
So we were out of time. We embraced again, this time allowing a good-bye. I smelled her neck. I watched her get on the bus.