At the end of the school year, on the evening before the day the dorms closed for the summer, nearly everyone had cleared out of their rooms already and gone home. Our 100-person dormitory floor was almost completely empty, which was how Lizard and I ended up passing the night together in my room, listening to music and talking and laughing for hours and hours.
I guess I loved her, even if I didn’t trust her. It wasn’t anything personal, outside of her rather elaborate deception at the start of the school year. It was more that I didn’t trust anybody — no exaggeration. No one. It was a problem, of course, and pathological, though naturally I didn’t see that at the time. I just thought I was one of those rare people who cared to look beneath the artiface that most people presented to one another, given that people were basically unreliable at best and more often actively malicious.
I came by my paranoia honestly, at least. About exactly 12 years to that final day that I sat in my dorm room with Lizard, I would drive the four hours to my 92-year-old grandfather’s house out in the country to take him to a crucial medical appointment. After arriving, I needed to go back out to my car for a few things, and I couldn’t believe how the drive must have eroded my mind that I could not open a simple door. Then I realized that dad’s dad had installed two handles, one on top of the other. You had to turn both at the same time in order to open the door. You also had to undo the deadbolt, of course, and — the last piece of the puzzle — you then had to kick aside the wooden two-by-four board that granddad kept flat against the floor between the base of the door and the baseboard of the first inner wall. This was like wearing a belt and suspenders with a pair of overalls. I loved my granddad, but it was clear that he’d never properly developed his risk-assessment skills. Or, maybe more likely, he’d let increasingly false thoughts affect his threat model.
Also, as someone who grew up with a terrible speech impediment, I had grown used to people messing with me all the time. I expected it. I don’t rememeber talking much at all in the second grade, for example, and the severity of the problem waxed and waned fairly regularly for no reason I was ever able to make out. After coping with it for that long, it wasn’t paranoid to think that people weren’t willing to give me a chance. It was experience.
Having seen how my granddad lived the end of his life, I was glad to have shed that illness well before my nineties. I’d pruned it down to nearly nothing by the time I was thirty. But sitting on my bed with Lizard on the last day at the university before I’d be asked to leave it, my terribly calculating fears still felt like my only defenses in a dangerous and malicious world.
It seemed obvious to me that a dark shadow hung over my life. I never turned around to face the edifice of lies I’d told myself, so tall that it blocked out the sun, until that night with Lizard.
Only four or five days before, after coming out of a final exam that I knew I had failed, did I begin telling people that I was going to be suspended for a semester. I wasn’t being expelled, it wasn’t that bad, but I’d have to take a break for one semester. I was frustrated, and ashamed. The near-universal reaction from everyone was to smile and say, “You’ll be okay.” I’m not sure what reaction I expected, but that one only made me more frustrated: No, you’re going to be okay, because you’ll be back in the fall. I’m not going to be okay. I have no idea where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing. For the first time in my life, I had no clear path before me. When I told Lizard the news, she said exactly the same thing, that I’d be okay, and I told her that was a very frustrating thing to hear. She stared at me cooly, and then asked how I’d thought things were supposed to have gone.
“What was it with the computer science and modern dance?”
“I had a plan,” I told her.
“What was the plan?” she asked.
I’d just two days earlier talked about the plan with one my dance professors, and he’d openly laughed in my face.
“You don’t get to not tell me,” she added.
So I took a deep breath, and I told her the plan.