To an Aesthete Dying Young (In Memoriam T. R. K.)
A National Book Award–winner pays tribute to a Yale roommate
Dante Terzigni / www.danteterzigni.com
In February 1982, in the middle of my freshman year, I was invited to a party by the most glamorous sophomore I had ever met. A third of the guests were people I actually knew; a third were people I had seen around and wished I knew; a third were people I had never seen because they inhabited a stratosphere too exalted to have been visible to me. Spandau Ballet, Pat Benatar, the Human League singing “Don’t You Want Me,” which nowadays feel to me as sweetly nostalgic as “Dixie,” were at that time fresh as the morning dew. There were some people doing cocaine in the bathroom, because it was, after all, the 1980s. I would not have been more thrilled and dazzled to have been invited to the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer one year earlier. I had hated high school and had always felt marginal there, and now here I was with all these amazing people, and I was having one of the best times of my life. I always say that Yale was the beginning of the self that I have been ever since, and that party has always stuck in my mind as the moment when the shift became official.
A theatrical-looking man was holding court in one of the rooms of the dorm suite, and we got into a long conversation, and if that party felt like the center of the universe at the time, he seemed to be at the center of that center; everyone came over to talk to him, and he kissed and hugged with real affection all the spikiest people there. I was flattered by his attention, and a little bit mystified, but I settled in and we talked for much of the evening. When I grudgingly decided I should leave at 3 a.m., he said to me, “Would you like to be roommates next year?” Startled, I impulsively said yes. The next day, I mentioned, casually, to several people that I might have Terry Kirk as my roommate. Some seemed rather awestruck, and some were rather cynical, and some asked if I were really up for all that. I wasn’t sure about anything; I wasn’t even sure if Terry had meant it. But two days later, I ran into Terry, and he said, “Well, well, well! Are we going to room together?” And I said yes with the same feeling with which, later on, I would deal with love and adventure and travel and life, that feeling of looking both ways, deciding it was dangerous, and leaping anyway.
Many years later, when we talked about that time, Terry said that he didn’t want to room with anyone he might sleep with—which canceled out a sizeable chunk of the undergraduate population—and that he liked me more than anyone else he was not physically attracted to. I spent some time trying to decide whether this was a compliment, but I think it was true and mutual. I was hideously repressed at the time and mostly unwilling to acknowledge a physical attraction to anyone, but I was not attracted to Terry. I kept sexual and romantic attraction very separate then, and nothing suited me better than a completely unerotic but deeply romantic friendship, and that is what we had. I wanted to be wild and outré, but I was constrained by an ingrained respect for decorum. There was nothing Terry could imagine doing that he wouldn’t actually do, and this terrified and thrilled me. He generally wore a green Austrian loden cape, and a mad hat with a feather in it. He usually had a boyfriend and a girlfriend going, sometimes more than one of each. He was interested in everything and everyone; I learned from him that categories were idiotic.
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