What she didn’t understand, Miriam thought, what she really didn’t understand was this stupid cherry on a spoon. The huge sculpture sat there in its lake, its bright red cherry poised happily on the grey spoon-bowl’s ridge, a symbol of Minneapolis. What about it excited people? What, exactly, was the point? She sat on the grass by the pond, head tilted upward, mulling it.
Miriam was a museum studies major, although she had started college doing studio art. During that long first year, she spent more time in the art supply store than actually making art. She loved to touch the taught canvases and read the names of all the colors of paints. Ochre seemed to promise sex, cerulean undiscovered planets-every object was expectant, waiting. But when she set up an easel in her room or in class, the brush made primitive, directionless marks, unresponsive to her oblique desire to paint something. In the hours just before an assignment was due, she would chew on the dead ends of her long brown hair or the handles of her wooden brushes. Finally, she understood why someone might throw a bucket of paint over herself and then run hard into a wall one hundred times.
But self-abuse wasn’t art.
When she expressed that opinion in her art history seminar-having by then cut her hair into a blunt bob and changed her major-the professor shook his head. “What, then, is art, Miriam?” Allowing a short pause, he then pressed the forward button on the rickety slide machine with greater than usual verve, as if having made his point.
If self abuse was art, Miriam had thought, freshman year of college had been a post-modernist masterpiece of cheap keg beer and dubious sexuality, encapsulated in the nickname that still made some of her old friends laugh. Before learning about “Black-out Sniper,” Miriam had never thought about her liaisons buffered by alcohol and darkness as being anything but normal-at least normal within the realm of freshman year. At parties everyone was drunk and looking, scanning dimly lit, crowded rooms with hopeful and later glazed eyes for another pair of eyes with the same idea. Every tasteless poster on her guy friends’ walls validated that practice. Beer Goggles, one read, getting ugly people laid for fifty years! She was under no illusions about her appearance, and was in fact more critical of herself than anyone else.
She reminded herself of a painting by Goya; her face pale, eyes big, chin receding just a little, like those inbreed Spanish aristocrats. Arrested by her face, people were often surprised by the solid, almost voluptuous frame that contrasted sharply with the fragile tint of purple under her eyes.
The cartoon man on the poster gave her the thumbs up and smiled, holding his frothing pint out in a gesture of toast. Go for it, he seemed to say. So how could she be doing the wrong thing when, drunk at a party, if she met someone she liked, she stuck with him until the party was dying down, and, if he was willing, took him back to her dorm room? It was true, the guys she picked up usually turned out to be way more intoxicated than her, having proven their manliness by doing beer bongs and 40’s, and they rarely remembered her the next day. But that suited Miriam just fine-they had both gotten what they wanted, after all, and it wasn’t like anyone was watching.
Or that was what she had thought. As she was leaving a party one Saturday night, a drunk friend grabbed her elbow and whispered, “‘Black-out Sniper.’ Get it?” For a moment, she didn’t get it. She looked around her, trying to figure out what her friend was talking about. The she turned to look at the boy she was with-his drunkenness was suddenly far more apparent. Miriam felt nauseous as the heat of embarrassment mixed with the alcohol in her stomach. She left the boy standing by the door and fled to her empty dorm room, her eyes burning and itchy from tears she wasn’t yet shedding. In the silence of that night, as the alcohol wore off, Miriam’s emotions moved from shock and embarrassment to shame to anger and indignation, then back to shame that felt like anger until the emotions couldn’t be distinguished. That she should have to feel this shame was more than a betrayal of privacy. It was a betrayal of the mantra, the promise, that had helped her, helped them all, get through high school. The promise that when they got to college, the holding back, the fear of discovery, the claustrophobic family dinner table at which nothing could really be hidden, would be gone. No one would be watching them anymore.
But people were still watching.
Exhausted and still awake as the sun came into her dorm room window, Miriam decided that she was done. Done with college boys who couldn’t handle a woman taking what she wanted without becoming a needy mess afterwards; done with girls who called you a whore if you tried. After that party, Miriam stopped hooking up with guys and stopped drinking anything except for good wine. After all, she reasoned, she couldn’t be in the art community without learning to like good wine and despise the swill served at openings.
Miriam had left freshman year and the Black-out Sniper behind her, but she was still of the opinion that if you waited for a man to make the move, you would end up watching hundreds of fucking piano concerts and contracting cancer from second hand smoke in shady music venues. That was why she had sat down on Jason’s piano bench, and why she had held his hand in the light rail, and why she had finally suggested that they move from the couch to the bed.
Jason. He was probably still sitting in the coffee shop with a stupid look on his face, his forgetful fingers clutching his coffee mug.
Her eyes filled with angry tears and she was back in the sculpture garden.