So I was thinking about Arthur the other week, obviously, since I wrote about him, and I was thinking how I haven’t really gotten to know him, and now he’s about to leave, and what a waste that is. I remember him from the first day I was here, sitting in the Office reading my pamphlet, as other prospective students came in. I don’t really remember who else I saw that day, though I imagine I know them all now…I just wasn’t paying attention, mostly, and they were all strangers and didn’t stick in my mind, except for Arthur, partly because he’s so much older.
The other person I remember from that day is Nora. We do get along, though we're not in the same dorm and we haven't had very many classes together. Maybe it's that she likes to talk and I like to listen. It's not that she talks a lot, though she's not exactly quiet, it's really that she gets a kick out of it. She gets a kick out of sharing her ideas with people, thinking aloud. And she can talk about the most extraordinary things, feminist theory, the anatomy of bees, whatever it is. She's somehow sucked up an extraordinary amount of information over the past few months, and it's like when she talks I can see her moving the ideas around in her mind, figuring out how things fit together. I like watching that.
"Real beekeepers don't use bee-suits," she announced to me the other day. We were sitting outside on the steps to Chapel Hall, before I had to go in for my afternoon class. It was sunny but cold and we were both wrapped up in our uniform cloaks, but she didn't have her hood up and the light shone on her spiky black hair. It was partly purple when she got here, but there's no purple in it now. When did that happen? You'd think you'd notice these things.
"You use a bee-suit," I pointed out.
"I'm not a real beekeeper, though," she replied. "I'm just an apprentice. I'm learning what to do now. I'll learn how to do it later, when I really know how to act around them."
"How do real beekeepers avoid getting stung, then?" I asked, partly because I knew she wanted me to. I'm not sure there aren't plenty of real beekeepers who would disagree with her terminology, but I let that one slide.
"See, you have to get into a flow with the bees," she explained. "It's like a 'Zen' thing, you know? If you approach the bees with fear or anger in your heart, they'll know and they'll attack. They know humans normally kill bees. But if you approach them peacefully, lovingly, they'll know that, too. They won't be afraid and they won't hurt you. Bees don't want to sting--the workers die if they sting. So they'll only attack if they think something worth dying for is at stake."
"I don't know," I told her. "I've never attacked a bee hive or anything else worth a bee dying for, and I've been stung a few times."
"You've got to think of it from the perspective of a bee," she pointed out. "They might think you were threatening something they think is worth dying for. Anyway, can you tell the difference between a bee and a yellow jacket?"
"No, I suppose not."
"That's it, then. Yellow jackets are wasps, and they can sting multiple times. They don't have as much to loose."
"Ahhhhh!" she mimicked me, and giggled. I laughed.
"Sit in their hives and eat honey to stay warm. A nice life, don't you think? Bee keepers have to leave them enough honey to get through the winter with, or we have to give them sugar water if they run out. Sugar water isn't as good for them."
"How do you remember all this stuff?" I asked. She shrugged.
"It just sticks in my head. Honey on the brain, I suppose. Makes my brain sticky, so I have a good memory and I'm sweet. How do you know all the trees on campus?"
"Because Charlie wouldn't let me get away with anything else. You are sweet, but you weren't when you got here. You were so angry. What changed?" I'd been wondering this for a while. She shrugged again.
"I've always been sweet. People just don't piss me off as much here."
"Because people treat you like an adult?" I guessed. I've seen Nora's mother--she's a good woman, suppose, and she certainly wants the best for Nora, but she does not seem to have gotten the memo that her daughter isn't three anymore.
"Because they treat me like a person," Nora corrected me. "I don't think age has anything to do with it."
"Don't you? You don't think there's any difference between you and Kayla? Or between you and...Meg?" I was going to say 'you and me,' since I think about that sometimes--I guess I didn't realize how much I'd really changed in the last three years until I made friends with Nora and remembered being sixteen and seventeen again. It's different. But just then I didn't want to remind her of that. I didn't want her to get uncomfortable with me and stop talking. But I think she figured it out because she smiled at me funny, for just a second. Then she shook her head.
"I know there's a difference between me-at-thirteen and me-at-seventeen. And I expect I'll be different again when I'm twenty. But I think I'm more like me at any age than I am like you or Kayla at any age. People are all individuals."
"You don't think there's anything wrong with...Kayla being a mother at this age?" I don't often bring that up, but I was feeling protective of Kayla, and thinking maybe Nora was missing something important somehow. The corners of her mouth tightened and turned down.
"How Kayla got pregnant was fucked up," she acknowledged, "but it would have been equally fucked up if she was thirty-five. But her age? I don't know, they used to marry people off that young--you know how old Juliet was in Romeo and Juliet? She was thirteen! And her mother was twenty-six!"
"Maybe that was 'fucked up.'"
"What was fucked up was that Juliet's father tried to marry her off to a man she didn't even like without even asking her. They do that shit now, in other parts of the world, did you know that? Nobody should have to have a sexual experience, or a baby, they don't want, I don't care how old they are!"
There was still something I didn't think she was getting, but I couldn't figure out what it was. I agreed with everything Nora said. I opened my mouth and closed it again. She looked away from me and hugged her cloak around herself. Her anger was back.
"It's gorgeous here," I said finally. Nora tensed further, but then I saw her relax. All the tension drained from her face and shoulders.
"It is," she agreed.
"What are you doing this winter, after Samhain?" I asked. "Are you staying on campus?" Yearlings are supposed to, but I know she has a number of special deals. She goes home on weekends, for example, even though that means missing Saturday morning meditation. I think she goes twice on Fridays instead, or something.
"No, my mother wants me home. I'd rather stay here." She frowned and her body shifted, amoeba-like, under her cloak, I guess she was scratching an itch or something. "I'll meditate at home and come into campus on Wednesdays, for group therapy."
"Will you stay the night?"
"You won't see everybody. A lot of people are leaving."
I was thinking about the time, as in whether I should go into class, but I didn't want to get up and leave, even though I was cold and the edge of the concrete step was digging into my butt. The sun was pleasant and I liked the conversation and I didn't want to leave. But then Nora said "hey, don't you have class?" at the same time as my watch beeped. She laughed and I went inside. I left Nora sitting there on the steps, alone, her face set, hard, and serious.
I think all the people who describe teenagers as 'carefree' don't know any teenagers.
[Next Post: Friday, October 18th: Getting Ready for Samhain]
[Next Post: Friday, October 18th: Getting Ready for Samhain]