I've never talked about Dan much, except to insist that he isn't me. We have the same first name, where the same age, and we've both been here three years and counting. But there, I like to insist, the resemblance ends, because he's always putting his foot in his mouth.
Except, I suppose, so am I.
Anyway, over the past several years he's matured into a talented musician. A group of us went to the Great Hall the other night to watch him play. It wasn't an official Event, but it didn't need to be. He just checked to see that nothing else was scheduled and put the word out that he planned to play. Maybe fifty of us showed up, which is enough to make a pretty good crowd in that room, which isn't all that large as performance venues go.
He played the cello and he did it wonderfully, with skill and passion and his longish, black hair flopping all over the place, his face starting to shine with sweat from concentration and effort. I did not recognize most of the songs, and many of them were classical pieces, which I don't normally listen to, but he was really good and it was fun just watching someone I know be talented.
He played for about an hour, and afterwards most of the crowd meandered away, draining slowly out of the room with much chatter and congratulations of Dan, off to do homework or something. A couple of us stayed behind to chat while Dan drank a bottle of water and kind of recovered.
By chance, all of us were part of this year's graduating group. Me and Dan, of course, plus Joanna and Raven G. from our group of yearlings, and Space Alien Steve and Eddie, who are in their third year, and Steve Bees in his second. Plus Jutta, who is a yearling and a one-hit-wonder, as we say.
Her name is pronounced "Yoo ta." It's German. She isn't, except by descent.
Anyway, we all sort of collected on the couches. Jutta was asking Steve why people call him Space Alien, which we used to do behind his back, but then we found out that he knew and didn't mind, so we dropped the pretense.
"Because I used to think I was a space alien," he explained.
"Used to?" I asked. He shrugged.
"Mostly used to," he amended. We all laughed, because of the way he said it.
"What changed?" I asked. This was big news. I mean, I haven't hung out with Alien Steve much since my second winter here, but his alien status was so much a part of him. We used to have these long conversations about it, late into the night, about identity and possibility and the definition of truth. And now he was saying "never mind?"
"Well, I still think I could be one," he said,"and I still feel like an alien, but...I guess I'm not sure the answer's so simple anymore."
"Ok, but I'm still a dude, ok?" put in Eddie, and we all laughed again. Eddie's masculinity was another part of those conversations.
"I don't get what's so simple about space aliens, though," said Raven, and held out her hand for the water bottle so she could have a sip. "You know, I wish we had the stove on so we could make chocolate or tea."
"With wintergreen!" said Eddie, because that's what we drank that winter, wintergreen and chocolate.
"You could start the stove, if you want," said Dan.
"No, she can't," said Joanna. It was almost eighty degrees inside. The day had been hot, and while the evening was cooling outdoors, the Great Hall hadn't caught up yet--not with fifty people and their body heat in it until recently.
"I don't get the part about space aliens at all, honestly," said the other Steve, Steve Bees, who wasn't there for those conversations.
"I've always felt like an alien," explained Alien Steve, "so I just assumed that I was one."
"Literally?" asked Jutta.
"But that's impossible."
"No, it isn't."
"Yes, it is."
"How do you know?"
There followed a long and involved discussion about speed-of-light travel and resource limitations and whether science could legitimately say anything was impossible, anyway. Much shouting and giggling occurred.
"Forget chocolate," said Raven, "you guys need some pot."
"Except evidently we don't," Joanna told her.
"Anyway. Aliens and simplicity," said Raven.
"I feel like an alien so I thought I was one. That's simple."
"Overcoming the speed of light barrier, etc., etc., isn't."
"Yes, it is," Steve told her. "It's not unreasonable to suppose that a discovery we haven't made yet makes interstellar travel feasible. I have no idea if such a discovery is out there to be made, but I can't prove it isn't, and lots of things that used to seem impossible are possible now. Expanding possibilities are an established feature of our reality. But to feel alien and not really be? What does it mean if I can't tell if I'm human or not? Do I belong and not know it? How is that possible? Or am I alien in some other way, and if so, what way? What does it mean to be human? All of that. That's complicated."
"Ok, said Raven."Except I still wish I could get you high."
"I'm going to miss all you people," said the other Steve, Steve Bees.