Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Stranger

"Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; 
I can't be sure."

A good friend mentioned last week that he missed the personal stories I have in the past told here. My political focus of late was 'interesting' to him but he kindly suggested that my voice was more engaging when not mired in the fallow fields of american politics. So today a story of the present and of a fine spring evening in 1966.

It was Thursday night of finals week. The campus was nearly empty, most students had already fled after taking early exams. A few stray pre-meds hung about the dorms awaiting the Friday lab finals. There were also several lingerers who had gone down to the penultimate night to finish a project or paper, I was one of those.

The assignment was straight forward - a paper on Albert Camus' The Stranger. The story was twenty years old in 1966, I was eighteen. The weighty tome stared up at me throughout that long night. The illustrated cover exactly as pictured above. I found three images on the web in that early paperback style; one for sixty-five cents and another at a dollar seventy-five but I remember the buck and a quarter edition. I remember because I had that same copy on my shelf for nearly thirty years. I never reread it until this week when I came across a copy while boxing books for a friend, it had been now forty-six years since my first encounter with Camus.

You see on that warm spring evening of 1966 I did not 'get' existenialism. I didn't get a lot of things. My first year of college had been a shock for me; so many possibilities rushing towards me all at once. And there was the inbred, midwest, just turned 18, need to be knowledgeable and right in the face of this tsunami of potential knowledge, I was lost.

So I sat in that empty corner dorm room. A single incessantly buzzing neon overhead crisping my brain as the night wound down. My single bag was already packed and stored in the closet. Both beds were striped, sheets were already turned in to laundry services, I didn't want to be tempted to 'just a short nap.' My roommate had left two days before, I was alone with Albert Camus and he was not speaking to me.

If you remember the story, early in the novel the main character spends a long night in a stark, white room holding vigil beside his mother's coffin. Inside the room is too warm, he and the few elderly mourners drift in and out of sleep. Outside an inviting spring evening beckons but demands of duty and fealty keep him locked in that overly bright, oppressive room.

The obvious parallels with my own situation that fine spring night were exactly the stuff Professor Bogart would have reveled in. But such fine observations on my own human condition were not within this eighteen year olds grasp. I took another ten years before I was able to openly contemplate that someday I wanted to 'be a writer' - someday.

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