It was the summer after your Sophomore year, and by mid-July, frankly, you had already had an assload of Southern California. Oh how the time dragged in those days, when you were gone from campus, and all the freedom from arbitrary drinking ages it provided! You had spent the summer working, off and on, for this or that law office, a few days at a time. But mostly you were dicking around the old house, because it would be sold soon, and spending time with your brother and his friends, since they would be gone soon, too. And besides, it was summer: leave the internships to the IE majors and crack yourself open a King Cobra tallboy, because it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere.
Some people got homesick. You got schoolsick. So schoolsick, in fact, that you had canceled your plans to go to France for the quarter in the Fall, too jealous of your time at college, ultimately, to commit to even ten more weeks away from it. And you were right to be careful with it, because never again would you find that community–flawed as it was–concentrated in just one four-mile radius, and you knew it. You knew that, even if you did find it again, you could never go back to it, because it would be somebody else’s community, and, by then, it would be staged for somebody else productions. You only got one chance.
Tanya was at summer school, or that was the pretense, anyway, for her remaining at school, living in Mirielees, and you decided it was time to go visit her for a few days. It would not be the same as actually going back to school, but at least it would be a change, and an excuse to get out of this oppressive town.
Mirrielees is a complex of on-campus apartments originally designed to house graduate students, but which had been appropriated by undergraduates who, sick of dorm food and tiny, closet-like rooms, longed for their own full scale refrigerator and all of the homespun luxuries an electric range can provide. The apartments were designed to house two students–there were two rooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen–and though the architects no doubt expected that the inner of the two rooms would be the bedroom for both inhabitants, this was rarely the arrangement in a college residential environment, if it could be avoided. Usually one person got the smaller, but more private, inner room, and the other got the larger outside room that occasionally served as a living room as well.
But no matter, anyway, because Tanya had her own apartment, all to herself, this summer. This was an inexplicable occurrence in the history of summer housing as far as I knew. And if you didn’t know Tanya, you would assume this was just the luck of the draw, much as her razor-sharp intelligence, movie-star good looks, and international, privileged upbringing had been.
But if you knew Tanya like I did, you suspected there was some other force at work, though you could never put your finger on it and, try as you might, you would never know for sure. Tanya’s background was a box full of question marks. Why did her family live in Monaco? Why was all their money in Swiss bank accounts?
The profession of her parents was shadowy and confusing, and the explanations that you got for their goings on only further obscured what truth there might have been. That her father had a PhD had been confirmed, and when I asked her what her father did, she told me that he was a “Political Science professor,” which was an appropriate profession for someone with a PhD in Political Science.
But what kind of Political Science professor could afford to live in Monaco and go to galas with royalty? Tanya was forever talking about this or that Count or Countess, and the summering at this or that country home, and what would she wear to the ball? And yeah, sure, it was easy to dismiss it all as bullshit, maybe this could all be explained away by accepting that Tanya was a garden variety compulsive liar, but the details were too exact. And they came complete with pictures of Tanya alongside clearly inbred dignitaries in European society magazines.
Plus, you had met Mrs. Mason, and after a ten minute lecture on the virtues of Bach’s flower essences and the absolute necessity it would be for you, Anna, to make sure that Tanya took her “crabapple”–incidentally, what did that even mean, what was she supposed to do with it? Did she go over that?–you knew that Mrs. Mason was the type of woman who made things happen, crazy, “Tanya, be a dear and call the cat psychic,”-type things on occasion, yes, but things were going on in that family. There was no way to get the whole story, but that there was a story to tell there could be no doubt.
So you had arrived, and you were drinking tequila, because it was time to do so, what were we waiting for–other than a better chaser than Crystal Light lemonade? Tanya was mixing up some more of the Crystal Light as you were complaining, as usual, about your life at home. The apartment was a wreck–also, as per usual, since you had never seen Tanya in a living arrangement without a giant pile of clothes and other detritus littering the floor. It may not have been clear exactly how Tanya had managed this set up for herself, but it was clear that her living on her own was the best arrangement for everyone involved.
But your standards for a flop house were negotiable. What did it matter? We were just going to get drunk and the next day, Tanya would try (again) to pass her driving exam. As she placed the Crystal Light in the refrigerator to chill, Tanya said, “In some ways, I was a really, really bad kid. My parents were always having to get me out of trouble. Like when I was sixteen and I got pregnant, and my mother dragged me to get an abortion, I don’t remember a lot of it. I think they might have drugged me.”
Tanya had been pregnant? you thought. Tanya had an abortion? Huh. Kind of odd that this is how Tanya would choose to tell you about it, but OK. Drugged? By her parents? Was she being facetious? Were you supposed to laugh?
She went on.
“So, yeah, you know, in that way, I was always rebelling and making things tough for them. But then, when it came to other stuff, like sneaking out of countries and shit, I was like, the perfect child.”
Sneaking out of countries?
“Like one time, we were in Saudi Arabia, and my Mom was like, ‘Take this envelope in with you and hide it in your locker,’ we were at my ballet class, see, and I had to go in to change. And she was like, ‘Do NOT tell anybody about it, or show anybody ANYTHING.’ And I was wondering what it was but I knew, you know, if my Mom was that serious about it I couldn’t fuck it up. And so I took it in and hid it in my locker, and after class I went back out and my Mom was there in a big Mercedes. And I knew we couldn’t talk about the envelope, or anything important like that, because the car was bugged. I mean, I just knew–she didn’t have to tell me or anything. And we left the country that night. So, yeah, in that sense, I was like their dream child or something.”
And it would have been easy for you to think, right then and there–or on any of the many instances like this where she would show you a piece of herself (true or untrue), that Tanya was simply insane, a paranoid schizophrenic, or suffering from drug-induced psychosis. But crazy stories aside, she didn’t come across as a truly insane person–she did not hear voices, or see things that weren’t there, and she didn’t speak in the present tense about paranoid delusions; plus, this was long before she started to dabble in drugs. There was also a coherence to her stories that suggested truth, and above all there was the strength of your friendship which–odd as it was–made you think you should believe, and to question the veracity of her stories would have been disloyal of you. And then there were the photographs with royalty, and the solo apartment at Mirielees, and the seemingly endless supply of money from Swiss bank accounts.
So you took a shot of tequila, and played along: “Did you ever find out what was in the envelope?”