A Certain Type
The first time I saw Kimberly Ryan I knew she
was the right type for me, my standard for type at age 18 being
basically a Playboy bunny with brains, a political
conscience, and a taste for early 19th Century British poets.
OK, so she didn't have precisely all of these attributes, but
her figure covered up, so to speak, for minor deficiencies in
the other areas. It's amazing the rationalizations an
18-year-old male with a reasonably healthy libido (or a
40-year-old, for that matter) will make in the presence of
I met Kimberly on the campus of San Antonio
College, the local two-year community college where I had
"matriculated" after high school. Matriculated
approximately three miles. Rah rah--SAC!
Have you ever noticed that community college
students seem sometimes unfinished, incomplete? I felt
incomplete, a work-in-progress with rough edges as jagged as an
abandoned, armless sculpture. There was no sense of allegiance,
no shared purpose, no, well--community. And I remained living at
home, while most of my erstwhile classmates had moved on to real
campuses where they could engage in maturing, manly activities
such as panty raids and political riots. As the oldest of five
children, and the first to ply these treacherous waters of early
adulthood, my fantasies were filled with dreams of escape. I
dreamed always of escape.
My classmate in a freshman English literature
survey course, Kim was one of those rare feminine commodities--a
knockout. She had peroxide blond hair with brown roots, ice blue
lips, a slight bump in an otherwise perfect nose, a starlet's
smile, and the body of a California sun goddess. In her
presence, vulnerable men walked about stunned and stupefied,
victims of hormonal overload. I had worshipped her, on looks
alone, for weeks.
Then, one morning after class, Kim dropped her
backpack on the linoleum-tile floor in the dingy hallway of the
English Building and I lunged like a football linebacker to
retrieve it. She thanked me and we exchanged far-reaching
remarks regarding world geo-political-ecological conditions.
Then she said, "Hey, want to join me in the SUB?"
I felt surprised and flattered, trembling
slightly behind a delicate facade of stolid manhood. My libido
was unreeling like kite string on a windy day. Me? Her?
"Sure," I said, hiding my
exhilaration with a hip, blasť indifference. "That would
be fine." "Yes!" my mind shouted. "Oh, God,
SUB meant the Student Union Building, a kind
of cafeteria/activity center/den of thieves situated in a vast,
warehouse-like structure permeated by the smell of whatever
luncheon items were on the daily menu. We filled Styrofoam cups
with coffee from a spigot in a cafeteria-style line and paid a
cashier whose hair-do dated from the Eisenhower administration.
I followed her to a square, white-topped
formica table, where I discovered myself in a conversation of
intense hyperbole. Floating on a dangerous, potentially-toxic
mix of adrenaline, hormones, and thick black coffee, I felt
flushed and fluttery as we proceeded. We began with Elizabethan
poets and moved right on into Keats, Coleridge, T. S. Eliot, and
Wallace Stevens, in language lifted almost verbatim from the
instructor's lectures. Then the topic shifted suddenly, to sex.
Though I knew virtually nothing first-hand about this
department, I spoke as an expert and an authority.
"For a woman," Kim said importantly,
"the spiritual component of sexual behavior is extremely
"Oh, for men, too," I said.
"The spiritual component of sex is critically
"If two people really love each other, I
don't see why it's wrong," she said.
"Me, neither," I concurred,
enthusiastically. "For two people in love--why not?"
Kim nodded, leaning forward on her elbows, apparently rapt. Fear
and excitement both reared up inside me, like wild horses.
"Tell me something about yourself,"
Kim said, then. I delayed, attempting to convey an attitude of
practiced nonchalance. What could I say? My life was inherently
uninteresting, a turn-off, a narrative as long and as dull as a
third-rate Russian novel. But under these conditions of
high-level stress, I delivered what was arguably one of the most
significant lines of b.s. in my entire life.
"I'll level with you," I said.
"I'm prince of a small, little known South American
potentate. I inherit the throne when I turn 21." Kim
laughed, a rich, powerful baritone that thrilled me with its
'"A prince!" she exclaimed. "I
knew there was something different about you. So they speak
"The educated classes do," I proclaimed. "We've
always spoken English. But with a French accent,
sometimes." I spoke with a French accent, then. Kim laughed
again, clapping her hands together.
"Do you find we Americans to be greedy
capitalistic pigs?" she said.
"Most Americans, yes. You, no."
When the buzzer for the next class period
sounded, Kim shocked me again, taking my hand in hers. My hand
was like a lump of clay, my autonomic nervous system pleading
"Would you like to take me out?" she
asked, without previously consulting my physician. I feel fairly
certain I blacked out briefly, but no reliable witness has
stepped forward to verify this.
'"Take you out?" I blundered.
"You've heard of that, I think, in your
home country," she said, slapping my wrist and laughing.
"You know--a date." I laughed, too--I sensed that's
what I did, anyway. I couldn't be entirely certain what was
happening to my physical being.
"Sure," I said. But then I developed
a fast-acting degenerative nerve disorder which, as I lifted my
coffee cup, caused me to inhale the steaming liquid directly
into my nostrils. "I'll take you out."
'"You're not already taken, then?"
Kim said. "I thought you prince-types were usually fixed up
with somebody by age ten."
"Taken?" I said faintly, clinically
comatose, almost. Sadly, I had never considered myself
"taken." Oh, how I longed to be taken. I thought fast.
"Well, I was scheduled to be married back home next
weekend, but decided to call it off." Kim laughed again. I
found it marvelous that I could make her laugh. Then I watched
fascinated as she moved her hand onto my wrist to begin a slow,
"Since you're calling it off, then,
fine," Kim said. "I wouldn't want to interfere."
I waved my hand in wild entreaty.
"I was heading over to call her just this
minute," I said.
"Your princess-bride will be terribly
"She's not really suited for me anyway. She throws the
discus for our national team."
"In that, case, then. . . " she said. We stared into
each other's eyes, formulating our future.
"Do I make you nervous?" Kim asked,
unexpectedly. Another of those dreaded questions, hitting at my
weak spots like poison-tipped darts. I was loaded with weak
spots. I could picture a diagram of myself with weak spots
highlighted in red magic marker.
"N-nervous," I said, nervously.
"Of course not. Not at all." She stared in at me, eyes
shining with amusement.
"Good," she said then. "I'm so
glad I don't. Take me away, then--Prince!"
A big plop of perspiration fell onto the table
top, and I smudged it casually away with an elbow. Kim pursed
her lips with an air of mock petulance that seemed somehow
intensely intimate. In a sense, it seemed as though our
relationship were going through an incredible fast-forward
cycle--before we even went out, we would be ready to break up.
'"You know, I think I'm going to like
you," Kim said. She leaned forward to touch my face, her
fingertips lingering on the trembling, vulnerable edge of my
chin. "I think I'm going to like you a lot."
I was helpless. When she left for class,
waving coquettishly, I remained festooned to my molded-plastic
sling chair, drained and drenched. I felt that I needed a
professional quality debriefing--somebody from NASA or the
CIA--or a squeegee to remove the moisture from my clothing.
I drove home in a trance, sidestepped my
mother, and retreated to my bedroom to begin a regimen of heavy
daydreaming. I lay flat on my back, staring up at a revolving
I was faking everything, of course--my air of
sophistication, a sense of savvy, even my knowledge of
literature, all surface. As for females, any meaningful
experience was woefully lacking, as I had attended a Catholic
high school with an all-male student body and a straight-laced
faculty which insisted on a pre-Middle Ages definition of sin.
(A companion girl's school was located nearby, but a difficult
hike through mountain terrain, and guarded heavily.) My
infrequent interludes with members of the opposite sex had all
ended badly, with me making desperate and plaintive phone calls
long after any even faintly-cognizant person would understand
the relationship was dead and over.
Recently, just after high school graduation,
there was a faint, narrowly-pinpointed, ray of hope. This
consisted of an ego-building summertime fling with a coed from
the girl's school I just mentioned. She was far more than I
deserved, really. She was pretty but relentlessly sarcastic, she
looked marvelous in a swimsuit, she operated with a sense of
hard-nosed self-assurance that made me feel happily, and
surprisingly, accepted. Her parents had a house with a swimming
pool! In my short-sighed immaturity, my life seemed complete, my
future assured. I made dreamy plans for a long, comfortable
career with children and grandchildren and numerous labor-saving
devices. But, in the end, it was just another chaste and
innocent relationship, and after one hot and hectic six-week
period involving a rather intense meeting of the lips, and
nothing much else, Jane Marie abruptly, unfathomably, lost
interest. It all came crashing down, leaving me empty, my future
Wide open and insecure, the story of my life.
To prepare for Friday night's date, I put on a
pair of dark glasses and practiced a confident, persuasive walk.
I reviewed various topics of discussion in my mind. In the
bathroom mirror, I practiced both fundamental and advanced
kissing techniques. I even prepared several separate
personalities, responses to situations. Kim was no sweet,
innocent Catholic school girl with their sexual hang-ups and
their scrupulous life plans, she was a real modern woman. This
was a whole new ballgame.
By the time I arrived to pick Kim up, in the
parking lot of the Handy-Andy Supermarket where she worked,
part-time, I was cool, in charge, completely in control--like a
dog is in control when it spies a chunk of red meat. I greeted
her with an almost hysterical good humor.
'"Hi, Prince!" Kim said, striking a
seductive, alluring pose. She wore a stunning little leather
miniskirt, a silky white blouse with a glimpse of undergarment
beneath, and a red cap, a sort of beret, worn at an angle on her
head, giving her a certain, ineffably European, ambiance.
She smiled significantly and snuggled up
beside me in the front seat, the way girls did before bucket
seats became standard and safety belts mandatory. She placed her
hand foursquare on my thigh.
"Plenty of gas?" she asked. The
question seemed intensely personal, vaguely erotic.
"Sure," I said, checking the fuel
gauge discreetly. I turned the ignition key with a hand that
seemed disembodied, and my 1967 Ford Mustang roared up like the
main engine on the Battleship Saratoga. My foot seemed suddenly
to develop a mind of its own, performing a snappy little tap
dance number on the accelerator. I drove with Kim hanging on my
shoulder, her perfume drifting up into my besieged nostrils like
a divine elixir.
"So where are we going?" Kim said.
My Big Moment.
"How does Luigi's sound?" I said,
with more pluck than bravado. Luigi's was an Italian restaurant
with a romantic view of the jagged, art-deco skyline of downtown
San Antonio. After our previous conversation, I had decided
finally that an elegant dinner with subdued lighting, classical
music, and deferential waiters would set the tone for a
relationship both physically and intellectually satisfying.
Afterwards--the world would be our oyster! A little Shakespeare,
a little vixen in heat.
But Kim's glance was coy and cool. She
stretched over into my driving space to breath sweetly into an
unguarded ear. The sensation was like igniting 40 million tons
of TNT directly beneath my posterior.
"I've got a better idea," she cooed,
squeezing my hand.
The history of mankind must be glutted with
the sad if gallant tales of gullible young men who followed
women with a "better idea." Followed them over a
precipice. Followed them straight to hell. Followed them into
unhappy relationships marked by years of quiet daily suffering,
sometimes genuine martyrdom. Whatever you say, Dear!
"What would you like to do?" I said,
in a wan, muted, voice, choked with anxiety. Kim smiled
dreamily. Yes! Yes! We were going to dispense with all the
foolish preliminaries and check directly into a Motel Six.
"Let's go dancing!" Kim said.
"Dancing!" I said. My disappointment
registered on the Richter Scale.
"Yeah, you know--where you move your legs
and your arms and sometimes you shake your butt a little."
"Oh, yeah," I said.
"Dancing." She shot me her first dubious look.
"You don't like to dance?" she said.
"No, no!" I protested vigorously.
"I love to dance! I just--"
"Let's go, then!" she said.
"Let's go!" I said.
I hated dancing.
I hated dancing because I disliked being on
display, I guess. I hated dancing because everybody else looked
like they were having a marvelous time, and I was having a
miserable time. I hated dancing due to a bad body image
engendered by my mother's overprotectiveness. Or because I was
overweight as a child. Or negative feedback in my crucial,
early-dancing years. Perhaps I was merely afraid. Afraid to open
myself up for failure, afraid of embarrassment, afraid that my
past would come back to haunt me. In a larger context, afraid
that I would run out of things to say and I would be revealed as
a hopeless fraud, without a past or a future. No--not dancing!
The Crystal Pistol Dance Palace was a dark,
drafty cave in a strip center storefront, its walls plastered
with advertising posters from recent rock concerts. Strobe
lights blinked with psychotic regularity. A disc jockey,
Luciferish with his long, slender face and pointed black goatee,
spun records from a throne suspended by the stage. Bar maids in
cowgirl miniskirts and sequined boots swished through, holding
plastic trays one-handed high above their heads. In shadowy
corners, long-haired young men stood smoking in poses of hip
grandeur. Romantic, it was not. It was harsh, hectic, hellish.
Kim took my hand and led me onto the dance
floor, ringed with throbbing lights. She smiled, and I smiled
back, desperately debonair. But I could see the whole night, the
whole relationship slipping away now into oblivion. The process
had started. The process, which I understood thoroughly, had
Kim was, of course, an expert dancer, sleek,
fluid, self-assured. She moved confidently, without
self-consciousness or inhibitions, twirling, thrusting, waving
her hands over her head. Alongside, I was a big, slow-geared
machine, lifting my legs and flailing my legs in some
ill-conceived emulation of flight. I caught a horrifying glance
of myself in the floor-to-ceiling mirror behind the stage--and
almost shrieked. The disc jockey and I exchanged looks, and his
clearly said, "What a nerd!"
Forty-five minutes later I slumped back to our
table, fighting to maintain dignity. All of my energy seemed to
have drained away. I focused desperately on a far wall, eyes
glassy, pulse approaching zero, praying that I could somehow
reactivate the sector of my brain that controlled social
functioning. With uncanny feminine insight, Kim noted my change
in behavior. I knew precisely what was coming next.
"'What's wrong, Prince?" she said.
Another of those dreaded questions, unanswerable but
"Nothing," I said, smiling
valiantly. Hey, let's party! But my hopes drooped with her dark,
pensive look. She understood then what was happening. She knew
what kind of person I was.
"Nothing?" she said. "You're so
"I know," I said, weakly. I racked
my brain for some feasible explanation. I couldn't think of a
joke to tell. "It's just--I don't know--the music's so
loud." She nodded, avoiding my eyes.
"Let's get out of here, then," she
"No, no, I'm enjoying myself. I just
"Come on, then--let's go."
But it was already too late, then--my fragile
equilibrium had been shattered. My personality was all stoppered
up, my ego throttled, my ability to reach out to this other
human being squashed like a bug on a sidewalk. We drove in
strained silence to a Sonic Drive-In restaurant, where
adolescent girls in orthodontic braces and hot pants delivered
orders through the driver's side window. After a fast, greasy
meal, we discovered ourselves in North Star Mall, the newest and
grandest shopping emporium in the city, walking aimlessly,
walking separately, the gap between us inches that could have
been miles. Finally, exhausted from dealing with my balky
personality, I am sure, she checked her wristwatch and announced
that she needed to go home. We both stared straight ahead as I
drove resolutely in the direction of her residence.
Several blocks away, I gambled wildly, parking
the car at curbside on a deep-shadowed suburban street. I turned
to face her. My strategy was one I had never tried
before--total, terrible, gut-wrenching honesty.
"I am an idiot," I pronounced.
"What are you talking about?" she
"I'm an idiot," I reiterated.
"I have this terrible problem. I don't know how to talk to
"You were talking to me okay,
"Earlier, yeah," I said. I waved my
hand excitedly. "I can usually psyche myself into a few
minutes of pre-planned patter. But when it comes to really
talking, I freeze up. When it comes to a simple mutual exchange
of ideas and information, I turn into a zombie."
"Why?" she said.
"I don't know why, exactly," I said.
But I did know. And I knew I must tell her. I sighed. "Do
you ever feel embarrassed about yourself?" She made a small
motion of concurrence, mostly with her head.
"I guess so," she said.
"Sure." I drew in a deep, hopeful breath. I was
shooting for it all.
"Well," I said, "I feel
embarrassed about myself all the time. I'm embarrassed by my
parents. I'm embarrassed that I have to live at home. People
always tease me about having a big nose. I want to be this
really cool character with important things to say that people
will want to listen to, but nobody really cares what I have to
say. I'm afraid to open my mouth even sometimes because I think
people are going to be bored. I say things to make people laugh
sometimes so they won't laugh at me. I have this feeling that my
entire life hasn't really meant anything, that nothing I've ever
done has been interesting to anybody, that nobody really cares
about anything I've done. I'm an idiot."
Kim nodded, after a moment. But uneasily, I
thought, insincerely, self-servingly, as a way of channeling the
conversation back into something more palatable to the mind of a
normal, healthy 18-year-old girl. She touched me lightly on the
"That's okay," she said. "I
don't really care about any of that."
"I'm glad," I said. "I glad you
don't." But she did care, I knew. They all did. They all
wanted their guy to be smart and cool and experienced. They
wanted hot-shot guys who knew just what to say and when to say
it, guys who were polished, pressure-proof, and panic-free. Guys
not like me--nervous, scared, uncertain, easily swayed.
Resigned to my fate, I turned the ignition
key, ready to drive off, having said my piece, having achieved a
kind of peace. This was better than I had usually done. Perhaps,
I thought fancifully, this would somehow pave the way for the
next relationship. If there ever was one. If I could extricate
myself from this miasma called my life.
But just as I moved my foot from the brake
pedal to the accelerator, Kim seized my arm. I glanced first at
the arm, then at her face, bewildered.
"Prince," she said.
"Yes?" I said.
"You know what? I'm embarrassed about
myself, too. Do you know why I had you pick me up at the grocery
"Because you were just getting off
"Not really. It was because I didn't want
you to see my house. I'm sure you have a nice, big, split-level,
suburban house, with huge bedrooms and a wide lawn with an
underground sprinkler system and a den plus living room. I live
with my sister and her husband and their three bratty kids in a
little shack over by Delwood Shopping Center. My parents
divorced a long time ago. My mother's an alcoholic and my father
remarried a stupid nagging bitch with a smoker's cough who calls
me 'Honey' all the time."
"That doesn't matter to me."
"Good," she said. "I'm glad it
doesn't. I just wanted you to know."
"Thank you for telling me." She sat
breathing hard, decompressing after her speech.
"Why do you think I dropped my backpack
that day?" she said.
"I thought it was an accident," I
said. She smiled, shaking her head "no."
"I wanted you to talk to me," she
said. "I thought you would be fun. I could see things in
"Really?" I said. "What kind of
"I could see honesty, and sincerity, and
intelligence. I could see humor. I could see a good upbringing
in a good family. I could see a good companion. I knew you were
probably shy. But I didn't care about that. I could see so much
more in you than I could see in 99% of the boys I've ever gone
"Wow," I said. "That makes me
sound pretty good."
"You are pretty good," she said.
"I can't dance."
"I don't care."
Then suddenly she was against me, all over me,
pressing me against the driver's side window. Her hands she
placed on my chest; one leg she wrapped around one of mine. And
then her mouth found my mouth, her lips my lips, her tongue my
tongue. It was heaven. It was very close to heaven.
An hour later, more or less, when I dropped
her off finally, at her peeling screen door, one last time we
kissed, a long, lingering preview of the future. I was
fulfilled. My life was complete. Others, sure, they could brag
about their sexual conquests, their active dating lives, the
millions they had made in business, empires built and crumbled,
wars fought, enemies vanquished, college entrance exams aced,
courtroom dramas enacted, but I had kissed Kimberly Ryan, class
beauty. I could bear anything, now. I could live without fear. I
I drove home in a trance of happiness, roared
into the familiar driveway, pulled open the door. Inside, when
my mother, groggy from sleep, blocked my path, I embraced her,
kissing her on top of her see-through hairnet. Nothing would
ever be the same. I could go to SAC for the next ten years and
it wouldn't matter to me anymore. I could go to SAC forever.
Steven McBrearty recently sold a short story
to the American Airlines in-flight magazine. He served as
ghostwriter for the time management and study skills how-to book
The College Time Tracker published by Simon &
Schuster. He was a finalist in the Austin Chronicle short
story contest. He has been writing for publication for more than