Tuesday, April 5, 2011

When Alex Met Donny { Excerpt from "A Split-Level Life"}

I met Donald Pearl when I was nineteen, technically a virgin, and positive that I'd graduate college unattached, forcing me to live with my parents until they died. We were both counselors at The Weeping Willow Day Camp — me, working after my junior year of college, he, having switched from engineering school to dental school, and finally law school where he was completing his first year. I had observed him during the summer, a few times saying a quick hello — taking note of the variety of Betty or Veronica counselor types he often paired with, a different one each week. Donny doubled as the music counselor, and when he played the beaten up baby grand propped on the camp stage, his head bobbed rhythmically reminding me of Paul McCartney for whom I carried an obsessive crush. Maybe it was the spell of the upbeat music or being surrounded by the chaotic energy of two dozen admiring and adorable tots, but I felt an immediate link to Donny- something unspoken, yet lyrical, telling me he was it. Though I wasn’t exactly thrilled to learn it had a waistline two inches slimmer than mine.

Donny camouflaged his boyishness and smooth ruddy complexion by sporting a short goatee and wearing his wavy auburn hair long and tucked behind his ears. Near the end of the camp season, our grins grew broader whenever we passed each other, an assortment of campers trailing us like twitchy caterpillars. Once, I’d thought I was being nonchalant, but we both turned around to look back. We knew we were running out of time. Then one day after most of the minibuses left to return campers to their respective neighborhoods, Donny sauntered up to me and asked in a low, husky voice for me to hold out my hand. Taken aback, my heartbeat accelerated and I obeyed, as if it were perfectly natural for him to give me a command, as if he and I were already that well acquainted.

"What are you doing?" I asked, giggling. I felt my cheeks redden.

"You'll see," he whispered. His eyes were round and a bit droopy. Yes, he looked just like Paul. It was amazing. Donny leaned his head over my shaky outstretched hand and tugged on his eyelashes a few times until a moist contact lens popped into my palm. The little sphere tickled slightly, and I held my arm out stiffly afraid to move.

"It was in wrong...driving me crazy," he said, wearing this lop-sided grin. Then he peeled the nearly invisible lens from my hand and popped it inside his mouth.

"Don't do that or you'll get a horrible infection. That happened to my college roommate," I scolded gently. Here I was, having a hard time remembering his name, but I was already taking care of him. Had I just passed some test? I wondered if all of Donny’s girlfriends got to feel the warm wetness of his contact lenses swirling around in their palm? He walked alongside me to the counselors’ parking lot, and as I slipped into my Dart convertible, Donny leaned in and asked for my number.

"What about...?" I started to ask.


"Oh, so that's her name."

"Bonnie and I are really good friends," he said.

I looked at him coyly, wanting to ask “come on, do you think I’m an idiot?”

This guy’s probably just another charmer, I thought, so why was I letting him charm me? Reluctantly, I scribbled my phone number on a gasoline receipt and handed it to him. What the hell, there were only two weeks of camp left, and we'd both be heading back to school.

He called two hours later. We went out that night and every night after that for the remainder of the summer. Bonnie and her junior counselor threw me murderous looks each morning when we lined up for roll call. I was sure one of them would try to poison my orange sherbet at lunchtime. Obviously, Bonnie had a different interpretation of what it meant to be Donny’s good friend.

From the novel: A Split-Level Life by Sande Boritz Berger


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