Cody was one of those college students who never seemed to go to class or to miss a party–the kind of student who didn’t so much prepare for a career at the university as prepare for a life-long attitude, and part of that attitude was the slightly crooked smile that he was wearing as he stood in front of Wendy and Lila. A few moments before, when he’d been sharing whiskey with his frat brothers, his expression had been a smirk, but as he neared the two girls who had motioned to him from the end of the hallway, he had adjusted his expression to what he’d been told more than once was a rogue-ish smile.
“Ladies?” he said, tilting the smile a little bit more.
“This is Wendy,” Lila said. “She and I disagree about something and we think you can help us resolve it.”
“Is that right?” Cody said.
“Wendy thinks that everyone one she meets on campus–and she thinks this especially at frat parties–is shallow and unweathered by life.”
“I didn’t say that,” Wendy said.
“I’m explaining it better than you did,” Lila said, “and I like the phrase unweathered by life.”
“It’s a nice phrase,” Cody said, “but I’m not sure what it means.”
“It means,” Lila said, “that Wendy thinks anyone who hasn’t suffered through a tragedy is boring.”
Before Cody could reply, Wendy stood up, handed back the cigarette, unlit, she’d taken from Lila’s purse and walked away without a word. Lila reached out to where Cody was holding his whiskey-laced beer can and took it from him. “Maybe weathered by life isn’t as good a phrase as I think it is,” she said.
Wendy had walked from the second floor hallway where she’d left Lila and Cody to the front porch which, for the first time since that night’s party had begun, was unpopulated. The center of gravity of the party–the backyard–had become so powerful that it was pulling everyone on the ground floor into its orbit.
Wendy had intended, once she reached the front porch, to keep going back to her dorm room, but the thought of that cubicle was incapacitating , and she collapsed into the swing hanging at one end of the porch. She was pushing with her feet to keep the swing in motion when Cody came out the front door and turned in her direction.
“You mean like Milan Kundera,” he said.
“What?” Wendy asked.
“You think people aren’t interesting unless they’ve exprienced a tragedy. That’s what Kundera said in The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”
“You read that book?” Wendy asked, which she regretted immediately because she knew it sounded arrogant like she could predict who did and didn’t read novels by Kundera–an author she hadn’t read herself.
“Yes, I read it. He said, and these are almost his exact words, that the heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become; and that, conversely, the absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, take leave of the earth and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.”
“That’s beautiful,” Wendy said. “That’s just what I was trying to exlain to Lila.”
“She’s the friend I was sitting with upstairs.”
“I’m not sure she’s your friend.”
“Maybe not. But either way, that’s what I was talking about except instead of the idea of a burden that people have to carry around, I was thinking that it was something other people couldn’t see–something hidden and horrible, but not like they are a vampire or a Russian spy, but like they’ve experienced something that makes them what Kundera said.”
“Real and truthful.”
“That’s right! That’s it.”
“I think it’s bullshit.”
“I think your idea about people not being interesting unless they suffered through a tragedy is wrong.”