He’s back now, it’s been since Christmas. Then there was the family, and the gifts, and the stories, and I didn’t get to spend much time with him. Between then and now I enjoyed Tuesdays, when the cleaning lady came and I could follow her around the house. But now he’s back, and his parents are gone, off to Florida for a warmer spring break, and he’s staying with me. I was worried I wouldn’t get the chance to walk with him again before I died. I’m glad.
We stroll around the campus. Only a few blocks away from the apartment, it was always our neighborhood. But now he lives and studies here, his attitude smells more of proud ownership. “This is where the first sustained nuclear reaction happened.” I don’t see so well now, but I think it is not my vision that makes the statue amorphous, a sort of three legged bronze toadstool. I need to pee.
“We have two Heisman Trophies in there, though we don’t really play sports seriously any more. It could distract from rigorous thought, is the fear.” I still feel the same familiar urge. It never leaves me now.
Here there is a stone from the original University of Chicago, before Rockefeller re-founded it in Hyde Park. It is in the high wall of a newer building’s arch, words on it commemorating some long dismantled hall of the failed original institution. Beyond the arch with the stone is the grassy space, full of bushes and trees that divides the two sides of the university. He waits while I pee and then we sit in the grass under a tree, watching the joggers run by in the heat. The sun is strong, burning brightly above us in the sky. I pant hard, much harder than I used to. When he was little, though not very little, someone told him that the sun would die someday and it worried him, even though he knew it wouldn't happen for two thousand million years. Now he tells me that he's learned from David Hume that he doesn't know if the sun will rise tomorrow, though obviously it will. But he is not the little boy anymore and the prospect of a dead sun does not bother him. Instead he takes some sort of pleasure in knowing that he does not know. He knows that he doesn't know for sure the sun will rise tomorrow, which I suppose is more than can be said for those who don't know that they don't know the sun will rise tomorrow, though what difference it makes I don't know.
Though I tug him toward it, we don’t stop at the park behind the house where we used to play ball, where I would pounce on him and chase him up and down the slides. In the winter we ran in the snow when none of the other children had time to play with him, and once he fell and rolled and lost his cap. We looked for it all over, until I found it, patterned wool caked with packed snow. He didn’t care and ran to me, cheeks flushed with cold and excitement and said, “I love you, you’re my best friend.” He put the hat back on and we went home, and by the time we got in his hair had frozen into the wool and he had to wait a half hour to take off the cap.
I remember when he was even littler, and we used to walk the campus, his mother holding the child-leash to which he was tethered so that he wouldn't run off and watch the college students. They attracted him, these large children who’d left their childhood homes for the life of the mind, for the great books and Hume and Rousseau and Locke and Hobbes and algebra and statistics and calculus and physics and chemistry and biology and history and economics and psychology and english and spanish and philosophy and probably, hopefully, something else. I wonder now if they weren't trading leashes for chains. Not knowing if the sun may not rise for not caring.
Here are the dorms that he lives in, but I can’t go in, so I’m stuck looking at it and watching the people go in and out and smelling the aroma of alcohol and cigarettes and study that comes off them as they pass.
Like the sun I may not rise tomorrow. I probably won't. Will he care? He would have, once, though maybe it doesn't count when you're young and stupid. Perhaps caring is the enemy of rigor, like sports, running and running and running to a meaningless end zone. I think I do care. But my head is as undisciplined as my body, full of bubblings and emanations, flatulent emoting. Are these things that I am feeling nothing more than the effluence of the brain, now that death is a-knock knockin' at the corners of my mind? Is this love that I have lived for the cause or product of the pain that wraps round my body like a hug?
At home we lie on the couch with the TV on, playing a murder show, and I lay my head in his lap. I need to pee. He rests Rousseau on me, to whom he is devoted, and scratches between my ears. Years ago, when I was young too, we would lie on the couch and he would rest his head on my back and watch Saturday morning cartoons, to which he was devoted. Tomorrow I will be gone but he'll remain, perhaps with Rousseau, or a girl, and someday a family, and perhaps another family to whom he is devoted. He runs his fingers from my hindquarters all along my back and between my ears where he stops and moves his hand from side to side. I too will achieve rigor soon, I feel it in my limbs, which tell me of the truth of that poem:
'Our loves are not given, but only lent,
at compound interest of cent per cent.'
“You pissed on the couch?”
Alex Nirenberg currently attends the University of Chicago where he hopes one day to find his way to a writing course.