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[End Page 144]
I can’t tell what I would think about the Iraq war, now, if I hadn’t long ago slept with a man who happened to go on to be a Navy SEAL. [End Page 145]
That’s not right. He didn’t happen to go on to be a Navy SEAL, any more than any of us happen to go on to be anything. Seth is a member of the armed forces. Character determines incident; incident illustrates character: Henry James wrote something like that. What is supposed to be my real work involves such quotations. What is Seth’s real work involves killing people and avoiding being killed.
Sleeping with Seth is not something I’ve admitted till now, not something I’m even admitting now; names and details have been changed, though you can of course look up Seth’s real name on the website of the Weatherfield Foundation, since I can’t be bothered to change the name of that—what would be the point? All of our names are there, mine too (I haven’t altered that). The dozen of us, clustered in Washington to take a photo on the steps of the Library of Congress and get on a plane for England. We were the last class of the twentieth century or the first class of the twenty-first. Even the mathematician in our group, a naturalized Russian whose long hair was striped in a purple ombré pattern and who wore ostrich-patterned leggings to the Capitol, shrugged at the technical truth that a century begins with the year one because come on, you don’t start with nothing. (You don’t? But I kept my mouth shut. I studied literature. I didn’t have a credit card. My mother wrote down everything she spent, every day, on a pad clipped to a refrigerator magnet.)
In 2000 we didn’t much care about petty distinctions. We were past the end of history, past the need for potential, past everything. Carbon was still 365 parts per million; financial deregulation and humanitarian military intervention still seemed benign. The Weatherfield Foundation was still undissolvable. It was built on sugar; the Weatherfield in the title is the same name on your box of sugar cubes, though our Mr. Weatherfield was a weak son of the company founder.
Now we all know that 2000 was really before everything. By September of 2001 we all had a better sense of beginnings and endings.
The night before the attacks was the night I slept with Seth.
Each name on the Weatherfield website is accompanied by a small photo, then the name of the fellowship winner’s undergraduate school, Oxford course, and “career goals.” In Seth’s case, the first and third items were redundant. He went to the Naval Academy. I long swore to myself that I had written “unknown” for the last question when I filled out my paper form. I kept that knowledge like an IOU to myself folded invisibly into my wallet next to my Social Security card and emergency twenty. But when I began to write this essay I clicked back through the [End Page 146] photos and saw that my third slot was filled with “academics.” I could make excuses. Perhaps we were not allowed to write “unknown,” or perhaps the Foundation filled in something afterward or made me change my entry; who can remember? I likely wrote down “academics” with the proleptic resignation that I’d already figured out at age twenty and that I’ve practiced consistently since: If I agree to what I don’t want, I will be rewarded with what I do. In fact, the reverse is true, or neither is true, and in the meantime you can’t remember what it is you wanted, if you ever did. So I have achieved my career goals, I suppose. I am in “academics,” in a way. I’m writing this on a laptop in an alcove of the Sherman College Library in Sherman, Connecticut, and the Sherman College Library...