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Excerpt: 'My Education'

Susan Choi, author of

Susan Choi, author of "My Education" (Viking, July 2013). Photo Credit: Adrian Kinloch

Later that week, when I came up the steps at the end of my first day of classes, Dutra was already home, sprawled in the porch hammock with a half-empty bottle of beer. "What an insane day!" I complained and exulted.

"You obviously need a drink," he said, swinging the bottle at me so I had to accept it. Dutra had a pouncing way of expressing himself, as if the subtext was always "I gotcha!" His voice was generally too loud for its setting, for the porch on this homely, leaf-drowned block of wood-frame houses on this somnolent, hot afternoon, for example, but the oversize voice was well matched with his face, long and lean and not the least softened up at its edges by his five-dollar barbershop buzz cut, its narrow span busily occupied by a large, slightly hooked Roman nose and large, hooded green eyes and a wide, mobile mouth and large sticking-out ears, all of which he tirelessly manipulated as a clown would, launching his eyebrows or stretching his grin from one lobe to the other. Yet in his rare moments of repose it was easy to imagine him leading the Argonauts and clanking his sword in the dust. It was my latest theory that the carelessness with which he carried himself -- shambling with his shoulders hitched up, or tossing himself like so much useless scrap wood into a heap in the hammock -- was meant to conceal this feline athleticism, to benefit him with a hidden advantage. He seemed to particularly relish being underestimated, a condition which formed the theme of the story he was now telling me, and which had surely played a role in our current relationship. I happened to be sleeping with Dutra. Ten days before, the very night I'd moved in, he'd seduced me, with no more effort and no less presumption than he's used handing over his beer.

His story had to do with the boot-camp-style orientation he'd just undergone. He had begun his day dismissed as the skinny wise-ass, and would up unanimously elected team leader; a typical triumph for him.

"It was every kind of kill-the-individual, forge-the-collective, kick-your-ass, boot-camp-type thing they could think of,' he went on, reaching over his head for the six-pack to fetch us new beers. 'Climb walls, swing on ropes, fall blindfolded off high things into a net someone's supposedly holding. Toward the end of the day, when we were doing just that -- put their blindfold on, help them up the ladder, talk them into jumping off with no idea is someone going to catch them or their neck's getting broken -- one of the residents said to me, 'You're going to make a great doctor. They really trust you.' " Dutra's unabashed braggartliness was like a sedative to me; I was unused to so much confidence. Dutra stated his superiorities because they were facts, not because he required my agreement. It was the same attitude with which he'd stated the idiosyncrasies of the apartment, the day I'd come for a viewing: the apartment was, and would always be during his tenancy, absolutely messy and absolutely utilitarian -- he had no time for nor interest in beauty -- but it would never be dirty; he had no tolerance for dirtiness. He rolled up his sleeves and scrubbed things, he washed windows and laundry, but he did not waste his time making things neat; it went without saying I'd live the same way. As far as shared space, I should feel liberated to do as I pleased so long as I didn't object to his habits, which were principally smoking marijuana, watching television, and studying to be a vascular surgeon, all of which activities took place at all hours simultaneously, and were necessarily bund to one another. Finally, although the apartment was furnished, as advertised, the two rooms I was offered were in fact absolutely empty. There were not even blinds or lightbulbs.

From "My Education" by Susan Choi. Copyright © 2013 by Susan Choi. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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