M&M.; When you attend one of the country’s elite boarding schools, you learn to take in stride eating breakfast and doing laundry with the offspring of magnates and millionaires. During my four years at my particular New England prep school, the American aristocrats in attendance included: Marses, Gaineses, Firestones, and many flavors of Vanderbilt, among myriad other, less recognizable patronyms.
My friend, we’ll call her, Meg, started dating the heir to the Mars fortune, we’ll call him Matt, during our Upper Mid (11th grade), his Lower Mid (10th grade), year. (The Marses, incidentally and somewhat dubiously, tend to christen alliteratively, after the fashion of their best-selling product: Matthew Mars, Mariyah Mars, and so on.) A year younger than Meg (an age difference of some magnitude in the worldview of high schoolers), Matt started out on the scene—at least in our, the girlfriends’, estimation—as Meg’s toy boy: cute and none too serious; a somewhat dissipated and easygoing youth; fun guy to spend springtime evenings kissing, but definitively not a boyfriend.
But as senior year approached, arrived, and progressed—and in turn graduation—it became increasingly clear to all that Meg was more than casually involved with the candy prince. Given her druthers, we understood, she’d have gladly continued their relationship on into college and if possible beyond—and we also firmly and collectively grasped the impossibility of any future for the couple.
Because Meg, bright and lovely as she may have been, was not an heir. Sure, she came from a good Tennessee family and had been sent to the best, upstanding private schools—but the mean fact was that some of us were only upper middle class—spitting distance and a world away from the true bluebloods and meritocrats. We were, fundamentally, as rabble to their distinction—headed for forty-hour-a-week jobs and the climbing of corporate ladders as opposed to inherited positions at the helms of multinational conglomerates. We do not, in this country, talk about class, but it’s there, indelibly, all the while. And under that rubric Meg and Matt might as well have been different species of animal altogether. Temporary boarding school tenure supplied accidental proximity and opportunity, but theirs was a doomed amour—as decreed by circumstance—from the beginning.
If I were a writer of stories, if I had a light narrative touch, you’d have here before you painted scenes, evidence in action, exchanges of dialogue to reveal in succinct words the hopelessness of two kids’ hopes and mutual affection. But I’m first and foremost an ethnographic teacher-researcher. I look at cultures, and sub-cultures, and trace overtly inclinations those cultures instill in the individuals who make them up. I can only tell you, straight out, that Meg cared for a boy she never intended to and then had to let him go. I can only hope you’ll believe my belief, based on slim offered proofs, that the greater loss was suffered by Matt, who diligently snapped to his family’s expectations of a successor, who went forth faithfully into the role laid out for him by birth, little affection for it though he may have nurtured, and left behind a shining girl who loved him, as he did her, with all the sweet blind optimism of youth—sweetness exceeding any ever approached by chocolate.