hegel's dialectic, part two: antithesis
summer passed the way it had passed for as long as heff could remember: in late may, before he even got back from college, heff’s parents made the move out to east hampton. he swung by the house in park slope, dropped his bags, and then rendezvoused with julia, the housekeeper, to take the train out after them.
but let’s back up.
heff was kind of a townie, was the thing. his parents had always loved east hampton, and never liked to be away from it too long. most hamptonites were either long weekenders, vacationers, or true residents — people who had no second houses, who ran the grocery stores and staffed the maidstone and lifeguarded at the beach.
heff wasn’t not quite any of those. the stusses were a feature for every vacation, every long-enough weekend, and every summer, the warm days spilling out in front of him like dry sand from a bucket. not permanent fixtures, but never gone long, either. as long as heff lived, he’d be able to conjure east hampton evenings, as vivid and alive as if he’d never left, as if he were still there. the house, too big for just the three of them, surrounded by trees and couched in the soft grass they hired someone to keep lush and cut. his mother, eyes shaded by her crisp white visor, sarong tied around her waist, feet crossed at the ankle on the back porch as she watched the sun set. his father, somewhere, always somewhere but never where heff thought he ought to be.
more than that, though, would be the memories of his mother’s parties, a staple of his summers for as long as he could remember. years later, years and years, if asked, heff would be able to pinpoint the best one. his favorite of all time: the summer that he was fourteen, and the pommes first came to east hampton.
in subsequent summers the pommes wouldn’t arrive until mid-june, sometimes early july, but for whatever reason, that year they’d come right at the start.
he was just old enough to realize that his leg was never going to heal, that his face wouldn’t be fixed by puberty, that he wasn’t very funny, and that he genuinely disliked most people. his mother’s kickoff party was particularly extravagant that year, for reasons he’d never learn; possibly a fight with his dad, possibly just one of her whims. the pommes had bought a place across the street from heff’s. dité’s father planned to mostly be in the city for the summer, but his wife and kids — he explained — would stay in the hamptons. his wife loved the hamptons.
“well, you chose the best one,” heff’s mother joked, gesturing with the hand holding her martini.
heff noticed dité in slow motion. he came out to the porch and there they were: her father tall and bearded and glowering, dité climbing the stairs behind him. she was wearing a dress that seemed touched by magic, the way it moves around her legs when she walked. the sun was setting, fireflies beginning to rise from the tall grass at the base of the steps. they lit up with joy around her ankles, her hips, the curve of her shoulders. her dress was red, and off-the-shoulder, a fabric he couldn’t identify but for some reason wanted to put into his mouth.
she was beautiful, and he wanted her, but in a startling way. it didn’t feel like any of the ways he’d wanted girls before — it didn’t even really feel like wanting, at least not in the sense of wanting for the sake of having something; more like the feeling he sometimes got, when driving on the highway, of the urge to open the door and throw himself out, for no reason at all.
“hey,” she said, coming to a stop before him. her voice sounded like fingers dragging gently against gravel, overturning stones. heff had to blink a few times to orient himself, to remember that she was real, there, in front of him, and expecting an answer.
“hey,” he parroted back to her, feeling stupid as soon as it came out of his mouth.
she looked him over, her gaze flat and — bored, he guessed. “i’m dité, and this is my little brother, nas. this is your party, right?”
heff was surprised to realize there was a kid holding dité’s hand, a slightly lighter-skinned boy with big, soft eyes half-hidden behind her hip. his hair was braided. heff guessed he was around ten. he was wearing a spiderman watch.
he felt easier to look at than she was, so heff turned his attention to him and did his best not to think about the girl he was attached to, with her full mouth and calculating eyes, with the way the air seemed to move around her, accommodating.
“hi, nas,” he offered, smiling. “cool watch.”
“it’s miles morales,” nas explained, perking up. “not peter parker.”
dité’s mouth twitched, and it gentled her whole face, making her look suddenly young — it struck heff then that they were probably about the same age. he frowned, peering closer at her; the dizziness with which her appearance had struck him had blurred things over, but he could see now the way that she was also learning how to adjust to her own body, to the space it took up. he could see the way she tottered a little in her espadrilles, the way her dress pooled around her chest but pulled at her hips, the smudge of mascara on her left eye.
oh, he thought, relieved. she’s just a person.
“i like miles morales,” heff said, the words easier in his mouth then any words had been before. dité was beautiful, but her nails were bitten. there was less to fear than he had thought, because, after all, she was just another girl who would not love him. “i have some of his comics upstairs, wanna come see them?”
nas lit up, and dité sighed, rolling her eyes with a fondness that was palpable. heff was surprised when she followed them inside, trailing him wordlessly up to his room. she dropped unceremoniously onto his bed and flipped through the book on his bedside table — anna karenina — while he talked through his comics collection.
“have you read it?” he asked, when nas was busy reading. he didn’t bother with any attempt at flirting. he was five-foot-four and walked with a notable limp; dité looked twenty. it didn’t seem like a valuable use of his time.
dité quirked her mouth a little, and said, “rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that ought to have lain there unnoticed.”
“you have read it.” heff cocked his head. “you must have liked it, to be able to quote it.”
she shrugged, tossing the book aside. “i have a good memory,” she hedged, studying him with a frank look that made him feel ... he didn’t know. uncomfortable wasn’t the right word, but it wasn’t wrong, either. “are you liking it? so far?”
heff thought about it. “i usually like dostoevsky,” he decided, “but — not really for the plot. i just like the way he talks about people.”
her brow furrowed, and she picked up the book again, leafing through the pages.
“he’s kind,” heff clarified, feeling stupid, feeling a blush creep up his neck. “honest, but, uh. i don’t know.”
“it sounds like you know,” dité scolded, without looking up. “don’t be boring and pretend you don’t, just say it.”
he waited a beat, and she finally looks up at him, her eyes hard, challenging. she expected him to bow out, he realized. she expected him not to tell her. he didn’t know why, but he thought — she was testing him, maybe. testing the boundary of what she could get away with, what she could demand of him.
he figured people let her get away with a lot. he figured when you looked like that you could say and do just about whatever you wanted, and people would let you.
he didn’t want to let her win, and he didn’t want to let her down, so he said honestly: “i don’t think he thought that people are good, or even that people are, like, worth saving? or i mean not saving but um — i think he thought we’re all kind of, of, lost causes, i guess. but i think he was, like, kind. about them. i just think he liked us.”
dité blinked at him.
her mouth spread into a smile. “interesting,” she said, and it lit up inside him like a bulb sparking out.