January 2014 - Comments Off

Bennington College: A Heterosexual Galapagos

Sarah Shahzad Shaikh '14

The location is ideally insulated, an island of illusory safety, whether intentionally or not, but how interesting it would be if it were done on purpose, an experiment conducted by someone that wanted to document shattered expectations and chart the trajectory of disillusionment.

Cloistered away from selective pressure and lacking any natural predators, the Bennington male blooms unchecked, free to grow more and more impractical beaks or ironic facial hair, features that would have meant instant death anywhere but here. A creature that evolved in isolation, developing neither any instinct for self-preservation nor the ability to attempt it, the Bennington male is the modern dodo. In the absence of the need to develop in any useful way, every misfire, every evolutionary accident is allowed to persist, and thus we see many males, whose continued existence beggars belief.

Unlike most other beasts, the Bennington male is excused from the responsibility of attempting to be attractive to the opposite sex, often making not the barest nod towards even the most basic tenets of hygiene. Greasy-haired and filmy-skinned, coated in a patina of grime composed of resin residue, various effluvia (others’ and their own), garbed in the remnants of once-recognizably-hued fabric, abandoned items, given charitably or unknowingly, satisfying the bare minimum of decency, and sometimes not even that. No shirt, no shoes, no problem—they needn’t even display any marks of sentience above that of a beast of the field, for in his excruciating rarity, the Bennington male is pardoned from adhering to the social contract, from even the appearance of civilization. He is forgiven behavior that would be reviled beyond the confines of this, his miniature Eden, by virtue of his being outnumbered so thoroughly and profoundly by his female counterpart.

This female counterpart is a poor creature so crazed by yearning as to appear always with pupils dilated and skin flushed and burning, poised ever on the brink of outright hysteria, enwreathed in a miasma of her own amorous vapors, barely able to see past her unquenched and unabating concupiscence, crippled in all other pursuits by the distended and unyielding nature of her condition, movement hampered, mind unfocused, inescapably wretched. The burden of attraction lies ponderously across her invariably too small shoulders; her knees buckle and her teeth are bared in a constant rictus, declaring to all competitors that she will not be denied. In the service of these, her insurgent impulses, the Bennington female sprouts more and more ridiculous trappings, feathered and scaled, each more garishly multi-hued than the last, in a bid to outdo her equally ornamented and resplendent rivals, slavishly devoted to a fleeting victory, for even if our poor innocent achieves a glorious gain one night and captures the attentions of the Bennington male, it will last but till the dawn, and she will return once more to her labors, in a tragic reversal, a butterfly returning to a chrysalis, with no assurance that the metamorphosis will ever be repeated.

These gatherings begin with combatants and their prizes clustering, like hyenas around a watering hole; the Bennington female, ever-vigilant predator, insinuating herself, along with her fellows, into the male’s vicinity, edging so as to maintain the element of surprise (for speed is everything) while shouldering aside her advancing competitors, to be the first to win a place in the vaguely lustful gaze of the male, for once thus attracted, he makes little effort on his own towards acquiring a new beneficiary, but can easily be lured away. The Bennington female’s success is not assured until she has drawn her catch away from the others, and so must remain unblinking.

To look upon any of them is to believe that never has a womb yawned so cavernously, never a pair of ovaries hummed so energetically, an illusion dispelled when one turns to yet another Bennington female, who is likewise inflamed with equal parts desire, anger, self-loathing and frustration. There is a leap, a grasp for purchase—even this close, there is no guarantee of attainment—and the scramble resembles nothing so much as a horde of wild dogs falling upon the Bennington male, in this instance, for once, looking defenseless, genuinely anxious of threat to his person, surrounded as he is with the frenzy of the females, each one desperate and half-mad from deprivation. Like their canine analogs, Bennington females lack the necessary means to make an outright kill—wild dogs eat their prey alive, often while it is still on the run, and so the Bennington female has to paw and grope at length, all the while fending off other contenders, before some extremity, teeth, claws, talons, can close finally upon the Bennington male, and the battle is done; the owner of the quickest, strongest, most vicious appendage, the conquering female, withdraws with her quarry amidst the grudging acceptance of her vanquished rivals who, thwarted, hiss and spit in the winner’s wake.

The joy of success is sharply diminished by the necessary nature of the endeavor, the hurrah cut short by the small yet plaintive part of the Bennington female that remembers a time when there existed some semblance of equality between her station and his, but there are moments when she wonders if she imagined it. On the rare occasion that one Bennington female has an instant of recognition, a bare flash of awareness, she is appalled at her behavior and experiences a physical disgust with herself and the dozens like her. Yet despite the crushing blow this deals to her self-regard, this petrifying moment is followed quickly by the knowledge that the Bennington male exists only in this one, small, sheltered oasis of oblivious wellbeing, and he cannot stay here forever; once he is ejected, the outside world bears no comfort, no cushion for his as-yet-untried sensibilities. It holds only extinction. The knowledge that he will suffer eventually, in a manner far more final than that of her own suffering, softens the realization, before she slips once more into her unremitting state of unsatisfied longing.

Published by: in Issue 1: Fall 2013, Prose, Volume 70

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