When I started college in 1995, the college had just built a new building dedicated to the arts. Up to that point, the arts had a falling apart yet comfortable yellow brick building on the far edge of the campus. With its 1970s rust and mustard paisley furniture upholstered in some sort of tweed/burlap blend, it did not inspire many potential art, music, theater, or dance majors to apply at the school.
That would change with the new building. However, Icarus and I were part of the class that hadn't seen the building when we applied and were accepted to the school. I was a music major and art minor; he majored in theater and minored in music. There were others, of course, but this is not my story or their story--it is Icarus's.
Icarus was a decent actor and had a rich, deep singing voice. He had the chiselled good looks of a 1950s news anchor blended with the blonde hair of a Ken doll, the perfect poster boy for the new building.
They gave him lead parts in the musical, the fall and spring plays, and gave him solos in all the choir concerts. He was worshiped. Was I jealous of him? Well, yes and no. I was never a performer like he was; I loved playing in the orchestra as a group without solos and studying art from a distance. I was not one to throw myself out there like he did. Yet, that may be the greatest tragedy of the story.
When Icarus walked through the building, every professor greeted him and stopped to inquire about his classes and latest project; when Icarus sat down in the lobby, all the arts majors would start to gather around him; when Icarus spoke, everyone listened. He was the golden boy.
But, I grew tired of listening to him. One day, I had just finished my piano lesson for the day and was waiting for orchestra rehersal to begin. The lesson had not gone well, and I sat in the lobby starting at the red banners that had just been hung through out the building. It looked like the Third Reich had been reborn in northern Indiana.
Icarus sat down and started talking about his latest lead role; I was attempting to listen to my walkman and forget about my piano professor yelling at me for not practicing enough.
In other words, I was in no mood for Icarus.
"Good God, Icarus. Do you even hear yourself? How can you go on and on about how wonderful you are day in and day out--I have never heard a person use the word "I" so many times in my entire lifetime. In five years, no one is going to care about anything you have to say. Just shut up...."
That's fairly close, I think, though knowing myself, the word choices probably were a little more cutting and cruel.
Icarus took his school bag and flounced away, and a few seconds later I heard the heavy wooden door on the edge of the lobby click shut indicating he had gone downstairs to the practice rooms--probably to look in a mirror to admire himself.
From that point forward, he did not speak to me. He would nod to me in a shallow acknowledgment of my existence, and I would return the gesture; but we never spoke.
The next school year, a new class of freshmen came on the scene. The plan had worked. During the previous year, the deparment displayed Icarus to every perspective student as they rolled out the red carpet for each budding artist with the dreams of "making it big"--it was the largest class of arts majors ever to start at the school.
Then the fall musical audtions were held, the list went up, and Icarus was not on it. In choir, he received no solos. Even in the drama department, which was his major, he was given the role of Dr. Chasuble, a minor role, in The Importance of Being Earnest.
He never received a major role in anything ever again. Instead, he got a job in the office of the building, which entailed him wandering around the major gathering areas and writing down how many people were in the lobby, the art gallery, and the practice spaces. His clipboard in hands, his eyes diverted to the page, he was a faded figure anyone hardly noticed. The professors no longer asked about his day or his latest projects; instead, they barked orders.
Flash forward to our senior year. I was sitting in the green chairs, reading a book. Icarus, clipboard in hand, came over and sat down near me. Rumors were circulating that he had a drinking problem and may have impregnated an underclassman. I had no idea if any of those stories were true, but the young man I saw in front of me looked beaten up, tired. His eyes, once fired with a passion stronger than any art student in the whole building including the professors, were extinquished and vacant as they stared out the windows at nothing.
We did not speak.
After about ten minutes of silence, he reluctantly got to his feet, and as he passed where I was seated, he placed his hand on my shoulder and patted it with understanding.
But, I grew angry. The professors had taken this boy fresh out of high school, sewn together golden wings for him, placed them on his shoulder so he could saunter around campus, assembled a throng of admirers, and then told him to fly...to soar as high and as fast as he could, to not stop no matter what; and when he did what he was told, he fell back to the earth only to be ignored.
I was ashamed that what I had said to him had come to fruition. I am sure I was not the only one to have seen Icarus fall but it seems when he was on the ground gathering up his soiled and tattered feathers, his broken body, everyone turned away to focus on something more entertaining.
Yet, I stayed and watched and did nothing to ease his pain--for that I will always be sorry.