BY MIKE BRITT
[Each Monday for the next few months, one of our contributors will match a great book with a time in their lives; keep up with this series, or any of our others, through our Special Features page.]
I loved The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when I read it the first night of my college orientation. There was actually a mixer for the incoming freshmen; I could hear the music through the open window. I was seventeen and hiding in a small dorm room reading a crinkled yellowed copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “immortal tale of suspense and terror.”
I’d found it on a bookshelf in the basement of my grandmother’s house. The basement had flooded that spring and every time I turned a page something like the smell of church rose from the book. On the inside cover was a library stamp from my old high school and my Aunt Libby’s elegant handwriting. She died of brain cancer the year after I graduated from college.
I have to be honest. I don’t remember anything about the book. It had no resonance. It was clever and well written, but stiff and not to my taste. But it accompanied a self-realization: I’m the guy who sits alone in an empty dorm room and reads while other people take secret drinks out of plastic bottles and watch girls dance without getting embarrassed. I am a pussy.
We are all either Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. You’re either timid and fearful or impulsive and violent.
Just before I finished the book, the music died down and I could hear laughter getting closer. The door opened and my roommate for the weekend–I don’t remember his name, I’ll call him Vinny–Vinny walked in with two blond girls, one on each arm. He was wearing a black leather jacket and made me think of Warren Zevon (“I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada outside of trader Vic’s, his hair was perfect”). Except this guy was a douche and Warren Zevon is a god. I was reluctant to join in the conversation, as (you can imagine) it was not of a high quality. Vinny made fun of the way tall blond girl said the word coffee and she flushed. The shorter thicker girl leaned into him expectantly, jealously. She pressed her ample thigh into his hip and laughed louder than necessary. I thought, “If I were Mr. Hyde, what would I do?”
The answer is probably that I would kill them all! It usually is.