August 14, 2013

Chapter 1: Goodbye to All That

The Athens of Georgia

There were a lot of reasons that Casey Kozol moved to Athens, despite the fact that he’d never even visited the South in his life, but mostly—and secretly—it was because of a girl.

During his last month of college, at Northwestern, after his rejection letters had all come in from graduate programs at Harvard and Yale and Stanford and Columbia, and a few acceptances had trickled in from places he didn’t really want to go, he was faced with the terrible and wonderful realization that his future really was wide open.

“I guess I’ll just go move somewhere and see what it’s like,” he told his friends during their late-night porch-sitting sessions and at the parties that increasingly consumed every weeknight on their street in Evanston. “Maybe San Francisco or Portland,” he said one night, strumming a chord on his guitar. “Possibly Austin. Anywhere cool that there’s a music scene, I guess.”

And they believed him, just like they’d believed he’d go get his PhD in English if he wanted to and become a college professor. He’d written music reviews and covered shows in Chicago for the college paper for the past three years, and had recently gotten his first paycheck for an uncredited album review in Rolling Stone. An editor at Pitchfork had asked to see more of his work. No one was sure if Casey Kozol was as smart as he seemed, or if it was just some kind of trick of the way he looked or carried himself or of his diffident manner that could have been either shyness or arrogance, but everyone was convinced that in his own quiet way he’d go on to do big things. Casey himself was convinced of this, though he was careful not to say so.

“Taking a year or two off could be the best thing to happen to you,” said Dr. Reese, Casey’s advisor, as he leaned back in his creaky desk chair and looked out the window of University Hall at the blossoming trees on the last day of the semester. “I’m glad I did.” Reese still wore the uniform of his days as a hip grad student in the early ‘90s, a black tee shirt tucked into faded black Levi’s; a small diamond stud glinted from one ear in the gray light of his office. The Smiths played softly from his computer speakers. A mountain of books by French theorists towered at Reese’s left side and a sheaf of handwritten notes fluttered in the breeze on his right.

Casey was filled with sadness; he couldn’t believe college was almost over for him. He’d been a friendless nerd in a small Nebraska town, with only his books and music to connect him to the wider world. Coming to Northwestern had changed everything.

“How old are you? About 22, 23?”

“Twenty-two,” Casey said.

“God, what an exciting time. Everything that happens to you at that age seems so epic. So… fraught. Well, whatever you do,” Reese said, “you should write about it. And keep me posted.”

“I will,” Casey said. They shook hands awkwardly, and Casey walked through the empty corridor feeling both excited and sad.


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That evening, just before dark, Genevieve Farrell appeared at the door of his bedroom, holding The Sun Also Rises, which he’d loaned her for a class two years before. “Your roommate let me in,” she said. “I just came to return this.” Her short dark hair looked freshly cut and with her red lipstick and mod dress and combat boots it was unclear as usual whether she was off to play at a show in the city or to the library to study—she was always off to somewhere, and she always looked awesome.

“So, have you decided yet where you’re moving?” she asked, shifting her weight and looking at the mountain of cardboard boxes he’d been hoarding for the past few months and at the books that littered every surface. He was trying to sort through and get rid of some of them, but hadn’t made much headway.

“No,” he said. “Honestly, I have no idea what I’m going to do.” He smiled at her. “I’m going home for a couple months first, so I guess I’ll have time to ponder on it.”

“You should try Athens,” she said. “There’s an awesome music scene there. You’d dig it.”

“Are you going back?” He’d always been surprised to think that she was from Georgia—she was so unlike how he’d imagined Southerners to be.

“Yeah. Some dudes I went to high school with got a band together and they need a drummer. They’ve lined up some other people for me to play with too.”

“That’s way cool.” His heart hammered in his chest as the events of the last weekend replayed in his mind. He and Genevieve had a history together, so to speak.

“Anyway, you should think about it—it’s a pretty rad place.”

“Huh, Athens hadn’t occurred to me. Maybe I’ll check it out as a possibility.” He leaned back in his desk chair nonchalantly, though inside he felt anything but.

“You totally should. I could show you around and introduce you to everyone. Anyway, there’d be a lot for you to write about.”

Her smile was dazzling.

“I’ve got to run, but hopefully I’ll see you at graduation,” she said, setting the book on his bureau. “Move to Athens!” she called as she skipped out of his room and down the stairs.