Kirk should have known what Irene could not detect. When those lyrics go through one’s head, they signal that the end of a romantic relationship is nigh. Kirk hadn’t put Irene on a pedestal. Irene hadn’t put herself on a pedestal. It was the way she was. She was all around good, like Wonder Bread “with eight essential vitamins and minerals,” and “wrapped warm from the oven in the stay-fresh wrapper; one squeeze proves we are the fresh guys.”
Wholesome. Kirk wondered what kind of a word was “wholesome”? Where did that word come from? Whole, complete, sound, pure, healthful. Kirk certainly didn’t think of himself in those terms. Kirk wasn’t very athletic, one of the criteria, he thought, for applying the word “wholesome” to a boy. He wasn’t entirely awkward or uncoordinated. Compared to other boys, he was a slow runner, and not very strong. He wasn’t good at the sports wholesome boys were good at: baseball and basketball. A wholesome boy would have some athleticism. If report cards for fifteen year olds had “Athleticism” as an item, Kirk would have earned a U.
Wholesome. Kirk thought of Irene as wholesome. She lacked athleticism. She competed in no sports. She wasn’t a cheerleader. She wasn’t entirely awkward or uncoordinated. She played piano. She could draw pictures in which everything was proportional. Nice, honorable, exemplary, decent, upright. That was Irene. That, Kirk was convinced, was not himself. What would happen if wholesome Irene continued to associate with unwholesome Kirk? Would Kirk improve? Would Irene become corrupted? What had he learned in biology about viruses and bacteria upon integrating themselves into a favorable host?
He grappled with the matter for a week. Should he pretend to still like her a lot, while at the same time seeking a different girl friend within the next few weeks so he could say he likes someone else instead? Or should he just call off the relationship? What would she think if he just dumped her not because there was someone else? What would be worse? For her to think she was dropped in favor of someone else? Or that she was dropped and there isn’t anyone else? Did the conflict even go to sorting out the degree to which he wanted to reduce the probable pain for her from the degree to which he wanted to preserve his own sense of being a noble individual? He would have to try to pass it off as the noble, chivalrous thing, which to Kirk was the truth of the matter: preserve the wholesomeness of Irene by ending his relationship with her.
It was Wednesday. At the end of the school day, as they were at their lockers putting away books and notebooks, getting their jackets to head for buses for the ride home, Kirk did it.
“Irene,” he said, “I think we shouldn’t be boyfriend and girlfriend anymore.”
How could he have known it would crush her heart? She was sucker-punched. There was no premonition, no signs pointing that direction. The first boy who had liked her, maybe even loved her, who put his arm around her, who found her attractive, who showed a romantic interest in her. Now he was rejecting her? She began to sob, then cry. “You hate me. Why do you hate me?”
Kirk thought he’d be able to announce it and just walk away. Irene compelled him to be a man and explain himself. He had ten minutes to make it to the bus, or have to walk ten miles home. “I don’t hate you,” he tried. “I just think it better to break-up.”
Break-up? Stop seeing each other? What would you call a relationship between fifteen year olds who saw each other some during the school day, but almost never on weekends? They didn’t call each other on the telephone. They didn’t walk around school holding hands like some couples did. There was no furtive randiness like what was well-rumored about other couples.
“You hate me; I know you do.”
Kirk confessed, but it just confused Irene, “I am not good for you; you deserve better than me.”
Irene sobbed convulsively, “You hate me.”
How could Kirk console that? Had he ever had his heart crushed like that? Did he have any notion what it was like? “I have to catch my bus,” he stammered softly. He hurt Irene. He tried to rationalize it by thinking he hurt her a little to save her from a much deeper hurt later. It was rationalization in the worse Freudian sense.
Even more vaguely he left Irene on Wednesday with “I’m not wholesome.”