Mr. Gergen and I drive down the road in his Acura. I consult my map. He’s driving the wrong way.
“We’re going the wrong way.”
“No, we’re not.”
Um. “Yes we are. You’re driving deeper into rural Virginia.” I point to the map. Mr. Gergen looks. I show him the direction we’re going.
Mr. Gergen looks from the map. He assesses the rearview mirror, pulls a sharp u-turn, and straightens out in the other lane.
“Aren’t u-turns illegal in Virginia?”
Mr. Gergen says, “Number one, call me David. Number two, yes, u-turns certainly are illegal….” He looks my way.
He returns his eyes to the road and continues, “Yes sir. U-turns sure are illegal … in West Virginia!”
This cracks him up. He punches me in the arm.
This is my first day as Mr. Gergen’s intern. I laugh, nervously. I say, “Yes sir. Um, to make it illegal, the state legislature would have to change Virginia State Code, Section 142(a)(2).”
Gergen whoops. “That’ll be the day!”
Yes! We high-five. We drive toward Arlington, Virginia, just below the speed limit.
Mr. Gergen pops his ’N Sync CD into the stereo. As ’N Sync sings, Mr. Gergen mouths some of the harmonies. I am impressed.
When ’N Sync sings, “God must have spent a little more time on you,” Mr. Gergen smiles softly to himself. As ’N Sync sing their smooth words, Mr. Gergen occasionally joins in. But, after a moment, Mr. Gergen pulls the car to the shoulder and turns off the engine.
He cries. Tears fall. His body quivers. This continues for a moment, then I set my hand on his shoulder.
“Do you want to talk, Mr. Gergen?”
He looks at me. I see the face of true hurt. He looks terrible. His eyelashes are matted. His eyes are bloodshot. I smell his tears and feel his hot breath in the car.
“Number one, call me David, and, no, I don’t want to talk now. Number two,” he points to his heart, “it hurts.”
I realize that this man feels as deeply for whomever that ’N Sync song conjured as the Virginia State Code. Upon realizing this, I feel revitalized. There is good in the world and it goes by the name of David Gergen.
I say, “I’m really sorry, but you know what? You’re a wonderful person, and you’re going to get through this.”
David says, “I want to believe that.”
“Believe it, David.”
It seems that he does. David smiles, and every bit of his face but the tip of his nose wrinkles. I honk the tip of his nose. He explodes. Giggles flow forth. We are the best of friends.
“You’re quite an intern, Rory.”
“You know, David, if what is said of internships is true, that during the cycle of life we have but one true internship, then I will take this one with me to my watery grave.”
“You’re the best.”
“You want me to get you a cup of coffee?”
“I have today’s newspaper here.”
David looks at the dashboard. “No, that’s fine.”
I sense that I have overstepped my bounds; I am too eager. Our heart-pounding, warm moment has passed. My mindless intern tasks have trampled our intimacy. Dang!
I have learned a lesson. Mr. Gergen pulls back onto the highway.
A few moments pass in silence. Once we reach the confines of Arlington, VA, Mr. Gergen stops outside a Starbucks.
As he opens his wallet, Mr. Gergen says, “Grande latte, foamy.”
We elevator to Mr. Gergen’s third floor office. Mr. Gergen gives me a quick tour, which ends on his patio.
He says, “I’m going to get some things at CVS. You’re welcome to stay here after you do your duties.”
Mr. Gergen and I enter his office, and he leaves.
I start a pot of coffee. As it brews, I open his mail with his silver and gold letter opener. I arrange his magazines into piles. I dust. I order his desk. I wash his White House coffee cup.
I’m finished, for now.
I head out to the patio. There’s a scent of exhaust from the cars below. I look all around. The sun is setting. I inhale deeply. I spot Mr. Gergen on the sidewalk with a CVS bag. I call his name.
He looks up and waves.
I do a comical exaggerated wave and lose my balance. I fall over the rail. I am in the air.
Everything is silent. The sunset is resplendent. I see clouds, which make the air seem soft. I expect to die. I notice sounds. Wind blows through the landscaping shrubs. A car brakes to a stop at a stop sign. I hear bird whistles. I will miss my time with Mr. Gergen, and I consider it fondly as I fall.
I hear Mr. Gergen’s footsteps on the sidewalk: I hear him running.
Mr. Gergen has his arms around me.
Mr. Gergen has caught me.
I cannot believe what has happened, yet I can believe nothing but.
I thank Mr. Gergen repeatedly.
“You’re my intern, Rory. You’re my friend.”
I hug him. I kiss him.
Then, he cries.
“What’s wrong, David?”
“Suicide is illegal in Virginia.”
Code section 82(a)(4) when I least expected it! I explain that I wasn’t trying to commit suicide.
He says that he saw my big wave, the look on my face, the way I fell from the deck. He asks me if I’ve had a traumatic event in my life, as he had with the individual ‘N Sync reminds him of, the physical trainer he’d known since his days in the Reagan White House.
I tell him my last internship didn’t end as I’d have liked.
He says, “Heartbreak can make you feel like that.”
I try to explain that he’s wrong. I say, “I’m past all that with you, David. It was just a funny wave and clumsiness.”
As he carries me to the mental hospital, he continues to say, “Hush, Rory.”
I look in David’s eyes. I have a choice. Crush a friend in order to keep my freedom, or go to a psychiatric ward and protect my warm-hearted friend. I look in Mr. Gergen’s eyes. I think how I’ve grown to care deeply about Mr. Gergen during my three and a half hours as his intern.
Yet, I clear my throat and warm up my vocal chords. When I sing, “God must have spent a little more time on you” to him, his eyes swell.
When I sing the first chorus he releases his grip on me and falls to the ground. I enter into full song and dance mode. He sobs.
Teenagers exit the nearby Baskin-Robbins and clap in time as I serenade David. I hear an array of shrieks. Someone yells that I have more than 31 flavors.
I really belt it out. David holds his head in his hands. This hurts us both. But I feel that it’s the only course of action.
With all my heart, in falsetto, I know that the words I sing to David are true. I mean each word as if whoever wrote the song for ’N Sync wrote the song with David in mind: God must have spent a little more time on him.
David curls into the fetal position.
This is the greatest internship ever. I say, “Thank you, David.”
But as I run into the night, I realize that it’s cold.
I am horribly free.