DAY ONE: FRESHMAN YEAR
Ted Cruz, sweating, stood at the threshold of the registration tent, already unconsciously fidgeting with the wristband that had just been strapped around his arm. Early June sunlight flooded down, making Ted Cruz squint, but only in his left eye: his right was conveniently in the shade of the aforementioned tent, as well as a nearby tree. Indeed, the majority of Ted Cruz’s face was shrouded in darkness—at least, if you looked at Ted Cruz from a third-person perspective, which Ted Cruz could not. Ted Cruz was unaware of how the shadows wreathed his face, of the symbolism of the image. The only thoughts in Ted Cruz’s mind were thus:
– “Why did I come back?”
– “I wonder if wearing a suit to this was a bad idea.”
– “I am hot.”
For Ted Cruz was indeed wearing a suit. Ted Cruz had thought it would be a good choice for his return to his alma mater, an emblem of his professional accomplishments, a symbol of his seriousness and credibility. An authoritative face to put forth to his classmates, a sign that Ted Cruz was back at Princeton University in his full capacity as Senator Ted Cruz, junior United States Senator from Texas (in the Senate).
Ted Cruz sensed, with quickness so unusual that even he noted it, that he was out of place. Around Ted Cruz, everyone was decked in orange and black, in tiger stripes, in tufted tiger ears and twitching tiger tails, in beer jackets and matching hats; in, in short, casual and celebratory attire. Ted Cruz had known when he dressed for the day that he would appear grossly out of place among all the revelers. Somehow, it had seemed like a better idea at the time.
Ted Cruz made a mental note to bring his beer jacket tomorrow, and then wrote the note down on his phone as well to make doubly sure that it would happen, only to subsequently remember that he was slated to give talks the next two days that would require him to wear his suit. The realization (the last one in that lengthy sequence) brought forth in Ted Cruz a brief, unexpected blip of disappointment, quickly tamped.
Then, at last, Ted Cruz set off, back upon the campus he had, a quarter-century ago, left to pursue the dramatic upward arc of his career, to catapult, with blistering haste, to such heights as three separate Wikipedia articles and a second-place finish in the 2016 Republican nomination race.
On that former point, Ted Cruz, still having his phone out, typed “Ted Cruz”, with the correct capitalization, into the Wikipedia search bar. A brief pang of delight burled through Ted Cruz upon the realization that, nice, he had a fourth entry now! …Oh, no, wait, that was just a hip-hop artist named TD Cruze. Disappointed, Ted Cruz put his phone in his pocket an—
“Hey, aren’t you Ted Cruz?” came a voice behind him.
Ted Cruz turned around and tried to smile, an art he’d never quite mastered, and now made yet more difficult by the disappointment of first having raised his hopes of a fourth Wikipedia entry and then having them dashed in quick succession. The resultant attempt at a smile was dismal, a pale imitation of the fabled facial expression.
“Yes, I am,” said Ted Cruz, mustering every ounce of charm he could in order to counteract the failed smile attempt. That’s right. All three ounces. The effort exhausted Ted Cruz, and involuntarily he winced. The effect this had on the young woman from the class of 2012 who had asked Ted Cruz the question about whether he (Ted Cruz) was Ted Cruz was hard to quantify. Or, at least, Ted Cruz could not read it in her face. But, then again, Ted Cruz was, to his shame, fairly illiterate at faces.
“I’m surprised you’d come back,” said the woman, who then turned and left before Ted Cruz could respond—not that Ted Cruz had a ready response on his mind. Ted Cruz swallowed hard and looked around, pointedly directing his gaze anywhere but at her departing figure.
At last, she was gone, and Ted Cruz could unroot himself from the spot, and explore the campus he had long ago left. Already Ted Cruz sensed that this day would not go well: that he would wander those hallowed grounds, sticking out like a sore thumb. That the sun would set on Princeton, and on Ted Cruz, hapless and uncertain, ill-equipped for the revelry. That the day was already a waste.
But that was no cause for concern. After all, it was merely the first day of Reunions.
DAY TWO: SOPHOMORE YEAR
It was Friday, and Ted Cruz found himself bright and early upon campus again. The frustration of yesterday had passed, and Ted Cruz wore his suit without complaint. Yesterday’s awkwardness had passed in the long and quiet Princeton night, and Ted Cruz found himself newly eager to tackle campus, to see old friends, to harangue old multitudes and new.
Ted Cruz headed with brisk steps toward his first appearance of the day, the quizzical turns and stares of the passersby a tailwind accelerating Ted Cruz towards his destination. Ted Cruz reveled, delighting in his outsider aura, his mere presence conveying a sense of rebellion, of nonconformity to the liberal vise gripping this and every college campus.
Ted Cruz entered Prospect Garden, paying no attention to the gorgeous colors around him. Ted Cruz had places to be, after all. Then, with a jolt, Ted Cruz stopped in his tracks. Ted Cruz recognized a woman he’d had a crush on for a good part of freshman and sophomore years on the other side of Prospect Garden. Ted Cruz wondered if she’d remember him. Ted Cruz decided to approach her and see.
“Hey, Karen!” That was her (Ted Cruz’s old crush’s) name, right? “Good to see you again!”
Karen(?) turned around. “Ted Cruz? What—”
“Yeah!” said Ted Cruz. “We were in in debate together, but you left after freshman year—”
“I’m amazed you’re even showing your face these days,” Karen (Ted Cruz assumed he’d gotten the name right, given her responses thus far) replied. “But I guess you already proved you had no shame during the last election.”
“I—” Ted Cruz was, for a moment, speechless, a rare thing for him.
“Good job endorsing Trump, by the way. Healthcare, climate change, war—all that blood is on your hands.”
Ted Cruz reeled, dumbfounded. Ted Cruz realized he needed an exit, so he made a show of glancing at his watch. “Oh, Jiminy Cricket! I have to go to my talk!”
Without even apologizing for his hasty exit, Ted Cruz left the scene in a rush. That had gone very badly. Ted Cruz consoled himself with the knowledge that at the very least he had remembered Karen’s name, but still. Did Karen not remember him, Ted Cruz? He, Ted Cruz, had definitely chatted to her about his admiration for Ronald Reagan at least a couple times back in debate.
Or had the public image of Ted Cruz that completely overtaken his classmates’ memories of him? Ted Cruz did not want to pursue this line of thought very fa—
Ted Cruz suddenly found himself before an expectant, orange-dappled crowd, looking into bright spotlights, a microphone in his hand.
“Sorry,” said Ted Cruz, “can you repeat the question?” The crowd tittered. Ted Cruz felt sweat beading on his neck. The sensation from yesterday had returned, the doubts, the unease. Ted Cruz swallowed hard.
“You ran a very savvy campaign with a heavy focus on digital outreach,” repeated the moderator. “That connected you to your supporters, and your critics, in a very instantaneous manner, especially on sites like Twitter. How did having access to that feedback change your approach and your rhetoric?”
“Well, it offered a, a combination of many benefits and drawbacks,” Ted Cruz began, but he was on autopilot. The light filtering through the windows seemed late, even at 3:30 PM (Ted Cruz had checked his watch just now to confirm the time). The unease was stronger now, and even public oration wasn’t helping. Ted Cruz felt it best to make it an early night, once again—maybe stay for dinner, but that’s it. Ted Cruz would come back tomorrow in better spirits.
After all, it was only the second day of Reunions.
DAY THREE: JUNIOR YEAR
Ted Cruz left his final talk of Reunions, tugging at his suit in irritation, feeling upon his skin the uneasy moistness of his sweat, in the sunlight warmed almost to steam. Ted Cruz felt uncomfortable, and not just because of the very strange question those graduating seniors had just asked him. Well, no, not just that. Ted Cruz often felt uncomfortable. Ted Cruz felt more than that right now. Ted Cruz felt soaked, slimy—like the suit, the outer presentation he had chosen for this three-day excursion, was a corrupting influence, a betrayal of some kind.
Despite his already-mentioned core temperature, a chill ran through Ted Cruz at this realization.
Ted Cruz stopped on the sidewalk and stared around him. The sense that he, Ted Cruz, had been the only pillar of formality and prudence in a sea of revelry had cracked on Thursday and Friday, but this was something more. The crack had gone all the way through today, and now shards were beginning to come loose.
Ah, what the heck. It wasn’t even noon yet. Ted Cruz headed for his car, where he had put his beer jacket.
THREE HOURS LATER
“Chug! Chug! Chug!” came the cry from either side of Elm Drive, the orange banks of an orange river.
Ted Cruz, cautious, raised the Coors Light can to his lips. Ted Cruz knew not to expect the taste of water—the only thing he had been willing to imbibe so far—but had not expected this. It was… pleasant. Mild and inoffensive, and on top of that… nostalgic. A tingle thrilled through Ted Cruz, the juvenile promise of wild Saturday nights.
A reveler pressed another one into Ted Cruz’s free hand.
THREE MORE HOURS LATER
“I don’t usually do this, but I’ll let you have this one,” Ted Cruz said to the eager circle that had gathered to spar verbally with him. “It’s just, you know, if you don’t like the truth, there’s a lot of you and only one of me.”
This got some chuckles from the folks around Ted Cruz, which surprised him. Ted Cruz smiled, and found it came more easily than he’d ever managed before.
The youngins around Ted Cruz reached for their phones. Ted Cruz reached for another beer.
ANOTHER THREE MORE HOURS LATER
The ball bounced, clattered off the rim of the plastic cup, and rolled off the table and onto the floor. The crowd howled in delight.
“Not again!” laughed Ted Cruz, reaching for the middle cup. “This is what I get for not playing Ring of Fire for a quarter century.”
Ted Cruz chugged down the cup and tossed it aside.
“All right,” said Ted Cruz. “Who wants to go again?”
Ted Cruz took up the ball in one hand and a fresh beer in the other.
ANOTHER THREE MORE HOURS LATER STILL
“Fuck Ben Sasse!” cried Ted Cruz. “Whiny-ass little Yale pretty boy thinks he can charm his way to the White House, like good hair is all you need to run a whole country. ”
“Is he thinking of running for president? I hadn’t heard that.”
“Well, now you have!” Ted Cruz roared, with the rage of released inhibition, adrenalin surging through veins that had scarce known it.
Ted Cruz then vomited profusely before pounding down another beer.
YET ANOTHER THREE MORE HOURS LATER STILL, SO LIKE, TECHNICALLY SUNDAY MORNING NOW
Hiccuping, his hair askew and his odor foul, Ted Cruz stumbled away from campus, two-thirds-empty beer cup dangling loosely in his right hand. What a strange turn the day and night had taken. It was a haze to him, and yet, somehow, despite the fog of alcohol and whatever those nice rising seniors had offered him to smoke, he felt… strangely pure, somehow. Then he saw something that made him stop in his tracks.
“Mr…. Mr. Vice President?” stammered Ted Cruz, backing away from the floating, disembodied left fifty-eight per cent of Michael Richard Pence that had just appeared before him.
“That’s right, Senator Cruz,” said the slightly-more-than-half of Pence. “We’re very disappointed in you, drinking like this… debauching yourself with these…”—the .58-Pence shivered—”…these hedonists.”
“I—” answered Ted Cruz.
“What are you doing, Ted?” interrupted a trapezoidal slice of torso which, though it was missing its head and legs, had the voice of Donald Trump, and whose appearance cost Ted Cruz his footing. “Even I don’t drink. I don’t talk about it a lot—well, some other people, they were talking about it, I was watching Sean Hannity the other day—great guy, and he was talking about it. He’s a good guy, great guy, unlike most of the fake news media. They’ve been treating me so unfair, it’s ridiculous…”
Ted Cruz stared, jaw aflap, unable to form a response. How could he justify his behavior to the President and Vice-President—or, doing the math, about 17/32nds of them, at least—he’d helped elect? All he could do was back away.
“…You know, the real Americans, they still love me. I see them every day, they’re all telling me how great it is that I’m in charge, that they finally have a president who doesn’t drink. But you don’t hear that on CNN—who are so unfair to me. CNN, MSNBC, they’re all—it’s a disgrace…”
Something snapped in Ted Cruz. He stopped retreating, and rose, shakily, to his feet.
“Look at you two, trying to lecture me,” Ted Cruz slurred, stumbling forward. “You—” pointing to the shade of Mike Pence, which had grown now to something closer to sixty-two-percent of the vice-president’s form, albeit while shifting to the right, so that his arm and shoulder were growing indistinct— “You went to, what, Hanover? What sort of safety school-ass institution is that? Get out of my sight.”
Suddenly there was only zero per cent of Mike Pence visible. Ted Cruz turned his sights on the still-babbling midsection of Donald Trump.
“And you,” Ted Cruz spat. “You… you Penn alum. Like you think that just because you’re an Ivy Leaguer, that makes us equals. Well, let me tell you something. There’s a reason I didn’t let Penn grads study with me in law school. You say you went to the best school, I say bullshit. It’s Princeton-Harvard-Yale, or nothing. And let me tell you what. I’m Ted God damned Cruz. Princeton class of ‘92. Harvard Law class of ‘95. I don’t have time for losers like you.”
The portion of Donald Trump vanished. Ted Cruz hollered, drunk with victory, and also with drugs and alcohol, too. He looked around him, at the fabled Gothic towers, and brimmed with pride. He knew—at last, he knew—that he was home, and raised his hands in triumph, before losing his balance and falling asleep on the sidewalk.
So ended the third day of Reunions.
DAY FOUR: SENIOR YEAR
Ted Cruz awoke to twin pains circling him. At his apex, his brain pounded, hungover, in agony. As he tried to move to cradle his head, his cheek howled, scraping into hot sidewalk. He opened his eyes to a mess of light and color, only deepening his anguish. For a moment, he decided simply to lie there.
Little bits and scraps of memory briefly forced their way into Ted Cruz’s consciousness, fleetingly, only for long enough to hint at some great epiphany. Ted Cruz tried to latch on to one of these scraps, to suss out its meaning, but before he could it had vanished, leaving behind only a hole, an awareness of absence.
What had he done last night, Ted Cruz wondered. The recollections were hazy, indistinct. Ted Cruz couldn’t pay them much mind. He had to be back in Washington tomorrow, back in the Senate.
Ted Cruz got to his feet, shakily, scraping bits of gravel and dirt out of his cheek, noticing that he was a mess from head to toe. Ted Cruz began to crack a self-deprecating smile at his situation, but quickly stopped himself.
Ted Cruz took off his soiled beer jacket. No need for this thing anymore, Ted Cruz told himself, and probably not worth the trouble to try and wash it. Something tingled rebelliously deep in Ted Cruz’s brain, and for a moment, he was acutely aware again of the hole yawning somewhere deep in his hippocampus. But Ted Cruz ignored it: he had more important things to worry about.
Ted Cruz scanned the horizon for his suit, which he had carried with him through much of last night’s revelry. At last Ted Cruz found it in a nearby tree. Another small tingle coursed through Ted Cruz as he dug his suit out, but as he put it on, it extinguished itself.
Ted Cruz was hungry, but did not want to walk. Ted Cruz flagged down a passing golf cart.
“Hey,” said Ted Cruz to the driver, “how close can you get me to Qdoba?” [Author’s note: Unlike the rest of this story, I have it on reasonably good authority that Ted Cruz really did flag down a passing golf cart in order to go to Qdoba.]
“Right across the street,” the driver replied. “Hop on.”
Ted Cruz set off on the golf cart, his stomach rumbling, almost curdling in on itself, the acid combination of hunger and hangover roiling through his thorax. Ted Cruz took a moment to close his eyes and collect himself….
Ted Cruz woke up to find himself rolling in the dirt, the rear end of the golf cart flashing through his vision. The golf cart rolled to a stop.
“Oh my God, are you all right?” said the driver.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” said Ted Cruz, “but I’ll— I’ll walk the rest of the way.”
Ted Cruz looked down and brushed off his suit, now smudged with dirt and dust, and then looked up and realized he was in front of Nassau Hall.
Well, that would work. Might as well leave through the most formal entrance.
Reunions was over, done and dusted. Ted Cruz took out his phone to review his itinerary for the week. He walked out through the main gate, barely noticing, eyes fixed on his phone. He still had only three Wikipedia articles. He wanted more.