THE DELENDA

THE DELENDA
A Requiem for My Wanton Words

The Purpose of this Delenda: A Limbo Between Digression and Deletion

During my last college semester I studied under a brilliant professor; he taught me to quiet my inner censor and to just write as I wish--despite my post-traumatic-professor-disorder which paralyzes me with self-doubt, these the war-wounds worn by so many students after years of terrible teachers, each either entirely apathetic or deeply entrenched within the utterly rote—their lectures just jaded regurgitations in Power Point, those slides cycling while the students fitfully sleep in-seat.I began writing a memoir for his class and I have yet to finish it; my writing has not been as clear and precise as it was while under my professor’s mentorship and I have more than doubled my original page length, though very little has actually been said therein. I am increasingly lent to my own obsessive compulsive writing tendencies. My prose has of-late been lost in loops and tangles of meaningless tangents—self-indulgent insertions of the beautiful words I love to taste in text.This blog is a collection of passages deleted from my memoir—an attempt to preserve wasted words, which are intrinsically sacred in spite of me. May they have their heaven here; may this final resting place, this Delenda, be better than nothing at all—better than true deletion.

If this unjust medium--this blog--be not the cure for my wild-fire writing, then surely The New School will be.

I was recently accepted to The New School in New York City for their MFA Creative Nonfiction Writing program for Fall 2010. Being accepted into such an esteemed university, being awarded such a coveted spot in their writing MFA program -- it's like winning the academic lottery. I have never been happier than I am in my dreams of a true academic setting. I know this will be the solace I have sought since being under the mentorship of my undergraduate writing professor.

This is me...

This is me...

This is me as well...

This is me as well...
In Death Valley, the Sand Dunes and Solitude Suited me Well.
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June 26, 2009

Words in Response to Public Requisition

In recent times -- since being accepted to graduate school, most particuarly -- I have been overwhelemed with requests for a more substaintial writing sample. This delenda is a poor example of my work, as it was first intended to be a waste receptical for all those rambling portions of my memoir that I cannot bear to delete, but cannot -- in good favor with myself -- allow to remain in the body of my work, where it only inevidably obscures the point of the given passage wherein these tangents leech the reader's attention. So, I have decided to add, herein, the writing sample which I sent to Sarah Lawrence when applying to their graduate program. If it was satisfactory enough to win their favor, it in doing so has very nearly won my own. So, here you have it -- a selection from my 200-and-counting page memoir which I intend to finish once at Sarah Lawrence, under the mentorship of my esteemed professors.

*Note: I believe I have accidently pasted herein the version of my submission essay which had not undergone my final edits and revisions. Nothing fundamental was altered in my final review, so I have decided not to undertake the laborious task of re-pasting such a large file on this already-maxed-out blog spot, and instead allow it to stand as is -- minor spelling errors and all. So if a word is missing or an atrociously misspelled word is present, just chalk it up to my work in its slightly more raw state. :o)

______________________________________________________________________



FOR REVIEW BY SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE – for ADMISSION TO THE MFA CREATIVE NONFICTION WRITING PROGRAM of Fall 2009


~Excerpts from the Memoir~
THE UNIVERSITY
A Solace for Scholars and The Academically Scorned

Erin Wheeler



For Professor M.N. Armintor, with gratitude.



The following excerpts were taken from a four-part memoir on formal education, which I began my last semester as an undergraduate in college. Because I do not tend to write Creative Nonfiction in Essay form, and equally because I do not like the disjoint feeling of writing in small chapters, I have chosen to submit to the Admissions committee, an excerpt from each of the four parts. Also, please forgive the length of this submission—I know it is likely a great deal more than you wanted or require—however, each of the four sections into which I have divided my memoir, at some point in my composition, became quite distinct in style, voice, and tone, and as such I have included an excerpts from three of the four as opposed to just sending a large section from one of them. If these selections feel incomplete, it is because they are taken from a much larger body of text—a 240 page memoir that is, as of now, still unfinished, though the majority of it was composed during a five week summer course (during my last semester at UNT), where I was able to compose over a hundred pages in a relatively short period of time, given the truly special mentorship I enjoyed in that class and hope to again find in graduate school. *Names have been changed.








From Part 1: Regressions
It’s true what people say: some things never change; Education is one of those things. The years I’ve spent in school, from kindergarten to college, have been a process of public suffering by the same blessed gantelope—a slow and steady torture; a ritualized rite wherein we race the span of a narrow alley-way, encircled by our armed accusers. I have willingly run this gauntlet for nearly eighteen years, and in that time it has changed very little; my afflicters have varied in rank and form, but the wounds and weapons of their trade have remained remarkably the same. But not a day has yet to pass that I haven’t felt completely overcome by gratitude—to whatever god or governing power has dictated this path for me, if there be any at all—for even the worst of my educational war-wounds are far greater than having suffered none at all, as there is hardly a sadder sight than the mark of the uneducated—the unscathed mind. These scars are my regalia and I am decorated with pride, each moment of despair adorning me like a medal of honor. And the most adorned of them all are of course the educators and academics themselves, some of whom have come out of battle as stronger fighters while others have returned wearing the marks of trauma; they are the shell-shocked veterans who will inflict the same pain upon their subalterns as they themselves suffered in school. Not much has changed in the way of war since that first year in kindergarten.
That following year, I repeated kindergarten, and it only got worse from there. I was noticeably traumatized by my school’s accusations that I was somehow mentally ill-equipped, and this was made worse by the disillusioning experience on my first day in the new school, which was supposedly only for the most intellectually advanced children, and to my grave disappointment I found that—though advanced they may be—intellectual, they were not. They had simply a greater ability to perform the same mundane tasks that I so abhorred—tasks that, in kindergarten, include one’s ability to color inside the lines of someone else’s drawing, and the skills associated with being able to play in centers and occupy yourself for hours with a tub of water and a plastic boat. In later life, these children would undoubtedly find these skills useful, as those who can color inside the lines in kindergarten will be those who can do so in adulthood; those children will one day trade their centers for a cubical, and their learned ability to sit-still in one place and focus on a single task will serve them well as they analyze budget reports or binary code, and they will have a perfectly content life as a suit and a tie, computing amid particle-board partitions on the nine-hundredth floor of some faceless office building for years and years on end. I never could stay inside the lines—not in coloring books, not in school, not in life.
Everyday during my second year in kindergarten, my mother would take me by the hand inside the classroom, and while she hung up my coat and backpack, greeted my teacher and apologized for her child’s stubbornness, I would—in an act of grand defiance—immediately go to the wall nearest the door, turn my back to it and slide down until I was in a little angry puddle on the floor, and there I would sit, my arms crossed and my brow furrowed, for the entire six-hour day. Looking back, I’m almost proud of myself—not for being so poetically rebellious against the formal institutions of society, but for actually being able to sit against a wall for that long; I remember the hardest part was waiting all day to use the bathroom. My teacher tried to force me to eat during the designated lunch-time or snack-time, or to sleep on my designated mat during the scheduled nap-time—but I always refused. She would give a cup of water during lunch time, and I would wait until after everyone was finished eating and all the food was cleared from the tables before drinking it. The school called my parents in for meetings and conferences, but my mother always instructed them not to make me eat, or play, or nap if I didn’t want to. It was during these times in which she was first labeled an “enabler,” and this was a term she would come to know well, hearing it from most of the teachers and faculty she encountered over the years. Even my parents were sure that eventually I would grow tired of pouting all day, and I’d finally submit to my place in the world and go play nice with the other children. This has yet to happen for me. At first, the children would try to reason with me in the only way a five year old knows how—by bringing me toys or inviting me to play with them, often asking my teacher “is she in trouble?”, “How long will she be in time-out?” Once the others finally realized I wasn’t forced to remain in my corner, they at-first began to find me strange, then after a few weeks of steady wall-sitting they forgot about me entirely, and I became just another fixture in the room; like a flesh-and-blood piece of furniture, a strange object that they lost interest with in time.
Now I am twenty-two years old, and I still find myself rebelling against certain types of social-interaction, still sitting against a wall and refusing to play with my peers. I haven’t had many friends in my life, and though I desperately wanted friends in grade school and high school, by the time I entered college I had become bored with the idea, and it was then that so many began to vie for my attention. Still, few endure the test of the changing eras in one’s life and the phases and fickle fancies one falls in and out of over the years, and I have returned to that place of disillusionment that confined me to the floor in kindergarten; the effects of this have become something of which I’m increasingly aware. A few days ago I was waiting for a friend in a local bar, which is frequented by daily swarms of students—and this is to be expected, as it is located on one of the main streets in the hub of my little college-town, another among the handful of trendy, fashionably-dilapidated establishments which nourish the university I attend. I had no interest in such a scene, but one of the first things I learned in college was that students are more likely to attend happy-hour than class, and in an attempt to avoid being shunned completely, I always tried to take part in these social gatherings—a college equivalent to those kindergarten “centers”, where I sit at a table and try to interact with my peers, beers where blocks once were. My friend was quite late, and in the hours I spent waiting, I sat alone at a table which was up against the wall and nearest to the door, engrossed in a book—reading until the only audible sound was that of my own voice inside my mind, narrating the words on the page, and I became so internally enveloped that I could no longer hear any of the outside noise; the sound of beer-sloshing and shot-calling faded into the indiscernible background and dulled to a gentle hiss, like the whimpering sound of static in the air.
Even the occasional startling uproar among the patrons watching sports on TV wouldn’t shake me from my trance—which requires the most practiced detachment from the outside world, as televised sports are known to rile the masses into a riotous clamor of different noises, often evoking a chorus of abrupt exclamations; these TV-entranced face-painted fans begin to sound like evangelical preachers caught in the throes of a dramatic revival sermon, each letting his voice go quiet at times, a shared silence amongst the crowd, keeping a steady rhythm like the ticking of an old grandfather clock, and then erupting into an unexpected roar like the chimes that ring on the hour, so similar in sound is this to when, from pulpits the preacher screams, some hushed-to-hallowed word or phrase with a quickly elevated volume serves to wake the sleep-fallen congregation—who are all belulled by the steadiness of the preacher’s voice; and when he yells, with him the audience will chant in tandem. Through the screams of innings and fouls, still, I could not be roused.
I was entranced within the pages of Pessoa, and all that could be heard echoing in my mind were his words, and early in the night I had flipped to a random page in the book, and stumbled upon a passage that hushed the room and reverberated within my imagination, and the outside world was a bustling silence as I read the same page over and over again, letting each word come over me, every time anew—like the gospel of an imaginative mind. At first, just as in those long stretches of kindergarten-days when I sat against the wall, the other children would approach me and, trying to shake me from my internal world, both they and those of their same today would try to pry me from the wall—and even now, from the pages of text, I shall always sit aback to their world.
“What are you reading?” The boys would ask; and if I had not been holding a book they would have asked “Do you have a light?” or “Didn’t I have you in that one class?” and occasionally “Can I buy you a drink?” All of these are the canned-incantations of the mass mind, and even when they differ in words they are always the same in meaning and intention. I have learned to thwart them all, though I no longer have the strength I did in my youth, when I could simply stare into oblivion and ignore the other children’s futile attempts to interact with me; now I must have a shield to reflect the blows, some textual trench among the social battlefields—a place dugout in dirt where I hide from the advancing men, their words raining down upon me, flying overhead like arrows from enemy grounds—and on that night I found my protection in the pages of Pessoa. I felt as though I was escaping to the same world in which he had been lost, a place of imagination so deeply removed from the outside world that therein the thicket of one’s own mind would have him walking in circles for eternity; the fate of Pessoa and I, as “together and apart we walked along the forest’s sharply turning paths” (386).
As the night grew later, the surrounding males became more bold, and whiskey-brave from shadows they drew nearer, hunting those astray from the herd—I among their picks—and stalking me, they came in packs like wild cats poised to prey—and the more they drank the more their eyes burned with a ravenous appetite. But I could not be diverged from my path or pulled from my wanderings within the forest of my mind, and I just kept reading, “Foreign to us, our steps were united, for they went in unison over the crackling softness of the yellow and half-green leaves that matted the ground’s unevenness. But they also went separately, for we were two minds, with nothing in common except for the fact that what we weren’t was treading in unison over the same resonant ground.” And then someone would come to the table, the hunting beast poised to attack its prey, and he would say “Hey there, what’cha readin’?” Without so much as a glance I would continue reading, keeping the steady pace of step as I walked the expanses of my internal landscape, losing myself in thought.
Autumn had already begun, and besides the leaves under our feet we could hear, in the wind’s rough accompaniment, the constant falling of other leaves, or sounds of leaves, wherever we walked or had walked. There was no landscape but the forest, which veiled all others. But it was a good enough place for people like us, whose only life was to walk diversely and in unison over a moribund ground. I believe it was the close of day, the close of that day, or perhaps all days, in an autumn that was all autumns, in the symbolic and true forest. (386).
In the hours I spent reading, my aggressors never ceased their hunt, but I paid them no attention; and in the end, they finally gave up, and one by one they stalked a more attainable prey. I read on:
“We were, in that moment, no more than wayfarers between what we had forgotten and
what we didn’t know, knights on foot defending an abandoned ideal…”
“Hey there, do you want some company?”
“…along with the steady sound of trampled leaves and the forever rough sound of an unsteady wind…”
“So, uh, are you just gonna, like, ignore me?”
“And always, all around us, the sound of leaves we couldn’t see, falling we didn’t know where, lulled the forest to sleep with sadness.”
“Hey! I’m talking to you! Come on baby; let me buy you a drink…”
“The forest was all false clearings, as if the forest itself were false, or were ending, but neither it nor the falseness was going to end. Our steps kept going in unison, and around the sound of the leaves we were trampling we heard a very soft sound of leaves falling in the forest that had become everything, in the forest that was the universe.” Italic
And more would come when one would give up, and sometimes they would come in twos and threes. “Hey man, don’t talk to her,” the one man would say in passing to the next man that had come to try his luck, “She won’t say anything back; it must be a really good book she’s reading. I dunno, she’s kinda weird…” But their voices were like the soft and muted sound of falling leaves and I hardly heard them, even as they crunched beneath my feet as I walked on my way.
“Who were we? Were we two, or two forms of one? We didn’t know and we didn’t ask…”
“So, uh, what book are you reading?”
“…what it was or might be was foreign to us, two perpetual walkers treading in unison over dead leaves, anonymous and impossible listeners to falling leaves. Nothing else.”
“I just wanna know what book you’re reading…”
“A now harsh now gentle murmur of the inscrutable wind, a now loud now soft rustle of the unfallen leaves, a vestige, a doubt, a goal that had perished, an illusion that never was—the forest, the two walkers, and I, I, unsure of which one I was, or if I was both, or neither, and without seeing it to the end I watched the tragedy of nothing ever having existed but the autumn and the forest…”
“It says….Fernando….Pes..ss...oa…who’s that?”
“…the always rough and unsteady wind, and the always fallen of falling leaves. And always, as if surely there were a sun and day out there…”
“Uh, ok then….I guess I’ll leave you alone…”
“…one could see clearly—to nowhere—in the clamorous silence of the forest.” (386).
I didn’t know why I loved that passage so much, why on that night I read it over and over again, but now as I trace the steps of my life in this memoir, I can see that I was unknowingly reading a poetic metaphor for my life and my years in education: I was always exploring the realms of an internalized world, a forest of imagination, and everyone else outside of me were as insignificant and inaudible as the sound of leaves, rustling, crackling, falling.
From Part 2: Reclusions
At this point in the semester I had really begun to fall ill. I was enrolled in 20 hours—desperate to take back the year I had squandered, the semesters that my girlish, foolhardy infatuation with a worthless man had forced me to relinquish, and I feared that if I did not just push through, I would simply lose momentum and drop out all together, and it is this same fear of falling into the doldrums never to be pulled from passivity again that causes me to write for twenty -four hours straight as I have done tonight, desperate to finish something, to have something to my name other than “almost” or “incomplete.” But the hour-long commute began to further take its toll on my time and health, which wasn’t helped by my rapid weight loss, then approaching an all-time low, fifty pounds lighter than I had been as a freshman—a frightening thought as I was never overweight or even heavy before I had shed all those pounds. My skin hung off my bones like white bed-sheets covering the furniture in an old abandoned house. I was constantly stricken with a painful frigid chill, and my elbows, ankles, knees and fingers turned all shades of blue, black, and purple throughout the course of the day. My hair fell out on the desktops behind me, and bones would ache and bruise from sitting on them all day. I was frail and easily overcome by fatigue, and as I walked my daily laps across campus, I would find myself folding like the bows of a broken tree under the weight of my schoolbooks in my bag. I had to hide my books under staircases and in storage closets around my classrooms, being too weak to carry them with me most of the time. I didn’t sleep every night, and when I did I awoke in fits of terror, that Heideggerian anxiety where you’re afraid but unable to differentiate what thing it is that haunts you in between dreams and day, that primitive animal-instinct that alerts you in the twilight hours to some predator lurking in the shadows, though you know not what comes for you in the night. Eventually, all I really cared about was school, and I focused only on enriching my mind, slowly allowing my body to putrefy on the outside while my soul and imagination flourished within.
Soon I was getting sick all the time, and then I began having trouble with various systems and organs; my gallbladder was the first to go, though since then I’ve made a small recovery. From there it was my appendix—which I had removed—and then my kidneys, which I still have, of course, though still I am struggling with a frequent debilitation from this, and sadly I’m sure I have no one to blame but myself. Soon it was my nervous system, and I suffered Ulnar Neuropathy, a degeneration of the nerve that runs opposite of the Carpal in the hand and up the elbow, and this was mostly the result of a terrible habit I developed, which I still find myself falling into in moments of absent mindedness. Strangely, I found that this same compulsion was described by the character in the book Hunger by Knut Hamsun; of whom I have recently become an avid fan.
A couple of short sentences came into existence with considerable effort, a few miserable words I tortured into being just to make some headway. Then I stopped, my head was empty, I couldn’t do anymore. When it was obvious that I couldn’t go on, I began staring with eyes wide open with these final words, at this unfinished page, gaped at the curious shaky letters which gazed up at me with small shaggy beings, and at the end I couldn’t understand what was going on, I had no thoughts at all. (129).
I was living a mirror image of this character’s life, starved all the time but afraid to eat because the sugars would rush to my head and seduce me with a senseless glee, making it impossible to think or write, making my thoughts flee my mind at the moment they appear, a scattered feeling that lasts for hours. Still, if I waited too long to eat, my mind would be cloaked with an opaque curtain of fog, and writing was like trying to see through the dense dew and haze, suspending mist in midnight and obscuring vision past yourself—this was that nighttime fog that hung over my eyes like blur I couldn’t rub to relieve when I hadn’t slept in over two days or hadn’t eat in about that long, or both. I would always feel closer to the approaching threshold of true insanity when I had eaten enough to sustain basic bodily functions. There was nothing I more despised than people who thought I had some shallow interest in being skinny, why would I care if I’m skinny? I always thought, forgetting easily overtime that the rest of the world lives a primarily corporeal existence.
I was hardly even human anymore, the only thing remaining distinctively flesh was my fingers typing away, nearly without me at times; I once fell asleep while typing a term paper and awoke—I’m sure only moments later—to find that my hands had kept typing though my mind had shut down. What were they working from? What message was sent to my jostling fingertips stroking gingerly the keys to each letter, bringing about these words like the movements in a tribal dance, a bouncing jubilation to the beat of a steady drumming rhythm, the clicking and thumping of these keys keeping time and staying in tandem with the rhythm of the sentences as they come dancing into existence, fluttering onto the page. The words I had written that night were a little misspelled, but I was aghast to find that the sentence hadn’t veered from my intended course, and though I probably would have tweaked the sentence nine times before moving on to the next, I found that my moment of sleep had produced a perfectly coherent sentence. This feels eerie to me still.
I smacked my lips once or twice but undertook nothing else. My chest was giving me pain… After a while I attempted to rouse myself from this curious drowsiness which had floated into all my limbs like a fog; I sat up, coughed as hard as my head would allow—and fell back once more. Nothing to do, I was dying with open eyes, helpless, staring up at the ceiling. Finally I put my forefinger in my mouth and started sucking on it. Something started to flicker in my brain, an idea that had gotten free in there, a lunatic notion. Suppose I took a bite? Without a moment’s hesitation I shut my eyes and clamped down hard with my teeth. (129-130).
Just like the sad, starving man in the story, I incessantly chewed my little finger to stay awake until I lost feeling in it entirely, leaving me with dead appendage that could not discern fire from frigid water and, just after I was no longer able to feel temperature, I lost mobility in my calloused finger and watched it wither and withdraw itself towards my palm. I would have probably suffered more severe nerve damage if I hadn’t been wise enough to date a medical student during my sickest of states, and the constant medical attention was a major factor in my recovery, as was a considerably less stressful educational-enviroment in the final months of my undergraduate degree.
I leaped up. Finally I was awake. A little blood trickled from the finger and I licked it off. There wasn’t much pain, the wound didn’t amount to anything, but I was suddenly myself again… The poor bitten thin finger looked so pitiful. My god, I was a long way down. (130).

Even in the worst of my weakened days, I was never forsaking food for some vain reason—never for the concerns of some ideal physical appearance or some cereal-box psycho-babble about the desire for control or the obsessive need to be the governing agent of your body. I simply lost interest in my physical existence—not in a depression or something trite like that, far from it, I had never been happier than when I successfully escaped my own body, no longer knowing when it required something of me, the pains one knows as distinctly hunger or specifically illness became a foreign language to me, and I lost the needs of my flesh in the translation of feeling to thought. By the time my insurance company was ready to drop me, I was missing too much school from being weak and ill, and I found I could no longer write anything coherent, I stumbled upon The Fall of the House of Usher.
I was lying in bed during a long recovery from one of many surgeries I would have that year, and I was researching Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher for my final project. It was for the advanced fiction writing class I took with Professor Gaudium, who was another delight among the brightest and most inspiring professors. It couldn’t have been more relevant to my current state of affairs, and so I vigorously poured myself into the project, and soon compiled a thesis on the essential human need for depravity and the separation of self into a duality of mind and body. Every individual is a whole comprised of both parts, mental and physical, but most of us will characterize one trait over the other—often switching from one focus to the other at different times in our lives, these whims and bouts of mental engagement in lieu of physical focus and the contrary being what allows us to function in the uniquely dynamic manner that is at the essence of what makes us human. However, a problem arises when this focus becomes solely in either imagination or sensation, as a full emersion into one area necessitates a deprivation of the other, and because without the mind the body cannot interpret sensory information and without the body the mind has no host to support it, there can never be an enduring existence in the fully fractured individual; if the mind and the body in an individual were ever to fully disengage from one another, they would bring down upon themselves their own visibly looming demise.
The story is narrated by an unnamed, ambiguous character; a device employed by Poe as a means by which the reader can become directly involved in the story, and learn from the experiences and mistakes of the narrator. The other two characters, twins Roderick and Madeline Usher, are arguably two fractured facets of the same person. The character that these two represent is one who is so divided between his physical and mental responses that he actually creates two separate aspects of his personality. He gets lost in his imagination, represented by the house, and as such his body begins to suffer the consequences of physical neglect—also represented by the steady decline of the house. The house symbolizes the dark realm of the person’s imagination as he becomes so immersed in his mind that he leaves his body to die. This death is represented by the premature burial of Madeline, who symbolizes the physical realm in the story, and upon her entombment the mind begins to die as well, which is seen through Roderick’s growing insanity.
The narrator is seduced by this escapism and nearly lost to the internalized world as well, and in the end he is called a “Madman” by the very man who he considers insane. He narrowly escapes with his sanity, fleeing the house only to watch it collapse upon itself, destroying Madeline and Roderick within just after Madeline rose from her untimely grave and symbolically toppled upon her brother. This represents the person’s actual death, shown by the fall of the house of Usher, as the body cannot subsist without the mind, and when one of the two is neglected, so too will the other suffer the same eventual fate. Just as the results of extremism in either the mind or the body does not end happily in Poe’s story, neither did they promise to end so in mine. I almost lost myself to my own falling house, both literally and metaphorically. As I delved more and more into schoolwork and studies, I had less and less time to be bothered with the demands of my physical body, and eventually I learned the lesson of the Usher twins—that the body and the mind are nurturing symbiotic bodies to one another. Both are twinfold facets of our humanity which are separate and codependent, functioning as dual aspects in nurturing relationship to each other; thus, the physical body and the imaginative mind are necessarily related and coexistent. Without the mind, the body is subject to the throes and whims of passions and impulse. Without the body, the mind will slowly starve and waste away, and death will befall on both twin aspects this duality just as the house fell upon the Ushers.
It has been a joke between my boyfriend and I in these last months before graduation that my house has suffered the fate known as “The Fall of the House of Erin,” and the fact that my actual home has equally suffered the touch of passive negligence may seem unremarkable—the obvious result of my disengagement from the physical world—but it is highly unusual for me, as I am not only an obsessive cleaner and scrubber of my house, for my entire adult life I have taken such pride in collecting lovely things—decorative pillows and Austrian crystal stemware, gold-flecked frames bordering large photographs of Audrey Hepburn, knits and curtains from my travels in Thailand, colored glass in decorative bowls from my visit to Italy, the soulful look of old, leather-bound books I inherited from my grandmother—which she inherited from Sir Walter Scott, her great uncle—paintings from my visit to Greece, dish towels from Spain, sconces from an old German train-town, and all of those hoarded items retrieved from the semester I spent in a quiet seminary in Ramat Eshkol—Israeli treasures valued so highly because they are, on the whole, fashioned by human hands, each candle stick and prayer cloth aglow with that kind of old-world soul visible in objects which are untainted by industrialism, assembly lines, modern machines or any other capitalist facet of the civilized world. And these items—the Mezuzahs, Siddurim and Kiddush cups—are my most prized belongings, and they were so sacred to me, even in the worst of times, that they survived and remain in my home; relics of willful religious indoctrination that sit on shelves like individual odes to a time in my life that doesn’t feel like my own, and because they were the artifacts in a museum of memories from a past life, I preserved them with great care and as such, they remain as some of the few things spared from ruin and decay—a force that acted like a kind of death upon inorganic things, rapidly decomposing my neglected home and most of my belongings within.
As I sit and survey the damage to my apartment as it is now, I see it lay in spoil; a sad and dilapidated devastation, barely even an abstraction of what it was. Now I live in a ghost-town vestige of a strategically decorated home—a life lived in the memory of lovely things, the way old, tattered furniture still echoes the self-image of its show-room days, a designer dining set remembered as it was in its prime, before the chairs served as a stray cat’s scratching post and the table, as a poorly chosen place to practice oil-paint art projects. The fall of my house happened too slowly to stop—the steady downfall of my physical existence, nearly unnoticeable—like an overgrowth of vines snaking their way up the outside walls of a house, a movement that can’t be seen in increments and being something of which will likely progress unnoticed, the it’s really the subtlety of an ivy’s invasion that allows it to slowly swill entire houses as if they were bottles of beer gone-flat, and once the sight of flourishing foliage is too encumbering to be visually ignored, by then it has probably become so advanced in its wayward ascent that hardly a brick or window can be discerned from beneath the thicket, and the sight of this elicits the kind of surreal awakening back into the physical world; a world for which the process of falling had been slothfully slow, while as for the awareness of that fall: it is strangely sudden. My home was not swallowed by creeping vines but instead, by my own wandering mind, though still the sobering site was the same, as a house in wakes of ruin, ripped apart by the leafy tendrils dexterously dismantling a forsaken fortress from the outside-in, a team of vines claiming vengeance upon all works of the human-hand, nature taking back the houses made from stone and wood—I suppose when a house falls by way of nature, the degradation is a kind of justice, the earth’s revenge against the creatures who continue to rob it with great irreverence to its natural resources, which lends the image of a house slowly torn apart by vines a certain poetic justice, the romantic notion of human artifacts repossessed by natural forces, our great stone monuments seized in plain sight and at the hand of simple organisms—the plants, trees and streams—a return to harmony as the earth heals all the we’ve plundered; the acres of wasted rainforests, used as fuel to feed our cities’ sprawl. Eventually even the most avid dreamer will notice the disparagement of their assets within the living world, and the awareness of this lurches you back to the realm of the real world, where houses fall and humans starve in the absence of the mind; these dreamers present in body no more than a sleepwalker is present in waking-time.
From Part 3: Repressions
I was so infuriated by the system, by this way that they have of working so hard so as to not actually do anything—and this is no accident; this is the quickest way for them to win—like a lion that waits for an antelope to tire before trying to make the kill, as outrunning something young and wild would be an inefficient use of energy, and so the lion waits until the animal slows and succumbs to exhaustion and despair—then the beast stalks and dispatches her, and contentedly the monster feeds; the university can wound and weaken even the strongest who take a stand, and if you are going to participate in their tired rite, I suggest you turn in for four years of mental and emotional hibernation, as surely anyone found having an imagination, an individuality, a opinion of their own—they will all be squashed like swarming pests, stalked like the fawning gazelle, so do not try to go to battle with the bureaucrats and bad-men; I assure you, they will always win.
Professor Reddit’s class was such a great source of support, even though he was only aware of what was going on, but not at all involved—which I intended to make sure of, wishing anything but to drag more of my professors into my mess, having grown so fond of each of them, these professors for whom I had worked so hard to build myself a perfect reputation, hoping for them to one day hold me in some measurable esteem even near to that of which I held of them, and I felt when I became such a hassle, every dirty truth I unearthed only served to soil my own name, even though I never dug up old bones for vengeance or vindictiveness, only because I would have lost all self-respect if I hadn’t at least partially defended myself, and still in the face of the mighty lion I was little more than a feeble mouse—a mouse who happened to take a friend’s good advice and tape record that fateful meeting. I hated being such a source of upturned soil, wanting nothing more than to one day make these scholars my colleagues, and the school, my haven when away from home. All of my professors defended me with valiant vigor and cunning skill—even the professor assigned to defend the Chair of the philosophy department, even this professor who was policy-bound to be in defense of this man—his boss, no less—even he couldn’t help but find himself working in my favor, as I quickly learned Professor Turpe’s behavior was of no secret to those beneath his feet. My professors maintained I couldn’t tarnish their image of me, but what else were they supposed to say? Though realistically I’m sure they’ve always known me to be a good student, remembering me as the over-achiever (probably brownnoser) who never missed a day of class and always took the course work way too seriously. This is how they all knew me, and when I left that place, they remained a resource for me, whenever I needed guidance in my graduate pursuits. Still I couldn’t help but come away with a sour taste in my mouth, remembering only the dirty, dirty mess I’d left behind—like bones uncovered from a shallow grave, and muddy tracks leading from the pit wherein all the bureaucratic faculty and immoral instructors had buried years of lies.
In Professor Reddit’s class, I had a brief reprieve from all the fighting, all the deceit, all the hurtful things that no one should have said; here I was finally left alone by Professor Turpe, the Chair of the philosophy department and my tireless tormentor—who I had been battling for so long, pursing the grade appeal on principal more than some concern for my GPA, and anytime I tired of the fight, I’d play back the audio file from our private appeal meeting I had secretly taped, and his words would instantly return me to a fiery fit of indefatigability, incited with the good-fight, every time I’d hear it from his serpent-tongue, hear him say “I know you made all A’s” but “it’s up to my discretion what grade is given in the end,” and the more he spoke the more apparently-egregious his voice became, hearing my own voice begin to shake, to cry, still calling him “Sir,” begging like a fool for him to be reasonable, and he only feasted on my frailty. I’d plead at great length with him that day; such sincere sadness and humility befell me, forgetting entirely that I had turned on my tape recorder an hour before (he had been late to our meeting), the tape recording nearly forty-five minutes of me breathing heavy, whispering twice to myself “it’s ok.” and then eventually the tape became an unbearable twenty minutes of clicks and hisses as I nervously thumbed through all my presentation materials, rustling the stacks of papers I’d printed from school policy books and spent sleepless nights studying, highlighting, labeling, preparing; though sadly he would refuse to see them, and all that time better spent on sleep, or at least any one of my other eight full-credit courses; it’s not hard to imagine why I was so sick and exhausted that whole semester, with the two hour daily commute, the two different grade appeals which were incredibly time consuming, and of course, also taking my usual twenty-hour per-week semester load of all upper-level, labor-intensive classes, and I had to be given special permission to take this many courses at once, called “overload”, which I was readily given for two or more years, approved on account of my past good-grades and clear lack of social-life.
I never let myself really say the things to him I wanted to say; instead, with a tear-washed face and trembled tone that would have gotten to most anyone harboring a soul, I found myself saying to him, “Please Sir, please, I even did the ten page extra credit paper—all my grades are A’s in your class.”
And in his laconic way of pretending he was contributing to the conversation at hand, he’d interrupt my beseech just long enough to reply, “You missed three classes.”
So I’d protest, “But I had notes…I was in the hospital, I pulled an IV out of my arm to make it to class just because you demanded it of me!”
There, in the dark quiet of his empty office, he’d say with in a sinister toothy grin, “Look, you can pursue this grade appeal, but you should be happy I even gave you a C; Do you have any idea who I am?”
“The devil!” I wanted to say, but I was unable to muster even the most sheepish of replies, still unable to separate this sad little man from the position he held, and the respect I thought he inherently deserved.
“Hello?! Do you have any idea how important I am? Do you? Do you have any idea who I am?!” He yelled at me in a vexed, wild-eyed suddenness that made my breath and body jump up in my seat, and with a gasp I sunk further backwards again, as he leaned over the table to yell closer to my face.
To this I replied in a trembling, trepid voice—which was much too small for my lanky five-foot-ten frame, “Yes Sir, you’re the Chair, Sir.”
He leaned back in his office chair, contented with himself, and said, “Yes I am. And no one is going to take your word over mine.” And with that he folded his arms behind his head, crossed one ankle over the top of his knee, placing him in a repose that gave him view of the ceiling and he watched it intensely while I kept trying to speak between little tufts of air that my lungs were left with, having taken to hysteria by now; and so I took a breath and straightened my papers, collected my thoughts—said Shema. He was still intently, comfortably studying the space above his head, as though he were able to see the heavens themselves and, with eyes intently locked on whatever he saw above, his contented gaze became a hunger-stare, as though he were waiting for just the right moment, when heaven’s eyes were turned away, and then he could steal the ultimate Chair unnoticed; being the egomaniacal tyrant that he was, he of course surely coveted the god-throne for his own.
At one point we were briefly joined by another, but she would hardly be a help to me. It was his secretary, who came in for a minute to bring him a stack of ambiguous documents stuffed in a puckering manila folder—she was his partner in crime, officially the one who “lost” my defense files on the very day my option to reopen the appeal had officially expired, though it would not have needed to be re-opened if someone hadn’t “lost” my files—but my hysteria, my tear-stained stack of papers from which I kept trying to find a second between his speech to read, at the site of all this it wasn’t long before even she began to weep, and from Turpe it only took one glare her way before she perked up like a scared little rabbit, stared at him like she’d been spotted, and scurried in a fearful haste back out the door—leaving a box of tissues next to me as she walked past, and as I reached for one he quickly snatched the box away, placing them on the other side of the long U-shaped conference table without so much as a pause in his say-nothing speech.
He was actually laughing to himself at several points; he was always known as the kind of person who’s ego got the better of him, and we’d seen him berate and belittle the other philosophy professors while in the throes of heated discourse, but I had always made excuses for him, my disillusionment not quite yet deep-set, but at that moment it was nothing if not official: I had been duped by the university—and were it not for the coming, final five-weeks of school, everything in my life would be different now, and I shudder to think how easy it would have been for me to simply assume the entire educational system is built upon the wicked, those with all the power; all the scraps are left to the goodly scholars, as weak and willingly walked-on as me.
If I had just remembered, at some point, that I was taping our meeting, I would have said something brave—something that when I play it again I can be proud of myself, be someone I like—but instead all I hear is the most pathetic shell of a person, blinded by an unwavering worship of academia to the point that I could not even bring myself to my own defense, even when he laughed at me; I can only describe this paralysis that kept me from saying all the things I have now memorized as a monologue, which I’ll never get the chance to give, as being something like that of which would stop a common man from speaking casually—much less crossly—with even the most oppressive king.
I began to cry vociferously, with increasing volume, until he could no longer stand to hear it; he began to walk out of the room, and before he left, I sobbingly declared, “Sir, respectfully, I implore you to reconsider! I spent days collecting all these excerpts from the Faculty Code of Conduct, the Student Handbook, the University Student Rights manual, and in each of them I found explicit passages that state ‘when a student is ill and produces documentation to such an extent, he or she must be given due allowance and ample time to make up missed work, tests and other grades.” But reading from these manuals did little good; he scoffed wildly and seemed more amused than moved. “Sir, this is discrimination against my health… I offered you notes from my doctors the very next day after I returned from the hospital—every time—but you wouldn’t accept them. I had my appendix removed and was frightened into coming to class a day out of surgery, when all of my other professors were worried that I hadn’t taken the time to rest, and were telling me to go home. I only missed three days out of five-months worth of classes, I contributed relevant information to class discussions on a daily basis, I made A’s on all the assignments, and I did the ten-page extra credit paper that was supposed to be our midterm, but since you forgot to assign it to us, you said it could be used as an opportunity for extra credit, and it was finals week when you required us to submit it, and I had your ten-page final exam to write on top of this extra credit paper, not to mention all of my other final exams—papers and projects due at the exact same time for all twenty-hours of my other courses! But still I did that extra credit paper, and even then, even then you somehow justify a ‘C’? On what possible grounds?” I finally felt empowered as I said these words to him, but he was still just as glib.
“On the grounds that I can do anything I want, good day Miss Wheeler!” And then he slammed the door.
The tape was heard by all his colleagues, who ended up on the formal grade appeal committee, the professors whom I had spent years trying to be the perfect student for, whom I had idolized and hero worshiped as the scholars I hoped to someday be—now I had made them an accessory to the whole muddy mess of things, and I felt tired and ashamed. The case was swept under the rug just as all crimes are in the university, and while I wasn’t Professor Turpe’s first victim, I was in-fact his last.
At the time, however, things seemed so dire; the appeal that I had slaved over—which I rightfully deserved to win, which I had sacrificed other class work to prepare for and which I had sullied the hands of the entire philosophy department during the investigation—was finished. The provost like the hand of god waved all of my rights as a citizen and student. It turns out “land of the free” comes with fine print—in-fact, I once had an argument with the Dean of the college of Arts and Sciences over the phone—a woman by the name of Mrs. Detinet. At first we rather cordial, exchanging polite civilized banter; but soon our manners dissolved, and quickly therein our dialogue broke down into an impatient, angry exchange of hostile un-pleasantries. I was unnerved that she was refusing to meet with me, knowing full-well having been warned by her subordinates that I was working my way up the official food chain all the way to the top-monsters and the president herself if I had to, but she would have none of it, and her refusal to see me meant that I couldn’t go any further in my pursuit of a fair appeal, as the regulations of the university prohibit so much as a handshake exchanged between student and any of the higher-faculty, until of course you’ve run the ranks, and that is something they make certain you cannot do.
I told Mrs. Detinet that if she did not intend to help me, or at least listen to me, then she owed me, at least, the signed-release form required to pursue the issue above her. We both knew I could never get in to see even the secretary’s secretary of the real dean—the dean over the entire university, or at least one of them, or their assistants at least—not without a letter from her. She continued to refuse, saying “Well, Erin, this happens to a lot of students, they get sick and they have to repeat a semester—why should you be any different?”
And to this I replied, “Because I didn’t fail out, I had all A’s! The professors in these two classes just didn’t appreciate the fact that I could be deathly-ill all semester, commute two hours both ways, take on twenty-hour course loads and still make straight A’s.” There was a biology professor who’s test I had to miss for a scheduled operation—surgery I could neither better plan nor postpone—and though he knew of my scheduled surgery date, when it came time to make up the test that he was giving on that day—the test he promised he’d allow me to retake—well he decidedly avoided me, and when I tracked him down he came out to meet me in the hallway, screaming and yelling like a crazy person, tomato-faced and bug-eyed, and he just told me to leave him alone and just do like everyone else and repeat the course, then he scuffled back inside his office, slammed and locked the door. I had stayed up all night studying and felt stupid; I hugged my biology book to my chest and, there in the sciences building, sat on an old tired-weave bench and began to cry. I remember that feeling well, how the university felt so large and empty, like a cavity, a hellish-hollow, a great depression in more ways than one.
I found somewhat of a safe-haven that day, when I went to report the fiasco to the Chair of the biology department, who’s jurisdiction and job-title really should have titled him above such trivial-nonsense as the constant-set of conflicts that was my life, but he was kind and listened for the longest time while I lamented about the incorrigible villains that were plaguing me in times of ill-health. He became a fast friend and ally of mine, but it was of little effect on the big-wigs behind glass doors. Mrs. Detinet, the dean with whom I was speaking on that troublesome day would show little more sympathy than my professors originally had—it was like they were all so personally offended that I was trying so hard, that I cared so much, like they all wanted to say “get a life!” That’s nearly what she did say, and I’ll never forget the course of this conversation: When the dean continued to deny me the chance to meet with her—even briefly, while she walked on her way or was between appointments—she tried to pacify me by saying, “We’ve decided to let you walk the stage anyway, even though you’ll have to make up that biology class next semester.”
“But I don’t want to walk if I’m not graduating, I’ve worked too hard for you to take that away! I should be able to make up that test and finish the class now, this is completely unfair—I find it strange that both my appeals were overseen by you and both were swept under the rug! And now you won’t even give me the stupid piece of paper I need to take this above your head? If you’re so sure you’re in the right, what do you care? I’ll just be turned down by all your superiors, won’t I?”
“You most certainly will, I am the authority in these matters, no one will even deal with you,” she said, and I could hear her spitting as she spoke with spite and disdain.
“Look, it’s my constitutional right to a fair trial, and to appeal the verdict of that trial all the way up the ranks of our court system even if it means going to the supreme court itself—that’s my constitutional right, is it not?”
“Well, maybe in America, but not in the University,” she said coyly, and her snicker made me sick.
“What?! You can’t just say stuff like that! I have constitutional rights upheld by this school! The student handbook says so—in section-8 subsection-b 10.3 it says that ‘any student...’” but I wasn’t given the chance to finish, as usual.
“Look, Erin, I don’t really need a lecture on the student handbook ok? As long as you’re in this school, my word is the only constitution you should concern yourself with.”
“With which you ought to concern yourself…” I corrected, kicking at the ground listlessly while holding the phone to my ear as though there were a pain coming from within my skull, my eyes closed tight hoping I could mentally evaporate somehow, just disappear in mind until a time when I was gone, gone from this place of corruption and cowardice.
I spent another hour after hanging up the phone just pacing the hallways of the old math building, up at school again in the late hours, turning in extra credit for my statistics class. I don’t know why it bothers me still that, while speaking to this woman, I was engaged in this particular act—specifically doing extra credit, still on campus, in the late evening when she called—I guess because it was so much the epitome of what had become my hellish every-day. It was terribly disillusioning, and I just kept thinking to myself, how do they get away with this? Do people not fight the system, or does the system just always win? And it’s probably a little of both, but I can say one thing for sure: These charlatans, harlots and thieves we call our regents, our presidents, our deans, they are—from those that I’ve encountered—able to prosper at their parlor tricks and petty theft, able to rob us of all sorts of things, to say anything they want with the brazen bravery of a tyrannical king, simply because they’re all so crooked, so there’s simply no one left at the end of the day who isn’t just as wretched as the next—no one left to report the ghastly acts of the real academy. In-fact, if it weren’t for my friend’s wisdom and my good sense to listen to her, to actually tape my meeting with Chairman Turpe, then he would still be the Chairman today, and I would be in the same state as all the people he had wronged—just angry and empty handed, complaining about it all on one of those rate-my-professor websites that only other disgruntled students bother to join. It’s a sad thing, the fate of the modern university. And anyone who doesn’t know first-hand the miseries detailed herein, surely then he must have been beaten worst of all, or else, as Auden would say, “He is a very good boy, indeed.”
In the case of Professor Turpe and the appeal which I at length pursued with him, eventually my hands were tied, and my other professors weren’t the kind to mislead me, they finally told me when they had been beaten, finally relenting in their ceaseless struggle in a battle that had become so much bigger and about so much more than just me and my silly principles; they finally told me the dealing had come from above, and there was nothing more we could really do. They told me it wasn’t a loss, and it wasn’t fair, it was just one of those things, like being force-bribed into settling-out in court. They were detailed enough to satiate me, I suppose, but no one ever told me what punishment had been allotted for Professor Turpe—and honestly I was sure there’d be none—but like old New York gangsters, the university dealt with things internally, not through the clean and shiny avenues of the legal system, or even through all the routes and channels of the ridiculous bureaucratic set of rules they themselves so laboriously created. Instead, they dealt with Turpe in a more old-fashioned way, like a dirty, crime-ridden mob boss, the hit was called in—and as it tends to be with orders from above, be it the mafia or the alma mater, no one knew exactly who made the decision to fire Turpe, but sure enough the university proved itself like those famous law-evading families who much preferred to deal with matters of their own.
Still though, I won’t speak of the things said to me by the ones who came to my aid and defense, a few of the philosophy professors and the secrets shared behind closed doors, the most disillusioning realities evoked from the realm of the unspoken but well-known, tacit understoods between us; it was all said aloud where there was no denying what I was audience to—learning of the shallow surface-sins so irreverently committed by the university.
From Part 4: Restitutions
Today was my commencement ceremony, and even though I walked the stage with the rest of my graduating class, something was taken from me, and as I sat alone behind the other graduates, isolated from the rest of my peers and alienated from the university that was supposed to be, on that very day, commending me, confirming me, honoring me, and then setting me free along with the other students—but that official release was purloined from me, and though I was present for that symbolic pardoning, I was not truly a participant in that ceremonial sacrament which frees the black-cloaked class, the regalia being swallowed by their sashes and garb until they appear to be a cap and gown without a body inside, each like hooded undertakers who subject their graduates to their ritualistic reparations; a public acknowledgement to those who have survived as prisoners of the four-year war, having satisfied all the necessary requirements to be emancipated from the institution and imprisoned by the real-world instead. Still, at some point over the years I had almost embraced all the pomp and circumstance, and I had imagined the moments of my college graduation in such detail that the grandeur of my dreams would have likely brought about disappointment even if the day had been for me as it was for all the other students.
An entire unfolding of impeding events and minor misfortunes caused me to be late on this day, and I knew the entire time I shouldn’t be so foolishly fighting the fates to arrive at the ceremony. It is always unwise to persist against the powers that mettle in the affairs of humankind; when you have to fight the forces of nature so relentlessly in order to be somewhere or to act in some way, it is always the prudent choice, in hindsight, to simply forfeit to whatever hand of destiny or heavenly providence seeks to obstruct your path—forgo all spirit of determination and ignore the plaguing will to win—as you are only swimming against the current that carries you safely away from the deadly undertow; an unseen force of the tides that will carry you farther and farther out to sea until you are beyond any hope of rescue, or engulf you entirely to be entombed in a watery underworld. But I had been too long engaged in active warfare to surrender now, and having passed the point of no return I couldn’t do anything but press on, knowing that this day would come to me at an impoverishing cost.
I had slept less than six hours over the entire span of the previous week; I had sacrificed sleep and sanity in the wakes of a weary semester, feeling the bodily unease from those elongated hours of caffeine, which is the only cure I have found for those trying times when standardized tests are the presiding judgment over my academic success, and this is at its worst during those weeks of unrest just before the end of the semester. Every year it becomes more severe, and I am always too weak for the good fight in the final hours when it matters most, always by then I have fallen ill from trepidation and tedium, head-sick from cramming and as my will to persevere wanes with the looming deadlines and scheduled exams, I find myself paralyzed—simply unable to do anything but sit and stare at the highlighted pages of the book I should have read sooner, or more thoroughly, or more than once. I find myself searching for any last fragment of resolve that remains after enduring the semester’s daily sufferings, and in those final hours before I am faced with the tribulations of academic testing and the ceaseless self-contempt evoked by this ordeal, a riotous internal disdain for my earlier self further finds me in a state of static apathy when I most need the will to work. I’ll call myself a slacker and become convinced everyone else has thought the same; this aching awareness leaving me self-loathing and livid at my previous poor choices—all the lazy nights I spent sleeping instead of writing and the miserable notion that it could have all been otherwise had I been a better student all along. I feared for myself—was I squandering my education?
Commencement was on Saturday afternoon, but the chain of events that would try my emotional and physical endurance would be set into motion days before. On Thursday night I had been completely engrossed in exam preparations and fretful over premonitions of peril—the yearly forebodings that arrest me in anxiety can only mean it’s the week of my final exams, and I was pushing my body and mind to its limits in a sprint for the finish only a few days away. Come Friday night, final exams were finally behind me, though the day had been one of the most trying in all my time at the university, and as it came to an end, the world having transcended into the tranquil lull of evening, I could finally surrender myself to a night of real rest and submit to the overwhelming urge to slip away into unconsciousness, to which one always eventually shall succumb. On this night, after an entire semester of steady sleep deprivation and nearly a week of being awake, I was quickly seduced by slumber and rested in state of near comatose, and I wouldn’t so much as stir until twelve hours later. I awoke without a moment to spare—it was only an hour before I was supposed to arrive at commencement ceremony, and though I hadn’t yet looked at the clock nor did I ever hear the ringing alarm—which sounded for an hour, unable to reach me in the depths of sleep—I came into the new day with a lurch in my chest, instantly besieged by a prickly twinge of terror, that strange awareness in the first waking moments when something beyond you has roused you from repose and warned you that you’ve missed something, filling you with that strange and particular kind of fear one feels when they think how long have I been asleep?
I had indeed been asleep for too long, and I had to abandon all hope of having time to do any of things I had so enthusiastically planned—and not only did I not have time for such silly little afterthoughts, I hadn’t even accomplished the most basic tasks I had planned for the day, all of which should have been taken care of weeks in advance, but given the unfortunate transpiring of events in the weeks and months prior, there wasn’t any possible way for me to sooner prepare. I didn’t know whether or not I would be allowed to graduate until the day before the commencement ceremony was scheduled to take place, and this left me only a day to do those things I had always imagined I’d have the time to relish and enjoy: picking out a dress and sending official invitations to family and friends, ordering a class ring and having the perfect stage-walking shoes, knowing I look fantastic after taking the time to perfect my makeup in the morning, applying my lipstick just-so and practicing my photograph-smile, making dinner reservations at a nice restaurant for after the ceremony where my family and I would eat together and join in a mutual sigh of relief, all of my uncles, aunts and cousins from out of town coming together in my honor, relatives reminiscing over red wine, all arriving with cards and gifts in hand which I would open with child-like enthusiasm, but only after having read aloud those little cards attached to the gift boxes, which I would recite with that grown-up attentiveness and patience, and then maybe they’d raise their glass and toast my victory, proclaiming it in honor of my prevailing spirit in adverse times and wishing me many more academic accomplishments in the future, all ending in a gracious ovation of laughter, cheers and tears.
But this is not my life. This has never been my life and I doubt if things should change now.
My life is a perpetual rewording of the same dispiriting story. The opportunity to take part in such traditions like buying a college ring and ordering official university-seal invitations and thank-you cards to send to distant relatives, and the girlish preparations we reserve for the most memorable events of our lives: high school prom being the first and, unless one makes terrible decisions like I do, the next epic milestone ceremonially commemorated is graduation, which is supposed to be this momentous event for which a girl is expected to devote weeks to the careful planning of every intricacy, a time when she will give diligent attention to detail in all her prior preparations, and it will be a joyous labor which will not be required of her again until her wedding; now I’ve mucked up all three. I never could manage to do these things the way everyone else does them—the way they are supposed to be done—and I was perfectly alright with this part of myself, this debilitating rebellion that acts in spite of me, but my graduation ceremony wasn’t supposed to happen the way it did, this time I wanted to do it right, this time I wanted what everyone else had—even if it meant taking part in the world of my peers, being a part of the group instead of observing it from afar, participating in normal life like a normal person and not digressing into some internal dialogue or wandering around entranced by my own imagination or simply refusing to take part at all, sitting up against the wall and forcing everyone to go on without me, just like I did in kindergarten and every single moment since.
I wanted to finally have a normal experience—a story that could have belonged to any face in the average masses. Still, because I fancy myself a writer, I am grateful that the world writes the best stories for me, as there’s something distinctively heightened about the act of writing what words are born out of remembrance and regret, and with each new installment of my dramatic, self-destructive life I am left with the best part of myself—my words, even if my arrangement of them is abusive to their sanctity, it is inherently a good thing to reflect and record, I’ve always felt. In the beginning of times like these when I am first taken with the pain of the forces that act against me, I am sure I’ll never write again, and if I try to put a few words to page too soon, they will erupt when read with the rapturous fire of angst and be ruined by a self-indulgent sorrow; eventually these feelings will quiet to a dull flame of reflection and dissociative observation of myself, and in the end I will be left with the smoldering chars of a scholarly look at self and suffering, or at least that’s what I’ll strive for. It is always a chore to make these accounts of my life and likely they are more so to read, but still it is the act of writing these stories that makes the agony of that time worth it all, and though unfortunate, not in the least bit regrettable, as I would always rather have a lovely story than a happy life.
Even my boyfriend had grown resentful and estranged through all the sacrifices I made in the way of time and affection, all for the university and my education, which I prized and prioritized over love and life itself. So too in time, I would witness my family grow distant and uninvolved, and I oblivious fell further, deeper daily into a steadily destructive descent to mind. And it was during this progressive plummet to these depths that it became soon clear my studies had left me in an irrevocable state of reclusion—alone with my books all the time. Throughout this time I had no friends to speak of, my family had resigned themselves to have to live in my absence, and my relationships were always ill-fated—the only boyfriend I could ever persuade to live in the madness that had afflicted me, was rightfully bitter because. Everything in my path seemed to stagnate or slowly grow old and insipid, and I hardly saw at the time that my growing isolation was bringing some illness upon the world around me, as though my obsession with school were a season itself, a winter that followed me in whatever I attempted and hung over head in a shadowy frost, desolating everything I called my own, a winter that wilted relatives and romances like the first snowfall that withers the flowers of a prior spring.
The only black cocktail dress I already owned was now too big for my shrinking body, which suffered the most in my increasingly internalized existence; to make matters worse, it happened to be the dress I wore the night I became engaged, a marriage that lasted less time than the subsequent divorce, it was a time—not of lovers—but of liars and lawsuits over flatware and wedding china, which is the saddest thing of all. I was not pleased to have to resort to this dress, and I hated the way it hung on me, threatened to fall down to my ankles at the most inopportune moment, and it hadn’t been to the cleaners since I wore it last, the little snags and dinner stains still clinging to the faded silk, having been there since a night I’d rather not remember, and it all made me feel disheveled and unkempt. I had to put on my makeup in the car, and the little tuffs of colored powders stained my dress with a new pallet of smudges and spots, and I finished applying eyeliner and lipstick as my boyfriend drove on the coat-tail of time, racing to make it to the ceremony despite my pleas to just let me go back to sleep, and when I had finished I looked at myself in the little car mirror and saw that I was a complete mess. Like a poorly imitated Picasso painting, I had colored my face in a way that strangely exposed every flaw and imperfection that lay beneath, and the trembling lines and uneven application should have been a laughable site, but the weight of all the tiniest tortures that I was subjected to without relief were too heavy to bare when my unsightliness was added, and my makeup was enough to bring about a hysterical fit of guttural noises and convulsive crying. I was lucky that I cried so intensely; the streams of black tears traced lines as they tumbled down my painted cheeks and washed my face clean within minutes.
“We are never going to make it there in time, you’re supposed to be there an hour early and we have ten minutes before we’re late!” My boyfriend said, veering in and out of lanes as traffic began to funnel its way off of the highway and onto the narrow campus streets. “I can’t believe we still have to pick up your cap and gown, why didn’t you get it before now?!”
“Because I didn’t know until yesterday if I was going to need them!” I hissed, clouds of powder rising into the air with every jerk and turn, makeup falling onto my dress and clinging to the surfaces in the car.
“Well it’s not like you’re never going to graduate—you should’ve gotten them ahead of time and just kept them around if you didn’t walk. This is ridiculous, I can’t take this anymore.”
“I didn’t want to make any plans until I knew for sure, it’s too depressing otherwise. I’m tired of making plans and being disappointed.”
“Well I hope you’re happy. Now everything’s ruined. I wanted this to be a nice day for you but you just can’t stop feeling sorry for yourself. You should have gotten this stuff yesterday like I told you to do…If you would just listen to me!”
I gazed hopelessly out the window and built a wall around myself in my mind.
“Finish your makeup, we’re almost there.”
The more the car sped and swerved the worse my makeup mistakes became. Every few seconds I would shriek or yelp at having smeared brown eye-shadow across my nose or streaked mascara across my cheek.
“What?!” My boyfriend would yell each time I cried out. “Are you hurt? Are you bleeding? I’m gonna hit somebody if you don’t stop doing that!” He said, narrowly avoiding a slow moving car with every glance away from the road, turning the steering wheel as he turned to look at me and each time making an even more dramatic recovery, and I lost all steadiness of hand, trembling with the vibration of speed and the stress of the day.
“Eek!” I shrieked again, “ugh! I hate this! I look terrible! I wanted to do my makeup at home! I wanted to have a new dress! I wanted to make plans like every other girl gets to do, and have my hair and face look really nice and have those fancy invitations sent out to all my relatives!”
“What are you talking about fancy invitations? My dad didn’t even want to take the day off work to go to my graduation. I’ve never heard of girls buying new dresses or fancy invitations!”
“I wanted to decorate my hat!”
“What would it have said?”
“Good Riddance”
“That’s so cheesy-eighties movie, that’s been done—what are you going to streak the stage too?”
“Why do you always make fun of me?!”
“Because you’re always being stupid! Why do you have to throw a fit today?! It’s so frustrating!”
“EEK!”
“What is it now?!”
“Would you stop driving so crazy?! Every time you hit a bump I get uglier! Look at this! I got brown eye shadow all over my nose!”
“Where?!”
“Right heeeeere!” I said, pointing to the right side of my face with an exaggerated stiffness of motion, turning my head towards him so he could see the brown powder that was smudged from eye to cheek down the side of my nose.
“I don’t see anything!”
“How could you not see that? It’s clearly there! It’s covering half my face!”
“Stop talking! Just stop talking! No more talking about your makeup!”“I hate you!” I screamed as loud as I could, and my throat burned as my voice evacuated.
“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”
“I do! I hate you!” I said, folding my arms and looking away, watching myself cry in the reflection of the car window, thinking how unbecoming sadness was as the tears fell listlessly down my face.
“I’m sick of you always whining and crying about everything! Why are you even putting on makeup? You’re just going to cry it all off!”
“This is not the way this was supposed to happen…” I said quietly, speaking in the far-off voice I use when I know no one will be listening.
“Well it did, it sucks but that’s the way it is. Why haven’t your parents called yet? Are they still coming?”
“Of course! They can’t not come…why would they not come? Haven’t they called?”
“No. You didn’t tell them until yesterday and your mom is convinced you’re not actually graduating…”
“What does she think, I’m just going to storm the stage?! March in there and demand a diploma? She never thought I’d graduate high school and I didn’t—not the way everyone else did—now she doesn’t think I’ll ever graduate college either…”
“I don’t know what she thinks. Screw them; they can take care of themselves. They’re probably just trying not to bother you…you always tell them to leave you alone, so….”
“I know and I feel bad enough about that, I don’t need you telling me, ok!!” I screamed, burning inside with a general anger at everything in sight, and my boyfriend was getting caught in the crossfire.
He slammed on the breaks and sent the car screeching to halt in the middle of the road. My suitcase-sized purse was overturned, the contents falling about the car in disarray, exposing the trash and dirt that I had allowed to accumulate inside over the semesters and the leftovers of my life as a student was emptied on the floor, wads of gum and uneaten protein bars, dried-up pens and empty cans of energy drinks, sticky notes with things-to-do never done, papers and books all fell out of my bag, littering the backseat with sticky grime and stained pages; the contents forming a shameful collage of my college years. The jolt of the sudden stop sent me flying forward, and I hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt for once. I braced myself against the dash as I thrown forward with the motion of the car, and as it rocked back on its wheels, I turned and scowled at my boyfriend. “What the hell is wrong with you?!” I said between clinched teeth, my hands balling into sweaty fists in a fit of instant furry. My boyfriend couldn’t muster a real response he just let out a primal groan and began punching the side of the passenger seat, over and over again in repeating bursts of rage. I rolled my eyes. “I don’t have time for this.” I said calmly, annoyed with his exaggerated theatrics.
“I can’t take this anymore! I’ve been there the whole time you were getting sick and fighting the system and staying up all night studying! You’re not worth it you’re just not worth it!” He screamed in a shrill, unsettlingly honest tone, as though he had been waiting to say this to me for months—and he probably had. I couldn’t say a word at first, even after my boyfriend began to drive again. “Where is the coliseum?! I don’t know where anything is! This is your school!” But I hardly heard him.
“I know I’m not.” I said vacantly, watching a group of girls in their black caps and gowns wrap arms around each other and smile with silly gaping grins, laughing and cheering while an older woman photographed them in front of the brick and stone entry sign that said “University of North Texas” on it, and it was as though I was looking at them through time instead of just a window, as though the day they were having was not one that I could share—like it had happened already so long ago, and all that was left was an echo of an experience.
“You know you’re not what? Where the hell is the bookstore?! Are you sure that’s where you get your cap and gown? They better be open. You have to hurry, we’re already late.”
“We’re not late, I just saw girls standing outside in their gowns…”
“They’re probably going to the 5:00 graduation—you didn’t answer my question though: what do you know you’re not? What were saying before?”
I took a long, staggering breath and closed my eyes before I answered, taking a moment to let the world wash over me.
“Worth it. I know I’m not worth it.”
When we parked in front of the bookstore, I was so overcome with despair that I doubled over and cried into my lap without any concern for the sounds or severity of my sobbing. I was in the throes of profound disillusionment, and I felt betrayed by the university, deceived by academics, and cheated by the system. My boyfriend tried to force me to pull myself together but I was already gone, desperation to disengage from that day, from the entire year of my descent into a future darkness, all my grief and mournful moans cradled me in those moments of agonizing awareness when I first became awake to the truth about the university. I used to say that life is a series of illusions, and growing up is the process of losing them one by one. First it’s little things like Santa Clause, and then it’s bigger things like the fact that your parents are only humans and your dad isn’t the strongest man in the world and your mother can’t solve any crisis or dilemma, then later in life it’s an awakening to the truth about much graver things, like the fact that love isn’t blind or forever, and marriage is rarely ‘til death do we part, and eventually the worst is revealed and you lose the last little scrap of innocence that retains your spirit and vibrancy, and it’s gone the moment you realize that Anne Frank was wrong, and people are mostly bad.
I have discovered that I am in the minority in my attempts to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, the chance to be good, the chance to make amends, to change, to surprise me. Rarely does this happen, and I am almost always disappointed and usually I am taken advantage of or exploited because I have been trusting, humble or kind. It’s a hard day when you realize that the ones you’ve isolated yourself from have gone on without you, and the ones you’ve idolized as gods have forsaken you without a second thought; this is not an uncommon tale, and when I awoke from my last illusion, a little more adult and a little more jaded, I gazed longingly across the center of campus to the clock tower that stood ominously on the horizon, and remembering all those days when it played my favorite song—Moon River—just when I needed to hear it most, I buried my face in my hands and cried wildly; I felt old and sick with hindsight and wondered how I had fallen so far from grace within the academy, all of the professors either forced to fight for me or being themselves the very ones who fought so fervently against me, all of them caught in the drama of my final days and I was humiliated for everything I worried they thought of me, and I was fraught with a paranoia that even those who had defended me had grown resentful because of it, and I was beside myself for having tainted the good academia with the bad; I was a disgrace, and all of them either thought this or fell subject to persecution by someone who did—all except for one, there was still one professor in the last weeks of this tempest—a furious flurry wind and debris, my reclusive obsession with school was like a storm’s devastation that I embraced—but the thought that one still stood in fair weather was a thought that quieted me a little.
When my boyfriend returned to the car with my cap and gown he found me puffy-faced and wet with tears. “Oh God. You can’t go like this. You look like crap! Oh God! Here, take your cap and gown, fix yourself, we’re so late! Your mom called. It’s just her and your dad and your sister and nephew. They’re already inside; they said the graduates have already walked to their seats.”
“So much for having all of my relatives come…” I said, wiping my face with the back of my hands.
“Well what did you expect? You didn’t invite anyone because you didn’t have time and your sister is the only one who lives in town, so who else did you think would make it out?”
My sister is eighteen years older than me, and it is more than merely years that separate us; always feeling like more of an aunt than a sister, and her being so essentially and completely my antithesis—her back-woods breed of evangelical Christianity, saccharine-sweet disposition, and her inability or unwillingness to think about anything of an abstract nature—has made it difficult to form a friendship, though as family we are quite close. Still, it’s never easy to see my sister when I’m sad, because she’s had her share of strife in her lifetime and she has never once lost her smile; in moments of despair, seeing her is a lot like going out into the sun when you’ve been up all night, whether you stayed awake to work or to play, the sun still burns the same when you step outside. My nephew is fifteen and has been ensnared by the apparently alluring world the internet provides, dropping out of school and loosing himself for days inside his room, “gaming”—though I gather these are not like the games I used to play as a kid, and in this online life he has found what he calls “virtual respect,” something he just wasn’t getting in real-life high school. Between the two of them, I’m not sure which is more trying, and though I love them dearly I find them difficult to endure in my darkest hours. My mother lost her mind long ago, falling into fits of depression far deeper than I’ve ever known as I have only been situationally sad—sad for good reason, when something sad has happened—my mother is sad all the time and for no reason at all, or if there is a reason she seems to have forgotten it herself. My father is hardly present in the world, he lost himself where I almost did; he is a vacant body going about a routine without thought to his motions and this enables him to escape to an internal realm of the imagination at almost any time. It is within the world of his mind that he seems to reside most of the time, and when he’s there he won’t so much as hear you speak, even when you talk directly to him, and he can be entirely absent during an experience for which his body was present. I didn’t have the energy for these family wounds, and I didn’t have the strength to force a smile, to be congratulated, or to hear that they were proud of me. I felt exhausted at the thought of my loved-ones as my audience, my supposed support-network, my burden on this day, and I quickly decided against the entire commencement ceremony.
“I don’t want to do this! This isn’t right! This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be! I’m late anyway! Just take me home! Please just take me home! I want to sleep! What about my memoir? I have to write…I have to finish it…I have to send it in…Just take me home!”
“This is going to be part of your memoir! This is your life! You have to go live it if you’re going to write about it!”“I want to go home!” I sobbed and buried my face back in my hands.
“Look! If you don’t go today, and you don’t walk that stage, then all those bureaucratic fucks get their way! They win if you don’t walk.”
“That’s not true! They want me to walk! They want me to walk so they feel better about what they took from me! They want to publically and ritualistically confirm me but they won’t cut their stupid red tape to do it on paper! This is bullshit!” I said, waving about the plastic-wrapped cap and gown and then throwing it onto the floor of the car.
“Hey! Don’t throw that! That cost me thirty bucks and you better freaking wear it!”
“If I walk they won’t even have a guilty conscience, they’ll think I just resigned myself to my fate and if I so much as smile they’ll think they did some good—and that would be a crime! A crime!” I said, overcome with sobs and shouting so loud that my voice left a hum in the silence, lingering with a buzzing reverberation in the moments after my screaming laments.
“Baby, come on, I can’t take you home, you’ve come too far now, you need to do this.” My boyfriend cooed, trying a different approach.
“I’ve come a long way but it’s never far enough and I’m always too late. I’m always almost there but my dreams just keep getting farther and farther away. I’m done. Take me home.”
“You’re being so dramatic. We’re going and I don’t care what you think.”
“No! I’m not going! Just stop it ok?! You’ve been wearing away at me all day! Why are you so hard on me?!” I said dejectedly, stammering out the words in little burst of speech between sobs.
“What about your dad? You may not get another chance to walk again, this is so important to him—do it for your dad.”
“I’m the passenger…perpetually…just do what you are going to do anyway.”
“Ugh, whatever! What are you even talking about?! It doesn’t matter—we’re going.”

I arrived at my graduation twenty minutes late, and I had to be ushered in by a police officer through the back door—story of my life in education.
“I don’t know if they’ll let you in, but we’ll try.” The officer said as he led me through long halls I had never been down, through a building that had been a central hub for campus activities, and yet I had never been inside. When I passed a mirror I stopped for a moment and started unwrapping my cap and gown. “No, no. No time for that. Come on!” The officer said, extending an arm out towards me and with a sweeping motion he urged me to move towards him.
“But don’t I have to put this on?”
“Yeah but you’ll have to do it when you get up there, come on!”
This is not the way it was supposed to happen.
When I arrived at the gateway between the stadium floor and the backstage area the officer led me to, I was met by several women dressed in strange regalia, ornate in a way that I didn’t recognize as the decorations of doctorates or degrees. I believe they said they were color guards, but I was hardly listening to them; I was lost in the surreal unfolding of the day, and I felt unusually nonchalant having been beaten by the system, and the university’s unjust victory and the betrayals protected by their bureaucracy and the immoral way I had been treated in the dialogues behind closed doors left me disillusioned—there’s simply no more precise a word than Disillusioned. The university doesn’t care; why should I? This kept repeating in my mind, each time leaving me more and more lethargic and in a consistent oscillation between anxiety and apathy. I hurried to put on my cap and gown; there wasn’t a mirror anywhere nearby so I had to have one of the other women straighten my cap. In my imaginings of this day, many things were different—but at least I should have been able to see myself once in my cap and gown, to know what I looked like as a graduate, to experience the symbolism of being dressed in that ceremonial shroud, a garment four years in the earning and I’d never know my own image in it, except for in the blurry photographs taken from family members sitting high in the stands, where my despondent expression suites the black and shapeless gown, which was too large and hung all the way down to my ankles, and my hands were swallowed by the long, gaping sleeves, making me feel like a little girl playing dress up. When I was finished donning the ritual garments, I was greeted by one of the ushers.
“Do you have your name card?” The usher asked.
“I don’t know what that is. So, no.” I said dryly. I was momentarily uplifted, thinking perhaps I wouldn’t be allowed to walk without this item.
“It’s ok I’ll send someone to get it for you.” The usher said, speaking into the crackling receiver of his walkie-talkie. After a long while someone looking official approached us and handed the usher a white slip of paper, and it was clearly a fourth of a page cut from a sheet of computer paper. Someone had written “Phil” in the top right-hand corner. “Name?” The usher asked, pressing the slip of paper against the wall behind him and poising his pen to write.
“That’s the name card? That’s just a sheet of paper! I could’ve gotten you that!” I said taking a little black memo book out of my purse and letting it fall open to display the sheets of white paper inside.
“You can’t bring that purse in.” The usher said, clearly not amused.
“Well, I’m not going to leave it out here. It doesn’t have anything in it but a cell phone and a notebook.”
“You can’t take it with you; no one else has a purse with them.”
“Well, I’m never doing what everyone else is doing. I’m walking in late and making a big scene anyway, no one’s going to notice my purse.”
“I’m sorry, it’s for consistency, we don’t want any one person to be distracting.”“I’m about to walk in there half an hour late—I’ll be a giant black blob shuffling around the court in the middle of some honor student’s inspirational-speech…..I’m pretty sure I’m already going to be distracting.” With a sly grin, the usher agreed.
“Ok, but you can’t carry it with you across the stage.” He said.
“I wouldn’t…”
“Name?”
“Erin Wheeler.” It occurred to me to say something else, to make something up, to have them read a totally ridiculous name just because they wouldn’t catch the error, because their ceremony had become such a joke to the faculty that they didn’t even take the time to print off a roster, they just had everyone write their names down on a slip of paper—which they call a name card to make themselves feel better about abandoning all class and stature—and then after a few monotone congratulations everyone is hurried across the receiving line on stage, a moment they had waited for gone before they could savor it, or even process that it was occurring.
“Ok look, you’re going to have to sit in the back row, by yourself, behind the last row of students. You won’t be able to sit with your department but when they line up to walk the stage, you can join them, and someone will come place you if you don’t stand in line with them when they file up so don’t worry if you forget to get up when they do. On your way back down, you can sit with your department, just follow them back to their row,” one of the color guards said, preparing me to walk out into the clearing of graduates and their guests.
“You missed the graduation-march song; it played during the processional when all the students entered.” The usher remarked, shaking his head as he pressed his walkie-talkie to his ear, awaiting some message that would never come. His usage of the commencement-jargon was abrasive and extraneous, and the entire ceremony—which was lackluster partially due to its turnout, being small because it was a summer graduation with only a hundred or so graduating and maybe twice that in the audience—was tasteless and hastily prepared; it was a glaring blur of kitschy banners and sunken faces, the decorated academics falling asleep from under their velvet hats, the sight of all those esteemed regents looking somehow less grand than I had imagined. They were almost all sitting on stage with one eye half closed and their mouths gaping open, slumped in their chairs wrapped up in their faded attire as though they were wearing an old quilt instead of scholarly regalia, and it struck me that the reality of their regal robes was a thing akin to what is worn by those people who are paid to dress up like cartoon characters at theme parks; their costumes are always a little bit sad—though they’re not supposed to be—it’s something about knowing that there’s a person under those Styrofoam heads and washed-out fur suites that gets to me, as though they are forced to be some symbol that makes them feel solemn and enslaved to a role they must play repeatedly, everyday, and even though they have grown weary over the years of their job and their costume—which are always weathered by time and having that smell of something that’s hung in an attic for too long—still that Styrofoam head wears the sewn-on smile they’ve long-since lost. Just the same, the theme-park employees and the esteemed educators of the university will, out of obligation, still don their sad suits and fake it for the crowd, though their somber song-and-dance wasn’t fooling me; almost all of the decorated academics on that stage wanted nothing more than to go back to bed, and I wasn’t really sure whom this whole fiasco was supposed to be for.
“Don’t forget your name card!” The usher said as he walked me through the entry way and onto the slick stadium floor. We stepped out on the aisle, followed closely by an anxiously smiling color guard, and I slowly sauntered the stretch of stadium floor with my head held low and eventually I was able to make my way between the two sections of chairs on either side of the center walkway, which were all arranged in perfect little rows—four of which were filled and at least ten of which sat sadly empty, making the whole ceremony look cheap and forced. It was all like a tacky theme park—not just the regents, the whole thing—it was like the traveling kind of amusement park that assembles and tares down in a matter of hours, dilapidated, shoddily constructed, and set up in the parking lot behind a discount mega-mart. So much for pomp and circumstance...I thought to myself as I took my seat alone. I was isolated from my peers as I had always been, this time forced to sit against the wall; I was alone in a row sitting down at a graduation that I couldn’t call my own, one that the bureaucrats had taken from me, and there was nothing happy about it.
I wasn’t able to march in to that traditional song which I waited for so long to hear playing in tune with my procession, walking with my head held high, honored by my future colleagues as I ambled onto the stage and off into a new chapter of my life. But instead, I walked in alone, disruptive and embarrassed because of it, requiring as always some special attention because I just can’t seem to get my act together. It was fitting that I should walk in late and alone; a procession is necessarily a group activity, defined as an orderly movement of a group of people, and I because I couldn’t process, I simply walked. I walked alone and sat alone, away from my department, from other students, from all of the other graduates, and as I slumped in my chair and lazily rested my ankle across my knee, I pulled out my little black notebook and tried to take notes on something I could use later, and while I tried to jot down the disparity of the place and the unsettling reality of what I had worked so hard for, I suppose I was in a state of shock—all that I could commit to ink was the same repeating thought, and my page looked like the diaries of a madman, the same scribbled line written over and over again:
“How did I get here?”
“How did I get here?”
“How did I get here?”
***

Disillusioned and in despair, my entire four years of college was but a blur of illness and innocence lost, of long nights and senseless toil, of tiresome labor all for naught. The bureaucrats and big-wigs, the inner-workings and the outright lies, I’ve learned of it all, and someday I’ll write it—but even now I haven’t the strength. It didn’t matter in the end that the chair of the philosophy department hadn’t been forced to change my grade; he was immediately demoted from his position as chair—something which saw the students of philosophy in an uproar of celebration, and when it was rumored that I was the cause, people I didn’t know would just walk up to me and shake my hand, and I wish this had felt as great as I’m sure it sounds. What was worse than his demotion, was that his final task as Chair was to read the names of the graduating students in the philosophy department, during the commencement ceremony in which I graduated; and because I was the last to walk the stage, I was the last one whose name he had to call, and without even glancing down at the paper handed to him denoting my name, in an ominous tone he declared “Erin….Wheeler…” and then a long and doleful exhale befell him, and I turned on stage and smiled his way, tickled at the thought that his last official duty as chair, was to say my name. I could tell by the look on his face as I walked passed him on stage, I could tell right away he was thinking the same thing, thinking to himself this can’t be the last thing I do as Chair, it would please that wretched girl too much! But alas, Justice does not care if you’re the Chair.


***

Professor Reddit, the mentor with whom I had the privilege of spending my last, short semester— is responsible for this memoir existing at all. Were it not for this distinguished professor whom I very nearly missed all together, I wouldn’t have this epic essay, I’d still be using apostrophes wrong, and what’s entirely worse than all those things, I’d still have lost my voice, as even the best professors have only told me if I’m doing poorly or well, and it wasn’t until my final English writing class that I finally found a guide I could trust, one that wasn’t so intent on adherence to the rules as Professor Sapiens was, nor who was too pacifying and as such entirely unhelpful—which I found several of my favorite professors to be at times.
Beyond the things I’ve learned under my most recent mentorship, I’ve been taught to have a type of bravery in voice, to write with soul, and this entire restructuring of my creative process was easy under the academic shepherding I knew I’d eventually find—knowing somewhere deep inside that if I could find my educational niche in even but one professor, so too could I hope to find one in an entire academy, the thought of a program existing which might actually embrace these same ideals Professor Reddit used to free my muse and silence my censor, to quiet my fears and stoke my inspiration, all the while weaning me from the praise-dependency I had developed over the years from the post-trauma from bellicose bureaucrats disguised as professors and scholars. I was renewed in this hope that somewhere still an academy might lie in wait for a student such as me, one which would demand individual mentorship between professor and pupil, where the university I had served for years was but endless halls and vacant corridors of stadium seats, most of these chairs cradling—not the students of the school—but instead, a scattered array of voice recorders left on desktops, capturing the incantations of the weary professor who preached with the same lulled lethargy as he would have held for an audience of a hundred or more, hardly even noticing machines lay where living minds once were, and the apathy there was utterly astounding, and wickedly contagious.
It’s such a shame that Professor Reddit was my professor for such a short, summer term, and that I had to wait four years for an education like the one he offered me so readily, all that time in college wasted in a ceaseless search for something else: for someone to guide me without confining me in my craft, for flesh and blood rather than faceless bureaucrats, to be treated as an individual, and as such as one who has a specific set of strengths and weaknesses, having my own areas of interest and subjects I find rather somniferous, and mostly I wanted these professors to remember that I was a living, truly-existing, sentient being, and not just some paper to be overlooked or briefly skimmed, not just so sycophant they can buy off with an “A” and certainly not someone entirely without spine, and no one should transgress another human in the utterly immoral way that I have been. Though Professor Reddit was everything I’d hoped for in an education, it wasn’t until the end that I was given this blessed reprieve. Professor Reddit restored me to myself, returning to me my words, my voice, my forgotten self and simple skill; I still call upon the muse he lent me, especially in the weary dew-spun mornings after a night of long lucubration. Even then, even when I am not entirely coherent, sleepy and dream-deprived, I hear my own voice when I write, and not some regal elder who’s narrative voice I’ve caught like the cold, spread by contact with too many translated texts—and this is entirely thanks to him.
The state to which Professor Reddit restored me was the catalyst for everything I have built and cherish today; that happy ending which his class offered after years of battling the beasts and bureaucrats of the university, I found a model academic, whom I could hold in high opinion and thrive under, and I am not sure I would have been able to endure the grade-appeals and red-tape warfare, had it not been for that five week lag in combat, his class offering a ceasefire in the good fight, lasting long enough for me relearn to write, the way I did when I still knew myself, though with all the skill I’ve picked up over the years in the academy . Now the things I write bring me some pride and satisfaction, even if they aren’t as dazzling as one of my flashy thesis papers, relating ancient texts or Torah to something philosophical and truth-provoking, I have at least written something that is actually self-reflective; something that is essentially distinct to me, whether it be applauded or abhorred.
Professor Reddit has been the first to inspire real courage when it comes to my craft, and even now I can’t place the precise method he used to mute my ceaseless censoring, which would always leave my prose as undulating as I was, swaying heavily to and fro between a molasses swamp of strangely long subordinated sentences, and the barren tundra of a blank page, either leaving me afraid to write or afraid to stop writing, fearful at the thought of ending each sentence, as though they may each be my last, and equally incapacitated at the thought of the vast expanses of frozen feeling I face when the staring into the glare of unmarred white, and all of my experiences are encased in mind and ready to thaw in my transcription of thought to paper, but the task always feels too immense for my undertaking, and in the abyss of an enormous idea and a very narrow window of time in which to have it done, I always settle for two all-nighters and something forced and reeking of me in a bad way—something that doesn’t carry my essence but instead has consumed my soul, leaving me drained of words for weeks.
But Professor Reddit, my writing professor, imposed no such deadlines on me, and as I wondered how I’d ever write everything I wanted to write about, wondering if I could write fifty pages in a few weeks, I sat down one night and didn’t get back up for another twenty four hours, and over a hundred pages just poured out of me, as easy as water being drawn from a bottomless well. Until this time, I had all but lost hope that even graduate school might hold a place I had safeguarded in heart and mused upon in mind. Emerson once described such a feeling in verse, part of his essay on the Poet, wherein he wrote, “I tumble down again soon into my old nooks, and lead the life of exaggerations as before, and have lost my faith in the possibility of any guide who can lead me thither where I would be.” Exaggerations, to these I was certainly lent, but moreover I relate to the longing for a guide you fear can never be, and the joy of meeting him in the short summer hours, only moments before it would have been over, and I would become so much of who I was and thought I’d lost, and yet so much would I grow and change; I was a selfhood restored—Professor Reddit gave me back to myself, restored my mind and my voice, my muse and my soul, stifled my censor, squashed my self-concern, and he gave me such heart-kindled praise, while telling me I must learn not to need compliments or A’s. It was the perfect educational environment for me—to be honest, the most perfect place in life, where still I venture in times of fear and woe, to be close again to the one thing I truly know. This professor was, to quote Emerson again, this time from Self Reliance:
If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges…and he feels no shame in not ‘studying a profession,’ for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He had not one chance, but a hundred chances…[This] man is the word made flesh, born to shed healing to the nations, that he should be ashamed of our compassion, and that the moment he acts from himself, tossing the laws, the books, the idolatries, and customs out the window, we pity him no more, but thank and revere him,--and that teacher shall restore the of man to splendor, and make his name dear to all history. (12)
Professor Reddit is the very essence of this fine genius about whom Emerson writes—the one who dares to study the humanities, though it yields few actual “professions” in the sense of Emerson’s speech. He and the other scholars wish no pity however, and they would rue the moment such vile compassions were conceived. And yet when a scholar, a genius writer or the like ventures to becomes a professor—making a profession of what would otherwise be only an art, a hobby, a pastime— from this he does the world either an unspeakable service, or he yields the most unforgivable injustice.
This distinction comes in every professor’s career, when they ask themselves if they love their work, their pupils, their path in life. If they feel they are settling, or find their students too complacent to bare, or if perhaps they wish they’d pursued a life they had always imagined more fair; this, then will decay the once benevolent, valorous educator to little more than a listless link in the long-locked chain of jaded bureaucrats, apathetic academics, and like a chain link cord of cold cast-iron, each such scholar will be strengthened by the other’s scorn. But there is another breed of educator—the real scholars among the mere dons, deans, and tenure-fallen once-good men and women. These real scholars are those who reflect upon their lot in life—to yearly churn in and out another tide of primarily sleep-struck students, and have to teach them the mostly rote and trivial, the truly somniferous things. And though he will fear this, fear the stagnation of spirit and waning-will to work each year, to reach just one student, such hope will eventually fade altogether, leaving him but another faceless link among the chain of other forlorn faculty. He will not be a peddler of the rote—no taskmaster or labor-lord forcing tedium and repetition until all that nearly woke now sleeps for semester more—nor is he the outright refuge for senseless rebellion, as the will do something different for the sake of difference alone is no better than he who does nothing at all, as both are out of inner-apathy and a passive desire to participate in the easy and the absent-minded. But the spirited resistance to restrictive, arbitrary rules and the desperate cry of a long-silenced voice is a great and god-sent arrival when it is first spotted in a student not seen before. The student, at such a point, has likely been quieted for quite some time, and equally has her soon-to-be mentor suffered the slumber-slackers of the student body who have each over the semesters served to dull the professor’s shine-of-mind. So in each other, the two will find, the very thing that keeps the good scholars from becoming tedious task-masters, and equally it will be the thing which first fostered a fire, continually kindling the embers inside the like-minded pupil, and stirred and roused by the sage-like scholar, those flames of the student’s heart-fire will never soon tire, and from this they will brightly burn ablaze.
This possibility—this chance that out of the many who are lost to apathetic academics and wayward politics, still that there might be but one professor who wakes the muse, this leaves students like me hopeful even until the last few weeks of school—this possibility that of these many who are lost to the corruptions of our schools, and of the students who are all but vacant now, past the point one can be restored—the possibility still remains that one such scholar may find such a student, and though they may both be academically scorned, they to one another can serve a great solace, professor no longer enduring a student who in editing is a choir, and student no longer resigned to a professor who’s lectures are yearly recited, rote and always a bore. These lucky two have found something of which others only wish they knew, a place where learning is sheltered and nurtured, and each find shepherd through the fevered dreams of the disillusionment they’ve endured heretofore, a solace by which the pupil and professor flourish in their roles, without syllabi, deadline, or score, in new freedom, together, shall they survive the shell-shock of the war—for the pupil, the four-year war; but for the brave professor, so many, many more.
***
I wanted for a place of passion again; graduation marked the farewell of the one place I’d felt I belonged, and I longed for a place in life like the quiet classroom of Professor Reddit’s class—my last class—wherein my dreams still stray, still take me, and every time I hear Charles Ives, I remember that my professor and his method of teaching were my Children’s Hour. He couldn’t have picked a more befitting composer to play that day—that last day of school, the saddest day brought in with the most somber of songs, and I let the selcouth sounds pierce the stoic countenance I wore like war-paint, and knowing that these were my last moments in Professor Reddit’s class, knowing that when the hour passed so too would this world I’d made inside an otherwise ordinary classroom, a world where I wrote beautifully, avidly, and without the slightest scintilla of self-consciousness. It was, just as the song incants—between the darkness and daylight, comes a pause in the day’s occupations, that is known as children’s hour—but it was only a pause, I’d like to hope, between the darkness of my four long years as a prisoner of war to the university, and the daylight that I was sure would come, the saintly glowing sunlight that would illuminate my future path in academics, which I was determined to still pursue, and following the steadily -lit shadows between the dismal dark and the waking pink -and -yellow sea of dawn, I was sure I’d find an academy of scholars like him, or at least one that would allow me the room to breathe and move in peace.

Professor Reddit’s class was a refuge for me, the only safe place within the university during what was, I now know, the absolute saddest time of my life—and trust that I have become well acquainted with the forsaken face of real despair, knowing well the feelings most would call the worst of fates, but I have thought only how fortunate I am, that all and all nothing very bad has ever happened, not so much so that I’m not here—but still I do know of life’s ill-fates; but scarcely is there a sadder thing, than the moment of true awakening into the reality of things, when life—but a series of illusions, growing up being the process by which we lose these one by one—becomes a little less a thing of these childhood fairytales we’re taught as truths, and more and more life seems but the bitter offspring of faceless things—of these institutions—the university and its unsavory fiends; and every time, a little older, a little less in -youth, every time you think on these things life becomes less of dreams, and soon the nightmare cloaked in illusions of justice and goodwill will befall you and unveil the truth about the machine: the world itself is mirroring the university and its deans: every hellish recess of that place is a microcosm for the real world in adulthood we come to face—a world of deceit and lies through bleached-white teeth, and of course one of bureaucracy, of the inherent selfishness of nearly the lot of humankind, of regents in tired robes, professors in perpetual regret, of students not soon to forget, of all these things and the institution’s unsavory fiends—this is what I remembered most, until of course the very end, when everything would shift in mind and I would remember of my college years, only that precious time of heart’s-repose, the last five weeks my solace, my lullaby.
I am still determined to find a graduate program that evokes such sweet serenity, that shelters and shepherds me as he did; but I often worry that I was the type of student who would always love the idea of the university but would never actually find one to which she effortlessly belonged. Still, I am certain that if there was a member of the scholarly community with whom I could simultaneously be and receive such solace, surely then, more are in the world. From those last five weeks, the entirety of my education took place; the great removal of a disfiguring burden I wasn’t even aware my writing had been bearing, and this was all in only five weeks; I could’ve gone to college for just that last summer semester and been just as happy, just as skilled, and likely a little more sane. Between the darkness and daylight, my Children’s Hour—his course, his guidance—was the delight of my time at university, a great time in my life; but now I know the daylight is to follow, my graduate studies a new chapter in my life as a learner, as a student, as a scholar, and I trust it shall be a time in my life—like the summer in Professor Reddit’s class—just as grand, just as right; for some daylight respite will always eventually be born of the wicked night. I await my return to the academy most hopeful—Professor Reddit, my solace in the wakes of academic scorn—and when I fall prey to weariness and regret, I call to mind the placid place he gave me, and then remember the entire long four-years fondly; and, in the end, everything was worth it for the education of those last five weeks.