The Bad Project

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Chapter 11. Marianne Scopes Out Crystal’s Dreams/Marianne

The roommates walked across the Carson College campus towards the library together, carrying their backpacks. Crystal wore jeans and a gold turtle neck jersey top with a flying hawk design in black, saying “Midnight Performance”, and Marianne wore tight black jeans and a V-necked red velour hoodie. The Chinese double happiness character carved in gold jade hung around her neck on a shiny black leather cord. It was a sunny, breezy fall day, and the leaves crackled under their feet as they walked across a wide green lawn.

Coming to Carson instead of living at home and going to Berkeley was a big step forward in Marianne’s view. She’d been scheming to go away for college for years. All through high school, she studied hard to get a big scholarship to make it possible. She loved to read, but studying science didn’t come easy. She’d maneuvered her parents into talking with parents of Chinese students at Los Angeles colleges, knowing that LA was about as far as her parents would let her consider going.

Charlie Ma, the older brother of Mary Ma, one of her high school friends, had graduated from Carson two years ago and been admitted to UCSF Medical School. At school events, she made sure her parents got to know Mary’s Mom and Dad and talked with them about Carson, in as casual a way as she could manage.

Now her plans had succeeded; she was here on her own and could design her own life. But she was very curious about Crystal. Marianne scratched the middle of her back with her left hand as they walked quietly along. The skin around the so-called tramp stamp was all healed. She was pleased. She thought that Crystal’s life was somewhat mysterious. She’d only met two of her relatives, who had brought her to Carson College, her Grandma and her big brother Jason, an engineer who’d gone to CalTech. Crystal had said she wanted to be a doctor. But did she have other goals, other motivations?

“Crystal, I think I’d like to be a famous author, once I understand the Bad. Do you want to be famous?”

Crystal wrinkled up her brow and squinted into the distance. “Not really. I don’t want to make a lot of money either. I want to help people and I want to belong.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s important for me to be able to be proud of what I do and feel that it’s worthwhile, that I’m helping people. That’s why I want to be a doctor. And belonging, well, here I don’t feel right because almost everyone is rich and white. At home, I didn’t belong even though everyone was black, because being fucking smart was no good. I couldn’t conform because I needed to keep on getting those A’s so I could become a doctor.”

Marianne noticed Crystal’s nostrils were lifted, as though she was smelling something repellant. She said, “Is race hella important to belonging? Couldn’t friendship transcend that?”

Crystal smiled at Marianne. “Transcend? Talking like a book again. Sure, in some cases, like with you and me. But when I look out in my classes, there’s a sea of white. We’re not poor, we’re middle class in my family, but I see Gucci and Kate Spade. I don’t see Macy’s and Target.” Marianne ducked her head and shuffled her feet through the leaves. It had never occurred to her that her fancy accessories might make Crystal feel stress.

“You know,” Marianne said, “I’d hate to go again to fucking China. I was in Shanghai visiting family a long time ago, like when I was eight, but I’ve read a lot more since then. Those assholes make it so repressive for women over there, and I don’t feel drawn to the ancient culture—too much control, too much red and gold. But once you said you’d like to go to Africa. Is this belonging what you’re looking for there?”

“Yes, but I’m scared it won’t work out that way there either. Yes, almost everyone will be black. But will they share my experiences and values? Will I feel like I’ve come home? I somehow doubt it’ll be that easy. How will they feel about Americans? About women? Will those men who run the villages even accept a woman doctor? Like you say, there’s more than just race that I’m looking for.”

The girls climbed a flight of stairs to another level of the campus, and stopped to look back towards the dorms and out over the Los Angeles basin. Crystal said,“So many fucking people out there. Where are there people who fit with me, who match me? Maybe nowhere.” Marianne felt sorry for her. Belonging was what she’d had too much of personally, because it seemed to come along with a strong dose of obligation and guilt, but she felt the longing of her roommate.

“You could find you’ve “come home” in Africa. Shit, it’s worth a try! How’d you get interested in medicine?” A brisk breeze showered the girls with golden leaves from a liquid amber tree as they turned back towards the library.

“I hate to tell people this, but it was my Dad. He wanted to be a doctor back in scary Indianola, Missisippi when he was growing up. But his parents and the preacher and even his teacher told him ’Our kind can’t do medicine. You better be a physical therapist.” Crystal looked even sadder, and at the same time her neck cords tightened and her hands curled up tight.

“And did he do that?”

“Yes he did, and he’s fucking-A good at it. I wish sometimes he was more like my Mom and had been able to be assertive and say damn the consequences, he would go ahead and be a doctor. Someone has to be first. And he reads all the medical literature. But…” Crystal stopped talking and walking and stared into space.

“What’s bothering you?”

Crystal burst out, “So many people have told me I’m living his dream and I need to make my own dream! But damn it, it’s not true. It is my dream. Why can’t I have the same dream he had? It’s really unfair!” Saying it released her from suspended animation, and she started walking slowly forward again. Marianne kept pace, feeling like she was finally learning what she needed to know about what made Crystal tick.

”Hey, I think it’s great to have a dream in common with your Dad. I’d never have a problem with it. I only wish I had one f-ing thing in common with my parents. But you sound sure that you have the dream for your own reasons and it’s deep inside you, not just passed on by him. So, it IS yours, don’t let any bastards talk you out of it.”

“Thanks, I needed that. I’m so defensive because I hear that I’m under his thumb, living his dream, so often. But I really do think it’s mine just as much as it’s his.”

“What about your Mom, does she think it’s your dream too?” Marianne crossed her fingers that there was nothing awful connected with Crystal’s Mom. She had been very curious about Crystal’s Mom and Dad, and this was the first time she’d heard much of anything.

Crystal smiled, but the smile didn’t warm her eyes. She said, “She died when I was twelve, of breast cancer. She was diagnosed and then it seemed like almost right away, she passed. I miss her so much. Yes, she loved the dream. I started with doctor kits for Christmas, then went on to books on biology and medicine, and “treated” all my friends with a real first aid kit.

“Then I started getting interested in Africa when we had some visitors from Ghana. They came for a banking program, and we were their home-stay site through the international YMCA. They talked about the open, friendly, warm culture of Ghana, and my Dad asked them about Ethiopia where he thinks his relatives came from. They said it’s war-torn there; there are never enough doctors. I’ve been thinking and reading about being a doctor in Ethiopia ever since.”

They had arrived at the big, white columned library building. The girls planned to watch the assigned videos for Biology on meiosis and mitosis together, then Marianne was going to read the Philosophy commentary on desk reserve, and Crystal was going to work her Chemistry problems in the computer room. They’d meet later for dinner.

“Here’s the video room, let’s get started,” Crystal said. Marianne thought she’d happily give up studying biology to hear more about Crystal’s family. What had happened to her Dad? There must be a reason why he didn’t bring her to college; this was the first time Crystal had mentioned him. But she felt like she couldn’t push too hard, so she agreed and they sat down side by side in front of a video monitor and got out their worksheets to fill in the details about cell division mechanisms.

It felt like busy-work to Marianne, who was anxious to get it over with so she could go to the tea and poetry reading in the English Department later. Their teas had too much sugary food, but some of the senior majors had interesting ideas about literature, and she liked to hear their questions of the speaker or reader. The poet today was someone she had hoped to read before today, but had not found time. She probably couldn’t ask him any questions, but hearing the poems and the questions from the others would still be interesting.

When the two separated and Marianne walked across the campus towards English, she thought about her philosophy professor, Dr. Sandstrom. He was really cool, and she knew her residence hall entry group could invite a professor to dinner two or three times a semester. She dropped by his office. “Hi, Dr. Sandstrom.”

“Hi, Marianne, do you need anything?”

She thought she’d like to run her hand through his blond hair and push it back from hanging over his forehead, but she said, “No, I just had a question. Our entry needs to invite a prof to our next steak night, and I wondered if you’d be interested, if you’d be willing to…” She blushed, feeling very inarticulate and stupid.

He said, “I would love to come. I’d be honored. Just let me know when it is, so I can let the family know I’ll be out for dinner that day.”

Marianne smiled, said, “Thanks! I’ll get back to you.” and fled. Why should she be so embarrassed? He was very nice, not all stuck up and academic-squared the way some professors were. Maybe it was because he was so young, not a lot older than she was. Or maybe it was because he was pretty close to that white man she dreamed about sometimes, a blond, intellectual, and also nice. Never mind that, it’s going be fun to have him come to dinner. He likes to meet students. Marianne’s face cooled as she thought about the residence hall dinner instead of her possible reasons for being nervous. She was calm by the time she got to the English Department and turned in to the Dannon Room where the poetry reading was being held.

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