The Bad Project

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Chapter 2. Residence Hall Revelations/Marianne

It was after dinner the same day. Marianne looked up from her book to see Crystal raising one eyebrow as she said, “Hey, ready to do that job from the Dean of Students for our Residence Hall meeting?”

Marianne envied Crystal her ability to raise one eyebrow, and decided to try to learn to do that when Crystal was out. She made a face. “I hate these fakey activities anyway. Do we have to do it?” She was stretched out on her bed rereading Mrs. Dalloway and didn’t want to stop.

Crystal nodded. “I think we do. These startup activities are sort of dumb, but if we act like a-holes about them, we’ll send the student affairs folk into a hissy-fit. Let’s just do it and get it behind us. You can find us a new quote later.”

“What’s the scoop then? We have to do what?”

“Ask each other one of the questions on this list and be prepared to present our partner’s answers.” Crystal looked down at the memo in her hand and said, “The meeting’s tonight at nine.” She raised both eyebrows and looked at Marianne expectantly.

Marianne sighed, then pulled the slip of paper with the questions out of the manila envelope on her desk. She got up and struck a dramatic pose. “May I ask you, Ms. Queen of the Nile, if you’ve ever been in love?” She wondered if this question would bother Crystal.

Crystal smiled, a wide, white, toothy grin. “Easy question for me! No way, not at all. I have no idea about love and maybe no time for it until way later.”


“What do you mean, when?”

“Shit, come on, work with me here. When will you have time for love, of course.” Marianne pulled a three by five card out of the pack on her desk, to jot down Crystal’s answers.

Crystal thought a minute, then said, “After medical school, internship, residency. I read this book, Intern Blues. The three interns tried to have normal girlfriends and marriages and it just wasn’t possible.”

Marianne nodded. “My doctor at home doesn’t lead a normal life either. And Susie, my favorite sister, she’s a doctor in an HMO. She thought that would give her more time for her kids, but it doesn’t. If you put it off, it might never happen. That would be sad.” Marianne opened her bottle of water and took a sip. It was fun to imagine herself as an unmarried writer, but somehow Crystal seemed motherly and should be married.

Crystal was quiet for a minute. She said, “Well, Amy, the woman in that book about interns, she was married and had a baby daughter. She was so frustrated not getting time for her family that she quit medicine after her internship was over. It looks like both marriage and medicine need your full time attention.” She shook her shoulders and said, “If I miss my chance to get married, I’ll be fine. My turn. Here’s your question: tell me about when you were the most embarrassed ever.”

Marianne felt her stomach tense up; a bad taste came into the back of her mouth. Sweat prickled her palms and under her arms. “I didn’t see that one on the list they gave me,” she managed to say.

“Are you okay with it? Should I give you a different one?”

“No, I guess you deserve to know. While you’re considering helping me with the Bad Project, I mean.” Courage now.

“Take your time if it’s hard,” Crystal said, with a wrinkle between her eyebrows.

“I hate to think about it. Okay, it was at Pythonia. P. T. Megister is the editor and my AP English teacher, Ms. Light, knew him socially. She arranged for us to go there, the whole AP class, about a week after graduation.”

“I’ve heard of that lit mag. Sounds like a real coup. Inspiring for you budding writers.” Crystal said.

“Not so much.” Marianne swallowed, then reached down under her bed for a water bottle. She twisted open the cap and took a sip. “It’s a bit hard to live through twice. Ms. Light invited three of us to submit stories to him in advance.”

Crystal got up and stretched, picked up her lotion from her bureau, and sat back on her bed. “And you were one of the three, right?”

“Yep.” Marianne twisted a lock of her long hair and looked down. “Because I had more pieces published in Plum Blossoms, our high school literary journal, than anyone else. But that was childish, not real world.”

“No, don’t put yourself down. It’s important. I bet that magazine wasn’t a slam dunk; the lit mag sure at my high school sure wasn’t. But, back to the turkey at Pythonia. What happened?” Crystal opened the lotion and began to rub it into her bare legs.

“It was upstairs above some restaurants, next to a radio studio, kind of a cool place with a great view of the water. Manuscripts piled everywhere, even on his desk chair. Boxes piled up in two corners, probably they were full of manuscripts too.

“Mr. Megister said something nice about Sue’s story about her relatives near Shanghai and Carol’s story about her mentally ill uncle. And then he turned to me. ‘You’re Marianne?’ he asked.

“‘Yes,’ I said. My mouth was dry. Somehow, I must have subconsciously expected what was coming.”

“’My poor dear,” he said in his high, whiny voice. “You really have nothing to say yet. Don’t try to write anything else until you’ve lived, until you have some deep experiences to write about. This isn’t a worthwhile effort, although I can see you’ve developed some skills.’”

Marianne made a motion as if she was handing Crystal a paper. “He shoved it back at me. I took it, but I never wanted to see it again. I threw it into the trash can and howled. I hated to give way in front of him and the whole class, but couldn’t stop myself from crying.” She felt like she might cry again, just remembering. But although her eyes filled up, she didn’t actually have any tears, and she took that as a good sign. “Maybe I’m beginning to get over it.”

Crystal got up and hugged her. “What a schmuck! He could have realized how devastating that would sound.”

“I don’t think he did realize until I cried. But then he got up, looked upset, and rushed out. He never came back. Ms. Light said I was a good writer. But she’s just a teacher. Finally, she gave up on him and took us all out for a snack at the restaurant below, and she apologized to me and told me he wasn’t used to working with beginning writers.”

Crystal said, “He sure wasn’t. He must be a pompous a-hole, drunk on power.”

Marianne smiled at Crystal, and said, “But he had me convinced for about a month that I was a shitty writer. Then, I started to think maybe I can overcome his objection. I just need to get experience. And I had to get away from my parents to do it—which luckily I already did, when I came down here to Carson.”

“So you came here. Well, how much of this do you want me to tell the whole residence hall group at the meeting tonight?”

Marianne clenched her fingers with dread. “I think not much.”

“How about this: Marianne was embarrassed when a lit magazine editor told her she needed more experience to write at a high level, in front of her whole high school class.”

“Okay, that.” Marianne smiled at Crystal. Maybe hearing her tell it yet again would take away more of its power to hurt.

Crystal said, “You know from the other night that I have a secret. I don’t ever want to tell anyone about it, but because you’ve told me this, I want you to know it’s about something awful that happened to me in sophomore year. I’m still trying to recover, and so is my family.

“If you ever decide you want to talk about it, I’m here.”

“I don’t think so, but thank you for offering,” Crystal said.

Marianne said, “Whatever you want to do.”

Crystal finished creaming her legs, gave a quick rub to her elbows, and put the lotion back. She said, “Thanks. Wow, that feels good. Took care of my ashy skin. Shall we make tea before we go? We have about a half hour left.”

Marianne agreed, and the two made tea in their mugs. They used immersion heaters and Chai teabags that Susie had sent Marianne a couple of days earlier. As they sipped, Crystal said, “Thanks for not prying into my secret.”

“No problem. It’s yours. You’ve already made me feel better about Pythonia.”

“How did it get that name? I recall seeing it at Borders’ and it had these two big snakes on the cover, kind of gross.” Crystal stuck out her tongue.

“Do you not like snakes? I see them as a symbol of power. But about Pythonia, Carol asked Megister that. He said he’d wanted to be a doctor and loved the way the two snakes coil about the caduceus. But then I looked it up on Wikipedia and saw that using that two-snake caduceus for a symbol of medicine was a mistake. Only the Americans use that double helix of snakes; they chose the wrong Greek god. They should have used a rod with a single snake to represent the god of medicine. Made me feel happy to know more about medical symbols than Megister.”

The two finished their tea and went off to their dorm meeting. Marianne thought they were feeling close to teach other, allied, and ready for the discussion. She felt hopeful about Crystal’s decision now, she crossed her fingers and hoped she was right that Crystal was on her side

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