The Bad Project

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Chapter 37. Doctor Disaster/Crystal/Marianne

Crystal heard first, ironically. Willys had asked her if she would request money for the Gospel Choir from the student government. She was in the Dean of Students’ office picking up a form. She had just received the form from the senior secretary, when the phone rang at the next desk over. The younger secretary at the next desk answered it, listened, gasped, and her eyes bulged. She put the phone down slowly.

The senior secretary helping Crystal asked, “What’s wrong?”

“It’s Professor Sandstrom. He’s dead!”

“What? When? How did it happen?” asked the senior secretary. Crystal felt her breath catch in her throat. Was this a solution or would it just make the disaster worse? For sure, Marianne was going to be hurt badly by his death. She tried to look concerned but not too interested, for fear they’d wait until she left to discuss it.

“The highway patrol officer said that he’d just crashed at high speed coming down from the Angeles Crest. He ran his car head-on into a lamp post and was killed instantly. Apparently he was alone in the car.”

“Was he drunk?”

“Celeste! Watch what you say!” The junior secretary looked pointedly at Crystal.

Crystal wondered what had really happened. It was one thirty in the afternoon, not a time when she’d expect a professor to be drunk. Sandstrom was getting serious about Marianne. He had a reputation for playing around, but apparently he’d been hit hard by love this time. Marianne just told him the day before that she wouldn’t marry him if he divorced his wife. She’d told Crystal she had too much guilt about the children’s lives being ruined. Crystal wondered if that would be enough to push him to commit suicide. Surely not, but could she really be confident she was right?

She tucked the form in her backpack and walked slowly towards the dorm, thinking about how to tell Marianne. Everyone would find out soon. But maybe she could break the news more gently than the computer information systems that spread bad news across campus. No one was in the room. They had planned to meet for a late lunch, so Crystal sat down on her bed and drummed her fingers on her night stand. A moment later, the door opened and Marianne came in. She waved, dropped her backpack on the floor under her desk, and stood waiting for Crystal to get up to go to lunch.

“Marianne, I need to talk with you. Can you sit down for a few minutes?”

Marianne raised her eyebrows and looked fidgety as she sat on the edge of her bed. “Okay, but I’m hungry. Please be quick.”

“You know I had to go to the Dean of Students’ Office this morning?”

“Yes, did you get the form you needed?”

“I did, but I heard something neither of us wants to know. Marianne, Professor Sandstrom was killed this afternoon.” Crystal wondered again if this would be a solution to her problem and Marianne’s or if it would lead to new complications.

“Was killed?” Marianne’s face had no expression at all, and her color drained. She put her hand up to her cheek. It shook. “He was driving down from the Angeles Crest and he crashed into a lamp post,” Crystal went on. “No one was in the car with him.” “

His children! His wife! Oh, no. This can’t be true. He can’t be dead!” She burst into tears as the realization finally hit her. She dropped down on her bed and cried hard. Crystal came over. She got a tissue from the box nearby and had it ready to offer when Marianne was ready. It took a long time for her to want it.

“Thanks,” she said, wiping her eyes and face. “You know I love him too much, but I told him it was impossible yesterday just like I told you I would. Could he have killed himself because of me?” Marianne felt agitated. “He seemed okay with it. He did! But really, I believe he thought he could talk me out of it. He said, ‘We’ll see,’ when I left the office. I don’t know. The departmental librarian was waiting to see him in the hall, and I didn’t like to have her hear anything, so I just went away.”

Another tear slipped down her cheek, and she wiped it away. She glanced in the mirror. Her nose was red. “I don’t want to eat now, it would make me sick,” she said. “You can go ahead to the snack bar if you want, Crystal. I just need some quiet time to think. I’m alright, really. You can check back later if you want.” Marianne felt like a zombie.

Crystal looked doubtful, but she said, “Call me on my cell phone if you need anything. I’ll be back by before my 2:30 class.” She closed the door quietly behind her. Marianne sat on the edge of her bed staring into space.

Her mind replayed her first encounter with Dr. Sandstrom in his office, and then, strangely, the tape seemed to unwind forward, and she went over every encounter with him, one after another, faster than reality but it seemed to take forever. She viewed it all from somewhere up high, like a corner of the ceiling in his office. She was mostly numb, but felt sorry for what she had contributed to his state of mind, if it wasn’t an accident. She honestly didn’t see how it could have been an accident. It was early afternoon, not dark. His car was only about a year old. Surely he couldn’t have been drinking at that hour. What had made him do it? Did he have another secret problem? If so, he’d never shown her any sign of it.

After about a half an hour, Crystal came back in and hugged her to cheer her up. “You haven’t moved an inch. You’ll get through this, I know you can. The Room of Our Own will get you through. Just let me know anything I can do to help. Do you want me to do anything to alert your professors?”

Marianne shook her head. “No, my God, how can I tell them anything? We never should have been… doing those things, never should have been involved. I can’t tell anyone but you. I just have to get myself together. Maybe a quiet afternoon, walking around campus a little, will help. Thanks, Crystal, but let’s not say anything to anyone else, okay?”

“Whatever you want to do is fine with me. I have to go to my Chemistry review session now, but I’ll keep my cell phone on. Call me or text if you need me.” Crystal gave her a last hug and went out again, taking her backpack along.

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