Advice for the Lovelorn ... Teacher

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Chapter 11

When I first met Sophia, she gave me a book she loved titled Women who Run with the Wolves. She read it and had purchased several copies which she was giving to the women in her life, me included. I was honored to part of such an august group. I greatly admired Sophia and wanted to drink from her fountain of knowledge and soak it all in. So I devoured the book (as much as a very slow reader can devour anything).

I didn’t fully get it.

I was in my late 20s, living with my mother, still basically a little girl. I was too immature to fully appreciate or even understand most of the concepts discussed in the book.

The stories were about women whom the author felt was an endangered species. Using some fairy tales and myths, she would show that (in my opinion) women are strong and we weren’t being recognized as such. We had bought society’s line that men were in charge, men were gods, etc. But, as I remember it, women were just as good as men, definitely thinking in different ways, but often almost smarter than men. We needed to reach deep inside of us to bring that fierceness, our inner wolf, out again.

Now, my problem was, I didn’t think of myself as a “woman.” I was never really a girly girl. I didn’t wear makeup, I mowed the lawn, I got dirty, I could change a tire, I had my own tool box (a gift from my mother, no less—actually, she gave me two of them over the years)—I wasn’t a princess waiting for rescue. I was more of the schmuck doing the rescuing because the men were too stupid to step up until the last minute, after I had cleared the path for them to take all the credit.

So, reaching down into a soul, yearning for power, things like that—no, that wasn’t me. I was working two jobs and going to grad school and living daily with the demoralizing ridiculing that my mother considered conversation. I was living life day by day, trying not to kill someone, just enduring until I could go to sleep and then get up the next day and start the ordeal again. I remember a parody copy of my college newspaper which repeatedly said, “Life’s a bitch, and then you die.” It became painfully clear that the editor was a very stressed out senior, but it was a mantra that could not be denied.

Life is a bitch, and then you die.

And when you live with a bitch, death can’t come soon enough.

As much as I desperately needed the advice and guidance in the book, it was more of a thought kept in the back of my mind rather than a daily mantra.

So, this was just another one of those things that affect everyone else but not me. There were a lot of those things and they rolled off my back like water off a duck. So, years later, after my mother’s death and my move, when Sophia gave me a copy of The Secret, I did read it. I was, well, I’m not sure if fascinated is the correct word. Intrigued? Mildly interested? That’s it! I was mildly interested in it because Sophia was. I admired her life—she would plan things and they came true. In fact, shortly after she gave me the book, she was going to be leaving for a sabbatical in Europe for several months! Talk about a dream come true. So if Sophia likes the book, I need to look into it.

I began to read it and it was innocuous enough. It made a lot of sense. But I read a passage, and what it said I have no idea. Even after re-reading the book, I don’t recognize the passage, but it shook me to the core. What I read, I interpreted it as basically I need to be aware of messages being sent to me and this particular weekend was full of messages of “We don’t want you.”

Now, I’m the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. I’m probably hypersensitive to people’s reactions and comments, maybe in my desperate need to be loved and accepted I will often blame myself even though I know I am not to blame. So this interpretation just shook me to the core.

I did think about it for a few days. And I realized I was guilty of what I accused others of—taking things out of context. So I began the book again and finished it.

It never said I “was not wanted.” Just the opposite—if you think you are not wanted, then you won’t be. And, in all honesty, I was living proof of The Secret. I had three instances where things weren’t going right (not that things ever did go right, but these three stood out) and I asked myself mentally, “What else can go wrong?”

Within moments, I found out.

Like the time when I decided to wear these big, clunky sandals all summer. I loved those sandals. Then, for the first day of the new semester at CHU, I decided to wear my blue Hush Puppies with a nice dress. I rarely had occasion to wear them as it was, but I did finally have an outfit that wouldn’t clash with the blue shoes. And, oh, my, were they comfortable. Except this day.

The night before, I could not fall asleep. I don’t know if it was nerves or excitement, but I swear I did not get more than an hour of sleep that night. The next day was gray and rainy, but I was going to wear that dress and those blue Hush Puppies. My class began at 8 a.m. which meant I had to be on the road by 7, partly due to the distance and traffic, but also because I did not go to the orientation session the week before to get the classroom keys and mail box combination. So I had to take care of some business, but that wasn’t a big deal—the classroom doors were never locked and I had plenty of time between my classes to get all of that paperwork stuff done. Not a problem.

The 15-foot walk from the front door of my house to my car was one of the longest of my life. The Hush Puppies had apparently shrunk since the last time I wore them—before my summer of clunky sandals? Oh, man, my feet spread out over the nice wide platform of those sandals so now I couldn’t fit into the dress shoes. Of course, I didn’t think about this until half way through the commute. And it wouldn’t have done much good to have brought another pair of shoes because if these didn’t fit, none of my others would have either.

Except the big, clunky sandals.

Since I didn’t go to the orientation, I didn’t have the parking permit so I had to park in “Lot 7”, which was at least a quarter mile from the campus. Central Heights University was a small campus, consisting of only three buildings with a fourth under construction, and this lot, at the edge of the property, was not paved. It had rocks, as opposed to gravel, and it was sufficient.

For parking cars, not walking, in the rain, in my small blue Hush Puppies.

In what seemed an eternity I entered the department office to get the classroom roster and other papers needed to begin the semester. The department chairman, almost as if on cue, rushed out of his office shouting, “It’s about time you got here!”

I looked at the secretary, who was seated behind a counter behind me. Was he talking to me?

I looked at my watch—I had plenty of time to get to the other building for my class. The chairman continued talking. “My son is in your class.”

I looked at him, then flipped through the roster. He had a common surname so I would not have known if this student was his child or not. “Steven?” I said. He nodded.

Fuck.

So off I clomped down the hallway, down the stairs, out into the gray drizzle, to the next building, up the stairs and saw the crowd of students outside of a classroom. My classroom.

“The door’s locked,” one young man said.

I grabbed the handle in disbelief. “Since when do they lock the doors here?” I asked.

I noticed a telephone in the hallway and obediently “pressed 0 for campus police.” Can’t wait for Junior to tell his father about this. What a day. And it was only 8:01.

Campus security showed up and unlocked the door, lecturing me in front of the students about the importance of keeping the doors locked. “Where is your key?” he demanded.

“I haven’t picked it up yet—I’ve never known the doors to be locked.”

“Well, make sure you get one.”

I looked at him, wishing this humiliation would end. “I intend to, just after this class is finished.”

I’m going to be fired. I knew it. Junior was going to tell Daddy how incompetent I am and about the cop and how we started late and I just knew this was my last day on campus. I looked around at the students, trying to figure out which one was Steven. I gave my opening spiel.

CHU insisted that students refer to you as professor, unless you had a doctorate degree, then you were Dr. Whomever. It always reminded me of that scene in The Music Man where Harold Hill keeps trying to get Marian the Librarian’s attention during the ice cream social. “Professor? Of what? At what university do they give a degree …”

That scene always went through my head every time I said the word or was called Professor Smith. Then there was the husband of a friend who burst out laughing and said, “You play piano?”

What?

“Professor. That’s what they call the piano players in the whore houses!”

Totally humiliated, my mouth began to speak. My brain and mouth aren’t connected, so comebacks come faster than they probably should. And, of course, timing is everything.

I arched an eyebrow. “And how would you know that?”

This got everyone to laugh, especially his wife sitting next to him. “Hey—yeah, how do you know that?” she asked.

But this particular morning, the other part of my problem is that, with Junior Department Head in my class, I probably shouldn’t use my standard joke. “Good morning. My name is Professor Smith and to make sure you are in the right class, this is advanced nuclear physics.”

Only a few people would catch that. I was teaching English Composition 101.

I love college students—the first day they are scared to death.

So, I began to take attendance, eyeing the male students to see which one was Steven. I really wish I didn’t know to whom he was related.

As each of the white males responded, I realized there were only three males left: one white, one black, one Asian.

Steven was the Asian kid. Was he adopted? Because his father was white. From somewhere in the back of my mind, I recalled a tidbit of gossip—Mrs. Department Chair was Korean.

I got through the class relatively unscathed. As soon as the class ended I had to go to the campus police department to pick up my official key so I could get into the classrooms. I had a 90 minute break between classes and each class was in a different building. And, the “office” that was shared by all adjuncts? The basement of the third campus building (no elevator access). Ah, the joys of college teaching. I need to charge mileage.

While the campus is small, it is “hilly.” And by hilly, keep in mind this is the Midwest. We’re flat. Highway viaducts were sledding hills to us—the only elevated surfaces around. The campus police department was down a hill. It wasn’t like it was a big hill, but keep in mind I am wearing my very-tight blue Hush Puppies and it is raining by now. I’m a natural-born klutz (it’s a gift!) and new shoes on wet asphalt is never a good combination. But I did make it to the building in under 10 minutes—it was 8:56.

They opened at 9 a.m.

What else could go wrong?

The walk back, that’s what. Now I was traveling uphill. Suddenly, this little hill has turned into the Matterhorn. I ended up walking on the wet, muddy grass so at least I could get some traction. This was going to be a very long day.

By the time I got to my next class, I looked like a drowned rat (no offense to rats meant). The key didn’t work. Apparently, there is a “trick” to this particular room. We finally got in, I began to take roll, and once again thought, “What else could go wrong?”

I turned my head to the door way and saw the director of the Composition Program standing in the door way, camera to her eye, pointed at me. Now, this is the lady who hired me to teach composition in the first place.

“Take that photo and I will kill you,” I said, in front of the students. Just batting a thousand here, aren’t I? I’m just determined to be fired.

She smiled. “I’m just taking photos for our web page. We wanted to get actual students and professors in action.”

I looked at her and then she noticed my rain-soaked-and-air-dried hair. I really wasn’t the best poster child to put out on the World Wide Web.

I pointed to the left. “There are the students. Go for it.”

By the time the class ended and I emerged from the windowless classroom, the sky was beginning to brighten. By the time I got to the car, the sun was beginning to peek from behind the clouds. I vowed that as soon as I got home I was putting the Hush Puppies back in the box, never to be worn again without training the feet to be enclosed in tight spaces. Note to self for the next summer.

I was reminded of this day while reading The Secret. The Law of Attraction—if you think of negative things, you attract them to you. Dale Carnegie was right—The Power of Positive Thinking. Each time I thought of “What else could go wrong?”, I immediately found out.

Right then and there I swore I would never again ask what else could go wrong. Until the next time.

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