day three of my new life
At some point, I stopped asking myself when things had started going wrong, along with the follow up as to whether I ever really knew or just forgot on purpose. By the time I turn twenty-five I’m unraveling faster than I can put myself back together, working a dead-end job that’s a good fit for my dead-end state of mind. The problems I thought I had been living with become the things I struggle with, and it’s always the path of least resistance to just give up. When I finally hit bedrock and self-destruct it’s less like a supernova and more like a mercy killing. I come out the other side of my twenties nothing but glue and glass bones.
Applying to Western is the first thing I’ve done right in damn near a decade. Trying is new to me, and I find that I am glad I did. When the acceptance letter arrives in the mail, it’s a shock to the system. I applied because I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t think anyone would take me. I can’t remember ever feeling that they should.
But now it’s more than just thinking about it. Now it’s the doing, and the doing is the stage I encounter least frequently—I always sink beneath the thinking. I decide by not deciding; I see my failure as foregone.
It is time to test that assumption, and myself.
I sit down in my too-small desk, not entirely certain I’m in the right room. I don’t have time to settle in before Dr. Banash informs us we are to sit in alphabetical order within a circle. No hiding in the back, no avoiding his attention; I sit right next to him, a deer in the academic headlights. He seems infused with a professorial intensity verging on manic, as if his whole frame is so busy generating thought that it can’t be anything but wiry. My frame may be slightly less animated; hence, the too-small desk.
Within the first five minutes of class we’re told that we will be reading Sartre and Nietzsche and a few other names I recognize, but which just as quickly escape me. I am out of my depth. It’s been more than six years since I attended community college regularly and this is not that, this is the real thing. This is Actual College. I figure I’ve got two weeks, maybe three, before Dr. Banash figures out I’m not smart enough to be here.
Later, I ask what I’m pretty sure is a stupid question about the role of the author in interpreting a text. Dr. Banash doesn’t seem to notice—he just points me towards Barthes.
Dr. Helwig is explaining the syllabus in a large room filled with long white tables. I spend the next thirty minutes trying to place her accent, which sounds like a valley girl got run over by a Southern bus. I don’t know where she’s from, but I do know that she knows her poetry, and she shares her knowledge eagerly with a mostly silent class of people who are here because their advisors said they need to be.
Admittedly, I am one of those people—but I do actually love poetry. I tell her that I rarely like anything written after 1940 and she laughs with a wry understanding. I talk to her after class once about Gerard Manley Hopkins, a poet she also appreciates. I am perpetually grateful, time and time again, when she takes a moment to humor me.
Eventually, we cover Hopkin’s “God’s Grandeur.” She smiles at me and says, “Brandon, I know you like Hopkins, so why don’t you read this one.”
Walking into 302 is like coming home. I’ve spent my whole life forming opinions on game theory, even if I didn’t have the vocabulary. Astride the light of the afternoon, we have long and intricate discussions, throwing ideas back and forth across the wide room. I think about my positions while doing homework, driving to school, even just before sleep. I wonder what Courtney and Desiree will have to say?
I have a slightly strange acquaintanceship with Dr. Morrow, in that we both recognize each other as ‘that guy who plays games over at Kozmic Game Emporium.’ We were at least peripherally aware of each other before I became a student at Western and now I’m his student. If there’s any awkwardness implicit in this, we move past it. One nerd knows another: Whenever I have a meeting with him, we spend most of our time talking about video games.
Sometimes we talk academically, if we must.
Professor Lawhorn is possessed by a lust for life that I can’t replicate on my best of days. She is transcendently human, open and fantastic even with her failings. She snorts when she laughs, which makes whatever she’s laughing at even funnier.
I am quiet in my corner of the room, some dark patch of growth shying from the light she bends at me. When she looks me straight in the eye and says that I had better never stop writing, I find myself believing that if I ever did, she would definitely take it personally.
She tells me to capture what’s true; to find the beauty in the ugliness and the darkness in the edges of all that glitters. She tells me to write what is honest even if it is fantasy, to create from the pieces I’ve been given and have taken, to spread out the blank white page and in its borders stamp a part of myself with every crooked line intact, every splotch and crease, every curve that hints towards the absolute sphere—the perfect core of what I make and what’s been made of me, all truths wonderful-hideous-perplexing enmeshed.
She tells me to write.
I write this.