As I walked inside, he seemed to regard me with a certain apprehension. We sat. He continued looking at me with that careful look, now slightly incredulous. Nobody spoke for a moment.
I ventured, "Is something ... wrong?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Well. The last time we spoke, you were a bit overwrought."
Embarrassed he remembered, I shook my head. "You've been a professor for twenty years." I felt rueful, but defensive. "You've seen dozens of students cry."
I had cried. I had tried not to, though it was an enormous relief to cry at someone who had no personal obligation to say nice things to me.
I was overwhelmed by the final assignment of the course. I was so nervous about it that I had seen him four weeks in a row, pelting him with questions each time and pleading for advice; although he sent me home each time with something to do, I was set back the next time I would see him, when he would have to tell me my idea was not feasible.
The last such setback had me dissolving into tears in his office -- the first time I had ever cried in front of a professor, even through past times when I was as troubled. As I kept soaking up tears with a tissue and staring into my lap, hiccuping between words, he became so puzzled by my anxieties -- the first time we spoke, I realized he thought of me as impassive; he was too surprised when I confessed I had been worrying for three weeks already -- that he sat in his "psychologist" chair and asked me what I was really worried about.
He could not understand how a student of my academic standing (respectably accomplished, although by no means stellar) could be racked with this much anxiety. When I told him I didn't think I was that accomplished, that it was only because I had the luck of less sterling classmates (I overlooked that this was patently untrue for this class), he told me I had "serious" self-esteem issues. I thought of the countless other things I fretted over; I couldn't disagree, but I didn't think that meant I was wrong either. I kept this last sentiment to myself.
I told him I didn't think I could hand in an assignment that would let me hold my head up. He told me my expectations were set unrealistically high. I told him I was afraid I would fail. He told me it was nigh impossible for me to fail.
I did not tell him I was terrified of not doing well by him. I did not tell him that he had taught me so much that I felt as though I could write a thousand essays just slightly imperfect and fall entirely short of his accomplishment to me. This imbalance, this error of reciprocity, was what was driving me mad. I was crying.
When I finally stopped, the relief was brief. It was also false. The tears had resulted in only guilt -- not only that I had violated that social code that says you must maintain control, stoic passivity in public, but that I had allowed him some undue bias; I was worried he'd feel sorry for me. I had probably made him feel too self-conscious about sending me away so he could speak to other students who were waiting. He didn't know, but once I left his office, smiling waterily at my classmates, red eyes averted, I went to the washroom only ten feet away and cried in a stall for another fifteen minutes, free to sob in a way I had not let myself in front of him.
He agreed. "I have seen a lot of crying students. But it doesn't mean I don't still care about each of them."
I sighed inwardly. I had cried because my hope had been that he wouldn't care at all.
posted at 5:14:08 pm
2. As "Americana" defines itself as artefacts of American culture, "Gloriana" consists of the artefacts of my culture.
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