I sat down in the tiny narrow corridor outside his office. My legs were exactly as long as the breadth of the space; the soles of my red, rain-splattered boots rested neatly against the wall. Gingerly arranging a damp coat in my lap, I waited. When the elevator bell went off, he looked so much like a student, swaddled in coat and ball cap, that I didn't move.
"Good morning, Gloria," my professor panted. He looked irritated; having cycled through windy, pouring rain to make it to his office for 9 a.m. on a Monday, I thought he should be. I had almost been blown over three times on my own way here. I nodded to a classmate at his heels.
"Whose idea was this again?" he asked, rhetorically. She and I exchanged grins.
He squeezed by to unlock his office. As I followed, he had already removed his coat and was pulling off a Duff Beer baseball cap. Seeing it made me smile.
"I like your hat."
There was a pause before he replied, "Thank you." As he dropped into his chair, he reached back with both hands to touch the back of his head, adjusting his yarmulke in a fluid, long-practised motion. I relaxed, a little, but as I remembered why I was there, I started to fidget excitedly.
"So," he said, eyes trained on the screen of his booting laptop, "what do you have for me?"
"Look at this." I gave a sheet of paper to him, just stopping myself from shoving it right under his nose; his eyes snapped to the black and white Xerox. "Arrows!"
There were mysterious symbols in a French Romanesque illustration I was studying; only yesterday, I had found them in a earlier Carolingian manuscript. I was ridiculously excited. And, I was quite comforted and tickled to find, he was too.
Maybe he was humouring me. "Ooh." He removed his glasses, squinting as he peered at the picture.
I rambled that I had found it "completely at random" while examining the collection of enormous German folios of manuscripts he had sent me to look at; I could hardly believe my luck.
In an amused tone, he explained that in our field, this "luck" was called "research."
As he handed back the photocopy, which I carefully replaced in a zippered pocket (precious evidence!), he smiled at me, glad that I was finally enjoying my work.
"Is this your last year?"
I confirmed it. I was taking some final summer credits (irritating); I had no solid job prospects (worrisome); I was thinking of undertaking graduate studies (dubious).
He considered. "Hm. Well, if you need a recommendation for a job or for graduate school, I'd be happy to be asked."
I paused. "Really?" My voice had a high-pitched tone of skepticism to it.
He chuckled. "Really." He added, "I'd hire you."
"Well ..." He shrugged; I thought it seemed like that sort of shy wriggle that usually means something embarrassing is about to be said and cannot be retracted. "I'd hire you for anything," he admitted.
In an instant, I wondered what sort of motive he might have behind issuing such praise to me, or whether he was in the right mind to even give it. I had to protest -- he knew I had self-esteem problems, so perhaps he was just trying to compensate for that hole in my confidence -- except I remembered I did this too often, he didn't care for it, nobody did, and also, it was rude, even if he didn't mean it.
"Thank you." As I felt genuinely pleased, I must have begun to beam. I hope the fact he did not meet my eyes only meant that I had taken a quip too seriously.
Mother Day's 2008.
As we dallied in the line that snaked around the flower shop, I took a fifteenth peek into the bouquet hugged (gently) in the crook of his arm. Spotting a tiny bundle of roses (which had not been there before), I exclaimed, "What are you doing?" We (well, I) had spent fifteen minutes debating the merits of various colour schemes; the red buds clashed horribly now with his subdued plum and white selections.
"I like roses," he said defensively.
"You know how I feel about them."
"But they're too lazy. Too obvious." (The worst offense.) "Too common."
"They're the best," he corrected. "The best flower."
There is something about roses that has always rankled with me, that I have always disliked. Perhaps because other girls received them, while I did not. Perhaps it is their weight -- the thick, heavy knob of petals hugged around petals. Fingering the bud, it feels like layers of silken brocade. Rich, opulent, but heavy. Antiquated. Suffocating.
Give me orchids, lilies, tulips, snapdragons. They are open, light, and airy; they offer transparency, with no hidden secrets waiting to unfurl. Their clean lines and clear, bright colours, honest yet sophisticated, are modern, but still romantic. They promise beginnings, fresh life, and youth.
As we stood at the streetcar stop, each grasping our offerings to the maternal unit, he handed me the modest bouquet -- the same I had lambasted so unabashedly back in the shop. There was something in his face that told me he had outmaneuvered both me and my intolerant ways. "Happy early anniversary."
I made a face.
I have discovered that I can develop a very intense sexual attraction to men who approve of me.
This is a dangerous tendency.
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.
I once told him that I loved him ... in binary.
When I hear his name,
every hair on my body
bristles with desire.
When I see
the moon of his face,
I grow moist like a moonstone.
When that man
as dear to me as breath
steps close enough
to stroke my neck,
the thought of jealousy
is shattered in my heart,
can be hard as diamond.
- Amaru, Amarusataka 58
"If it's licking the Pope, it's probably treyf." - Evil Monkey's Guide to Kosher Imaginary Animals
He had that secret smile ... that sort of half-laughter that tugs at the corners of your mouth but you are enjoying yourself too much to let others share.
He could see I was my usual bundle-of-nerves self, with my usual yearning to escape any conversation possible -- I had unthinkingly put my hand on the door handle, quite ready to leave when allowed -- yet he played the dummard, asking your usual "so how's it going" questions, all those queries that have ridiculously obvious answers, and delighting himself with my anguish as I answered politely; he was laughing at me.
Fortunately, I was laughing at him too. Thank you, novelty baseball tie. You were so ludicrous I don't know how he let you leave the house around his handsome neck.
2. As "Americana" defines itself as artefacts of American culture, "Gloriana" consists of the artefacts of my culture.
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