Wednesday, May 15, 2013

EDUCATING Z - Chapters 11-15

11.  WWMS

            Sitting all alone in her dorm she surveyed the accomplishments of the weekend. Friends made, closet organized, desk arranged, it was time to leave for the very first class. “I wish I knew what to wear; to do; to say; to think; to not think. I miss Ma’s wisdom even more now. What should I do? What?”
            Her eyes strayed over the books on the bookshelf and their titles seemed to speak to her. She laughed out loud and decided she would ask the most fashionable lady on the shelf for fashion advice, and would consult Ms Post about the avoidance of social potholes, and ask Shakespeare and Einstein and Emerson to help out with the rest.
This Council of Elders would have to stand in for her after-school hour of “What would Ma say?” As for Ma’s love and affection that was missing from her life, she would have to find them in her own heart.”

            The first weekend at college well spent Z took heart being so far from home and all things familiar for the very first time, believing that this was where she was meant to be. It just felt that way. The place felt just right as did the people.
Monday night after dinner she and her new friends walked along the road flanked by oak trees hundreds of year’s old, spooky looking things like sentinels to a history that had sometimes been dark, with their limbs dripping cobwebby moss. The crickets got louder as did the frogs. And did she hear cicadas? She wasn’t sure nor was any of the other four in the group who all grew up in places that hosted no cicadas. In the fading light she saw through the bars of a narrow wrought iron gate a statue that looked a lot like Annie in a long dress holding two bowls, perhaps filled with birdseed for birdies coping with ♫the hard-knock life♫, in her hands in the walled garden of a southern mansion. A board nailed to the wall said ”KEEP OUT”. Her thoughts ran wild. “This would be just the kind of place Boo Radley could live in. It’s such a shame to kill a mocking bird. Or maybe this was the garden of good and evil.”
They entered the building and each went her own way. Z reached her door and found a strange sight. A pair of work boots, rather big ones, stood in the hallway a wee bit closer by her door than her neighbor’s. She didn’t know what to think of them so she ignored them and went inside.
Next morning her neighbor said hi, looked at the boots and at Z, back and forth, a rally that lasted all of fifteen seconds or so, then picked up the boots, continued the chitchat about the weather and abruptly said goodbye. The exact same thing happened on Tuesday. On Wednesday it happened again. Z thought this was a friendly and talkative soul, and just a little strange around work boots. Why did she hug them so? Dirty muddy things that she should not be leaving outside her neighbor’s thresh hold in the first place. Instead she ought to clean them up and keep them in her own room. They probably were her boyfriend’s since they were huge. Maybe he should clean them up and keep them in his room in his dorm.
No boots the next two days, so Z forgot all about them. She had the room to herself for the weekend and looked forward to listening to music as she pleased without worrying about bothering her roommate. Nice girl but valued her space and had a completely different idea about what good music sounds like. They promised each other they would only listen on headphones to keep their friendship in good repair.
The day went by exploring areas of the town within walking distance, a trip to the ice cream shop, laundry and trying to recall classmates’ names as she met them in places other than class. People look different in different surroundings she thought, having difficulty matching names and faces correctly. The boys, many of them, were going berserk, being a threat to themselves and to property and innocent bystanders, on this post high school, totally unsupervised sleepover a whole weekend long. 
 Her neighbor knocked on the door late Saturday night while Z sat alone in her room. Z opened the door to a shirtfront. She was very puzzled because she had heard her neighbor call her name. This was a big burly man a foot taller than her, and she began to realize this was her classmate, the older guy who had come back to get his degree after a hiatus of five years, her neighbor’s fiancé. Her neighbor peeped from behind him and said ,”He’ll borrow your Yeats for the night. I’ll give it back to you in the morning.” Z wondered how they knew she had a Yeats but she picked out the book from the pile on her desk to give to him and turned around to see he was cracking up silently laughing and her neighbor had shut the door on the pair of them. He did not take the book from her and left like a phantom slinking away into the darkened hallway. Z was puzzled by the strange behavior but thought they must be high on something and put the matter to rest in her own mind. The next day she saw her neighbor wearing a long gingham dress going from room to room except she wouldn’t look Z in the eye. The talk at lunch was how this neighbor had gone telling everybody in the dorm how lucky she was to be with the man she was with because she had this litany of health issues, divulging unnecessary details of her feminine woes, but he loved her so deeply he did not care.
Wednesday morning, the class of eight filed into the professor’s library to read aloud their first papers of the year, on Yeats, in a very quiet space, the stage having been set for quietness by their still and somber teacher. Some of the papers were really, really good. “We’re going to have to work here to stay afloat,” thought Z. At the end of class the professor, a man of few words and measured tread, Ivy Leaguer, three solid publications to his credit, looked Z in the eye and said,” Miss Z, hear me out. You could be making money selling fashion instead of paying me to teach you something you will very likely never need and never use.” In that moment was born a little neon sign on her mental landscape that said, ”You will one day ask me to send my papers for publication.” He then turned to her neighbor’s fiancé, the one of the work boots fame and said, ”So what are you, a professional student?” The only two comments in a classroom where eight papers had just been read may or may not have been heard or understood by all the students there but they would prove to be blimps on a future radar screen in Z’s life way downstream. At that time Z was too miffed at the seeming insult to her intelligence to think of anything but writing a paper to die for in the very near future.
Z would get wind of strange goings on in the room next door and it would take her years to put the pieces of that puzzle together. She did see a pattern emerging over the next couple of years that got entrenched perhaps over the next two but Z had stopped seeing them folks with seeing eyes after a while. It was easier to paste on a fake smile and walk on by like they didn’t bother her. The pattern of her neighbor’s life was thus, every few weeks, when the weather was good, there was an orgiastic episode in the room next door. Strange people showed up. Strange sickly sweet and rancid smells emanated from there. The voices sounded like they were coming up a shaft from the netherworlds in tones and pitches that were never heard elsewhere. Music, soft and sensuous played all night. In exactly forty-eight to fifty-two hours there was heard the deep throated sobbing of a woman, accompanied by the sounds of spoons and books and odds and ends being flung across the room. Her boyfriend would leave a half hour after the sobbing ended. She’d wash his shirt in the sink and hang it out to dry.
The first time Z heard her crying she ran to the other end of the dorm to fetch her neighbor’s only friend. The friend waddled down the hallways reluctantly and left as soon as she saw the work boots at the door saying this was none of her business. Other people curious about the crying looked at the door and walked away. Z thought about it off and on and wondered what woman would love to live that life when life had so much more to offer. Because, make no mistake, her neighbor was very happy and very content. It was her boyfriend who wasn’t making the grades he could’ve, having worked as a successful entrepreneur in the publishing world without a college degree for five whole years. He was always stoned when came to class, which was only occasionally. Z, in her own convoluted way decided it was phallic women who thrived on the energy of the hookup but the real women just sorta died. Z especially missed one of her favorite people among the first years’, a kindred spirit in many ways, a girl who’d read the same books she had, been raised a few miles from where Z grew up, and who experienced the world in a way similar to the way Z did, through the lens of an artist as a young person, both having grown up around several artists in their families. They talked in a code that siblings developed over years right away. This girl stayed on the straight and narrow just long enough to become one among the band of sisters and then missed a lunch date here, a manicure date there, and then went underground altogether. For most of the year she was somewhat sick and only came to class until noon. After which Z would have to bring her lunch to her room and then dinner or she wouldn’t eat. She refused medicine. She said she was doing great, usually through a thick fog of smoke and past some strange man lounging in her room. Sometimes she’d say to Z, ”You have no idea what life really is about, do you? You know, people can take away everything from you, everything, but they can’t take away the love that you share with a man even if for only fifteen minutes.” She left end of the year.  She could not figure out the blokes though. They looked happy enough for now. Having seen the men and women who came and went from that ignominious room she just thought she’d remember all her life what they looked like progressively, over the four years that she saw them off and on, portraits etched in her memory that she couldn’t put names to, not even make-believe ones. Not that she never their names, she just could not remember them for very long. Note to self, on the hookup circuit, the female of the species is deadlier than the male. And the same ten people hook up with the same twelve people.


            This world was too fresh for her to make sense of it yet. Bacchanalia and austere penance coexisted in this world as did deep unselfish love alongside hatred and intolerance. There were the extremely wealthy and the extremely poor, and then there were the multitudes between them. There was comfort to be found in conformity, anonymity, and mediocrity for a while.
            She was ashamed to have felt so sorry for herself. She had shed copious tears for Ma’s unfulfilled dreams as well and now realized how blessed Ma’s short life had been. She looked upon children who had nothing, no hope, probably no parents, and were starving, naked, homeless, begging for the basics and not having their needs met. Thankfulness for plenty was due.
            With her lot in life put in perspective she got to work. Affection, blessing, accolades all came her way and helped her forge a new identity. Often people surprised her with comments like ”Don’t hide your light under a bushel”. Some looked to her for strength or leadership. Then there were those who thought she was naïve or hateful. All this attention was confusing. Disheartened at times, and feeling invincible at times, she wondered how long she would be able to put one foot before the other contentedly.
            The newest, most frequent comments from her associates were of the nature; ”You look like a cat that has just licked cream; “You look like a kitten on a hearth on a cold day in that that shawl reading your book.”
            “Who, me? Cat?…Cream?...Kitten?  


            A new and unfamiliar world arose to beckon her. Z looked to the left and to the right and saw nothing else that seemed like a path out of this wasteland of driftwood and dead trees overrun by vines that strangled them. She looked to where she had come from and the bridges had fallen away. Not her fault, not anybody else’s, just Time that takes a toll on all things living and dead. So she put one foot before the other and trudged to that world, the only world that seemed inhabitable and cast away her mask, her veil, her mantle, and the chip on her shoulder.
            “Nothing could have been better,” she told herself. She had done what Life her commanded her to do. That, she believed, was the right thing to do. She had not experienced comfort and abandon in years and hoped she would find that innocence again, that happiness again.
            “Is this too good to be true? Will this last forever? Would life be a Shylock?”
All doubts quieted Z began to celebrate her new world.


            Having walked through the minefield for a while she now walked in it with aplomb, recognizing a detonating device from a mile. She had, along the way, made up her mind that her happiness was her responsibility and that no one was going to take it away from her. She put one foot before the other and the mines lost their power over her. But this was new territory. The topography surrounding her had changed. There was no grass, no trees, forget flowers, just dry cracked earth. Clods to trip over, no stones to rest upon, just dry cracked earth.
            She considered Eliot’s question, ” Who is the third who walks always beside you?” , and hoped she had seen a shadow. She hadn’t heard yet of the second set of footprints that proved that the One had borne the other in His arms through times of insurmountable grief.
            She felt a nervous-resigned-preordained calm. She hadn’t yet fallen out of love with the world and hoped she never would. She waited patiently for ‘Shantih’ the peace that passes all understanding.

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