After coming back from my mother's funeral back in Michigan, I decided to leave everything and go die out in the mountains.
I left most everything where it was, except I put my checkbook out on the desk. I paid all my bills a month ahead of time. I did not pack anything. I did not throw anything away. That all seemed like a bunch of time wasting.
The day sunny, warm even for a February. Clear sky, perhaps hazy, and if I'd hiked up Camelback Mountain, in the middle of Phoenix, I'm sure I would have seen the brown smog that Phoenicians breathe every day. Instead, I got in my truck and drove over to the Spearmint Rhino by the airport. Did I actually know my sister Jenna would be working the lunch shift? No, just a feeling.
No cover during lunch, not that it mattered. Inside, amazingly, there was an all-you-can-eat taco bar, so that, instead of men sitting at tables sipping over-priced drinks and staring lecherously at scantily-clad young women, they were sitting at tables stuffing their faces with tacos, drinking over-priced drinks and staring lecherously at scantily-clad young women. In any case, what, at night, did not have much sex appeal, at noon had less, and I felt bad for the girl working the pole. She seemed to know it, and there was nothing she could do to get any good tips.
Jenna was working the floor, the only woman with short hair in the whole place, and tattoo sleeves on both arms. She was in the middle of a lap dance for a guy holding a taco in his left hand and laughing with his buddies. I tried to ignore the weirdness of seeing my sister's breasts. I caught her eye and waited at the bar.
She came over, tucking a wad of bills in the front of her thong. She had a new tattoo on her stomach: An eagle holding a snake. Tony, what are you doing here?
I need you to drive me somewhere.
I pulled out my wallet. How much to cover you for the rest of the shift?
She looked sad. I don't know. I don't want your money.
I gave her two hundred dollars. All that I had on me. She took it and went off to tell her boss, coming back out in jeans and a black Ramones t-shirt and a leather jacket. We went out to my truck. I held out the keys to her. Can you drive a stick?
She took them. Yes. You want me to drive you?
That's what I said.
Why? What's going on? Where are we going?
I pointed east to the Superstition Mountains. There. Get on Highway 60.
Once we were heading east, she asked, How was the funeral?
Fine. A fitting end.
Are you being sarcastic?
Did you really want me to go?
I don't think you would have enjoyed yourself.
It's just, I left that place a long time ago. I never want to go back.
I understand. I didn't either.
Are you saying it wasn't fair you had to go back?
No. I don't think so. I think I was hoping you might bury some of your demons.
She drove silently for a while. I appreciate you wanting to help me, Paul. I'm sorry I'm such a fuckup.
Maybe if you didn't think of yourself as a fuckup, you wouldn't be.
It's that easy?
I started to cry.
Goddammit Paul, stop it! Now I'm going to do it!
So we cried driving down 60, south of the Superstitions. I showed her the turn off, onto a wide dirt road going north. At first we drove by saguaro cactus waving hello, or goodbye, and long skinny ocotillo, orange and yellow flowers in full bloom. Barrel cacti, some with flowers also. A cholla cactus forest for a while, looking soft and cuddly as teddy bears. As we gained some elevation, the cacti faded and more shrubbery appeared, sometimes thick on the edge of the road. Palo verdes, which look pale green though it actually means green branch. Un falso amigo, o amigo falso. After a couple miles, the road ran into a river, or stream, and started up on the other side. Jenna stopped the truck.
It's ok, I said. It's shallow. Just put the truck in four wheel drive.
She did and eased us through. I looked upstream as we crossed. All that water coming at us.
The road continued, and soon turned into a two-track after a few miles. Bushes and branches scraping the side of the truck. Arizona pinstripes.
Paul, what are we doing out here?
It's a surprise.
I don't want a surprise.
We reached the end of the road, at a Forest Service trailhead, with a small gravel parking lot ringed by a barbed wire fence. Surprisingly, there were a couple cars there.
I don't want to go for a hike, Paul.
Don't worry, you're not.
Am I parking?
No, just let me off here.
Let you off? Here? She stopped the truck, keeping it running. Then what do I do?
I opened the door and slid out. I'm going up in the mountains to camp.
Paul, you don't have a tent, or a fucking backpack. Or fucking anything.
I've got a camp out here. I'm trying to see how long I can survive.
Don't you have a job?
She continued to stare. When do I come pick you up?
I'll call you.
With what? You don't have your phone.
I'll come down and find a phone. Somebody's house.
Are you fucking insane?
I sighed. Go home. I'm giving you my house. And the truck. Everything. Mom's house too. I made the arrangements already.
Wait, what? What the fuck are you talking about?
I'm done. I don't want it anymore.
Don't want what?
All the stuff. Life. Enough. Basta.
Paul, what the fuck are you talking about?
I sighed again. Jenna, I just want to leave. I just want to...die.
What?! What are you gonna go shoot yourself out here?
I shook my head. No. Not sure. I just want to leave everything and just wait out here until I die.
She stared at me, mouth open. Are you fucking crazy?
No. I don't think so. But maybe crazy people don't think they're crazy? Anyway, I just want to say...goodbye.
Goodbye? Are you fucking serious? Are you on meth?
I started crying. She always did that to me. Jenna, please, just take the truck and the house. Use them how you want. I'm trying to help you.
She squeezed the steering wheel with both hands, turning her face down and sobbing. I can't.
Sure you can. Look, Jenna, both our lives suck right now, for different reasons maybe, but I'm trying to make it so yours will suck less.
You're just giving me your house.
It should be sold soon. I left the info with the lawyer's number. He'll be contacting you. You might have to travel back to Michigan though. Sorry.
She sobbed again. I'm sorry.
So am I. Will you please just let me do this?
You really want this?
She nodded slowly. Then ok. I'm sad though.
I feel like you pity me.
I didn't say anything. I hadn't thought that, but once she said it, it sounded true.
I don't want you to pity me.
Ok, I won't. I promise. But I still would like to help you. You're the only family I have. I want you to have this.
I don't want your shit if it means you have to die. That's fucking stupid!
Jenna, I think you are the only person who might understand what I'm about to say: I have been in pain for my whole life. Not physical pain, but mental. I have not been happy, ever, for any extended amount of time. Nothing I do seems right. I walk around with a big lump in my chest from feeling sad and depressed and I'm sick of it. Do you understand what I mean?
She sniffed. Yes....
Do you understand how I might just want to stop? Maybe start over somewhere else?
She nodded. Ok. I get it. She looked at me and put the truck in gear. I love you Paul.
I was stunned. We had never said that to each other. You do?
She laughed, with tears still running down her cheeks. You doubt me?
I didn't know what to say. She suddenly took the truck back out of gear, hopped out of the cab and ran around to me, hugging me and kissing me on the cheek. Ok. Are you sure, bro?
I nodded, though my stomach felt as empty and black.
She ran back around, hopped in, put the truck in gear, and peeled out, sending bits of gravel flying at me. I covered my face and swore and watched her drive away. Goodbye Sis.
I turned to the trailhead. A Forest Service sign declared that I was about to enter the Superstition Wilderness. Buckhorn cactus poking up around it. Cat-claw shrubs. Everything in Arizona wants to poke, sting, or bite you. The sky clear, the sun about two-thirds on its way east. A slight breeze. Downhill, the valley we had just come up, out into the flats where 60 was. Uphill, mountains. More scrub, a lot of oak, but soon, close, huge rock cliffs.
I unbuttoned my shirt and took it off, folding it in thirds. My shoes. My socks. My wallet I tucked in one of my shoes. My jeans, folded neatly. My boxer briefs. Everything in a little pile by one of the fence poles. The cool breeze through my legs. On my balls. Gravelly dirt under my feet. Not unpleasant actually. Free. Very primal.
The path not gravelly at all. Soft dirt, or else larger rock surfaces. Sometimes a pebble poked my foot. I found myself really concentrating on what was right in front of me. My boys felt open and exposed, though they'd retreated up into a protective cocoon, barely swinging. At a small stream, which I'm sure fed into that larger river, I stepped into the water and stood still, enjoying the coolness, and that's when the couple came walking around a boulder and saw me.
They were maybe in their mid-fifties, maybe older. The woman in front. She stopped, in shock, with her mouth open, her gaze going directly to the family jewels, letting out a kind of, Oh!
I resisted the urge to cover up. If I was going to let it all hang out, I was going to let it all hang out. She turned to her partner, who looked up and saw me finally, and to his credit, didn't change expression at all. She turned back around and they walked up to me. The woman smiled nervously. I said hello and she, weakly, said hello back. The guy finally half-smiled and said, Did you forget your clothes somewhere?
I said, No, it was a conscious decision.
I don't think he knew what to say to that. They jumped across the stream and passed me, and as they walked away, I heard her mumble something and him say something back.
I kept walking, going slowly because of my bare feet. It wasn't that going barefoot necessarily hurt, it just felt weird feeling sensation down there at all. Every little contact took a mini-second to register with my brain to see if it thought what I'd touched was ok or not.
I came to the fork in the trail and took the one less travelled. Left.
I'd been up there once before with my then wife, Shelley, who I think suffered through a weekend camping trip to please me. In any case, we never did anything like that again. The trail went up and over a rise, or hill, then through a sort of pass between to big rock formations, and down into a canyon. I could hear the river going from the top of the switchbacks, and the sound of flowing water only got louder as I descended.
The path leveled out into a wider bend in the river, with a large open space on the inside of the U shape. This is where we'd camped, and where others camped, including some outfitter guide groups, with horses, so that the area was free of brush and other undergrowth, but with some larger oak and pinyon trees. I stopped and scooped some water, drinking it straight from my hands. Giardia? Who cared? Then I thought, well, maybe I shouldn't even drink water? How exactly was this dying going to work?
There was nobody camping, it was a Monday, but I wasn't staying there. The path split again here, one route going downstream, the other up. I went up.
In the canyon, the sun already well past mid-day, I was in the shade. The path crossed and re-crossed the river, which actually was not painful, but the river rocks, combined with the cold water, made my feet a little sore, though standing in the mud afterwards was nice.
At some points, with the canyon so narrow, and the trail rising so quickly, there were actually little waterfalls I had to climb up on all fours. I'm not sure if a horse could actually get up that far. There were lots of little side canyons or chimneys that someone could have possibly climbed up. The canyon wall weren't more than a hundred feet up, and not always even that vertical. My feet did start to feel a little raw after getting wet so much, and walking on granite. That was fine. I didn't expect, or even want, this to be easy, and in fact so far it had actually been quite pleasant. Even if you're not planning on going out to the wilderness to die, I recommend hiking naked.
What I was looking for was Geronimo's Cave, where, according to legend, he had come to rest and recuperate and hide from the US Army during his travels and adventures. Was it really true? Not sure. The description had been in an old trail guide, but there were also other Geronimo's Caves around Arizona too. The guy got around. Shelley and I had done a day hike out here on the camping weekend, and I'd never forgotten the place. I figured, if I was going to die, I should have a nice cave to do it in, and what better cave than one graced by the presence of Geronimo?
I found, off and up to the left of the river, which I think put it on the east side, though the canyon had curved around many times, a small, faint, trail up to it, requiring some scrambling, and navigation through cholla cactus, which, also according to legend, Geronimo had planted strategically to help keep intruders, human or otherwise, out, with one clear zig-zaggy way through.
The cave was about two thirds of the way up the canyon side, about fifteen feet wide, with a relatively flat and sandy floor. The ceiling rose up in the middle about six feet right at the high point of the opening, then shortened, about ten feet deep. In back there were small, burnt, pieces of wood, the 'roof' singed black from where someone had lit a fire. An overhang seemed to keep rain out. From the edge I had a view up and down canyon, and even a little up on top on the other side. I could still hear the stream/river below. A perfect place to die.
I sat down right at the edge, the rock feeling a little sandpapery on my butt, and crossed my legs, clasped my hands together, and waited.
I hadn't been back to Michigan in years. Cold and grey like I remember it, though Lake Michigan was beautiful as always in its cold greyness. I walked out to the beach every morning while taking care of all the legal arrangements. This was February, and the shore was lined with ice chunks breaking and clinking against each other, huge ice cliffs over the shallow water, with just that non-stop steady wind from the northwest. That's where I would cry. The tears would freeze on my cheeks. It was painful.
My uncle Ron, who my mom didn't really talk to, came and I let him take what he wanted of her stuff, though he didn't want much. She didn't have much really, having lived a spartan life up north there after retiring, spending most of her time, near as I could tell, watching cable television. Maybe that's what killed her. After he'd taken what he and my aunt wanted, I gave the rest to Goodwill, who were kind enough to come out with a truck and haul it all away. The house, or cabin as I liked to think of it, I put up for sale, care of the lawyer who guided me through all the after-death stuff. A nice guy actually.
As for the funeral itself, as per her wishes, she was cremated. Her few friends, some from Traverse City, others from Ann Arbor and Detroit, came up. My mother asked to have a boat rented and her ashes thrown out into the Lake, but like most things in her life, she didn't get what she would have liked. The weather was too cold and windy. So we settled for all driving out in some vehicles to the public access beach and walked out to the shore. One woman slipped and fell and I thought, Jesus, if she broke something, what the fuck are we going to do? But she didn't.
It was freezing, but my mom's friends all took turns saying some words, a sentence or two, about her. What I remember most is someone who worked in Human Resources with her at Washtenaw Community College saying, “She liked the color red.”
The whole process ended up taking two weeks. I remember thinking, shit, my classes will go off schedule. Then I remember thinking, Shit, my students don't give a flying fuck. My Chair called after a week to see when I was coming back. I said, I don't know. She said, “Paul, take as long as you need. Do you need a leave of absence?”
I said maybe.
“Should we just arrange or plan for the subs for your classes to proceed with the assignments you gave them?”
“Yes. Sure. I guess. Yes.”
“Paul, are you ok?”
I said yes. I said I was tired. I said it really didn't matter what happened in class, that even if they ended up freewriting every class for the rest of the semester they'd come out just as better writers as if they finished their Influential Person essays.
She paused. “Paul, call when you get back to Phoenix.”
Jenna of course did not come up. I'd even offered to pay her ticket, but didn't push the issue. At the very least I thought maybe she'd want to come gloat. She had finally won.
And I waited. A breeze came down canyon. Some pebbles rolled down below me. The sky a bright blue band, though darkening. Some clouds off to the east. A hawk drifted up canyon, looking down for mice, or just because. That's what I would do if I could fly. He or she seemed to slow down over me, but maybe that was just my ego wanting a hawk to care about me. Some smaller birds, two of them, flew in circles, playing or arguing. Wrens? I don't know my birds very well. I don't know anything very well.
I shifted. I straightened my back, my vertebrae cracking. I put my hands on each knee. I blinked. I inhaled deeply, held it, and let it go. I slouched again. I straightened again. I scratched my right thigh. I looked at my hand. I bent down and looked at my feet for scratches. I picked at one of my toe nails. I looked up canyon. I looked down canyon. Yep, there I was dying.
I stood up and paced the cave, looking up and down canyon again. Then I realized what I'd done and sat back down. I was going to sit there until I died. Fuck it. No more effort. No more. If I could consciously stop breathing, I'd do that. I straightened my back, and immediately slouched, putting my elbows on my thighs and putting my face in my hands.
And etcetera. But I stayed there. I stayed sitting. The sky got darker blue, but then glowing orange from the west, behind my cave. Then pink. A steady breeze started blowing down canyon, cooler. I got goose bumps and crossed my arms. I realized I hadn't seen or heard any insects. Good thing I hadn't tried this in Michigan. That would be a horrible way to die, slowly bitten by mosquitoes.
The pink faded as darker blue re-appeared and eventually the first star, which may have been a planet (Venus?) appeared. I tried to force myself to rest my hands in my lap, but found myself gripping so tight that my arms were tense all the way up to my shoulders. I thought about a lot of things. I thought about my students, wondering what they would do when I didn't show up. I thought about my Chair and what she would do, and I felt guilty for creating more work for her. She didn't deserve that, really. I wondered if anyone would notice I was gone, or how long it would take. I wondered about Jenna and whether she could handle the house. Should I have done that differently? Should I have arranged for a lawyer here to sell everything and give her a trust fund or something? Was that even possible? Or maybe giving her everything was the right thing? To teach her responsibility?
I thought about my mother. How bitter she was and how maybe not the most affectionate, though just unhappy and didn't know any better? But then I thought, well, no, still didn't seem like she really wanted to be there, being a mother. I thought about how she probably resented my father for dying somehow, irrational as it may seem, leaving her alone to handle everything. I thought about how quiet I'd been through everything, how I accepted everything as normal, and that made me angry, but what else was I supposed to do? I was a kid. I didn't know any better.
I cried again. Huddled there in the dirt, my legs drawn up to my knees and my arms wrapped around them (when did that happen?). I rubbed my arms and stood up, walking to the north edge of the cave, looking down into the dark canyon, then walking over to the south and and looking down and the same fucking canyon. I returned to the center and sat down. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. I thought about Shelley. Why? I thought about how warm her body would be, how warm it was, had been, many times. The good times, in bed, touching each other, talking and sometimes even laughing. Who'd've thought? God, rubbing up against her smooth warm ass right now. Fuck.
Or other women. Girls from college. Alicia. Jen. Why hadn't things worked out again? Oh yeah, because I didn't know what the fuck I was doing and they freaked me out by actually showing affection. Oh yeah. Fuck.
It gets cold in the desert at night. Even more so up in the mountains. I stopped sitting crosslegged, wrapping my arms around my knees again, rubbing them, burying my face between my knees, until I couldn't stand it and stood up and started pacing back and forth, still rubbing my arms, swearing, then realizing I'd gotten up from sitting, so forcing myself to sit down again, to stay still, until I got so cold I got up again, ad nauseum, kind of literally, sitting back down, so tired, so goddamn tired, but shivering, rolling over on my side so my butt wasn't in the cold sand, but then it was in the cold air, but sideways felt I could curl up tighter, though one side would get cold so I'd switch to another. Eventually I rolled over on my knees and elbows, kind of a fetal crouch, face pulled up back to my chest. Angry. Just angry that I couldn't sleep.
Clicking above and below me. I thought might be hallucinating, until I realized it was bats. I lifted myself up on my hands and knees and looked out into the canyon, seeing vague movement. Only when I looked up could I see their bat shapes against the starlight, dipping and rolling, chasing insects. Curious, I took a super small sandy pebble and tossed it up in the air. Immediately a bat zoomed in. I did it a couple more times. It always seemed like only one bat zoomed in. How did they not know the pebble was an insect but yet knew not to fly into each other chasing after the same insect?
I don't know if I slept. I ended up on my side, fetal position, back against the far wall, in the deepest sand, shivering almost constantly. Hypothermia. Shivering, thinking, just do it, end it, that's what I came out here for. Who or what was I talking to? In any case, nobody or nothing answered, but something made me uncurl my head from between my knees, some change in the light on my eyelids, or something, because I looked across the canyon, beyond the hilltop, and saw the faintest line of purple clouds. I smiled, and as faint traces of pink appeared, I started laughing.
I stood up, still holding myself, and walked to the edge, watching the sky change. I started jumping up and down, saying, “Come on, come on!”
Pink to red. Red to orange. Orange fading out to blue and only then did the sun finally break out over the eastern mountains. I knelt down, more like fell down to my knees, and sat on my ankles, putting my hands in my lap and bending down until my forehead was almost on the ground, feeling the sunlight hit my back and sighing. I moved back around to cross-legged position, hands in lap, and straightened my back, sun on my face, closing my eyelids and seeing the red through them, the warmth on one side of my body causing chills.
Gradually my back bent and I hunched over, drowsy, head heavy. My chin hit my chest a couple times, and I would sort of straighten back up, but eventually it just drooped down and down and my torso leaned to the left and I slid/rolled over, putting my left arm under my head and fell asleep.
It's funny how much of an influence a teacher can have on us. I had a composition teacher at Washtenaw Community College who, in a one-on-one conference, returned an essay I'd written back to me and said, “You should be a teacher.”
Why? Why would she curse me like that? Why would I listen? Well, what else does one do with an English degree? By my junior year at MSU I had already resigned myself to working at a Border's for the rest of my life. Then another teacher, a TA for my Intro to Fiction Writing class, at one point said, again, kind of off-handedly, “Are you going on to grad school?”
I'd thought about that, but by then I was so sick of examining literature that I feared I'd lost my love of reading forever. I've read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness three times. The first time was on my own and I loved it. The second time was for that British Lit class and I hated it. The third time was on my own again, years later, and I loved it. When I told my teacher about hating literary criticism, she nodded and thought about that a second. “Maybe you could teach composition.”
I'd forgotten my comp classes at WCC. I'd actually liked them. But I didn't remember ever seeing any comp classes listed in the English section of the course catalogue at MSU. I did some research and figured out that, for reasons I would only learn much later, involving lit teaching, and creative writing teaching, and snobbism, composition had been put in its own department, called “American Thought and Language” at MSU. I hadn't even realized. I talked to my counselor and he explained that yes, composition (and/or rhetoric—another long political story, going back to Plato really)(rhetoric supposedly more about presenting formal arguments, more formal writing, perhaps)(though still up for debate no matter what they tell you) was a field of graduate study, and that MSU even had a Phd. program in it. Would I like to apply?
I thought about it Fall semester of my senior year. I took long solitary walks. Did I want to continue school? Not really. I was about sick of it. Did I want to work at Border's for the rest of my life? Again, not really, though that was the only possible job I could envision for an English major. So, like many people, I went on to grad school as a way of putting off having to go out into the scary Real World. Don't ever let anybody tell you they felt a 'calling' to go to grad school right out of undergrad. It's pure avoidance of having to become an adult.
So, three more years of MSU? Of bitter cold and grey skies and nothing to do? In the ATL department I started to notice posters from other schools, all shiny and colorful, promising great intellectual adventures. I didn't care about that. I was interested in location location location. Some place warm that wasn't the South, non-humid and non-buggy, and someplace far away from Michigan. And bingo, there was a poster for The University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, promising a department with a great national reputation bla bla bla. I didn't care about that. I cared about the picture in the background, of a big desert mountain.
I applied. Miraculously, I was accepted. I would be a Graduate Assistant, teaching one class a semester, and working ten hours a week in their Writing Lab as a tutor, for which I would receive a stipend to help cover expenses. I would still need to get some loans to help cover costs. That was ok, I already had loans up the wazoo from MSU, what was a few more tens of thousands of dollars? it wasn't like student loans were like credit card debt. I could take the rest of my life to pay them off!
Graduate school was...the most difficult thing I've ever done. For that reason I stayed with it. Finally I was being challenged, in some cases way beyond my abilities, but I was also being accepted for some key part of me that I also valued: my book-smart-ness, or my writing-smartness. I was expected to read a lot, and then to write about it a lot. I loved the issues classes, loved the theory, or theories of how to 'teach' composition. I loved the debates and loved taking sides. I loved hating Plato, and I loved discovering that I also liked him a lot. Since we weren't discussing books near and dear to my heart, I had no problem picking them apart, of reflecting on them. I loved David Bartholomae and his idea that writing instructors need to prepare students for the formal writing assignments that they'll get in future classes, that we had a responsibility to teach students how to survive in what's called the Academic Discourse, for those papers on The Heart of Darkness, so that they wouldn't be lost like I had been.
As a teacher, I was horrible.
First off, putting a young man into a class full of students only a couple years younger than he (him? See? I don't even know basic grammar!) is a horrible idea. I had no authority, nor, I found, did I want it. I didn't want to lecture anybody, but I still wanted my students to pay attention when I did talk. And yet, when one is staring at a bunch of students siting in a small cave-like room with no windows, and it's a writing class, what does one do? The writing, it seemed to me, would have to happen outside of class. That's what I would want to do. That's what I'd done. In fact, I was scared to realize I didn't really remember much from my own composition classes. Just individual conferences. Ok, I would do that. But immediately?
The thing that saved me was group work. I had hated it when I went to school. The buzz word at the time was 'pods', as if we were all aquatic mammals, but the way it was put into practice was we would be put into groups of whoever we were sitting next to and exchange our essays, and give some feedback. So, in practice that became someone reading my essay, shrugging, and saying, “It's good. I like it.” Nor was I any more helpful.
Fortunately, my supervisor, Anne, was wonderful in supplying us with multiple reading from teachers who had experimented with different group work techniques, like spending one entire class having groups of students going to different stations, each having a question regarding peer feedback, like, “What was the best feedback you ever receive, and why was it the best?” The students would discuss the question in a group, and then later as a class. Mentally prepared, they next day they would be ready for a Peer Response Day, and be more willing to make comments beyond just, “It's good.”
It became my goal have group work almost every class. Anything to take the focus off of me, because I was realizing that not everyone writes, or learns to write, like I do. First off, not everyone reads. Some students read hardly anything. I found myself being grateful if student had even read romance novels. She, at least, would have some experience with what dialogue looked like.
What to do when students arrived late? What to do when students arrived not at all? What to do when students vanished for weeks, then came back and didn't even ask what they'd missed? Had students been like this at WCC? I couldn't remember, but my guess was, probably. That's why I had been a “good” student: it hadn't even occurred to me to not come to class.
Anne kept us all going. I was not the only one with problems, though as one of the youngest GAs I always felt a little intimidated. Not only that, this was where I began to have doubts about my fellow teachers. Long conversations were had on how to use semi-colons. At first I thought they were joking, but no, they were serious. I was all for preparing students with good writing skills, but that amount of nazi-grammarism seemed bizarre. Others seemed not to care about composition at all, being literature majors, paying their dues by 'having' to teach comp. The way they talked about teaching was almost disdainful. They couldn't wait to teach 'real' classes, and discuss Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen.
I'm driving on a narrow two-lane highway full of traffic. A big red tourist bus is a few cars ahead. Ahead of me, some sleek low-rider car, some 180ZX thing, black, keeps whipping out of our lane to pass and every once in a while, I do the same, though nothing as crazy. And the thing is, no matter how many cars get passed, the tourist bus is always still ahead. Finally the 280ZX passes a black BMW, causing the BMW to freak out and swerve and be hit by an oncoming car. I and other cars pull over. The front end is smashed, though driver fine, asking, Did anybody get the license of the other car? Neither the 180ZX nor the tourist bus has stopped.
I woke on my back in the dirt, only when the sun had passed over and was behind the cave to the west. I also woke up in pain and realized I'd gotten sunburned, my chest and stomach, and what felt like my face too, bright red. Fortunately not my cock, though I'm not sure how. My body was covered in sand. I'd been rolling in it all night. I tried brushing off as much as I could, but I could feel it in my hair too. And teeth.
More than anything I was thirsty. I tried sitting cross-legged again, but all I could hear was that flowing water below me. Right there. So close. Cool refreshing. Even as I told myself that no, I'd come to die, my body stood up and started crawling down path. I was so hunched over, and sometimes I had to kind of crab-crawl down. I felt like Gollum.
At the river's edge I crouched down on a flat rock and dipped my hands, cupping them and bringing the cold water up to my lips. So good. I gulped it down. Then another. And another. I splashed my face a couple time, and washed my neck and finally just knelt down and dunked my head in the water. Whew! That'll wake anyone up! The water oozed down my body and I shivered, remembering the night before, and anticipating the next one. I don't know why I didn't die. I certainly had wanted to many times.
Right at that moment I retched and vomited up some vile brown gunk, which went spilling into the water. Seeing it float away made me retch again, vomit again. I puked and puked until there was nothing but white foam coming up.
Weakened, I waited for the river to wash it all away and then I dunked my head again, holding it there, trying to purify myself somehow. When I lifted it, the water poured off and I opened my mouth, taking a deep breath. A red dragonfly zipped up, hovering in front of my face. Hello little guy.
He flew off. I lay on my back on the rock for a while, looking up at the sky, watching the wrens whip and dip, almost exactly like the bats really. I felt a deep deep sadness right then. Despair maybe. I didn't think dying would take so much. Or, maybe I did. I could have OD'd on sleeping pills for faster effect. I guess I knew dying this way was hard. I guess I wanted that. Why? I mean, I could've brought a knife with my and slashed my wrists.
I guess that would be taking action. I just wanted to give up, do nothing, shut down. Stop.