Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Illusions We Have Left


For a couple of years, I worked in the undergraduate advising office at my university, telling students what to take in order to free themselves from the shackles of our four year college, which by then, was a minimum five to six for most students. I liked the job -- it was sort of an elaborate version of fill in the blanks, and I got to eat my lunch there, which in those days was a small container of plain spaghetti (Susan Powter diet except that instead of the thousands of calories she advocated, I stuck to eight hundred and I did not cut my hair in that crazy buzz fashion she favored for those obnoxious work-out videos) and work on my fiction. My boss, an extremely short, extremely Southern woman whose friends called her Fancy (I referred to her by her title, Dr. and her last name), was almost never around and kept my workload easy. Some days she'd bounce ideas for stories off me -- she's written one called "The Penny Monkey" about a girl who almost gets molested by an immigrant farm worker and alas, many of the stories went along these lines. Fancy and I got along just fine, and I felt like a basketball player, towering over her, even though I am only 5'6.

One day a woman walked into my office and said, I need to know what to take to graduate in two years. I'm dying and I want to graduate. I put down my tired pasta container and blinked hard. I'd dealt with lots of things -- credits not transferring, switching classes from trimesters to semesters, kids on academic probation, financial aid snafus, but this was new. I looked at her, and she had the bloated, poisoned look of someone on any number of cancer drugs (some people have the misconception that cancer makes you thin -- only sometimes. Some of the cruel vile drugs put weight on you, much like you'd been making continous trips to the Old Country Buffet), and I started to work on her file. I managed to create a schedule that would get her out of school right before the grim reaper was scheduled to make his appearance. She left my office, looking oddly thrilled while I'm pretty sure that I still looked stricken. I put her file back in the ancient cabinet and returned to my desk, wondering what I would do if I had two years left to live. At least, I hoped, I'd allow myself some meat sauce on my spaghetti. It was hard to swallow everything plain.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"These days the illusions we have left are the small ones of our own making; we now have to live with ourselves." Tony Earley, "Charlotte"

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Stevie (disturbing documentary -- quite excellent and includes several rattlesnakes at the end of it, although it is mostly about the foster care system)

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Thursday! And a special hello to my old friend Mark Long! Check out his live journal through the link on yesterday's comment section.

24 comments:

special said...

Michelle, thanks for the creamy one from yesterday, even if it didn't have an oreo. Dark hair=dark nipples. Like on yoga man.

Gibran said...

It's been more than ten years since I've read Tony Earley's "The Prophet from Jupiter" and this story still haunts me. A very powerful story.

Montressor said...

If I knew I had two years left I'd get a Glock and settle some scores.

Oprah said...

I must admit there are times when I put meat sauce on everything. But then I do a marathon.

Marty Batali said...

The best meat sauces are Italian. Of course. Gratzi.

The Frugal Gormet said...

Is it just me or does A1 Steak Sauce taste like it has sawdust in it?

emeril said...

With two years left I would kick it up a notch to the nth degree.

Julia C. said...

You do a chicken cordon bleu for me Emeril, and I'll reincarnate.

Rachel Ray said...

After what I've read about my husband, I'm going on a peppermint schnapps diet.

Anonymous said...

I love you! You're the best teacher in the world.

Anonymous said...

That was a very haunting post. What a surreal situation. And you even managed to find some humor in there! Bravo!

paul said...

O Mighty Isis hope we got more than 2 years all us
first saveourcity
floodwindsnow
FoxyDetroitLady
Cajun Queen
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R2 C2!

John Ricci said...

Dear Michelle, that's an interesting tale and a sad one. You were already a Catholic girl at heart a sister of mercy? Lovely view and post, as always. Bravo, dear girl!

Anonymous said...

I don't really like meat sauce. I like cheese sauce with some mushrooms and onions and stuff chopped up in it. I'm weird I guess

Anonymous said...

you've been tagged! go to my blog to see what to do. It's fun michelle.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Hey Michelle,
This reminds me of the prisoners I taught in the kidney dialysis unit at Ryan Correctional. My boss questioned me as to why we weren't getting any GED's from that unit. I replied, "Because they are dying." I certainly can relate.

Anonymous said...

Oh my God! That is some story! Whew! And you seemed to have handled it quite well.

Have I told you that you write really well? Because you do.

(P.S. I'm a sucker for torn, tattered jeans.)

The Crow said...

Pencil neck geek.

The Walking Man said...

Two years left to live and she wants to die with a degree? Kinda have to admire her for that even though some of us who have watched cancer victims go; know they start to lose the energy to do much a few months before the actual seperation.
Hope she made it.
Swallowing that rememberance dry was a bit hard but if the woman was thrilled when she left the office, that day you got sauce on your nasty dry pasta.

I think you should get the Susan Powter haircut now and then we could think up a new name, not fanny cus you have to have one first before the name would fit, like Bitty as in itty bitty. 5'6"? C'mon you added a little on there or it was a measurement taken just after a session on the student torture rack.
and it was also good to see that you are woman of the new age...can't sew.
But amazing things do pop out of that hole in your head and i was sad and humored by this one, as usual

peace

Knowing I had two years to live i would wait 18 months then just walk off into the woods, build shelter, kill and eat small animals and one day not wake up. why make it to easy for the kids to get their inheritance, or just walk away from here and go until there was no energy left and try to die in the park across from the White House with a sign on my neck saying "your last two years in office killed me."

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