Wednesday, May 31, 2006
So it's the last day of class, and in the time-honored tradition of last classes, I show a movie. A good one (Live Nude Girls Unite!), but also an admission that I just can't get it up for one more class discussion. The students, too, have used up their intellectual mojo. It is hot--near 90. Life on the Big Lake means three months of March, then suddenly, July!
The students like the movie, and want me to hold office hours after so they can talk about their manifestos. I go to the office, the empty spare room off the lower floor of the house that houses Gender Studies, a home long since converted into a catch-all minority studies center. The administrative staff are spraying table tops with windex downstairs. They invite me to the farewell for the Big Gay History Professor who is leaving Elite University for Yale (yes, him). I nod politely with no intention of going. One of the few benefits of adjuncting is that you don't have to show up and make kissy face if you don't want to.
The students come to the office in groups. They want me to look at their final projects, their manifestos, because they want to see my reaction. They are proud of them. I notice that their shyness is gone. The high point of my day is when they tell me that they some of them had been advised to take Gender Studies to boost their GPA. "But it's hard!" they say, in a complaining voice, not complaining. They love that it was hard. I love them for liking the difficulty. We are not sure how to close things, but I know that saying goodbye is really why they have come. It's a nice thank you. I thank them too. They were lovely.
The growing hum outside my door tells me the farewell party is picking up. Students come in, close the door to keep the noise down, and finally, leave. The last one marches off, and I peek out after them, realizing with a sinking heart that I have failed to make my exit in a timely manner.
The entire room is full of people chatting with their reception faces on. Earnest, leaning into their cake and napkins. I see to my horror that someone I used to know is in the room, talking away but facing the other direction, away from my door. An ex friend, the one who dropped me a while ago and who decided not to say hello to me in the hotel lobby at MLA (ok--to be fair, I decided then not to say hi either). Trapped! What can I do? Slink by in my damp and unflattering t-shirt, heavy, defeated? Me, the adjunct; her, next year's director of Gender Studies at Elite University, both of us the same age. Once we were young hopefuls. We double-dated with our respective spouses. I fed her cat when she went away, a lifetime ago.
I can't do it. I just can't go into that room.
Fortunately, my little borrowed office has, oddly, two doors, opposite each other on two facing walls. The door less traveled by leads to a little hallway and bathroom. From that hallway, which opens further down one side of the crowded main room, I might be able to reenter the big room and go out the rear of the building without being noticed. It is worth a try. The alternative is sitting in an office with bad wireless reception for an hour, hiding.
I quietly close and lock the door opening to the main room. I turn out the light and unlock the other, opposite door, making sure that the knob locks behind me. First stop, bathroom. Then stride purposively into the empty end of the big room, turn without looking away from the crowd, and proceed to the back entrance. I have never used this door, but I know it is there.
All goes well until I try the back door. The lock won't turn. A sign tells me not to use it, that it won't lock behind me if I go out. I recall that security locks up the building every evening, checking all the doors before setting the alarm. It will be ok. Have.To.Get.Out.Now. I fumble with the lock, feeling like any minute someone will see me, stop me, and lead me back to the Room of Shame. Can't people see me? Isn't anyone wondering what I am doing here at the end of the hall? At last I slide the bolt across and fall out into the open air, choking with panic.
Outside, the air is heavy, and it is raining softly, sizzling and evaporating even before it hits the pavement. No one has followed me. I turn, puzzling the best route to my car. The sun is trying to break through the rain, making the air look pink. I move south, the only way out of the alley, towards a huge puddle directly across the path I have to take. When I reach it, however, I see immediately that it isn't that deep at all, only so clear that it looks like a lake. I step over it and into it, the water barely reaching the tops of the thick soles of my sandals. I tiptoe and hop, holding my pantlegs up like a ball gown, feeling the warm drops splash my toes. With each step the rooftop spires reflected in the puddle waver, dissolve, and reappear, dark spikes moving in the water under my feet, like the shadows of migrating birds.