I don't think they will end up being the actual chapter breaks,
but I'll number them for ease of reference.
Aaron was opening the mail as I walked into the apartment.
"There you are. Look at this." Aaron held up a wedding invitation. "Didn't Gwen Fellows already get married? Didn't we have to drive to Long Island, sit through an outdoor ceremony in the middle of August, and give her an expensive toaster?" Gwen was his sister Deborah's best friend and Aaron had actually dated her for a brief time.
I took the invitation from his hand and looked it over. "It was a food processor. And the wedding was two years ago. Or maybe three. Anyway, remember your mother telling us last Thanksgiving that Gwen and what's-his-name had broken up? Apparently she landed on her feet. The ceremony's in October."
"Forget it!" Aaron sniffed. "We'll be in Indiana in the middle of the semester. And I'm not sending her another food processor! One is my limit!"
"I think a card will be sufficient. I wonder if Debbie is going to be the Matron of Honor again?"
"Who knows? She can send us pictures of the Happy Couple, Mach Two." Aaron reached over and touched my damp hair. "You been to the gym without me?"
"I thought I'd get some time in on the treadmill. It was dead on campus today, so I had the place to myself."
Aaron moved to the fridge and rummaged around, looking for something to eat. "If we take a house in Hastings we'll have room for some real equipment. What about a Stairmaster? Or a weight machine?" He took out a plate of leftover ravioli and began eating it cold.
"Hastings?" I tossed the invitation into the wire tray on the counter with all the other to-be-continued mail.
"That's the name of the city E.I.U. is in. Well, it's more like a town. A big town. I didn't see much of it when I went out there to interview. We did eat at a semi-decent restaurant. A steakhouse that thought it was a French bistro. But it wasn't bad."
"You're going to spoil your appetite -- speaking of restaurants," I remind him. "Tino's? Tonight?"
"I know!" he said between chews. "But I'm starving. I didn't eat any lunch!"
"That's your own fault, Aar. You were home all day."
He shoved the last ravioli into his mouth and put the plate in the sink. "I was on the phone most of the time. And it was all about you, so don't bitch at me."
"About me?" Now what? "What do you mean?"
"About your job, of course!" Aaron smiled in satisfaction. "You don't think I'd take this position without making sure you're covered, do you?"
I took out a bottle of water and sat at the kitchen table. My throat suddenly felt dry. "Covered how?"
"They had to work it out with the English Department there, but Tom, the head of the search committee, called me after you left for class and said that English had agreed to take you. Of course, I immediately got on the phone with their chair. I faxed them an updated copy of your vita and we worked out all the details. You'll have Assistant Professor rank and be on the regular tenure-track. They already have a couple of Americanists on staff, but I told them you can also teach Drama, Popular Culture, and whatever writing courses they have. They might let you do some Film Theory, too, once you get settled."
I twisted the top off the water bottle and held the cap in my hand, squeezing it. "What about Queer Theory or GLBT Lit? That's my main area."
Aaron took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. That was his usual way of stalling while he thought of what he wanted to say. "Tom says that EIU. is still conservative in some departments. Not Media Studies, of course -- they're cutting edge. But the English Department is a bit old fashioned. They apparently still think that Post-Structuralism is a passing fad."
I made a dismissive noise. "Isn't it?"
"You know what I mean, Shea! You'll need to ease your way into this new department. According to Tom most of the English faculty are nearing retirement. They're dinosaurs! It's the perfect situation for you. Get in there, show them what a great teacher you are -- and finish your book and get it published. Once you have tenure you can shake things up all you want." Aaron leaned over and I felt his hot breath in my ear. "You know how to play the game. Be your charming self. They'll be eating out of your hand in no time."
"And what if I can't finish my book?" I'd been trying to revise my dissertation for publication for the past year, but teaching took up most of my time during the school year. I'd been counting on this summer for the quiet time I needed to get busy and finish it, but now that would be taken up in moving and getting ready for a new job.
"Just sit down and do it," said Aaron. Which was fine for a guy whose thesis project had been a documentary film. I knew for certain that Aaron could no more sit down and write a 200 page book than he could sprout wings and fly from Boston to Indiana, flapping all the way. "You only need to focus."
I took a deep breath. "So this position is a spousal hire?"
"Jesus! You say that like it's a bad thing! It's done all the time, Shea. You know that. It's tit for tat. Media Studies wants me, so they make a deal with English to take you, too."
"Yeah, that makes me feel so wanted!"
"Listen," Aaron's voice took on an edge. "You're my partner and I told them I wouldn't take this job unless they found one for you, too. And it's a good job! A tenure-track position! Much better than the one you have here. Come on! You don't think that wasn't a spousal hire?"
I winced. I'd always known in the back of my mind that Aaron had quietly arranged for me to get the part-time instructor job at Boston State after he'd been hired himself. But I'd had to interview for it, submit samples of my academic work, along with recommendations from my professors and evaluations from my Freshman English students. All of them had been good -- good enough to actually get that instructor's job. So I'd always believed it was mine, fair and square. Hoped that it was mine, fair and square. Until now.
But this Indiana deal -- it was total put-up job. Aaron faxed them my resume and that was it. Not even the pretense that they would ever really hire me, because it was obvious that they wouldn't. They had to take me because Media Studies, the big wheel on campus, wanted Aaron. And if I came along as part of the package, so be it.
I didn't say anything and I could tell that Aaron was getting annoyed. After all, he'd gone through all that trouble to make certain I was covered -- and now I was throwing sand all over his efforts.
But when he finally spoke his voice was softer. "You do what you have to do, Baby. Academia isn't some fucking Ivory Tower, no matter how you might idealize it. People get where they are in a lot of different ways. Sometimes you do things that you aren't proud of. You know that and so do I. But you move on. Once you have this job and show them how good you are no one is going to give a shit whether you were a so-called spousal hire or the result of a five-year search! It won't matter! Because you're good!" Aaron paused. His hands were on my shoulders, his forehead just touching the top of my head. "I want you with me. And I want you happy. Is it wrong for me to want to help you? If it is, there's nothing I can do about it. A long time ago I promised to take care of you, Shea. I meant it then and I still mean it."
"I know you do." And he does. He does take care of me. But when does it stop being taken care of and become something else? Because I'm not a kid anymore. I haven't been a kid for a long time. Except maybe in Aaron's head.
Sometimes I feel like I'm suffocating. That Aaron has me in a box and it's getting smaller and smaller as I get bigger and bigger. But then I see Aaron's face and know that he means well. He's doing what he thinks is right. And he's doing it out of love.
And then there are the times when I'm in a panic, afraid that Aaron won't need me anymore. Won't want me anymore. The anxiety hits me like a freight train and I have to cling to him. It's the only thing I know that will put me right again. That and a stiff dose of Xanax.
"It's going to be great." Aaron patted my shoulders. "Let's go upstairs. We still have a little time before we have to get ready for dinner."
I nodded. "Okay. And thanks, Aar," I said while Aaron smiled a me. "I really appreciate all you've done. And I'll do a good job. It'll be perfect for me." What else could I say?
Maybe later I can actually think of something.