Shea is back in class after an emotional weekend.
On Monday morning my students came into class chattering and laughing. They were in a good mood. They'd had the weekend to blow off steam, get caught up with their work, and recharge their batteries.
I, on the other hand, had the weekend to brood over Aaron's new job, obsess about the state of our relationship, and have a major panic attack.
As they settled into their seats I turned back the outlines I'd marked over the weekend.
"Professor Desmond?" One braceleted hand waved in the air. "When is the very, very, absolutely last day we can hand in our final papers?" asked Chelsea, a sloe-eyed sorority girl who always tried to wring a few extra minutes out of every deadline. She often came to my office to plead her cause and try to flirt her way into my good graces. It was a tactic that apparently worked well with other professors. But with me, Chelsea was barking up the wrong tree.
"What does the syllabus say?" When in doubt, always refer to the syllabus. Unfortunately, most of the students had never looked at it after the first week.
"Um." Chelsea flipped through her folder, searching for the elusive document. Her friend, Bayleigh -- which I always read as 'Bayleaf' for obvious reasons -- nudged her and slipped her a copy. "Oh," she sighed as she glanced at it. "Next Wednesday. But what about extensions?"
"Look at the syllabus again, Chelsea. Only with a medical excuse approved by the Dean's Office."
I used to give the kids extensions all the time until they wanted them for every single assignment. Now I follow the guidelines set by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of English. I hate nitpicky rules and regulations, but sometimes they come in handy. Thus was Almost Professor Shea Desmond co-opted by the academic bureaucracy.
She made a pretty pouting face and I continued on with the lesson. I knew I'd see her at the end of class.
All in all -- Chelsea notwithstanding -- the semester was winding down quietly. No students freaking out -- at least not yet. No departmental firestorms -- ditto. Nothing to fluster the smooth surface of my professional life at BSU. Except my departure.
At the end of class I reminded the students of the final dues dates once again, invited them to see me at office hours if they were having trouble, and asked if there were any questions.
"When are you teaching Expository Writing in the fall?" It was Chris, one of my better writers. He was a Business major and Expository Writing was required in the School of Management. His pen was poised to write down the information.
I hesitated. But why pretend? The more I said it, the more it seemed real. "I won't be here next year. I'll be in Indiana. I'm not certain who will be teaching Expository Writing. It might be someone new."
"Shit," Chris swore under his breath. He knew he'd be getting an A from me in Freshman English and he undoubtedly wanted another in the fall. Now he'd have to deal with a new and unknown entity.
"Why are you leaving?" Bayleigh piped up. Students are always fishing for personal details. The thought of teachers having lives outside of the classroom is bizarre and fascinating to them. I once saw two girls from one of my classes at a Best Buy and they gaped at me like I'd just escaped from the circus.
"New job," I replied shortly. "I'm sure whoever takes over Expository Writing will be an excellent teacher."
I dismissed the class and packed up my stuff. Sure enough, Chelsea and Bayleigh were waiting for me at the door. I steeled myself for some tearful wheedling about the extension. But then they surprised me.
"Are you really leaving Boston State?" Chelsea said with a frown. First no extension and now I was going away! Life sucks, for sure!
"Unfortunately, yes." We walked down the hall and out the double doors to the Quad. It was almost noon and the sun was beginning to get hot.
"My roommate hates her Freshman English teacher!" Bayleigh exclaimed. "She made them do grammar worksheets!"
I nodded and made a stab in the dark. Only one person in the department was still obsessed with diagramming sentences and recognizing the subjunctive case. "Professor Miller?"
"Yes!" Bayleigh's eyes widened. "Kelly says she's a bitch and a half!"
I knew I should stick up for my colleague, but I had to agree with Bayleigh's roommate. Mildred Miller was indeed a bitch and a half.
"You'd never do that, Professor Desmond," Bayleigh continued. "That kind of meaningless crap. I mean, I hate writing, but you made it not so bad. It was sort of painless, you know?"
"Yeah, I liked writing the restaurant review," Chelsea added. I'd given them a number of assignment like that -- a restaurant review, an interview with a professor in another one of their classes, a letter to the editor of their hometown newspaper, and writing their own obituary 70 years in the future -- anything to break up the monotony that is the usual Freshman English essay. "That was fun. I made my boyfriend take me out to dinner and told him it was a required assignment!"
"And we can always talk to you," said Bayleigh. "Most of my other classes are huge lectures. The professors don't even know my name and when you go to their offices they're never there. You're lucky if you can track down the T.A. to ask for help!"
"In my Math class the T.A. barely speaks English." Chelsea flipped her hand through her long hair. "Even when I ask a question I can't understand him. I'm totally flunking that class!"
"Sorry, girls." And I was sorry. They weren't the greatest students on campus, but they were nice girls and they were trying. And, despite everything else, they were passing my course. Or they would if they turned their final papers in on time. Without an extension!
"I might transfer," said Chelsea. "To Florida. I'm sick of the cold."
"What college were you thinking of?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. Wherever I get in. Would you write a recommendation for me, Professor Desmond?"
"Sure, Chelsea." Why not? That's part of the job, too. If she wanted to go to Florida, why shouldn't she? It was her parents' dime. "But let me know soon. I don't know how much longer I'll be in Boston."
She pursed her pink lips. "Are you leaving that fast?"
"Not before the semester ends, but probably sometime in June or the beginning of July."
Both girls fell silent as we approached the Humanities Building. They looked up at the building, then at me. They could follow me to my office, but they had better places to go while the sun was shining. I didn't blame them.
"We'll see you Wednesday, Professor Desmond," said Bayleigh.
"Don't forget to bring your draft to class," I reminded them.
"We won't!" And they were off.
I checked my mailbox. End of the semester messages from the Chairman and the Dean. A new Composition Reader to review. A flyer from the bookstore. An invitation to Convocation.
I also checked to see if the Chairman was finally in. Helen smiled at me and said he wasn't. Another time then.
My favorite officemate, Barbara, was sitting at the computer, her face glum. "They promised us a new machine in here all year. This thing is for shit! Now that classes are over we'll probably get it!"
"I know. But it doesn't matter." I pushed some papers aside and dropped my Land's End bag on the desk. "I won't be here to see it."
Barbara turned around. "Won't be here? What are you talking about, Shea?"
"Aaron is taking that job in Indiana." I looked up at the patch of wall over my desk. One short shelf with a few textbooks leaning precariously. A cork bulletin board with some postcards and Post-It notes tacked to it. A ragged poster of 'The Maltese Falcon' taped to the bare plaster. It wouldn't take me too long to pack up and be gone.
"Well, that makes two of us." Barbara flicked at her face with her hand, as if about to take a drag on a cigarette. She was a chain-smoker on a non-smoking campus, but her hand had never gotten the message. Whenever she was nervous it tried to feed her addiction, to no avail. "They offered me that position in Worcester and I'm going to take it. It's Middle School English, but if they like me I might get jumped up to High School."
I didn't know what to say. I knew that going back teaching public school when she dreamed of being a professor was an admission of defeat.
"Is it for certain?"
"Yeah. I have to do it. I can't make it on an Instructor's pay anymore. And my kids need that Health Insurance. With this job they'll be covered. Even I'll be covered. Now I can afford to get sick!" She rasped out a laugh. "And afford a better brand of cigarettes, too!" She looked me up and down. "So why the tragic expression? Surely you won't miss this dump so badly? Or my smiling face?"
"Aaron got me a job in Indiana."
Her eyebrow lifted. "As...?" she coaxed. "Assistant Pig Tender? Morning shift at McDonald's? What's that car race they have in Indiana?"
"The Indianapolis 500?" I offered.
"Bingo," she said. "I'm impressed."
"I may be a queer, but I'm still a guy. Even I know about that!"
"Touché," Barbara acknowledged. "Okay -- some dirty job involving grease at the Indianapolis 500?"
"No." Now I was ashamed to admit why I was gloomy. I knew how it would sound to her. "Assistant Prof in the English Department at EIU. A spousal hire."
She blinked. "Tenure track?"
She swiveled her chair back towards the computer screen. "Forgive me if I can't boo-hoo for you, Shea. If I can't stroke your hand in empathy before you and your partner go off to two cushy, well-paying jobs while I still have to figure out how to get through the summer until my new job teaching Remedial English to Eighth Graders kicks in."
"I'm sorry, Barb -- but another fucking spousal hire! I... It's not where I thought I'd be right now."
She whipped around and stared at me. "And you think this is where I thought I'd be? At least your spouse gives enough of a shit to demand that they hire you. My ex-husband wouldn't care if I was begging in the gutter -- and the kids with me! If I ever see any of the back child support he owes me I think I'll fall over in a dead faint! So don't moan to me, my sweet prince. Save it for your therapist. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do." She put her head down determinedly and her fingers hit the old keyboard with an angry snap.
I decided to end office hours early.
I caught the bus downtown, walked around for a while, and then, as Barbara had predicted, headed for my therapist appointment to moan to him about the sad state of my privileged existence.