Winning

I hurled down the Norton Anthology of American Literature. It was an undergraduate text, but heavy, and I had hopes. No. It ricocheted harmlessly off my windshield. Next, I tried the MLA Handbook. One bounce and it fell onto the pavement.  A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory, Critical Theory Since Plato, The Heart and Stomach of a King, and The English Language: A Historical Introduction. All of them thumped against the glass. Some of them lodged at the top of the hood or caught in the windshield wipers. The rest cascaded down into the parking lot. But none of them started so much as a hairline crack.

I wasn’t up high enough. My second story balcony was just too low. “OK, the roof then.” I collected my remaining graduate school textbooks into a Kroger bag and hauled myself up onto the railing.

“What are you doing?”

I hadn’t even seen Scott drive into the lot, even though his car had surely passed right in front of me, just beyond my own undamaged vehicle. “I’m trying to break my windshield.”

“Lock yourself out?”

“No. If I have to go to that fucking English 600 class today I’m going to lose it.”

“And so you are…”

“Making an excused absence.”

Scott looked up at me poised on the railing as if I meant to jump. He looked at the detritus surrounding my car. He looked back at me. And he started picking the textbooks up. I watched him collect them. He carried them up to the balcony. He walked into my apartment.

I followed.

“Mortensen piss you off again?”

The Kroger bag’s plastic handles, stretched to the limit with my six tomes, gave way entirely, tumbling its contents onto the floor. “Goddamn it, why didn’t he listen to me? I told them… I told him Cynthia Sheard was a shit-for instructor. How dare he act so supercilious now that she’s gone. All I want from that fucker is a ‘you were right’. Is that so much to ask?” I threw myself on the couch.

Scott set the books he had rescued on the table that passed for a computer desk. “You have to admit that it’s pretty uncommon for a professor to walk out in the middle of the semester.” He sat beside me and found the remains of my phone’s handset embedded in the cushions. He started putting it back together.

“No I don’t. It doesn’t matter how often it happens. It matters that I knew it was coming six months ago, and I called it, and now he has to teach her class, and he hasn’t issued more than a generic blanket apology.”

“So skip. Didn’t you say everybody in that course was guaranteed an A?”

“But I don’t want to be like those damned sheep who just let it pass unspoken!”

“You’re not like them. Believe me, you’ll never be like them.” He held the handset. He held my eyes.

And slowly, I let go.

 

About jesterqueen:
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.

Comments

Winning — 52 Comments

    • I still have that damned book. If Scott hadn’t come, I was saving The Complete Works of William Shakespeare for the roof.

  1. Wow you must have really hated your class to break your windshield – those things aren’t cheap!! lol. Did you pass the class?

    • I hated it more than I even can really say. It was horrible. I never did manage to break the windshield, but I didn’t go to class that day. Or maybe I did but I wandered it late? I just realized I can’t remember. I remember the whole event so vividly, but nothing after. In grad school, if a professor leaves in the middle of a semester, you’re pretty much guaranteed an A in return for not suing the school and demanding your money back. In our case, most of us had TA stipends and free tuition anyway, but it would have been bad press for UK to have a bunch of dissatisfied English grad students floating around campus.

  2. Ahahaha!! You know I love this. I never had a horrible English teacher. That’s probably why I became one. Well I did have one who really liked Nathaniel Hawthorne. But I just wrote angry response papers about it. Oh how I would love to drop Hawthorne on someone ELSE’s car…

    This is just excellent – the timing, the story, the dialogue, and your anger. Love it! Wonderful 🙂

  3. Very heat-of-the-moment feel to it. I love that you were trying to authenticate your excuse.It shows that despite your anger, you still had a shining pure core. Ellen

    • Thanks! At that point in my life, I was rapidly losing my writing. Grad school stole so much from me. Bipolar stole so much more. I didn’t go to school for my MRS. I went for English and Library Science. Yet the only good thing that came out of that period of my life is my marriage.

  4. First, I read this like it was a story as opposed to an article/personal blog entry. So if I got that wrong and it isn’t in story form, please ignore most of what follows.

    Your opening surprised me and kept me on my toes, and the flow of your writing kept me invested until the end. I’ve had extremely bad teachers before (in grade school and high school – I never went to college) so I understand the anger and feeling of time wasted that it brings to serious students. But I didn’t feel I had enough information here to understand your/your character’s extreme level of upset. Trying to break a windshield is serious, and needing to have an excused absence of that sort is a very specific character trait that not everyone can relate to without some kind of personality info being worked in somehow. A humorous focus can make that kind of groundwork feel less necessary, but this felt like a serious story.

    I suppose my reaction is also informed by the huge number of people that many of us run into, in all walks of life, who refuse to admit things: that they were wrong, that someone else was right, that anything is wrong at all … Until I got to the end, I thought this story was about illuminating the character’s specific anger about this sort of thing. When I re-read the story, I wondered if the focus was supposed to be Scott’s calming influence. For me, as it’s written, that felt secondary here.

    I trust and respect you as a person, and I believe the emotions here because of that; but should I be trusting the emotions because I know something about you, or should I see truth here because the clues I need to get to it are there on the page?

    Just trying to be honest about my experience with this as a story, but please let me know if I’m crossing a line.

    • No lines crossed at all — your insights are wonderful, and I always appreciate them. This one wasn’t short story. It was 100% autobiography. It was the moment I knew Scott would stay. Because that’s pretty much me at my absolute worst. Told as a narrative it’s hilarious. It’s a lot darker without the commentary to assure people that I know how nuts my logic was. And it was completely insane. In graduate school, if the prof walks, you get an automatic A, no need to attend class ever. I knew that. And yet I was pushing myself to attend class. And hating this asshat more and more every time. And it boiled down to me calling him every single day within a month of starting grad school and telling him how bad this prof was, and how unlikely she was to stay. He thought I was an arrogant first year student. I hated him for failing to belief the ample proof I was offering him that I was just plain telling the truth. And when I was right? Not a word from him. Not a “Holy shit I’m so sorry for last semester. Holy shit, you were right. Holy shit, we should have been paying attention to this very serious student complaint.” I still hate him. Enough that I haven’t changed his name or the prof’s above.

    • In case the e-mail doesn’t autosend, I replied in the comments, but had to approve my own reply etc. The short answer is that I’m not at all offended, and you’ve crossed no lines. You have awesome insights. This one was pure autobiography.

    • This was when I knew he was staying for good. We’d only been dating a few weeks, and I already had this freakish certainty that we were forever, and that scared me to death, and his reaction was so calm that I knew he wouldn’t leave.

  5. Scott’s a good one. And while I’m sure the experience was stressful at the time, the idea of hurling the Norton Anthology out of a window at your car sounds super-satisfying. And kinda funny.

    • In narrative form, this story is hilarious. It’s a bit darker here because… well because it was pretty dark when it happened.

  6. I need a Scott in my life. Instead, I have a fellow reactionary who, like me, is also never wrong. Our home life is…interesting.

    • Yeah, I’m really grateful that he’s so even keeled. It actually gets on my nerves sometimes, but mostly, I am completely relieved by it.

    • I was talking to one of Scott’s science minded cousins, and he was all like, “yeah, those would have worked from inside the vehicle, but not outside.” It was awesome to know WHY it was a complete failure, which was always something that had bugged me.

  7. Sounds like you came up with some great free therapy! Love the narrative here, the dialogue, and the way you show-but-don’t-tell so much about Scott’s character.

    • Scott is a hard man to ‘tell’. The only way to really make him comprehensible is showing, I think. And at that, meeting is the only thing that really works.

  8. I was riveted from the opening paragraph. I support all your future science experiments! Lovely post! And Scott must be cloned.

    • I am so happy to have finally gotten it together to submit something to them! I usually have so much other stuff going on that by the time I get a potential YW post written, I’m off on some other tangent.

  9. Great job! I really felt like I was standing in front of you guys watching the whole thing happen. And you have some serious guts to throw books at your own car. Might I suggest a hammer next time? 😉

    • Haha! It wasn’t even guts. It was pure ill advised rage. I was also fully committed to climbing on the roof, which I realized in retrospect only, would have dumped me back down on my fat ass faster than I could have gotten both legs up there.

  10. I hate feeling blown off, too, especially when I know I’m way more right than anyone else. I’m glad that you were only assaulting an inanimate object — if I were that mad, I might have injured something more personal.

    I have married a Scott, too, and think he’s the bee’s knees. Hooray for awesome Scotts!

    • Yes! My son has my crazy, but he’s named after my husband. (We call him Sam for his initials). I keep hoping that the name will eventually save him.

  11. Scott is awesome, Jessie. It’s always great when the person we need to be there for us just is, exactly the way we need them to be.

    • It was the most unusually twisted logic I had arrived at in that period of my life. In my mind, it was all OK if I couldn’t possibly have gone to class.

    • Thanks! (And I’m sorry took so long to reply! I’m stretched out way thin right now!) Scott is absolutely amazing. This is the moment I knew we would ultimately get married. When I realized how far gone I was, and how totally stable he remained, I knew he would stay forever.

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