Life Is the Best Fiction
“Let me tell you a story,” I told the perplexed girl with the nervous smile who was obviously puzzled by my request and once again solemnly vowed that she’d be perfect for the job.
“Really? Well, how so?” I asked, reluctant to surrender the floor to her credentials for another attempt to sway the jury even as I permitted her one act play to continue. There was so much that she’d accomplished that a lesser man might have jumped at having such a noted intellect added to his staff. Still…
“I’m also a published author,” she affirmed with all the world weariness her 25 years could muster.
“Do tell,” I said, shifting indifferently in my seat. I hoped her effervescent ears wouldn’t detect the weary sarcasm with which I met her remark. It wasn’t that she lacked qualifications for the position, but there was something dead at the bottom of those shiny eyes. Was it mere efficiency feigning superiority? A cloistered self-assurance? Poverty-driven networking? I couldn’t put a finger on it.
“Yes. I often use the multiple revisions in my articles to show remedials that writing isn’t magic; it’s a lot of hard work,” she affirmed with a pseudo-conviction so transparent I thought I was at a poetry recital produced by mimes.
I could tell in a moment that her classroom debut was going to be brutally entertaining, and I couldn’t help but flinch. Old men shouldn’t be permitted to watch such fragile dreams crash to earth like unguided drones. Still, tossing her to the lions might be an interesting survival exercise.
“Excuse me?” I said as I realized her lips were still moving long after I’d finished listening.
“I was saying,” she repeated with an impatient eye roll, “that I usually allow my students to write papers about themselves and their surroundings before they write anything else. I find most people are very interested in describing themselves to others. Wouldn’t you agree?”
The last phrase was accompanied with a smile that made the hollow near my heart shudder like the fallout from a bad first date. In her world it was always Christmas, never winter and each response was like a plot point predicated on that belief. This dry cloud needed to be shaken into rain.
“As I was saying, let me tell you a story,” I interrupted. “And let me tell it to you raw and sloppy the way it would have been told to me if I didn’t already know it. There was an instructor who worked here once that was given a nugget of information about her husband’s health as she drove to class one evening. She was one of the strongest people I’d ever met, but this news devastated her.”
“Okay,” she said, trying to mask her complete bewilderment.
“Not really. Anyway, she was told over the phone that her husband had a lump the size of a golf ball in his groin and he would need immediate medical care just to have a remote chance to live. So she arrived at school, fell completely apart in the instructor’s lounge and wept like a mourner for ten short minutes. How many minutes are there in a year? Doesn’t matter…Anyway, to make a short story long, she said ‘I can’t take this into class with me. The students deserve better than this.’ She dried her eyes and walked into class with a smile on her face and they couldn’t tell if it was real or not. She was that good at covering the pain and focusing on the moment. I tried to talk her into making it an early evening and spending time with her family, but she refused. I don’t think I’ve respected anyone more at any moment in my life. Funny, huh?”
“No, not really.”
“Know what the punchline is?”
“Her husband never recovered and she’s too exhausted to teach, so I’ve got to hire someone to replace her. Who do you think I should hire?”
“Exactly. By the way, we don’t call them ’remedials’ here; that implies that they’re linguistically retarded. We call them ‘preps’ for the prep classes they filter through. No one needs to weed them out; they do that very easily by themselves. Like magic,” I said with a snap of my fingers for emphasis. “Even potential hires know how to erase themselves from the food chain over time. Same sort of attrition, same sleight of hand. People just seem to know how to make themselves irrelevant.