(For Part 1 see here)
After I noticed the “White Whale/Witch” laughing at me, the rest of class was a complete blur. I’m pretty sure I cycled through the six stages of grief half a dozen times and didn’t hear a word that was said. Yes, I know there’s technically only five stages. But I kept feeling inexplicably hungry after the acceptance stage so I’m amending that theory. After all, I would have majored in psychology instead of philosophy were it not for my fear of bells and salivating dogs.
So I sat in the back corner with my eyes down, notebook and face blank, replaying the situation in my head over and over. Somewhere during my sixth plunge into the bargaining stage I finally noticed the people around me leaving, I bolted out the door, head down and avoiding any eye contact whatsoever.
There was another class I was supposed to go to that afternoon but I decided to skip it. It was Senioritis Awareness Day, after all, so it was totally justifiable. Plus senior or not, there’s always a good excuse for missing the first day of class: I didn’t register for it in time, I thought it was in the other building, I was losing blood at a dangerous rate. But in the back of my mind I knew that I just wanted to avoid another introduction-related incident like this one.
Instead I thought I’d bide my time before dinner and walk back to the dorm. Normally I’d catch the shuttle and avoid the grueling half-mile hike, but I wasn’t in much of a bus mood. Plus I could stand to get a little exercise and work off a bit of the beer weight I’d been storing during winter hibernation. As a bonus with that workout under my belt I’d be on the road to achieving my annual New Year’s resolution of getting into shape. Then during the “Gods and Monsters” class when I was sure the White Whale/Witch was watching, when we got to talking about one of those gods–probably Thor since anyone who has a carry around a hammer with them has to be in top physical condition–I’d rip my shirt off and unveil my god-like, ripped, able-to-grate-cheese-on-them abs. Ha! That would teach her.
The downside to walking though—aside from that fact that you’re physically transporting yourself from Point A to Point B instead of having someone and/or thing do it for you—is that it gets your brain juices flowing. At least for me it did. Always has and always will. It’s like my brain is powered by an invisible hamster wheel. When I would write papers and get a case of writers block I’d always take a walk. When it was nice out I’d walk circles around the dorm, most likely creeping out the unfortunate students who lived on the ground floor. And when it was cold out I’d just pace up and down the hallway, most likely creeping out pretty much everyone else.
Somewhere around the third tenth-of-a-mile of my mini-marathon I finally moved past the six stages of grief I’d been stuck on in class and started mulling over some other stuff. Some deep stuff. The stuff you are definitely not supposed to think about on Senioritis Awareness Day, despite its rather ill-fitting acronym.
It’s not that I had never stuttered in public before. It’s just that for most of college—and hell, even the later part of high school—it was pretty much a non-issue. Sure it was in the back of my mind, but nothing like how it had been at its worst when I was younger. In middle school I’d developed all kinds of elaborate techniques for not being called on to read aloud. Dropping your pencil and literally hiding from sight when the teacher was looking for someone to call on; conveniently asking to go to the bathroom when it got to your turn to read aloud; miming to the substitute teacher you had taken a vow of silence for religious reasons. You name it I tried it.
That was all history, or so I hoped. After all, from the little I knew about stuttering it was something you did as a kid but gradually “grew out of.” Like having an invisible friend or wetting the bed. To do it as a kid is unfortunate but acceptable; to do it as an adult is just sad. I’d hoped against hope that I’d finally grown out of it. Shed my stuttering skin, if you will. But this incident was reminding me of the not-so-good-old days. Worse yet, it shattered the convenient wall of denial that I’d built up during my fluency honeymoon. I started thinking back to previous semester. Maybe I hadn’t raised my hand and talked as much in class as I used to. And maybe wasn’t even as social and generous in doling out my usual wit with friends as I was before. Again I’d chalked that up to senioritis, but maybe that was a misdiagnosis.
Thankfully my locomotion-powered deep thoughts were stopped short when I saw Louie standing at the entrance to the dorm. I’d known Louie since our awkward days as freshman year roommates, and he was a vital member of our group of friends that had grown since then. Louie was the charmer of the crew. Sweet Lou indeed. He could talk an Eskimo into buying ice, especially if they were female. He didn’t have many other guy friends except for us–for good cause, I suppose. But he was great to have around, not just for his talents as a dependable wingman, but also that he could talk his way out of anything. Or as he liked to brag, into anything.
When I saw Louie had that familiar, maniacal grin on his face that could mean only one thing: there was something girl-related he was dying to tell me.
“Jackson, where’d you run off to after class? I tried catching you at the end to grab the bus together but you flew out of there like a bat out of hell.”
Shit, I’d completely forgotten he was taking that class with me. Of course he was. It was the easiest class you could possibly take, and we’d been planning for our final semester of leisure since freshmen year. I wonder if he caught my stutter. The White Whale/Witch seemed to, after all. Not that I’d expect the same gawking response from one of my best friends. Still, I’d tried to hide and avoid talking about that with anyone for the past three and a half years, myself included. Part of my grand strategy of trying to ignore it away.
I scrambled for the best excuse I could think of: “Oh yeah, sorry. I was still feeling it from the night before so just wanted to get out of there as fast as I could.”
“Wow, look who’s becoming a lightweight!” Louis chided me. That was one of his less charming features, one that only a select few were privy to. He loved to rag on his friends just about as much as he loved to pick-up girls. “I was over in the corner across from you during the whole class trying to get your attention. I thought about throwing something at you but didn’t want to upset your delicate stomach.”
Phew, not a word about the introduction incident. Maybe he didn’t want to bring it up. Or maybe he didn’t even notice in the first place. He was probably paying about as much attention to the class introductions as I was before it was my turn. Actually, he was probably sizing up the girls in class to pass the time. Sort of like my version of doing a crossword puzzle out of boredom, only a tad more perverse.
“Sorry, Louie” I said as I tried my best to conjure up a comeback. “Next time we can sit together, play footsies, and pass notes to each other if that’s what you’re getting at”
“Very funny,” he responded. “Online lectures start next week, so no need to wake up for that class anymore. Plus while you were fleeing the class I happened to strike up a conversation with a lovely young woman whose number I now have in my possession.”
Ah, there it was. There was no way he noticed the introduction. He was scheming the entire time as I expected. Even if he did catch me after class I would have been a third wheel. Though I have to say sometimes I enjoyed watching him at work. It was poetry in motion. Like one of those interpretive dance pieces I never quite followed but was told represented some famous literary tale of seduction. Except with Louie the girls don’t realize they’re part of this production. And for all his perversions he wasn’t one to wear a codpiece.
As I relaxed knowing my stuttering was in the clear from Louie, he continued on: “Yeah I don’t know if you saw her, but she was sitting near me, had these great bangs that fell to one side. You know normally I hate girls with bangs, but she really pulled it off…”
Crap, I knew who he was talking about.
“The White Whale?” I interrupted.
Oops. I’d actually never shared that little fantasy with the guys. I don’t know why I hadn’t. We talked about everything together. Well everything but my stutter, but that was forbidden territory for anyone. Still, the “white whale” was something I kept hidden. Partly because it just sounded really lame to admit to fantasizing about some oasis of a girl for seven unrequited semesters. But mostly I just wanted to keep that to myself. Some things are just better when they stay in your mind and you don’t have to share them with anyone.
“I told you I don’t want to talk about that anymore,” Louie shot back. “That was a one-time thing and I’m pretty sure someone spiked my drink that night”
Ha, I forgot about that party with the softball team. We gave Louie hell about that for a solid week until he couldn’t bear the torment anymore and stole all of our shoes one night, and held them hostage until we agreed to never speak of the night again. We seriously considered just going shoeless for the rest of the semester, but after a week the joke had run its course. Plus after a semester of parties our floor had built up a not-so-thin layer of goo that made it hard to walk without getting stuck.
“Sorry,” I said bowing my head as a sign of sincerity. “I forgot we agreed to a moratorium on that.”
“Whatever,” he said, looking just about as shaken to remember that night as I felt when I was unpleasantly reminded that I have a noticeable stutter just a short time ago. “Anyway, I’m getting drinks with her tonight.“
Damn he worked fast. I’m not sure how I felt about this development. On the one hand, she laughed at me, and I kind of wanted her to be subjected to Louie’s games. He didn’t exactly have the best track record with girls the he’d dated. His relationships tended to end up in drinks thrown in his face and restraining orders. On the other hand, there was still a part of me stuck on the White Whale. We had so much history! Or at least in my mind we did. I’m not sure if she even knew who I was until the class introduction. I mean she laughed at me. But it was only a little laugh. Maybe she was laughing at something else. Or maybe it wasn’t even a laugh. It could have been a sneeze that I misread. People sneeze in all kinds of weird ways. When my aunt sneezes it sounds like dolphin song. No that’s impossible. It was definitely a laugh. Whatever. I’ve moved on. Have fun on your date with Sweet Lou.
“C’mon, let’s get something to eat” I told Louie as if offering an olive branch. I was starving after all. The talk of him going on a date with the White Whale rekindled some of the hunger in my stages of grief.