This one may sound treacly, but it’s from the heart. And the purpose of this work I do is to make myself vulnerable. Here goes.
I walk outside Room 121 with a lump in my throat, trying to force the water droplets back into my eyes. I wish I had sunglasses today. This was the final session of American poetry, the last class I’ll ever have as an undergraduate English major. One of the last times I will see short, bald Professor P., who always wears his black turtleneck sweater with a heavily padded blazer, his hands in his pockets and his head down as if mentally counting the number of floor tiles as he saunters through the door.
At the start of each class, he’d always change his glasses, wipe the blackboard with his palm and write a word in yellow chalk. Today it was “love.” He underlined it twice. He unwrapped a sugar free Halls cough drop and stuck it between his lips. He began a sentence and smiled, then contorted his face before finishing his words. Perhaps he’d been reminiscing about his own life when he paused after reading a line in e.e. cummings’ “I love my body when it is with your body.” Perhaps he poem reminds him of a lover he had in the past. I wonder if it makes him sad because he’s never had a lover. He tells us that the “gourmets” of love think and write so beautifully about love because they’ve lost love, have felt great pain, or have never fully experienced love. I wonder if the same is true for writers of happiness. Do they hunger for joy to the point of having to write incessantly about it? If I keep thinking so philosophically, I think I’ll wind up with an aneurysm. I halt all thoughts, pick up my pen and notebook, and walk out the door. I try to remain numb, but my face begins to melt like an icicle under a UV lamp. I wish I had the courage to ask him to come to graduation, but of course I copped out with “Thanks, professor.” I want to take him with me to graduate school or somehow clone a mini version of him and keep him in my pocket. But I know I can’t. I walk out the door.
It’s drizzling. The sky’s the color of a faded highway. My yellow tank top makes me stand out from the rest—it makes me look happy even though I’m not. I don’t go back to my dorm and cry to my roommates as if my life were a schmaltzy chick flick. Instead, I go for a walk toward the back of the campus.
There’s a Japanese tree, called a katsura, with heart-shaped leaves that release a sweet aroma. Like cotton candy or candied apples. I want to sleep under the katsura tree tonight and dream not of love and loss, but of fairs and Ferris wheels and those cheap, plush ducks you get for winning the Water Gun Fun game, and the tiny goldfish that spend their last few hours in tightly twisted baggies that tots jostle giddily across the fairgrounds. I wish I could sleep under this tree—away from the smell of sex and beer and urine and moldy socks in the hallway of my dorm building, away from my roommate’s shampoo that smells like cat piss, away from GRE prep tests I never took and text books stamped with Olympic rings of coffee and bookmarked with student loan letters, and my bedpost flagged with yellow Post-It notes.
I wish I could leave it all behind. I wish I could take the tree with me wherever I go in life, along with Professor P. and his terse truths and silent grimaces. I know I can’t. So I pick a wet, heart-shaped leaf off the ground and stick it inside my anthology of poetry, hoping that if I ever open it again, I’ll smile.