Archive for May, 2010

“What do you mean you’re not going back?”

“Mom, it’s no big deal.  I’ll be just fine without my bi-weekly bitch sessions with Dr. Reynolds,” Erin said, shaking her head.  She had known this would be the response and had put off the conversation as long as possible, three days to be exact.  Inevitably, when her weekly phone call home hadn’t come at precisely 10 o’clock Sunday morning, her mom had dialed immediately.

“No big deal?  Erin, I really don’t think it wise to simply quit going.  I hardly think you’ve dealt with all the issues with Kevin’s death,” her mother stated.  Her penchant for blunt practicality never failed to amaze Erin, who had long learned to only half listen to the inevitable passive aggressiveness aimed at her decision-making abilities.

“Oh please, it’s been fourteen months…”

“And you think that everything’s solved simply because of the passage of time?” her mother interrupted.

“No, Mom,” Erin raised her voice.  “I think that some things time will never heal and I understand that.  I think I am functioning well enough given everything I’ve been through.  And I definitely know that being guilt-tripped and second guessed by you isn’t helping!”

The last statement stung her mother, she knew, and Erin instantly felt bad for having said it.  But she didn’t apologize.  It’s the truth, she thought, as she listened to the shallow breathing on the other end of the phone.  She waited, expecting to hear the sniffle that would signal the extent of her mother’s hurt feelings.  She heard nothing.  Goddamn it, Mom! Don’t you dare try to guilt-trip me!

“So, how’s your research coming?” her mother broke the strained silence by abruptly changing the subject.  It was her way of avoiding confrontation, a relationship trait that she had perfected, and one that had been as effectively passed on to her daughter as any.  But for once, Erin welcomed the avoidance.

“Not bad,” she answered quickly, determined to not allow the conversation to return to her therapy decision. “I’ve made progress lately.”

While technically honest, it was a stretch to label it progress, and she knew it.  The enthusiasm with which she had attacked her schoolwork at the beginning of the semester had ground to the halt since the coffee incident.  She had always relied on the library to provide the discipline and focus she needed to work.  Attempts to study at home had never been fruitful.  As an undergrad, roommates had often referred to Erin as their absentee cohabitant.  With 24-hour access to the library, she had frequently studied until she collapsed in the early morning hours, drool staining the textbook pages where her head landed, a technique she had proudly dubbed a study halt.

“Speaking of which, I really ought to be going.  I want to finish a few more articles this afternoon.  Thanks for the call, Mom.”  A few niceties later, Erin hung up the phone.  Instead of heading for the library, though, she sat and pondered her last visit there.


For the past two weeks, Erin had done her best to avoid the library, sneaking in and out of SPEA by a side door on the second floor.  Eventually, though, she would have to go back there.  She knew that.  After all, her research depended on it.  The university’s main library, which stood directly across the street from her office, had proved unfruitful.  For one thing, while architecturally impressive as a tribute to the skilled sandstone cutters and numerous quarries that dotted the southern Indiana landscape, the main library was both uncomfortable and impersonal.  With study cubicles scattered haphazardly amongst the dark and institutional rows of bookshelves, the building accentuated the solitary and oftentimes miserable life of a grad student.  She had lasted four hours there before the walls of this windowless tomb of academe began closing in around her and she fled for the sunlight.  Reluctantly she’d accepted the idea of again visiting the SPEA library.

So far, so good, she thought as she huddled at a corner table, her heart pounding wildly against her ribcage.  Every minute or so, she would exhale loudly, evidence that she was, in fact, holding her breath slightly in apprehension of whatever it was that she feared might happen.  She wasn’t entirely sure what was causing her anxiety, but she was prepared nonetheless.  Like a timid mouse, she had willingly ventured out of her burrow, on guard against the dangers that waited in the open field, but without fully understanding even what that danger looked like. 

From her vantage point, she could easily observe both entrances.  In the past half-hour she had counted twenty-six people approach the library.  Two had only been interested in the trash can just outside the doors.  The others had nonchalantly wandered through those doors to find their own study nook at the pods of cubicles or expansive tables.  No sign of the Polo guy, though.  Her satisfaction with this emboldened her, although her diligent scouting of the doors detracted significantly from her ability to get anything done.  As far as she was concerned, that was alright, though.

One step at a time, she reassured herself.  Eventually, her glances toward the articles fanned out across the table became longer as her breathing and heart rate slowed.  She shrugged her shoulders and managed a small smile.  See, you can do it.  It’s not that hard

Pulling her iPod from her bag, she inserted the ear buds and pressed play.  Claire de Lune gently flooded her ears and the subtle sensation of tension flowing from her neck and upper back warmed her.  Ninety minutes later, having made good progress on her latest paper, she packed up her books and articles.  She had made it.

As she pushed back from the table, though, the metallic click of a door latch sounded behind her.  Her back was bathed in light and her shadow cast a dark shadow across the table.  Turning slightly, she froze.  From a small study room in the back corner of the library, nearly hidden by the shelves that lined the far wall, stepped the man who had caused her panic two weeks ago.  Two other young men emerged with him and strolled toward her table, their arms weighted down with identical brown leather briefcases and IBM laptops.  Like the mouse an instant before the hawk strikes, Erin felt the panic sweep over her, with nowhere to go and nothing to do.  She couldn’t move, and even thoughts seemed slurred.  Oh god, what…

Their eyes met for just a second, and her breath caught in her throat.  His head tilted back slightly, as if to simultaneously acknowledge her presence and reassure her, the way frat boys and jocks greet each other with a silent “what up, bro.”  Another second and the group had passed.  Erin was alone again.  Her hand gripped the edge of the table, and had it not been made of such hard wood, she surely would have left an indentation of her bony fingers on its surface.  When she realized this, she relaxed slightly, releasing her grip that suddenly dripped with sweat.  She sank slowly back into her chair, staring at the retreating backsides of the three men until they disappeared into the hallway that separated SPEA from the Business School.  She was trembling, and it was some time before her legs felt strong enough to support her weight.  Quickly, she fled the library, choosing to exit directly to the outside and into the fresh air.  As fast as her legs could take her, she crossed the campus and blended in with the surrounding neighborhoods and toward Starbucks.

He hadn’t spoken to her.  He hadn’t tried to approach her.  There had been no attempt to gain understanding of her earlier reaction.  No pressured or awkward questions.  No nothing.  Just a nod as if to say “No worries, it’s cool.”

  Erin’s head was spinning as she approached the chain coffee shop, its familiar green and white sign warming her innards before she even stepped inside.  She desperately wanted to sit down, to calm down.  She needed to think things through.  A vanilla latte always helped with that.

She was still confused.  He hadn’t pursued her.  He hadn’t even stopped for an explanation.  It was almost as if he was intentionally giving her the space that she needed.  That certainly wasn’t something she was used to, either from her parents in the past year or from Kevin before his death.  Kevin had rarely allowed her to take time for herself.  Early in their relationship, he had stated that he believed the strongest couples were those who spent all their time together, sharing their every thought and feeling with the other, not holding anything back from their partner.  It was a philosophy that had made limited sense to her, but at the same time gnawed at her constantly.  In fact, she wanted and often needed her own space, her own time to process both the exhilarations and the maladies that life provided.  Horse rubbish,” came the response time and again.  She just needed to learn to trust him more, he felt.  And to help her, he would double the time spent together.

In time, she supposed that her trust in his kind of relationship did grow.  She slowly discarded her own interests, making every effort to embrace those hobbies, activities and interests that they both shared.  It seemed to work.  She did enjoy their time together.  And they genuinely had grown closer.  And yet, her yearning for independence continued, abated but never absent.  She learned to ignore the longings, though.  They only led to disagreements and arguments.  In fact, thinking back on the three years before his deployment, she could remember only a handful of arguments that had been spawned from issues other than her desire for greater independence.  Inevitably, each disagreement ended with her apologizing for having broached the subject.  He accepted her apologies and they moved on.  That was just their dynamic, she had countered the exasperated reactions of friends and families.

All couples have arguments.  Erin had understood that.  And perhaps that understanding is what allowed her to be swayed into thinking that theirs was a normal relationship.  After all, who is to really say what is normal and what is not?  There’s no such thing as a perfect relationship, she used to tell herself, while wiping away the tears after a long fight.  Rather than create discord by insisting on what Kevin had convinced her were selfish insecurities, she had opted in the last several years to bury her desires for good, content in the knowledge that she was being a good partner.  The fights diminished, and they were on their way toward the happy, smiling relationship and life which had graced the pages of her romance novels as a teen.

Enough with the reminiscing, she reminded herself.  You need to get to work.  Shut up…It can wait.  No, it can’t…Your dissertation’s not going to write itself. 

With a tired sigh, Erin peeled herself from the canvas covered couch from Ikea, a gift to herself intended to ease the pain of the one-year anniversary of Kevin’s death.  Yes, she would make another attempt at the library.  The panic surrounding the strange young man was still there, but it was slowly dissipating. 

She grunted and strained with the sliding glass door that led from her bedroom to the large wooden deck at the back of her apartment.  The metal door runners were beginning to stick, either for lack of lubricant or due to the frost that had swept across Bloomington overnight.  Autumn here was a fleeting season, a brief respite from the stickiness of July and August before the iciness of the winter months descended upon the region.  Fall had arrived early, but had seemed to be stretching out longer than usual, allowing residents the luxury of weeks on end with temperatures in the mid-60s.  The changing foliage, whose ocular magnetism pulled thousands of visitors each year to nearby Brown County, had been exceptionally vivid this season.  The deciduous hillsides were breath-taking in their radiance, flaming crimsons and oranges speckled with patches of almost incandescent cardinal autumnal beacons.  These too were contrasted sharply with the brilliant amber, burnt umber, and copper visual flavors that blanketing the rolling hills and artisan communities that dotted the southern Indiana countryside.

When the door gradually succumbed to her brute force, Erin poked her nose out into the wind that wind snaked its way up her nostrils.  She could almost feel the warmth of the fires that filled the air with a smoky sweetness, hundreds of individual fireplaces that stimulated the collective senses of the entire city.  It was a long-sleeved day, she quickly decided, withdrawing her proboscis and throwing her weight against the door handle.  Inexplicably, this time there was no sticking, and the wall shook violently with the metallic crash of the lock plate against its frame, perilously close to crushing the fingers of her right hand that had been jolted from the handle by the lack of resistance. 

Wow, that could have been bad, she thought as her eyes darted around the room, her expression one of surprised embarrassment, an early teen caught surreptitiously masturbating by one’s mother.  She half expected to hear Kevin’s snicker, lightly mocking her clumsiness as he so often had.  But there was no one now to laugh at her now.  Instead, she felt the build-up of nervous energy bubble up from her diaphragm and heard her own laughter fill the room, a muffled chuckle that quickly morphed into a deep chortle.  It had been months since she had spontaneously laughed, and the experience left her flustered and fumbling as she twisted her arms into her black leather coat and matching gloves, a running commentary playing out in her mind. 

What the hell, girl?  It’s okay to laugh.  But there’s nothing funny.  Oh relax, silly!  I am relaxed.  Oh yeah, that’s clearly evident!  Shut the fuck up!  She ground her teeth together, slammed the front door behind her and wrestled the deadbolt into place, lucky to not bend the key in the process.  It was definitely time to get back to work. 

“To hell with you!” she whispered into the gusting wind that whipped her face.  The autumnal leaves, whose grips had already failed and that now skipped and waltzed with the wind, mocked her approach to the bus stop.  Yes, her research would be her escape once again.  As she stood motionless, though, her thoughts drifted toward the young man from the library, whose presence weighed on her mind, but whose face, she realized, she could not even picture.  And to hell with you, too!


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