I GATHERED MY BOOKS, pens, student essays, water bottle, coat, and purse as the students sauntered out five minutes early, leaving behind muddy sneaker prints and lackluster enthusiasm. It happens to the best of us at one time or another: we have a bad class, we bomb, we put our students to sleep. Today one of them actually snored.
With a briefcase and a tote bag slung over one shoulder apiece, I exited the musty room as the next class of students—poli-sci, I think—began filing in. My day was done; at least the teaching part was. Three stacks of essays awaited my zealous reading and feedback. “Zealous” was an overstatement; at best, I could get about five essays done per hour, three hours max. And I needed breaks in between. If only our brains had scanning machines. If only mind melds really worked. It’s my dirty little secret that I’d rather be looking at The Simpsons than Shakespeare. I know I’m inches from being found out, about everything…
I’d moved back to Long Island because Maggie, my best friend and former colleague from South Coast Community College in Massachusetts, was now director of the writing program at Brooklyn University and offered me a position assisting her and teaching full-time. Maggie and I had collaborated on a number of projects and articles at SCCC (my favorite being the one we never submitted for publication but wrote to blow off steam: “Fuck the Modes: We Want Artifacts!”). We’d spend hours in her office, discussing composition theory and pedagogy and Wendy Bishop articles and what it was really like to work with Lad Tobin (“the Woody Allen of rhetoric and composition,” I call him). She always knew when I was approaching her office by the rhythm and sound my shoes made on the carpet. We were allies, colleagues, and friends all at the same time. I couldn’t resist the chance to work with her again.
So, that was the reason. (Oh yeah, and I also broke up with my fiancé…)
I’d been back on the Island for only six months, and frankly, I was surprised at how long it was taking me to adjust. I’d been away for ten years, living in a small town in southeastern Massachusetts (small by Long Island’s standards, at least). Fairhaven echoed faint similarities to the Northport of my youth and young adulthood: split-level housing developments on cul-de-sacs, nearby shopping centers and malls minutes from the parkway (although in Massachusetts they call it the “highway”), and a reasonable driving distance to and from both the city and the ocean. The familiarity felt comfortable.
I used to think the Island was life affirming. Perhaps because it was home. Or maybe it was the “Mini-Me” faking it of Manhattan. Whatever it was, I had spent the last ten years writing about and romancing Long Island from my Massachusetts digs. I wrote about the roads, the beaches, the shopping, the people, the accents, the sports teams, the Hamptons, you name it. But now that I was back and paying a thousand dollars more in rent for a thousand less square feet of space, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was so energizing about this strap-on to the Big Apple and its wannabe inhabitants. Nevertheless, I took the job at Brooklyn U and a residential apartment in East Meadow, about fifteen minutes away from the Long Island Railroad, and the cost of commuting was killing me each month. Some days I would drive all the way to Brooklyn; other days I’d drive to the train station, take the train to Queens, and switch to the subway. I’d forgotten how everything on Long Island was high-maintenance. When you put a high-maintenance woman in a low-maintenance town, the woman just stands out as having it all together. Put that same woman back into the town that made her high-maintenance to begin with, and you’ve simply got another stressed-out New Yorker, no different from anyone else. Now I found myself missing—and writing about— the small shores of West Island Beach, the slow service of Pop’s Coffeehouse, and the shrill sounds of New England accents.
But that was all I had, it seemed. Memories.
It’s not that I didn’t look for anything else. I kept an eye out for single professors when I attended seminars or campus workshops on writing across the curriculum, or evenings spent at poetry readings in coffee shops. No matter where I went, though, unavailability was everywhere. Men were married, involved, divorced with children, too old, too young, or gay. They were Republican, unemployed, or mama’s boys. They were atheists and Giants fans. And I couldn’t help but wonder if I was projecting an unavailability of my own. Because none of them were Andrew.
Nothing to watch tonight, nowhere to go, nothing in the fridge, nothing in my wallet. Essays to read, laundry to do, bills to pay, rooms to clean, and the dust was forming its own kind of woven fabric on the furniture. No calls, e-mails, letters.
My God, there has to be something better than this. This is not enough. Not anymore.
I thought that as I walked through the hallways, down the icy sidewalks, and to the train. And that’s when it all began.