Tiff Holland

You Are A Gargoyle

You have a blind girl in your class. You don’t want to think of her as “the blind girl” or “a blind girl”, but some­times you men­tion her, to your hus­band or oth­er fac­ul­ty mem­bers, and peo­ple don’t remem­ber names, not of peo­ple they haven’t met. Some peo­ple don’t both­er learn­ing names at all, and with the pic­tures you print­ed up from the col­lege web­site and taped into the grade book, you don’t have to either, but you do. You make it a point in a way you didn’t before. You think of each of them, their faces and voic­es and demeanors, things they have writ­ten on the stu­dent infor­ma­tion sheet. You place them in their seats in your mind when you can’t sleep, and you repeat to your­self the things you can remem­ber. You do this all semes­ter. You call on every­one by name. You greet them in the hall­ways, and when the semes­ter is over you for­get.

The blind girl is named Kathryn. It is a nice name that you know and think of when you think of her, that you call her by when you speak to her in class or see her in the hall­way, sit­ting out­side the door with her see­ing eye dog, wait­ing for her aide. You mis­spell her name when you speak it, although it sounds the same. When you see her, her name, like all names you think of, flash­es upon the black screen of your mind. In your mind, it is spelled cor­rect­ly. It is all you can do not to cor­rect the mis­spelling to her out loud, to let her know you know the cor­rect spelling in your brain if not with your tongue even though it sounds the same either way.

You hate your­self every time you call her the blind girl or on the occa­sions you think
“the blind girl” instead of her name, what­ev­er the rea­son. Every semes­ter you read Carver’s “Cathedral”. You pick your text based, in part, upon the inclu­sion of the sto­ry. You dis­like the nar­ra­tor of the sto­ry, as you are meant to. Sometimes, you even hate “Bub”, but you are try­ing to stop hav­ing feel­ings about lit­er­ary char­ac­ters.

This semes­ter, the sto­ry keeps get­ting pushed back. The syl­labus is bro­ken. There were delays. This semes­ter you don’t have a girl who sits right in front, on the oth­er side of the lectern, with the pac­ing slipped into the clear plas­tic cov­er of her binder, a girl who col­or-codes every­thing, who reminds you, in the way of dou­ble-check­ing, because she is a dou­ble-check­er and a col­or-coder, a high-lighter and par­tic­i­pa­tor (for which she gets extra points accord­ing to the syl­labus), when things are due and what is to be read. You would show up on hol­i­days if she didn’t remind you of their exis­tence, because they have stopped exist­ing for you. You have no idea what day or week or month it is. You stopped aging at forty-two, not out of van­i­ty, but because you for­got to get old­er. You are glad to have the class to help you keep track of fall and spring, glad of the one hun­dred degree days that you rec­og­nize as sum­mer.

You’ve con­sid­ered not teach­ing the sto­ry this semes­ter. Will it seem odd? Will Kathryn be insult­ed? Upset? Will the class go qui­et? All of this inter­ests you. You are still inter­est­ed by this sort of thing and imag­ine that is how you keep get­ting out of bed on any giv­en day, which could be any oth­er giv­en day. The lack of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion seems to weak­en the impulse to expe­ri­ence the days, but then, once you wake up, you start won­der­ing about things. You get out of bed because if you stay there you won’t learn any­thing.

The sto­ry is up for dis­cus­sion on Tuesday, next Tuesday. A girl, who is not a girl who sits in the front row with a syl­labus in the plas­tic sleeve of her binder, asked what do we read for Tuesday? And you had been going over it in your mind all day. Today you had a list because you had to give them per­mis­sion slips for the final exam and grade rewrites and keep them away from your desk while they worked on their last paper because it is so easy to get pulled in to doing the work for them, espe­cial­ly for this, the most dif­fi­cult paper, but it is the one they have to learn to write to fin­ish the class. The one they will write over and over until they have enough cred­its to grad­u­ate.

You have con­sid­ered ask­ing Kathryn. She has an appoint­ment for office hours, which you hold on Tuesday because Thursday would be too long with office hours and teach­ing, and that’s some­thing else you like about teach­ing, the way Tuesday and Thursday imme­di­ate­ly become dis­tinct when you type “office hours Tuesday” on the syl­labus. Then you only have to wor­ry about Friday through Monday. Wednesday is the day between the teach­ing days. Three days have names and delin­eation. The oth­ers are col­ors and lights and sounds and qui­et. In your mind, they look like old Polaroids did when you pulled your fin­ger across one while it was still wet.

Kathryn will be in the lob­by with her dog, Violet. You are jeal­ous of the dog. You are dis­abled, but not dog-dis­abled. You have a blue plac­ard that gets you a pri­mo park­ing space in front of the build­ing, a medal­lion you have to wear around your neck, a stam­mer your stu­dents are usu­al­ly kind enough to over­look, although, some­times, they can’t help but laugh at your apha­sia, which you nev­er remem­ber but laugh at as well when what you said is repeat­ed to you. Kathryn will be fine with the sto­ry. She will love it, and you are glad you haven’t for­got­ten it entire­ly. You teach it for a rea­son, not just because you remem­ber it in the near­ly eidet­ic way you remem­bered things before the stroke, but because if you’re watch­ing, look­ing at the stu­dents as they stum­ble along, won­der­ing why they should care about some big­ot and his sad wife and The Blind Man, you will see an epiphany. Some of the stu­dents will have one, right there in front of you dur­ing the dis­cus­sion while you are mov­ing your hand over the desk as if it were the thick paper the two men in the sto­ry use to draw a Cathedral, start­ing with just a box, like a room in a house, that expands to a big­ger box, like an entire house, and so on, and you’ll remind them the blind man has nev­er seen any­thing at all, that he’s been blind since birth. You’ll remind them that it’s The Blind Man who leans back and Bub who keeps draw­ing, adding fly­ing but­tress­es (you’ll have to explain those to them, although, hope­ful­ly, they’ll rec­og­nize the unim­por­tance of the what and focus on the why) and keep­ing his eyes closed. Some of them will close their eyes and some of them will open their eyes wider, and, since you stand in front, behind the lectern, you’ll see them, the ones that get it, and for you, it won’t just be Tuesday, and how­ev­er dis­abled you might be, how­ev­er often you might fall down, how­ev­er loud the sound that lives in your left ear and regard­less of its fre­quen­cy, you will still have this, not giv­ing the stu­dents an epiphany, although you’ll help, some more than oth­ers, but expe­ri­enc­ing it your­self again, the word “inef­fa­ble” sur­fac­ing through the apha­sia, and, despite the vision you’ve lost (enough that peo­ple ask, “should you be dri­ving” but not enough that you shouldn’t) you’ll see it clear­ly, the strug­gle if not the arrival, because not every­one gets it, no mat­ter how excit­ed you get, regard­less of your depic­tions of gar­goyles on the white-board, but you do. You can still have an epiphany. In that way, you are not dis­abled, and that is some­thing.

~

Tiff Holland’s fic­tion, non-fic­tion and poet­ry has appeared in dozens of lit­er­ary jour­nals and antholo­gies. Her chap­book Betty Superman is avail­able through Amazon. Despite her bat­tle with Meniere’s Disease and after four strokes, Tiff con­tin­ues to write and teach.