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.