In the End
First Male Voice
November 1, 2016
In the End
First Male Voice
He tries to convince her that her new love will harm her.
You want to leave me now
And go away with him
You want to leave me now
Out in the cold, cold street
I love you baby girl
More than he ever will
Longer than he knows how
I love you from now on
I've tried to warm you then
About this killer man
I tried to tell you all
All that I've heard of him
He's going to hurt you
In the end
He's going to hurt you
In the end
I've seen him hurt women
The ones who try to love him
He's not so damn charming
Once you get in his car
Why can't you see the truth?
He's not the guy for you now
You have to let me talk
I know what's going on here
I'm going to find him
I'm going to get him
I'm going to fix him
In the end
I'm going to find you
I'm going to find you
I'm going to find you
In the end
I'm going to have you
I'm going to have you
I'm going to have you
In the end
For a few days, maybe a week or so, I’ve been feeling a bit better, despite everything in the news. I’m not sure why or how long it will last, but I’ve been sleeping better. I just wanted you to know, to understand, I’m not in crisis all the time. You might think that, after the last time we met, several weeks, I think, whenever it was. But I’m not. Not in crisis. Not all the time. I didn’t mean to cancel several of our coffee meetings, but I’ve been busy. Maybe more preoccupied than busy. But I’ve been okay.
The sadness, the depression, has not been so bad. It comes and goes in waves. At first, in the first year or so, I would get angry as hell when all that grief circled around again. It seems like it will never end, which it won’t, of course, but you want it to. You want to feel normal again, as if that could be measured or gaged in some sort of meaningful way. In my calmer moments, when I am not so self-absorbed, I am grateful that all that sadness didn’t hit me at once. I wouldn’t have survived. Now, I try to be grateful. Grateful I have some good periods. Grateful even, in some ways, that I am sad, that she is still present in my life. I know that sounds odd to say, “I am glad I am still miserable because it means I still care.” But it’s good I still miss her. It’s good I still feel a connection to her and others—all the ones I’ve lost. And, in case I haven’t said it, in case I have seemed unappreciative, maybe even seemed like I was pushing you away, and others away, thank you for checking in on me. Thanks for calling me when I couldn’t make our appointments.
Charles has been good about that, too, although any encounter with Charles seems complicated. He has such a range of behaviors, even in the span of an hour. Sometimes, he is such a good friend, such a good mentor to students, so perceptive. Sometimes, he can be depressed, full of self-pity, or panicky. Then, other times, he seems so childish, angry at the world. I don’t know if this is just the nature of our friendship or how he is in some sort of objective way—how he is, even with others. I wonder if I do something to trigger his mood changes, or if he is picking up on my mental state, feeding off of it, compensating for it. In intense friendships, any kind of relationship, like a marriage, it’s hard to know how much of it is just the dynamics of how the people relate to each other. I guess, this will sound a little odd, I know—I guess I am saying that I don’t know Charles as a thing-in-itself, apart from my perceptions of him.
He came into my office today, shortly before I left to meet you. And thanks for meeting me a little later. It’s good to join you for lunch for a change. So, anyway, Charles came in, clearly not to check on me, although he often does that. This visit was more so he could clarify some of my failings as a department chair and human being. I had just seen him a few days earlier. He came in all worked up about Comey reopening the Clinton investigation, the new emails, or the possible new emails on Weiner’s laptop. He was all worked up about how many policies, traditions, whatever, this violates. For almost an hour, he was ranting about the Hatch Act, how Comey should go to jail for trying to influence the election. He is convinced Trump is going to win. I told him maybe the popular vote, not the Electoral College, it would be fine. Then, he went off on some sixty days before the election rule, how can we elect a guy who treats women like this, talks about grabbing pussy, and they gave the Nobel Prize to Bob Dylan. Not sure how Dylan got in there. It was pure Charles. I wish I had thought to record it so you could have experienced it.
Today, it was like an election wasn’t even going on. My door was open. He burst in, without a knock, without a word, without a nod, like we were already engaged in a conversation. . . . I know. It seems like I have started to be annoyed by any encounter with people. It’s true, in many ways. I don’t want people to come into my office. Even when I am doing well, or better than usual, I don’t always have much energy to deal with people.
And, as I said, you never know what you will get with Charles. I gotten so I read his mood by how fast he moves. As portly as he is, he typically saunters, seemingly without direction. When he is stressed out, he waves his hands, making big gestures in the air. When he is angry, he walks fast—for him, at least—rocking, a little off balance, hands in his pockets like he is trying not to hit you. Me, actually. It is usually me that he wants to hit.
Today, he was moving pretty fast, hands in his pockets. Clearly agitated. As he came through my office door, he almost fell. He had to shuffle to the side a little, put his hand on the wall to regain his balance, then spread his feet and rock a little, then remove his hand from the wall, like almost falling over was normal, then use that hand to grab the seat of his pants, pull material from his butt crack (you might have heard Lisa talk about him doing this, it seems like his way of collecting his thoughts before he speaks), then slide that hand back into his pocket. I was watching all this out of the corner of my eye. Not making eye contact. Not encouraging him. I wasn’t up for another rant.
You won’t, I’m sure, be surprised by any of this. You’ve been in several of his classes. I think you were in his Shakespeare class that same semester you were taking my World Lit survey. So you know how he dresses sometimes. Today, he was wearing his Che Guevara t-shirt, which was, for some reason, inside out. Maybe he dressed in the dark. Maybe the outside had food stains. Maybe he did the old hippie thing of just turning the t-shirt inside out instead of washing it and rubbing some deodorant on his armpits instead of taking a shower. He is such an odd combination of conservative and radical traits, propriety and lack of hygiene.
I glanced up at him, said “Charles” (the most neutral salutation I could muster), then dropped my head back into the pile of papers I was grading. I didn’t want to validate whatever had him worked up. He rocked a little more, staring at me. Uttered a few dramatic sighs. Waited for my response, like he thought I would care, like I would say, “Hey Charles, tell me what’s on your mind.” Then he began to thump the wall of my office with the palm of his hand. I knew he was ready to blow, but I didn’t want to give him an opening. Maybe this was a little cruel on my part. It seemed like minutes. Then, I broke. I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Pissing off the Fundamentalists again?” This, my half measure at attempting to shift his focus. This, after moments of awkward silence.
That comment out of left field threw him off stride a bit. He stopped thumping the wall.
“Yea. Well . . . yea,” he said.
I don’t know how much you follow him on social media? . . . Well, if you did, even just a little, you would know Charles has been provoking the Pro-Life people, mostly men, of course, the ones who stand on the curb near the Women’s Health Clinic, carrying signs, peppered with Bible passages, hand-drawn with colored Sharpies, often with misspellings or grammar errors, screaming at passing drivers about the “dead babies,” shaming the women as they enter the clinic, screaming “murderer” at nurses or doctors or anyone who seems to work at the clinic. . . . Yes, Charles is a devote Catholic, so how does this fit? It just does. Anyway, Charles has his own sign, which he had printed at Kinko’s on foam board. A nice sign. I can show you on a napkin. It looks like this:
Imagine that nicely printed on foam board on a stick. For hours at a time, scattered over weeks, as long as the protesters persist, in between classes and office hours, sandwiched in the middle of meetings, Charles stands next to them on the curb, a few feet from the Pro-Lifers, with the arrow pointing in their direction. Sometimes, a couple of young women, arms covered with tattoos, dressed in cheerleader outfits, stand behind him, doing fairly obscene cheers. Can’t remember them all. One is, “Two, four, six, eight, Fundies like to masturbate.” I don’t think they coordinator their appearances with Charles. They live in the area. Whenever they see him holding his sign, they dress up and come out to support the cause.
He also, not surprisingly, has detractors. Rednecks drive by in pickups with those transparent confederate flags covering the entire back window. You can barely see their gun racks. They drive by and hurl half-empty beer cans—or half-full, depending on your point of view. Once, remarkably only once, a massively drunk guy hit his mark, leaving Charles with a bleeding forehead. I think this must have been a half-full can. One of the Pro-Choice cheerleaders, a nurse, patched him up with a bandage, blood-soaked within minutes. He’s on blood thinners. The bandage, soaked in blood, wrapped completely around his head. A photo of that went viral. Students made it into mimes with captions like “The New American Patriot.”
They’ve become—Charles and the cheerleaders—minor celebrities for their counter-protests. Students love to load pictures or videos of Charles and his sign, the angry Pro-Lifers to the side, onto the latest smart phone app. Facebook. Pinterest. Snapchap. Whatever. That’s how I knew he had been at it recently. I am on Facebook to keep up with my sons and some of their friends, ones I have become close with over the years, ones who have lived at my house for a while. So, every once in a while, something about Charles pops up. Charles—ironically, he’s such a luddite, he’s not even on Facebook, may not even know what it is—had once again reemerged in social media. A hero of sorts.
I didn’t really expect my reference to the Fundamentalists to distract or calm Charles long, but it was worth a try. It didn’t work. At all. He began shuffling his feet, hitting the wall with his palm, agitated, distressed, working up his anger, moving faster and faster, even more pissed off because I wouldn’t stop grading papers.
I thought he was still upset about the election, but you never know with him. He’s one of those faculty who reads half of an email from the provost and starts to generate backstories, never just one, but one after another. The assumption is always that the provost (or some other administrator, he paints them all with a broad brush) does not mean what he wrote, he is withholding the real context of the email, he is trying to fool the faculty, treating them like children. So, Charles tries to figure out what's between the lines—of course, without even reading all the lines. He throws out possibilities, a series of stories that could not possibly exist in the same dimension of reality, and he is convinced that each story is true in the telling, and he keeps retelling them, making them truer and truer, adding details, moving through permutations, until others are convinced as well.
All this from a few lines of an email. I know that Charles rarely reads the entire email before generating his theories because half his stories could be discounted with information in the last few paragraphs. He could come to me (or the provost, or the president) and ask what’s going on, why is some administrator creating a new policy for reimbursing travel expenses, or asking faculty to sign a document saying they had read the university’s ethics policy. He could just ask. Or read the whole email. Of course, he probably wouldn’t believe the answer—that the email is about exactly what it said and nothing else, that the provost (or whoever) doesn’t have time to create an elaborate conspiracy. The provost is usually trying to dig out from under a mountain of minutia, trying to move some decision a little closer to implementation. The provost and the president are as consumed by the social kudzu—the ever growing bureaucracy, a life force that feeds on itself—as any of us. Charles assumes they, the administration, have power, that they can act and control the direction of the university rather than react and patch. Jeez, we’re all flotsam. The current is strong.
So, I thought Charles might go off on the election or start spinning theories about what the provost really meant when he said “good morning” last week. He usually starts on a story before he even sits down. This time, he sat down, looked at the floor for a few minutes, foot thumping the whole time, then started to speak, then stopped, moved his lips a little without sound, then finally spoke.
“Bess and that other girl came to see you?”
I was a little shocked by this. I didn’t even know that he knew Bess. I had never seen her in his office or having coffee with him. I had never heard him speak about her, which is odd, because, as I think I told you before, Bess knows people on campus, a lot people, and is known by even more. I was pretty sure he didn’t know “that other girl.” And the question, a statement really, already with a judgment behind it. Charles spent much of his career reading early American sermons, odd for someone who teaches British Lit, so I wasn’t surprised by the implied message, that I had somehow screwed up, that I should feel guilt and shame, that I needed to hide from an angry God. He is the most Calvinistic Catholic I know. But I guess I was also confused. I couldn’t imagine what I had done when I met with Bess and “that other girl” that might imperil my prospects for eternal salvation.
“Yes, weeks ago, maybe more than a month ago,” I said.
“What are you going to do about it?”
“There’s not much I can do about it. I’m not his supervisor. That’s another department.”
“Thou has committed fornication.”
He mumbled this. Like I wouldn’t hear it. I couldn’t believe it. He threw a Marlowe quote at me. If you don’t know the quote, it’s the Jew from the Jew of Malta. He is accused of committing fornication. He answers, “Ah yes, but that was another country, and besides the wench is dead.” Charles was saying that I had avoided responsibility for something about Barnes’ class, what he was doing to Bess’s friend. I tried to not react. What a bizarre comment.
“So, you’re just going to let this slide? Not get involved?”
This question/comment/judgment was more direct, at least.
Even though it would make no dent in his mood, I told him what I told Bess and her friend. I tried to explain that there’s a process. I went through the entire policy, which he knows, but I went through it, in detail. I even printed it out for him. I told him that I explained the policy to them, gave them options.
“He’s leering at her,” Charles said. “Making suggestions. Suggestions that sound like threats. There are other things going on there. In the whole department. They came to you for help. You’re not going to do anything?”
I was confused. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get through. I couldn’t tell where he was going. Leering? Suggestions? It seemed like his talk with Bess and “that other girl”—Lia was her name—was entirely different than mine.
“What did they tell you?” I finally asked.
“What do you mean? What they told you,” he said.
“I’m not so sure. Specifically, what did they tell you?”
He looked confused for a minute. Then, he said, “Bess told me that he is sexually harassing Lia. Other faculty there, too. Harassing other women, I mean. He spends half his lecture staring at Lia. When she goes to his office for extra help, he compliments her on her clothes. He makes insinuations. Then, he throws out insults. It’s like he is trying to tear her down.”
“What kind of insinuations?”
“Bess didn’t say.”
“What did Lia say?”
“Nothing. . . . I assume she was too embarrassed. It’s probably a cultural thing. She looked at the floor . . . in embarrassment. It’s probably a cultural thing.”
I wasn’t surprised that Charles was taking on the role of advocate, defender, for this student. I wasn’t surprised that he came to me and wanted me to initiate a complaint—at least, that is where I assumed he was going. I was surprised that Bess—and Lia—didn’t mention anything about this to me. Maybe I just didn't hear it, remember it. I don't think so. I began to wonder if that part of the story developed later, after they had talked with me, after I told them that there wasn’t much that could be done until the end of the semester, until a final grade was issued, unless there was something like racism or sexual harassment. I started to beat up on myself again for even mentioning racism and sexual harassment. I was starting to wonder if I had made things worse. Of course, it could be from stuff in the election. All the Trump issues with women. Maybe that shaped how Bess talked between seeing me and seeing Charles. Maybe it was Charles who was adding the new spin.
I was also surprised that Charles didn’t get more of the story. He seemed a little lost, adrift. Maybe, he felt uncomfortable with the sexual aspects of it all.
“They—Bess—didn’t say anything to me about sexual harassment. She only said there was some grade issue, which seemed far too amorphous to have any merit. And ‘that other girl,’ as you call her, Lia, needs to say something. If she wants this to go anywhere, she has to say something. And you need to report this to the Affirmative Action officer. Linda Newton.”
“Me?” He seemed shocked.
“Because they told you. You’re obligated to report this. But you need to just report it. Don’t say anything else. Report it to HR and then let it go. They will handle it.”
We talked for a bit longer, but it all went in circles. I am sure that Charles found the meeting rather unsatisfying. He liked things to be handled, usually through an intermediary. Usually, that means me. Maybe, that’s not fair. Maybe, that’s me whining again. When I’m feeling bad about my job, I feel like I’m everybody’s bitch. They want me to change light bulbs and fix the toilets. That’s not fair. That’s just how I feel sometimes. Usually, when I am worn down. I don’t know. I am kind of doing okay this week, so I don’t know why I went off in that direction.
I hope you know that I really do respect Charles. I know you like him. I do, too. He cares very deeply about students. I’m sure you’ve heard this. He’s quick to come to their defense. To a fault, sometimes. I am sure he believes everything the students are saying. He doesn’t seem to ever pull back and ask what the real story might be, figure out how the students might be distorting or misunderstanding what happened. Even this late in his career, he doesn’t have a good understanding of how things work at the university and how things get done because he’s never served on many university-wide committees or the Faculty Senate. He’s never done any kind of administrative work that would show him things from the inside out. He doesn’t even read the Chronicle of Higher Ed or Inside Higher Ed. It’s hard for him to think beyond the walls of his classroom, his office.
I have to doubt Charles is accurately presenting events as they happened, what he heard. When you talk to Charles, it’s so hard to know what’s real and what comes out of his unique ways of spinning things. He can start to ruminate on social issues or health threats and spiral out of control. Like HIV, even though he’s not in a relationship and some people, not his friends, just people who know him, who have never really gotten to know him well, people who wouldn’t have any way of knowing anything about his history or his personal life, some of them say he is a virgin. I don’t believe this. He’s been in relationships, a few, spread out over years. I’ve heard other people tell stories about him being in wild love affairs with women from other cities, ones he meets on eHarmony. This is hard to believe also. You hear things, odd stories, ones that don’t fit his character—at least, as I know him—like a story about him going to a single parent support group to pick up women. I can’t imagine that. For some reason, he’s the kind of person that people like to talk about.
What I was trying to get at, what I was trying to say, is that he worries about getting HIV. And you can ask him, “How? How would you get it?” He’ll ignore the question and keep going on about what it’s like to have AIDS. Ebola, too. Even though he has never been to Africa and will never, ever go to Africa. Or some exotic bacteria in China that is carried in the blood of fleas, which is, I guess, a more likely threat because he does have some dogs that might have fleas, but how the fleas would get form China to his dogs to bite his arm and inflect him, I can’t imagine. Or politics. He’s convinced that there is at least one terrorist sleeper cell in the dorms on campus. Or wild animals. He lectures about Romantic poets, but he thinks nature is evil. A student once told me that he used the phrase “fornicating nature” in the middle of a Wordsworth lecture like he was muttering “the horror, the horror.” He would never even consider going for a hike—a walk—in a park, much less in real nature.
A few years ago, I was getting ready for a long car trip out west. I was going to camp in some national parks and backpack into a few wilderness areas. He was convinced I would not survive it. For weeks, he searched the Internet and printed out stories about mountain lion attacks, bear attacks, spider bites, snakes in sleeping bags, diseases transmitted through mosquito bites, on and on. He bought me books, like Death in Yellowstone. At a certain level, it was very sweet. He was worried about me. And, if you turned it around, made him look at it, he could see the absurdity of it. He could laugh about it. But he kept doing it, kept sending print outs from websites, books, asking me if I had bought bear spray, a snake bite kit.
Like most academics, he usually assumes there are conspiracies all over campus. He assumes all administrators are lying, that their stated motives are smokescreens. Couple this with his tendency to believe anything students say, and you have the potential for trouble, for some little thing to get out of hand. I’ve seen it before at other universities. People’s careers can be harmed. Students can be harmed. Sometimes, entire departments are damaged beyond repair. I just don’t want this—whatever this is with Bess and Lia and Barnes—to become a story.
I am glad he is an advocate for students. I am. We need more of that, but he tends to take student complaints, which, even if embedded with a kernel of truth, are exaggerated or out of context, and build some conspiracy theory around them. When I talked to Bess and Lia, I didn’t sense it was about anything but a grade issue, and probably one that would never go anywhere. Charles is saying it has something to do with sexual harassment and maybe bigger problems. I’m skeptical that all of this comes from the students. I don’t think I can go forward without the students—student, Lia, Lia herself—saying something to me directly, but I am afraid this is all going to blow up into a nasty mess.
Maybe I’m over reacting. Maybe I’m doing exactly what I accuse Charles of doing. Spinning things. Going apocalyptic. It’ll probably be fine. Blow over. I need to calm down and let this play out. Step by step.
Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. I had this strange experience the other day. I thought I saw that guy from the party on campus. He was ahead of me, walking in the same direction. When he turned his head to speak to someone, I caught a glimpse of his profile. It seemed like him, even the same clothes, familiar, so I walked fast and caught up with him, tapped him on the shoulder. He turned, and I said hello, remember me, we spoke at a party a while back, maybe a month ago or so. I introduced myself in case he had forgotten my name, and he said he was Robert Simpson from Political Science. He claimed that he didn’t remember meeting me before. I may be going crazy, but I am pretty sure this was the guy. He seemed so familiar. I think he might also have been that other guy walking with Barnes and The Third, the guy I couldn’t identify. I felt I knew him. It seemed like I was talking to someone I have know my entire life. He kept saying he didn’t know me. Maybe, he didn’t want to embarrass me by admitting it, or maybe he didn’t want anything to do with me and thought this was the best way to make me go away. It ended pleasant enough with a “nice to meet you” from both sides and an apology from me for mistaking him for someone else, though I am not sure about that. I still think he was the guy. Who knows? It could have been a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern thing. I might have confused him with someone else who is also a minor player, popping up in a scene here and there.
It’s just . . . he seemed so familiar.