A recent issue of the New Yorker featured a fictional story of a man in his thirties taking an Intermediate German class. The man’s mother assumed the other students would all be middle-aged women, ones with time to spare and boredom to kill. As it turned out, the man’s class enrolled a variety of people: a short Asian woman, a young Latino man, a Caucasian woman covered in tattoos, and another man, rough and rugged in his appearance.
This tale harkened me back to my one class in college where my age demographic was actually the minority.
The class, an English 102 night class, met every Thursday night during the second semester of my sophomore year. No more than 12 people were in it, men and women of various backgrounds, most of them with a history much longer and deeper than I had at 19 years of age. Mr. Davis, an adjunct professor from a local community college, stood at the front of the room each week, lecturing on pieces we read and story forms and just what makes a good story a good story? His gray hair was punctuated more by his very teacher-like glasses he would peer at us from when we answered a question with a poorly thought answer.
That was a decade and a half ago, and there’s not much I can recall from that class. But two moments have stayed etched in my mind all these years.
First, I was exposed to the most wonderful short story I’ve ever read. John Updike’s “A&P” is a story of juvenile vigilantism, petty justice, and what it looks like when a teenage boy takes things a bit too far, the exuberance in the blood of a young man expressing itself foolishly and romantically.
Secondly, I read poetry. Not only did I consider this English class with an adjunct professor my first true educational venture into poetry appreciation, it was the first time I was given the opportunity to read aloud a poem I had written.
Mr. Davis told us to pick a poem and read it aloud. He was excited to know I’d be reading my own original work. I chose to read this one, entitled “You Said You Would Miss Me”:
I never missed you.
Not like I missed the rain, anyway.
Not like I missed the crash of lightning
or the crash of cars.
If I did miss you it was
in times the world was peaceful.
When the days went by so serenely
without fear of death
or fear of flying.
But I never missed your kisses
because you never kissed me.
I never missed your touch
because you never touched me.
I never missed your love
because you never loved me.
I guess maybe now I miss you because
when I left, you said you would miss me.
You’re so beautiful when you lie. (written 4/25/2000)
That poem is…not great. I suppose it’s passable for an 18-year-old in a lower level English class feeling his way through the world of grand expectations. Nonetheless, the poem got a round of applause and some kind words from Mr. Davis.
No one else in the class that night walked away remembering my poem. Not the overweight man from up north with the gruff voice, nor the single mom working toward a B.A. at age 36, and not the English major in my class who was also a sophomore at the time.
But for the first time I could remember, someone liked something I wrote. Someone told me my words were good. My art was appreciated.
Now nearly 20 years later, I’m killing pen and paper and keyboards to find that feeling again.