By Chase Duffy
Over the past two months, the process regarding my now impending suspension completely overtook my thoughts, actions, and lifestyle. Throughout countless meetings and hearings and many sleepless nights I tried to keep a level and adapt as the decisions came down. I was able to do this largely through cathartic composition of stories and poems that helped me to rationalize and reason through the situation. In the following two pieces, I attempt to describe this process in a writing style that mimics F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jean Toomer. Each piece is radically different in form and content, though the styles mimic each other. Additionally, I have chosen to include a poem from another section on the site in the Jean Toomer imitation piece as I feel it is the best presentation of the story and representation of the artist I sought to emulate.
A Considerable Catastrophe (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Perched atop an exceptionally comfortable rolling chair while my knowledgeable professor spouted literary fact, I remember flipping open the hard shell top of my laptop and launching my mail app. Right there, gracing a pile of junk mail, newsletters, and other unimportant trifles was a sinister message that would soon transform my entire life. All of the effort put in to get to this prestigious institution, all of the nights of sleep foregone in the name of academic achievement hinged on that email at the top of my inbox. “NOTICE OF HEARING” the subject line screamed, daring me to open it. The text of the email was succinct, wasting no superfluous words.
You have been summoned for a hearing in three business days. Please report to the Office of Student Conduct panel this Thursday at 1:30. Your Notice of Hearing is attached.
In Truth and Service, [redacted]
I sat in that classroom, nailed to my seat as my racing heart beat out of my boney chest. I clicked back and forth between the attached notice and the email from the administrator. I had known this was coming for some time now. Over the past two months I had been through a grueling gamut of myriad meetings and appearances before councils. Quite the treatment for a student recently named to the Dean’s List, but I digress.
I remember the first meeting like it was yesterday. My heart was beating ten times faster than it was that fateful day of the email. I thought it was going to leap out of my chest as the first of the many administrators that I’d meet in this process walked in. Her rectangle glasses frames gave an initial impression of bookishness while her gorgeously embroidered skirt and jacket, heels, broad shoulders and gait caused authority to radiate from her body. As she rounded the desk and sat down, her eyes bored into my body, demanding answers and accountability for my actions. Her calm but stern demeanor and interrogation was very maternal, leaving me with a chastised yet reassured feeling as I slunk out of her office and up to my (now former) room. These feelings of admonishment proved lasting while the reassured feelings proved the opposite.
The email had paralyzed me. Dread coursed through my body like lactic acid coursing through a Marathon runner after a race. It seized my muscles, my heart and brain. I’d sit down to try and do homework, only to be unable to write a lick. The moratorium period ended up being a pointless seventy-two hours of furious avoidance. I did any and everything that was unproductive, foolishly choosing comfort food, dejected sleep, and useless leisure over the action that should have been taken. Foregoing classes, organization meetings and even a shift at work, I felt as if I was watching myself detonate my life.
Finally, Thursday came. I started awake at about noon, mortified at the thought that I might have missed my hearing. Scrutinizing the clock, I made out through the blurry veil of nearsightedness the numbers 12:03. Phew. I had missed my morning classes, but I still had plenty of time to make it to the hearing. Popping up off the stiff twin xl mattress I spent my nights upon, I made my way over to the bathroom, turned the water on and waited for it to heat up. I undressed in this time, then stood just outside the budget shower curtain with my hand snaked around and into the stream of water. I stood there and thought. The panel I was about to go before was a firing squad, and I was their chosen target that day. I had a couple of friends who had been summoned before the guns; few had survived without serious damage to their once prestigious academic standing or scholarship. Scalding water was cascading over my hand, something I quickly realized as I yanked it back and adjusted the heat down a little bit. I showered quickly, dried off and got dressed in slacks and my absolute best collared shirt, topped off by a sleek, business-like tie that signaled the seriousness of that day’s proceedings. I brushed my teeth and hair, grabbed my written statements of responsibility and dashed out the door, only fifteen minutes before from my appointed hearing time.
As I walked out into the world, the cold air slapped me across the face and constricted my body like a powerful boa from a far off jungle. I braced myself against the frigid early winter air and made the short walk to the Office of Student Conduct. Looking up at the seal on the glass as I entered the building, I felt like a criminal peasant visiting the royal palace. I had imagined some sort of bench with a panel elevated above myself for my judgement. I was sheepishly surprised when they put me in a regular conference room and informed me the panel would only be a minute. The three administrators entered after a brief wait, all with pens and pads of paper. One of them carried a voice recorder and all three carried a serious and ominous air. The recorder was set up, copies of my written statement of responsibility were passed out, and the hearing began. In an alternating format, we each took turns speaking. They explained the ramifications of my hearing there before the panel that day, then I was allowed to speak, an allowance akin to allowing a man to dig himself out of a hole. They followed this futile floundering of a statement with a firm and somewhat fiery response, rebuking my words. After a few of these back and forth exchanges, I looked up from the pit that I’d created out of the hole I started in and listened distantly to the words being spoken to me. “Based on the evidence, your testimony, the student code and a myriad of other reasons, we have decided to suspend you for the entirety of the 2019 school year.” I heard the bells tolling the hour outside, remember thinking they sounded like funeral bells that particular day, then did my best to save face and walk out of the room with the shreds of dignity left to me. The realization of all my worst fears felt bittersweet, a loss of one worry and an addition of a cornucopia of others. For the time being, I just wanted to sleep.
Pain (Jean Toomer)
I climb the gallows and place my head down
The coppery smell of blood and death assaults me.
It won’t be long before I leave this town
A departure of spirit, if not bodily.
The executioner steps forward, his hands on the lever
I plead “Have mercy, Doctor, on my humble life”
Mercy doesn’t live here though; this is the end of my endeavor
This man is a reaper, the guillotine his scythe.
All at once, the lever is pulled
The blade quickens towards my neck.
My future I once marketed to these merchants and sold
Now all I can do is sit and wait for their beck.
These pinings shall soon end though
With the swift slice of my throat.
The breaking of bones, sinews snapping to and fro
And a gush of blood as I choke.
My head will bounce and they will applaud
“Another bad egg removed, we’re closer to purity.”
If I had known they thought me so flawed
I would have never sold them my destiny.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. It’s all life anyway.
Though I really do wish I could stay.
It’s too late for all that for on this executioner block I lay
I’m all out of time now, here comes the blade.
In life, struggle is inevitable. Parents struggle each day to provide the best future they can to their children, people struggle each day to better themselves, their situation and stance in life. Sometimes struggle is chosen, other times it is completely chaotic. It is a bitter, yet rewarding part of life. To be fifteen hundred miles from home on scholarship at school, then lose that student standing, is an event that would try anyone. But, if you have the grit, the desire and the drive to fight, you don’t have to give in to life. I’ll stay in the city, won’t go home with my head hung low. I can go back when I’ve done what I came here to do. There is hope in every situation because there is hope in all human beings. These thoughts raced through my mind as my hands methodically packed up my belongings. The eviction notice has been given, suspension handed down; shock continued to reverberate throughout my body as my mind raced. Keep going, keep creating and learning. Go publish a piece of your writing, get a job to pay your new rent and tuition, buy a shed to live in. So many thoughts, following one right after the other. Life has always thrown curveballs and given raw deals. Are you going to feel sorry for yourself or put in the work necessary to make this right? That is the true question. Resurfacing momentarily from the haze, I realize I’m done packing. Loading the basket like a tetris screen, I wheeled it down to the uhaul. Rounding the corner, her lovely figure comes into view, a rush of love and affection floods my body and I remember the true reason I’m staying. Her dazzling brown eyes twinkling in the gorgeous face that has made me fall so deeply in love. The reason for my hope.