Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Fall was touching the ‘city on the hill’, interspersed between the mountain’s thick evergreen and redwood forests were yellow and red trees shedding their thin leaves. In the air was the ever-present smell of fireplaces alight and the crisp bite of the air required a thick cozy sweater and, just for pure tactile pleasure, a warm cup of hot coffee.
The sun was just beginning to fade as the doors of the lecture hall were closing for the 6pm class. It was an amphitheater-shaped building where two hundred students could comfortably fit. Pale gray metal chairs with dark gray cushioned seats and backs were arranged in a semi-circle that rose above the narrower main floor, which is where Professor Habiman stood at the wooden podium with his lecture notes. Isa chose a seat in the far back right corner, just four rows back from the wall in an aisle seat where she had a perfect view of the professor.
As the class began, his scrawny teaching assistants handed out the multiple-page syllabus which was stapled in the left hand corner. Isa flipped through the list of required reading and assignments as Professor Habiman outlined the material and course work for Drugs and Society as well as what they would be expected to learn.
Twenty minutes in, Mr. Habiman began the lecture with an overview about the roots of addiction; being a sociology class, he mentioned societal factors including poverty, class, gender, and education. It was then that Isa had something to say. Without thinking, wondering, or waiting, she raised her hand.
Professor Habiman called on her, though it was not the custom (unbeknownst to her) for lectures to be interrupted with questions or comments, which were either asked at specific times designated by the instructor or after the bulk of the lecture. As he raised his eyebrows and waited for her to speak, the full attention of every student in the amphitheater turned towards her. Projecting her voice so everyone could hear, she said:
“Also, I’ve found that Pisces tend to have addictive personalities.”
The class was silent. Mr. Habiman, a man in his mid-50s, with a slight paunch protruding from his button-up white shirt, a neatly trimmed 3-inch white beard and combed back gray hair, stood quiet for a second, seemingly stunned, as though he was still processing what he had heard. Then he found his words.
He looked around the class, gathering the confused attention like a good stand-up comedian, his eyes sparkled and drew the audience into the folds of his emerging joke. Through a faint smile tinged with anger, he replied:
“Astrology? That’s not science. In this class, within the discipline of sociology, we study science.”
He shook his head slightly, shaking off the pitiful comment like unwelcome rain. Isa heard chuckles reverberating around the room as though in stereo sound, echoing without end.
“As I was saying,” he continued, “there are various roots of addiction…”
She sat there, her cheeks burning with embarrassment and anger, her body suddenly more aware of the creaking folding metal seat cradling her form, her feet acutely aware of the cold cement floor. She shrunk slightly and stared straight ahead, hearing nothing but bass tones, seeing nothing but yellow light and muted colors on the periphery of vision. Her cheeks were beyond blush, she was red, sweating and covered in the odor of failure.
Isa sat there for five minutes, for what seemed like hours pushing back stinging tears. The laughter, the quick rebuttal to her theory, the anger in his voice, it swirled through her like a tempest of hurt, gathering speed and fury as she thought about it more, as she fed it with her rage.
As the tears were just about to break the surface walls, she gathered her purse and scarf from the empty chair beside her and quickly climbed the few remaining stairs to the back of the amphitheater. With the raw, aggressive force of her burning body she pushed into the long metal bar (which was the ‘knob’) and heard the quick blunt sound of metal hitting metal.
Beyond the door was a cement stairwell that led to the ground and the night air, now completely black and dotted with stars. She felt a sting as her hot cheeks met the cool air like a slap and she screamed ‘FUCK!’ as she quickly descended the twenty-five stairs. On the last few steps she heard the door close behind her and the yellowish light from inside the lecture hall disappeared.
* * *
The following Wednesday night, Isa went back. Without meaning to, but following a mechanical tendency, she sat in the same place, towards the back right, not too far away from the exit door, in the aisle seat with a clear view of the professor.
The class quieted as Mr. Habiman began:
“Before we get into the material, I wanted to ask, is the young woman here who made the comment about astrology on Monday?”
A girl with short dark hair sitting just one row in front of Isa turned towards her. Isa met her eyes quickly and then looked straight ahead, saying nothing while everyone in the room turned in the general direction of the back right corner and waited. When there was no raised hand they looked around the rest of the amphitheater blankly, searching for a recognizable face. Isa stared straight ahead in silence and was thankful the girl in front said nothing, playing along with Isa’s mute example.
“Well,” he continued, “if anyone knows or sees her, please give her my apology. I shouldn’t have said what I did.”