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A Constant State of Huh?
“You never took a boring Cambridge in pie school?” Dr. Galloway, my academic adviser, asked. His head inclined to the left, his fingertips pressed into the oversized metal desk that separated us in his small, muggy, windowless office.
I stared at him. Took a boring Cambridge in pie school. That’s what I’d just heard.
The cell phone that sat faceup on his desk illuminated as it vibrated.
Think, Edie, think.
He looked down at it, swiping the call away.
I should have been watching him and not focusing on the fake gold buttons on his navy blazer.
“I’m—I’m sorry, what?” I stuttered. It wasn’t happening; I wasn’t going to figure that one out on my own, and I didn’t know him well enough to guess. Between the hum of the halogen lights, the fan in his ancient desktop computer, and the faint sound of music in the distance, I was doomed.
His cell vibrated again. “I said: You never took a foreign language in high school?” He swiped the call before running his fingers across his keyboard to wake up his computer.
Foreign language. Not boring Cambridge. Pie school? God, Edie. Get it together.
“No, I didn’t have to,” I said.
He flipped through my paper-thin file that sat among about a million others. “What do you mean you didn’t have to?” He stopped momentarily on a nearly blank page before looking up at me for an answer.
This time I watched his mouth as he spoke. He shifted in his seat, his fingers instinctively traveling to his face to scratch his nose. Wipe his mouth. This was what happened when I watched people’s faces while they spoke. They got unnerved. They fidgeted. They tried to wipe away a nonexistent booger.
I looked down at my hands, knowing that this was it. “I was exempt.”
“As in, you didn’t have to take it?” he asked.
“Correct,” I breathed.
He squinted at my folder. “Then how did you get through French 101?”
“Pure luck, if I’m being honest,” I said, immediately regretting it. He was going to think I didn’t pay attention in class and that was why I was failing. He was going to think I was just like all the other millennials he advised, complaining about their classes being too hard. He was going to think I didn’t care enough to listen.
“I have a central auditory processing disorder…,” I said, trying to explain. I watched his squinty brown eyes search my burning face as he tried to process my words. I recognized that look. I was in a constant state of that look. “And I got through French 101 because I had to.”
That wasn’t entirely true. I wanted to get through French. I needed to. The thought of spending the next summer in Paris without having learned any French gave me undue anxiety.
“So, if you can’t hear the professor,” he said a little louder, “I’d suggest you try sitting in the front of the room.” His thin lips exaggerated each word as he nodded patronizingly, though probably not on purpose. Hopefully not on purpose.
When people heard the word auditory they immediately thought hearing. It was just the connection people made. So, people would start to talk really loud and really slow. The slow part was helpful, if I was being honest, but it made me feel like an idiot. Also, if I had a nickel for every time someone told me to just move to the front of the room. Or study harder. Or pay closer attention.
He closed my folder and set it back onto the stack. He ran a hand down one side of his face, slumping in his chair as his eyes scanned his computer screen.
“No, I can hear just fine,” I said, keeping the volume of my voice the same in hopes that he would as well. “It’s just that the class is very difficult for me and—”
“I’m not sure I can help you, Edie. It’s too late in the semester to drop the course.” He leaned back in his chair. “You finished your freshman year with a three point seven GPA. You passed French 101 with a—” He went for the folder again.
“C minus,” I said, closing my eyes briefly.
“Honestly, Edie, from where I’m sitting it doesn’t look like you’re in need of that much help.”
A knock on the door behind me pulled my attention briefly. Dr. Galloway put up a finger to the person whose whole face was shoved into the small rectangular window in the door.
“Can you please just point me in the right direction?” I said, my voice clipped. “Is there a … I don’t know, disabilities services office or something?”
A look I knew all too well spread across his face. “You have a disability?” he asked, reaching for a stack of papers that sat in a hanging wall file. “We have a procedure for this, just … um…” He shuffled his papers.
He handed me a one-sided paper with the words Students with Disabilities at the top. “You should have just told me that from the start. Easy,” he said.
I scanned the paper. A bulleted list of how-tos when it came to advising students with disabilities. I looked between Dr. Galloway and the paper. A smile crept across his face as he folded his arms over his chest. Clearly, he thought he’d just solved all my problems. I hoped he wasn’t expecting a thank-you.
“With all due respect,” I said slowly, my eyes on his cell phone as it vibrated again. “I didn’t have to tell you any of this. I’m asking for assistance like any other student. This paper is not exactly what I was looking for.” I ran a hand through my long almond-colored hair, wishing I had put it up. Sweat brewed on my neck, the backs of my knees, my hands.
“Well,” he said, sitting up to lean his elbows onto the desk. “Like I said before, I’m not sure how I can help. I mean, if this isn’t what you’re looking for, then I don’t know, maybe you just need to study harder or get a tutor or something. Pay better attention in class.”
I forced a smile as I stood and hiked my tote onto my shoulder. He simply didn’t understand, and he wasn’t going to. “Okay—sure. Yes. A tutor. Pay attention. Front of the room. I’ll do that.” This conversation was over, and I was leaving. I should have known better. I should have just emailed him, or gone to one of my other professors. I should—
“Miss Kits,” he called.
I looked over my shoulder, one hand on the doorknob while the other clutched the paper he’d given me. I watched his mouth as I waited for him to speak. Now that I was standing I could add talking in the hallway to all the sounds looking to distract me.
“Maybe you could ask the professor if you could record his lectures?” He grimaced slightly. He may not have understood my disability, but he absolutely understood a fed-up female. “Not all professors will allow it, so don’t be too surprised if he says no, but the least you can do is ask. Also, if you go to the academic services center in the back of the library, you can ask for what’s called copied notes, which means that someone in your class or another section of the same course will take notes and you get a copy—but don’t worry, it’s completely anonymous.”
I took a deep breath. That was all I was looking for. Direction and options.
It wasn’t worth telling him that I already recorded most of my classes with a talk-to-text program and that Dr. Clément, the French professor in question, had expressly addressed his objections to students recording his lectures on the first day of 101.
I looked at my watch. “I’m going to head over to his office hours now.” I nodded as I opened the door. “Thank you.”
“I’ll shoot him an email and let him know we spoke,” he said, his fingers already typing away on the keyboard. “This way you don’t have to run through this whole conversation again.”
“Thanks,” I said, lightly kicking the toe of my shoe into the floor. “I really appreciate that.”
“You’re welcome.” He hit a button with a flourish. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be more helpful, I just—” His cell phone vibrated again.
I put my hand up, waving him on to answer the phone. I didn’t have time to wait around for any further conversation anyway, and it seemed like he didn’t have the time, either.
I turned back to the door, where the impatient student from before stood in the doorway with his hands on his hips. I huffed at him as he sidestepped, allowing me to pass.
“Oh, Miss Kits—” Dr. Galloway called, pulling the cell away from his face. “Don’t initiate the cat.”
Don’t initiate the cat? What in the world? You know what, forget it. Not even going to ask.
“Okay, thanks,” I called over my shoulder.
And the Award for The Cutest Blank Stare Goes to …
I hesitated outside Dr. Clément’s office; the door was open and two voices floated into the hallway. There weren’t supposed to be two voices. I wasn’t prepared for two voices.
With a deep breath, I took three steps toward the door, but instead of turning into the office, I panicked, swiftly passing the office and dashing down the hall.
I stopped when I reached the end of the hallway, a door leading to the campus center in front of me and my back to Dr. Clément’s office. What was I doing? I looked at my watch. I only had a few more minutes before his office hours were over.
I needed to get in there.
I turned back toward Dr. Clément’s office, fingers pressed to my forehead as I mumbled words of encouragement to myself, except the hallway was no longer empty.
“Did you need something, Edie?” It was Dr. Clément’s teaching assistant, Hudson. Voice number two. The one I wasn’t prepared for.
“I … uh, yeah. Um, Dr. Galloway, my adviser, just emailed…” I motioned toward the doorway in which he stood. “I just need to talk to him.”
Hudson smiled, small at first, and then it grew.
I looked at the floor, my face already heating up. He was wearing the maroon beanie that made my insides squirm. He was disheveled in all the best ways. Slightly wrinkled sweater, jeans with holes in the knees. Hands shoved into his pockets.
I’d noticed Hudson the first day of class. It would have been impossible not to notice him. He’d been in camo-printed cargo shorts and a black T-shirt with the words I SPEAK FRENCH FRIES written across the chest in white script. He’d been wearing flip-flops, too, and I remember thinking that he was a hopeless case, fashionwise. Hopeless, but somehow completely adorable. Beautifully disheveled, like the perfect messy bun.
“Well, come on. If you aren’t in here in the next two minutes, he will leave without you.”
Dr. Clément stared at Hudson and me as we shifted from the hall into the office, shuffling around the piles of books on the floor to get to the two mismatched chairs that sat across from him.
“So,” I started, my eyes moving from Clément to Hudson and then back. “My adviser sent you an email; did you—”
“You cannot record my class,” Dr. Clément interrupted, his accent thick. “It is not up for debate.”
I hesitated, wondering exactly what Galloway had put in the email. “Is there any particular reason why I can’t?” I attempted to keep my voice even, avoiding eye contact with the TA. This was stressful enough on its own, but his dark-blue-and-pale-gray eyes, a Pantone-like combination any designer would kill to own, and the way he casually wore that maroon beanie weren’t helping me stay focused. The last thing I needed was to have to ask Dr. Clément to repeat himself.
English was my first language, and that was difficult enough, but throw an accent into the mix and I was lost. Watching Dr. Clément’s mouth wasn’t helping, and I didn’t know if the talk-to-text program would even work with French, but it was something and I had to at least try.
“Because I do not want you to.” He shrugged, looking to Hudson for backup.
I looked to Hudson, too, feeling like Clément and I were silently fighting over him. Battling for his allegiance. Hudson looked from me to Clément and then back with a small shrug. His eyes lighting up as he scrunched his nose.
“Listen.” I ran a hand through my hair in frustration, wishing again that I had tied it back. Between the light snowfall and my constant touching, my hair would be a frizzy mess by the end of the day. Clément’s office may have been bigger than Galloway’s, but it wasn’t any less stuffy.
“I have a disability that makes it hard for me to process what I hear. Your accent makes that even harder for me,” I said as I wiggled my fingers near my left ear. “Either I don’t understand a word of what you’re saying or everything just comes out in a garbled mess, and that’s when you speak English. When you speak French, I’m so lost I just…” I shook my head; he didn’t need to know how helpless I felt. “My adviser thinks recording the class would help since learning a second language is especially hard for someone with what I have. Sometimes I just don’t understand you, and I don’t know how else to help myself.” I knew at some point there would come a time when I might have to let someone at the college know I had a disability, but I didn’t want it to be now and I didn’t want it to be like this.
“That is not my concern,” he said with a one-shoulder shrug. “If you cannot handle college, then you should not be in college. You made it through my 101 course; I have no doubt you will make it through my 102 course.”
My eyes darted to Hudson’s, and his were already on me, wide in disbelief. How did we go from you shouldn’t be in college if you can’t handle it to don’t worry, you’ll make it through? It wasn’t about just making it through for me. There was more at stake.
“I can handle college. Not everyone is good at everything. This is what I’m not good at—” I squeezed my eyes closed tightly as I pressed my fingers into my forehead. “All I’m asking is that you let me help myself. You don’t have to do anything differently. I just want to record your lessons, that’s all. I spent more time and effort on French 101 than I did on any of my other courses, and that was just studying the vocab and putting all my energy into paying attention in class.”
There was always a fine line with things like this for me: caught between getting what I needed and getting an unfair advantage over the other students, even if 99 percent of the time it was only a perceived advantage.
“Yes, but the things I say—” Dr. Clément waved his hand around airily, as if holding a cigarette between two fingers. I waited for him to continue, but he didn’t. Apparently, the hand gesture was the rest of the sentence.
“Well, forgive me if I have to take this to your department head.” I pushed out of my chair, crossing my arms in hopes that the small threat would change his mind. Also, hoping he couldn’t see my hands shaking.
“Do as you must, mademoiselle. Perhaps while you are there you should consider another language. Spanish maybe?”
I let out a noise somewhere between a growl of frustration and a sigh of hopelessness. I needed French. I was a fashion merchandise major, dammit, I needed French! Haute couture. Christian Dior. A.P.C. Longchamp. Louis Vuitton! If I stood any chance of having a productive time in Paris before my Global Trades course, I needed to learn at least something from this class.
I wasn’t foolish enough to believe I would learn the entirety of the French language, but I also knew myself, and I knew that if I wasn’t at least exposed to the language—the sounds, the vocab, the cadence of speech—I wouldn’t stand a chance conversing in English with a French accent, let alone piecing together actual French.
“You come up with another plan, and then we will talk,” he said.
“What other plan? This is a perfectly good plan!” I threw my hands into the air. I wanted to stomp my foot, but that wouldn’t go over too well unless I wanted to prove that I couldn’t handle college.
Dr. Clément assessed me for a moment; his eyebrows knitted together as he scanned me from top to bottom. I tugged at my navy and floral-print skirt. Adjusted my pink leather bomber jacket as I watched him watch me. My attention catching on the silver and blue fleurs-de-lis tie clip askew on his eggplant-and-taupe-checkered tie.
“Pensez-y, mademoiselle, et revenez quand vous aurez trouvé une autre idée,” Dr. Clément said, his eyes trained on my face, watching my reaction. And of course, I wasn’t ready. Of course, he caught me off guard.
I shook my head as I looked between Dr. Clément and Hudson. I could not believe this was happening. How could a professor be so unwilling to help a student? I wasn’t asking for too much, was I?
Hudson looked like he wanted to say something. His eyes had softened, and more than once I’d seen him open his mouth to speak.
I searched his eyes, hoping for something, anything to help me stay afloat. But he said nothing, and I had no words, either, so I turned on my heels and walked out. I needed to be as far away from Clément, Hudson, and that conversation as possible.
This was the story of my life. Always having to beg for what I needed. I hated needing extra help and time and resources, hated being put on the defense all the time. I tried so hard to give people the benefit of the doubt, give them a chance to do the right thing. I wanted to believe that Clément would understand once I explained myself. That the email from Dr. Galloway would have meant something.
I stiffened at the sound of my name.
“Edie, just hang on a sec.” I turned toward Hudson as he jogged my way.
I was shaking my head before he could even start. What could he possibly say that would make this situation any less embarrassing or disheartening?
“Listen, go to the tutoring center. It’s in the back of the library.” He raised his hands in surrender, his voice soft.
I watched his mouth as he spoke; I had to. There was too much going on in the lobby of the languages building. There were so many damn people in there. Was a rally about to start or something? A flash mob? I couldn’t process the words I needed to hear while so many others zoomed around. I glanced over my shoulder, giving everyone in a ten-foot radius some serious side-eye.
I turned back to Hudson. He was the same height as me, maybe a hair taller if I was barefoot. He was kind of chubby with broad shoulders and hair the color of hot cocoa. Short on the sides and a little longer on top, which I only knew because of the one time he didn’t wear that maroon beanie to class. He was attractive, if you liked the puppy-dog-eyed look on a guy, which I did. And if you liked red lips and rosy cheeks and the way he shoved his hands into his pockets. Which I did. I wondered if he was chubby soft or chubby firm, not caring either way because I was chubby soft in places, too. His ill-fitting clothes didn’t help, but I would be willing to bet he cleaned up well. Better than well.
“Get a tutor?” I said, pulling my mind out of the world in which everyone in my life was a paper doll, like the ones I played with when I was a kid, easily dressed and re-dressed in the latest one-dimensional fashions.
“Yeah. They have those here. At college. In the tutoring center.” His eyes were on mine, and mine on his lips. Just the left side of his mouth quirked into a hint of a smile as he let out a breathy laugh.
“Yeah … okay. Thank you?” I said, bringing my finger to my lips, but banishing it away just as quickly. I’d quit biting my nails in high school, but as of recently, the urge to start up again was growing stronger.
“That was a joke,” he said slowly, licking his lips. “No good?”
“What was a joke?” I asked, my eyes on his mouth for more than one reason.
“The whole they have those here, at college, in the tutoring center. I was just teasing you.”
I nodded. I knew he was teasing me, and I wanted to smile, but I resisted.
“Is there something on my face?” He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I had, like, ten tacos for lunch.”
“Uhh, no,” I said, surprised by the question. People didn’t usually ask outright; typically, they just felt self-conscious. Apparently, Hudson was the ask-outright type. Apparently, he was also the blurt-whatever-comes-to-mind type.
“Oh, okay.” He swiped his mouth once more and then shoved his hand back into his pocket. “Listen, you can always come to office hours if you need extra help. I’m always here; he isn’t.”
“Thanks.” I nodded. I pulled at the hem of my camisole. Played with the zipper of my jacket. Kicked at the tiled floor.
“No one ever comes for office hours so it’s mostly just me so we would be alone.” His words rushed out carelessly as he bounced on his toes. “You know, to study or whatever.”
He was being a little weird, right? Not that I wasn’t being weird by picturing him in J.Crew every Tuesday/Thursday from nine thirty to ten forty-five for the past three weeks, but his fidgeting and bouncing and telling me we’d be alone was weird.
Or was this his awkward way of flirting with me? Neither seemed ideal.
“Um, okay. Thanks,” I said, squinting at him. If this were any other time, I would be flattered and swoony over his long eyelashes and pinchable cheeks and the way it felt like he was really looking at me, but I couldn’t. Not right now. Not after that exchange with Dr. Clément. “I’ll, uh, remember that.”
He listed his head with a smile. “You’re not going to come to office hours, are you?” he asked, scrunching his nose.
I scrunched my nose in response. “No, probably not.”
He nodded with a laugh. “Okay, fair enough.”
“Sorry.” I shrugged, though I wasn’t sorry. I just didn’t know what to say as I threw a glance over my shoulder toward the exit.
“And just so you know, Clément doesn’t want people recording his lectures because he’s writing a textbook and doesn’t want anything he says to end up on the internet.” He rolled his eyes dramatically. “A lot of people have told him that he can’t copyright every word he speaks, but”—he shrugged apathetically—“you know, he’s not really the type that listens.”
“Hey, maybe we should exchange numbers. You know, if you have any questions or need help or, I don’t know, need anything,” he said, switching gears quickly.
“Sure,” I said slowly, extending my hand to him palm up to receive his cell. I typed my number, pressing send to call myself. “There.”
I could use all the help I could get, and so far, he’d been the most helpful person all day.
He slipped his cell into his back pocket. “Maybe you could explain how this works to me sometime? You know, fill me in.” He tapped his temple as a frown crept onto his face.
Was he feeling sorry for me right now?
Strike everything I’d just thought about him. He was no longer easy on the eyes, or nice, or smart, or funny. His kissable cheeks were a thing of the past; his maroon beanie no longer my favorite part of French class. This was not going to work out.
“Yeah, um, maybe.” I took another step back as he kicked at the ground, his eyes on his browning white sneakers.
Except, maybe I wanted to see if he watched me walk away, but I didn’t look back as I moved through the crowd.
Copyright © 2019 by Melinda Grace