For the First Time, Again
posted Apr 19, 2011
In the 90's, I had a TA who disappeared. We were supposed to be discussing Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which, of course, no one had read, not even the TA, and the TA became furious and said, “Teach yourself, you privileged little fucks!” He fluffed his accordion envelope of papers, releasing a cloud of stale smoke and dog hair, tucked it under his arm, and left. About fifteen minutes later, as we were still sitting in stunned silence, “It will all be on the test!” blew in like a gust of wind or act of God.
We were terrified. We did not know when the TA was coming back. Hi name was Brian or Bryson. Or Robert, some people thought. Maybe Steve. During the second week of the TA's disappearance, we sent a messenger, a mousy girl by the name of Prim, to the English building, but were told one cannot lodge a formal complaint against a nameless man.
There were two (or more) opinions on how to proceed: we could teach ourselves, something we had no intention of doing, this being college. We could be absorbed by the multi-cultural women's literature class across the hall, and talk about African knitting and menstruation, or whatever happened over there. Nothing “multi” is ever appealing. Multi-grain, multi-vitamin. Our parents were paying good money for us to study something that everyone had agreed was good. Whether we read any of it or not.
There were sightings. A Russian major who sat in the back row had seen our TA in the Atrium arguing with a cafeteria worker about the price of a scoop of mashed potatoes and a side of corn. He mixed the two together and ate them, no gravy! Someone else saw him at an undergrad party with another TA, Tom Finley, a ginger with a wild afro who had slept with half the freshman class, male and female. “I teach the fuck out of Absalom, Absalom,” our TA was overheard telling Tom Finley.
Students began to attend less regularly. Some would only show up just long enough to sign in on the attendance sheet that a social work major had started keeping even before our TA's disappearance. Now, Attendance Girl, Rachel, was the only one holding us together.
We received midterm grades. People who sat together got the same grade. No, people with student numbers ending in odd numbers got higher grades. Girls got better grades than boys. The grading system was inscrutable. “He probably just made them up,” said a ruddy-faced criminal justice major. “That dick.”
This suggestion- that a teacher could have anything but our best interest at heart, that this could be anything more than an intricately plotted learning experience—blew our minds. One student, a boy named Jeremy, became a cocaine addict. A girl who had been waiting for marriage lost her virginity.
Eventually, we had a new teacher, homely, of an age that could be anywhere between 30 and 50. She walked into the classroom, wrote “Connie” on the board and launched into an hour diatribe about politics, her ex-husband, her horse with eye cancer, which she could not afford to get properly treated because she was so poor. The condition of the horse with eye cancer devolved every class period, along with our expectations of college. “You guys are babies,” she said all the time, cheerfully. “Just wait until you have responsibilities, like a sick horse.”
Despite her matronly appearance, we concluded that Connie must be the girlfriend of our TA and not affiliated with the school in any official capacity. We humored her when she read aloud long passages from the reader, in painfully bad accents. Any moment now, we reasoned, an administrator would show up,and say something our parents would say like: “Now, what in the world is going on here!” We would get an explanation, an apology. We would get a chance to say what had happened. We thought the world owed this to us. And we continued to make similar miscalculations for three more years.
© 2011 Meghan Austin