Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance


In May, just before the term ended, a student named Miranda Fontera was killed by the E-train while doing a car making an illegal left turn off Huntington Avenue. The Herald had identified her as a Yates College student. When the Dean of Student called his staff together, it was confirmed that no one had ever heard of her. She was a part-time student, in her late twenties, who had registered in and out for a number of years, on her way to a med-tech certificate. Her file in the Admissions Office contained her application, and essay entitled “How I See Myself,” and a photocopy of a cancelled check. The Saturday after the accident, the Dean of Students and the President attended Miranda’s wake, and invited her family to attend a campus memorial service on Wednesday.

A voice-mail to the Assistant Dean on Monday told her to put the event together. She forwarded that message without additional instruction downstairs to Karen. When the Dean called back and added they would build a pedestrian safety component into next fall’s Orientation, the Assistant Dean agreed to take that on herself.

By Monday afternoon, fliers were posted for the yet-to-be-designed service, and a room had been reserved near the faculty dining room, in hopes the proximity would encourage attendance. Karen solicited the reluctant help of Miranda’s academic advisor, who fondly remembered the student as “enthusiastic,” but declined to say so from a podium. The student government president volunteered the officers and student congress to greet people at the door. In the end, 10 of them showed up to fill in a row of chairs, though two were from the student paper, and one was from the yearbook. Karen wrote a eulogy, quoting heavily from “How I See Myself” and delivered it reverently from the front of the room.

During the silent meditation, Karen looked at Miranda’s family, and the row of student leaders Miranda hadn’t known, and the empty chairs, and found it in her heart to grieve. She grieved for the woman nobody knew, and for her own soul, which had given to so many, but which felt nothing for this one who had gotten away.

Afterward, as Karen unhooked the microphone from the podium, and folded the metal chairs, the Dean of Students had thanked her for putting it together so quickly. Surprised, Karen stopped her work and nodded a response, feeling her taut cheek muscles as her neck moved up and down.

“It’s important that we show a sense of community,” he said.

Now, at her desk, Karen rests her forehead on the heels of her upturned hands and feels tears soak her eyelids. It’s a lifetime since she’s had a good night’s sleep. Pressing her face into her hands this way, she is able to hold in that thing that knocks against her from the inside, trying to get out.

When she has collected herself, she express-messages the Dean’s Office, and tells his secretary’s machine that she needs to get in his schedule as soon as possible Monday morning. She cocks her head to hold the receiver on her shoulder as she loads the paper tray of her printer. In four quick lines, as 65 wpm, she types her resignation. She spends the next hour completing her files for the new year, alternating the clear window file tabs like little steps, from the front of the drawer to the back.

At seven o’clock, Karen locks her desk and walks to the end of the hall, toward the one door that leads outside. Walking west on Huntington Avenue, she squints at the low-hanging sun, and wonders how it will feel on her face in the morning.

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