Browsing in the library yesterday, I pulled out a gray, water-stained copy of Joe College by Tom Perrotta. I read the bio, flipped through the first few pages. After the title page, there was a dedication: In Memory of Chris Zenowich.
Zenowich was a visiting professor at the college when I was a student. We called him "The Zen Man." I didn't have him in class, but I used to sit outside his office and wait for my own. I used to hear laughter from the open door of his classroom, always laughter. He would just have walked in; I would watch him reflected in the shiny linoleum floor, briefcase swinging, go inside, then laughter. He was a fiction writer who knew my boyfriend. He left the college, and then died a year or less later. Something to do with the heart.
The signs we have above our desks are strange.
My friend Charlie had one that said James Wright is the competition. I am not sure if I am supposed to know this. I saw it when I was putting my coat on other coats on his bed during a party years ago.
I have: Remember who you're doing this for. Written on night in which I didn't, on a pink heart-shaped Post-It that often falls down.
I am doing this for Dick and Paul. Both were retired from the English department. I met them when I was sixteen and attending a summer camp for writers (yes, they have those things). Later, when I was a college student, I used to have workshop with them every Thursday night, a community workshop in the lounge of the honors dorm: warm wood, a piano, windows looking out into the dark brick walk.
It wasn't for credit. It wasn't for anything. They were retired from their teaching and offices in the dusty English department, and came here. They were just always there, so I was too. It was a ritual after dinner. I would go there, somehow pull something to read from my backpack (there was never enough room for us on the couch, our hopelessly overstuffed backpacks), eat a soft cookie. Dick would bring me coffee, black, though I didn't drink it black. I drank it black because that's what he gave me. Listened to what they said about my poems, and listened to their poems and stories, though Paul didn't bring much in the last few years, and took the cookies they urged upon me back to the computer lab in paper napkins. Dick and his wife refinished a room in their basement, and I housesat for them. Paul always had a dog waiting for him.
Dick died when I was a junior in college (I put pebbles on his grave), Paul a few years later.
Remember who you're doing this for.