Wednesday, August 8, 2012

David Wendt

by Paul Lewellan

“How was your week?” I asked. The others in the circle looked over to David. Unlike them, he was still employed. His coworkers didn’t know his diagnosis; they only suspected. Or they dismissed the idea because he was too young to have Old Timer’s disease.
“Last Friday there was this student . . .,” David began. He looked at the notebook in front of him, turned to the page from Friday. He stopped.
“What about him?” I prompted.
“Her.” David shifted in his chair. He was wearing the sport coat and dress slacks he’d worn to school that morning, but had taken off the tie and traded his loafers for Nikes. “You’ll really think I’m losing it . . ..”
“No one is here to judge you.” I waited. “You were telling us about a student.”
“Of course.” He glanced down at his notes and started again. “I was at my desk at the back of my classroom.” He gestured as if to show us the location. “I looked up and saw a young girl seated across from me. She wore a white and black cheerleader’s uniform with a large G on the front of the sweater. That told me I was at Goldwater High School.”
“As opposed to . . . ?”
“Sometimes I get confused and think I’m back teaching at St. Stephens College. Anyway, I knew where I was. I looked around. On the wall were my posters of Boll, Gordimer, Solzhenitsyn, Solinka . . ..” I noted that David could recall the Nobel Prize winners for literature, but not the school where he taught. “I got flummoxed. I didn’t know who she was.”
“What did you do?” asked someone anxiously from the circle.
“I looked at the clock. It read 3:10. I figured she couldn’t have been there long. I had a note on the desk. ‘School ends at 3:00.’ My classes at St. Stephens ended at 2:20.”
“Notes like that can be very useful,” I said in a neutral therapist’s tone.
“I looked at the girl. She was obviously waiting for a response. I was behind my desk, and she was in front of it. I figured she wasn’t casually asking a question. On my desktop was a graded student paper turned to the last page. I skimmed the final comments: ‘fails to answer the third critical question,’ ‘ignores textual clues at to the poet’s intent,’ ‘incomplete documentation of resources. C-.”
I lifted the ceramic coffee cup and took a drink of the industrial strength brew that the Center serves during evening group sessions. “So that’s why she was there,” I prompted. “She was protesting a grade.”
“Right. She was one of those, ‘I don’t know why I got a C-’ persons. I probably should have failed her, and now she was complaining.” Several of the men in the group murmured agreement. The consensus was that women, especially young women, were trouble.
“I lifted the paper and turned to the first page,” he told the others in the circle. “‘Carly Clifton’ was the name on the front page. ‘World Literature.’”
“So now you knew her name,” someone piped up.
“What did you do?” another asked before I could wave him off.
“I said, ‘Carly, I can see you are upset, but I don’t feel this essay represents your best work. Let’s go through it together so you can revise it for a higher grade.’ She stared at me for at least thirty seconds. ‘That’s why I came in,’ she finally told me. I must have just said the same thing, but she gave no indication I was repeating myself.” He stopped to consider that possibility.
Finally David looked back down at his notes. He’d been moving his index finger down the page as he told the story. By looking at his finger he could see where he left off. “She and I went over the essay. Fifteen minutes later, when another cheerleader came to the door to get her for practice, she was smiling.”
He looked around the group. The three women in the group were nodding in approval. The men were disappointed.
“I’d written positive comments on the paper as well as criticisms. Perhaps that’s why I gave her the ‘C-’, because I knew she could do better. ‘Thank you, Mr. Wendt,’ she said when she stood up. I responded with a noncommittal, ‘You’re welcome, young lady.’ I’d lost her name again. As she left told the other cheerleader in a stage whisper, ‘You wouldn’t believe . . ..’ And she was out the door.”
He folded his notes and put them in his sport coat pocket. “I saw a note I’d left on my desktop that said, ‘Write everything down,’ so I did.”
I hesitated. “Your coping behaviors are excellent. It’s probably why you’ve been able to keep your job as long as you have.” There was tension in the room. The members of my Alzheimer’s support group waited. “But maybe it’s time you told someone at the high school. Maybe it’s time you stopped putting yourself in these positions.”
Even as I said it, I knew he wasn’t going to do that. Soon enough, though, he wouldn’t have a choice.

 Paul Lewellan’s stories have appeared in South Dakota ReviewBig MuddyTimber Creek Review, and Opium Magazine.   Paul’s latest novel, Twenty-one Humiliating Demands, chronicles an aging assassin taking a sabbatical on a Mid-Western college campus.     Paul is an Adjunct Instructor of Speech Communication and Business Administration at Augustana College. 

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