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A Shovel that Digs,
Who am I, really?
Marilyn wondered softly. She’d often thought about it as a child, but as a college student, she hadn’t taken the time to think about this in quite a while. It was immensely frustrating in its futility, like trying to cut steak with a butter knife.
All this thinking and jarring hopelessness were not typical of the beautiful Marilyn Sharron. She was the kind of girl who skated by in life, not glancing at the rulebook nor hoping for some idealistic reward. In fact, she once said that she loved the chase more than the reward, because the chase was the game, and she knew how to play everyone just right.
She was like a musical prodigy, plucking out a genius tune as she went along, unaware that it’s not so easy for the less talented. So…where did all of this deep thought come from? Well, it went back to that philosophy class she signed up for on mistake three weeks ago. Defining Personal Truth, PHIL 228.
The first class began drearily pedestrian. Professor Henderson wrote his name on the board, took roll call (failing miserably to pronounce the ethnic names and restraining himself from making a comment that would sound racist), and handed out the syllabus. And then he spoke.
Professor Henderson was not a large man. He was, in fact, very short and slight. But his voice…His voice was extraordinary.
His voice was a megaphone.
His voice echoed before words left his tongue.
“Dear students,” he began, looking around at them all.
Marilyn sat in the back row, her laptop open and a Facebook status half-written (Marylin Sharron “is wondering if there will be sushi….”)
“I want to make an agreement with you before we embark on this journey together.”
A few raised eyebrows did a
“This class is not the kind where I tell you what to think or what you need to know. I do not pretend that I know more about truth than you do. I merely am here to guide your own ship of self-discovery in that you may sooner get to your destination.”
He now had the class’s full attention. Even Marilyn had looked up curiously, sushi apparently taking a backseat in her mind.
“The subjects we may choose to tackle could be controversial and even dangerous. Therefore, besides keeping in mind that I am naught but a humble scholar, I must request your trust. Indeed, I must establish mutual trust between us, so that I may (forgive my selfishness) speak freely without worry that I may end up on the wrong side of a hearing with our lovely college President.”
A stunned silence echoed as students processed what he was asking.
A bright-eyed girl with baggy jeans caught on right away, her eyes narrowing and her hand shooting up. Marilyn looked the girl up and down, evaluating her looks. She was a 4 with potential of being an 8… with a good makeover. Without waiting to be called on, the girl spoke out.
“So you want us to promise we won’t rat you out, even if what you say is… dirty?”
“What’s your name, my dear girl?”
“Harriet. Harriet Wilshire.”
“Well, Miss Wilshire, I merely want to be honest with you in this class so that you can openly explore any place your soul wishes to question within it. If that is a dirty place, I will not stop you. The darkest parts of the mind are often the most revealing.”
Harriet looked uncomfortable. She was obviously not the kind of girl who explored dark and dirty possibilities.
Henderson, unfazed, looked around for more questions.
He was the kind of man who was always moving, always doing something. He ran his hands through his hair, smoothing it back. On an ordinary man, this would seem to be a nervous tick, but there was something divine about the way Henderson moved. As if he was a super-human who was itching to get back to save the world.
No one said anything.
Marilyn didn’t speak.
“I want to give you all a chance to leave, now, before we get into anything. If you are not comfortable with… what I’ve just discussed….if you are not willing to indulge in mutual trust, then I must ask you to leave. I will arrange a transfer to a more fitting class so that you will still gain the necessary credits.”
No one moved.
Marilyn was intrigued.
Henderson waited. He even turned around to give students a moment to leave without his penetrating stare.
No one budged.
No one breathed.
Henderson chuckled to himself.
“I hope you’re not scared. I promise you, I will bear you no grudge if you leave now. But, I also promise, if you stay and break my trust, I will bear a heavy heart.”
A shaky boy, so thin he looked like he might fall over, stood up, took his bag and headed for the door without looking Henderson in the eye.
“Thank you, dear boy. In your cowardice, you have shown bravery.”
Unsure if this was a compliment or insult, the boy didn’t look back. Henderson clapped his worn hands together as if to say, “Now, let’s get down to business!”
“All assignments in this class are optional. It’s a matter of respect to yourself that you turn them in.”
Marilyn relaxed. The class was different.
A kiss that tasted like single cloud in a clear blue sky.
“The first assignment is to become conscious of a specific day-to-day interaction with a specific person. I want you to write down your personal interpretation of this relationship, whatever that may be, and one way you think you could improve that relationship. Any questions?”
No one breathed a word.
Marilyn smiled. This would be fun.
* * *
Who am I, really?
Harriet bit her lip, staring into her black coffee as if it could possibly tell her the answer. A singer who had committed suicide three years ago hummed a soft lullaby through her headphones. Contemplation was common for Harriet. She was the moody, broody type. A self-proscribed outsider. She called herself a “poet of negativity.” She made a statement with all the things she didn’t say and do.
So she said…
Harriet Wilshire was beautiful in her own way, though she’d never admit it. Her long, dark hair framed the mystery in her eyes. Her bulky clothing hid a relatively decent figure. Recently, she’d undergone a change of heart.
A surgery of sorts,
A gulp of something different.
Why? She’d enrolled in a philosophy class a few weeks back, PHIL 228 on
It had started off alright. The first class had a simple, written assignment. Harriet had analyzed her relationship with her mother.
My mother is a needy person. She needs me to need her, otherwise she thinks I don’t love her. If I tell her how well I’m doing, she’ll complain that I’m abandoning her. If I fail miserably at something (yes, like my last relationship) then she’ll glow.
Recently I’ve been falling apart. And she’s been basking in my failures, swallowing my miseries like a thirsty child.
What could I do to improve this relationship? Well, continue failing, I suppose.
Harriet had turned in this paper to the teacher, Professor Henderson. Then, he’d asked her to come to special one-on-one session. He was a deep, powerful kind of man, despite his smallish figure. Harriet was surprised by his ability to speak. His voice…
It was extraordinary.
It was a megaphone.
Words echoed before they left his tongue.
“Welcome, Miss Wilshire,” he said, beckoning Harriet into his office.
She entered, looking around. He had delectable abstract paintings on the walls and jazz music playing.
“Have a seat.”
She did. Henderson leaned back in his chair, enjoying the jazz with his eyes closed. He hummed along with the song,
A smile singing on his lips.
His eyebrows went up with the beat.
Harriet waited for him to stop. He played out the rest of the song, nodding along, almost as if to invite Harriet to join him in his appreciation of the artist. Harriet did not accept the almost invitation.
The song finally ended. The next track was just silence.
Henderson’s eyes opened.
“I’m concerned. My job here is to help you on your spiritual journey. Your last assignment—“
“I’m sorry, did I do something wrong? I though rules were… lax. If it was inappropriate, I can—“
“No, no, no, no. Quite the contrary. It was… intriguing. I think there may be something else there. In fact, I’d be willing to bet my jazz collection that there is.”
He leaned forward with a wink, “and my jazz collection means quite a lot to me.”
Who was this man?
What gave him this right, to pry, to prod, to question the way things were?
They just… were.
“What do you mean? Something else?”
Henderson squinted, as if he could see right through her and into her innermost thoughts.
“I’m going to suggest a change of heart. It’s a… surgery of sorts. Without anesthetic, without pillows, without sheets.”
The man talked nonsense. He was like the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland.
Harriet shook her head, trying to get the crazy out.
“What? Are you messing with my head?”
“Miss Wilshire, all I mean is that I think it would be helpful if you embraced the idea of change. I think you’ll find there are plenty of people who’d be willing to help.”
He handed her a piece of paper with a name written on it. Harriet took the paper.
She thought about switching classes. She thought about quitting. She thought about that musician who’d committed suicide three years ago. She thought about all the things she hadn’t said. All the things she hadn’t done.
* * *
Am I alive, really?
Marilyn said it to herself, realizing that she didn’t know what “alive” truly meant. It pestered her like an itch she couldn’t scratch.
She could get any guy she wanted.
She could get B’s and sometimes even A’s in class.
She could down an entire bottle of Captain Morgan’s Rum and still not throw up.
She could pull off wearing shirts without a bra.
But the question still hung over her, digging itself deeper into her issues.
in an apple,
eating away the core.
It was a week deep into the philosophy class, and Marilyn was pondering questions she hadn’t thought about since her mother had told her there was a God.
Marilyn was deep in her reverie,
her world of endless question marks.
The person on the other end of the door began pounding a drum roll, jerking Marilyn into the cold, wooden chair that existed in a world of
Eileen Drawder was a sunny blonde with a glaring suntan and long legs.
“Hey bi-otch!” Eileen grinned as Marilyn opened the door. “Got anything good to eat?”
Eileen went straight to the mirror, turning to see her own profile. She stuck out her tiny stomach, groaning as she poked it.
“That’s why you’re so skinny! You never eat. Look at me. I’m a monster.”
“Shut up, Eileen. You are skinny too.”
Somehow Eileen managed to pull herself away from the mirror.
“What-ever. That’s so not true. I weigh like eighteen times what I did back home. All this college food, it’s awful. I totally ate like three cookies at the caf today. They are soooo yummy.”
“They are pretty good.”
Marilyn was in kind of a daze, as if she hadn’t quite returned from her thoughts. Eileen looked concerned.
“You okay, M? Is it Danny?”
Marilyn laughed, shaking her head.
“Danny? No way. I’ve got him wrapped around my finger. You know I never let guys get to me, I get to them.”
“Yes you do, you sexy slut.”
Eileen started going through Marilyn’s clothes, dresses for every theme and color. Eileen sorted through them as if dresses were the most important thing in the world, which to her, they probably were.
“Ughhh, I could never pull this off…” Eileen complained, pulling out a low-cut white dress.
Marilyn sighed. She was used to dealing with Eileen’s self esteem issues. They covered every inch of the blonde, drowning her in imperfections, a paragon of insecurity. Eileen was the sidekick, eternally. She was a backup for boys that failed to land in bed with Marilyn. She was an easy target, as obvious as a giant signpost.
Marilyn preyed on boys, but boys preyed on Eileen. It was how it was.
They just… were.
Marilyn pretended to listen to Eileen’s endless streams of compliments and insults, but… that one question pestered her, an itch that she could not scratch.
* * *
Am I alive, really?
Harriet had always considered herself to be among the living, but the word “alive” seemed to mean something more. It was a question that Henderson had posed at the end of class.
He had stood at the blackboard, staring deep into the eyes of each and every student.
“I feel like there have been some changes in this class. Some changes in ideas, in feelings. Am I right? Anyone care to share a change you’ve experienced in the past week?”
A chubby boy with acne raised his hand slowly.
Mr. Bentley took a deep breath, nervous.
“I, uh, I feel more aware of things. I don’t know how to explain it, but I’ve begun to question why things are, why I feel a certain way, what makes people tick. It’s just a different perspective that I’ve taken on.”
This realization seemed to do a lot for Henderson. He glowed.
“I’m very happy that you could make this step in your journey. I can tell that you are going in the right direction—toward the discovery of your own truths. It is important to realize that changes are not failures. Never be ashamed of a question that bends you to change your own conclusions.”
Henderson paced, running his fingers through his hair.
“Now, I have a simple assignment for you this week. I want you to ask yourself, ‘Am I alive, really?’”
Harriet hadn’t meant to think about it very hard, but its very nature was that of a shovel.
And Harriet had watched the clock tick tock, tick tock as her thoughts wandered into unexpected places.
Like her tweens,
her first kiss,
the moment when she realized her parents could cry,
the first time she’d tasted alcohol,
the first heartbreak.
She suddenly realized that her hand was clenched tightly around a piece of paper. Then she remembered what it was from. When Henderson had told her this person could help her, she’d laughed. She knew the name.
This person, she’d decided, could not help anybody.
This person, she’d decided, was a mess.
This person was in denial of her life.
But now… Now, Harriet wondered how much she was in denial of her own life.
Maybe this person could help her.
* * *
What is love?
Marilyn had never considered herself to be in love. She’d said “I love you,” but never really meant it. At least, she’d never meant it the way they did in the movies, where it was unconditional and full of overwhelming passion.
They said love consumes you.
It keeps you awake at night.
It keeps you alive.
Maybe Marilyn needed to be in love.
But the question that haunted her was not “What is love?” it was “Does love exist?”
Does love exist?
It did on TV. And in books. Marilyn was plagued by the idea that love in real life is a copy of love in art, that nothing in real life is even close to the beauty that stories portray it to be.
Marilyn didn’t want to think about it anymore. She wanted to stop thinking.
She called Eileen, bought a bottle of Sky, and did some shots. Friends came in. Beer. Wine. Shots.
Love is lust.
* * *
What is love?
Whatever, thought Harriet. That’s a stupid question. No one knows the answer.
Harriet stood at Marilyn’s door, waiting. It sounded like there was a party going on in there. The door finally swung open, and a crowd of about eight people came out, laughing. Some were drunk, some were tipsy. Marilyn was at the end of the crowd with Eileen.
“Harriet, right? From…?”
“Ohhhhh, right. Sorry.”
Marilyn giggled. Eileen looked impatient.
“We’re on our way to a party. Wanna come?”
Harriet hesitated. “Well, I’m actually here because last week, Henderson—“
Marilyn was already strutting by, Eileen’s arm linked with hers. Marilyn wore a crown proudly on her head. She was queen of all she saw. Men were slaves at her feet.
“Come on, Harriet! It’ll be fun.”
Harriet shrugged, putting the piece of paper with Marilyn’s name in her pocket. What the hell? Might as well. Maybe some questions will be answered. Maybe questions will be drowned,
Marilyn ran giggling out of the liquor store that was located just off of the campus.
“They didn’t even check my fake ID!” she yelled, her heels tripping her up as she walked.
“Shhhhh!” Eileen laughed, trying to quiet her. A police car was parked a couple streets down.
“Here!” Marilyn tore a bottle of vodka out of the black plastic bag, handing it to Harriet.
Harriet looked uncomfortable walking with them. Marilyn noticed, and let Eileen wait for the crowd while she put her arm around Harriet.
“You have to walk like this,” Marilyn said, strutting confidently down the wrinkled sidewalk. Harriet followed her, trying to copy the perfect angles of her slender legs.
“Walk like you own everyone and everything,” she smiled evilly, reaching for Harriet’s hand. It was okay for girls to hold hands when they’re confident with their own sexuality.
A sense of power rushed through Harriet as they led the crowd of tipsy students.
A sense of cool,
A sense of confidence.
A breath of something different.
Maybe this would tie neatly together, a bundle of answers waiting to be discovered beneath the bottle,
beneath the bottle,
beneath the bottle.
The party was happening. Really happening. With kids that claimed to be alive. “I’m in college,” they’d say, using it as an excuse to experiment.
Experiment with drugs.
Experiment with sex.
Experiment with emotions.
Like mad scientists, they did up their hair and donned on their aprons.
“Let’s get down to work…”
Marilyn knew everyone. Literally. Harriet watched her greet them. It wasn’t an “Oh, hey!” It was a “Jimmy, oh my God, I love you!” complete with a hug and a couple kisses on the cheek. For girls and boys both, Marilyn was all kisses and love. But the nasty end of the seeming sweetness was soon to appear—and it was not fun to be a boy at the other end of Marilyn’s love games.
It could happen in a second. She’d suddenly turn on one of them.
“Joe, what the fuck? Are you kidding me?”
Poor Joe stepped back, confusion swirling in his dreamy eyes.
“What’s wrong? Marilyn?”
“Why are you ignoring me? You’re such an asshole. What the fuck are you doing?”
She gave him a look of loathing, grabbed Harriet’s hand, and walked off. Harriet, as drunk as the rest of them, giggled into her shoulder.
“Why’d you do that? He’s so hot!”
“Harriet, look at me.”
“Now, give me the most pissed off look, like ‘what the fuck?’ like ‘you are shit.’”
“Are you fucking kidding me?!” Marilyn yelled. “Say that.”
Harriet took a breath, and gave the dirtiest face she could manage.
“Are you kidding me?” she whispered, trying her best for fierce intensity without catching the attention of anyone around them.
“You have to make them feel like shit, so they know that you are THE shit. You own everything. Got it?”
“Good. Now try it. Here comes Mike.”
Mike was an Abercrombie model. No kidding. Chiseled, like a masterpiece. A piece of art begging for ruin.
“Mike! Get over here.”
Marilyn gave him a kiss on the lips. She introduced Harriet. Mike smiled politely.
“It’s nice to meet you, Harriet.”
Marilyn gave Harriet a look. Harriet couldn’t bring her face to contort into anything near loathing or even mild dislike. Marilyn rolled her eyes. Fresh meat that Harriet wouldn’t touch? Well, Marilyn would see that he didn’t go to waste. She took a bite.
“Mike, why have you been such a jerk?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You haven’t called all week.”
“That’s because you refused to give me your number, Marilyn.”
Marilyn giggled, falling onto him. “Oh.”
He embraced her fall.
Harriet watched, fascinated.
Hypothesis: Marilyn will draw boys into her trap.
Hypothesis proven successful.
The apron came off, and Harriet went back to her dorm with a change of heart. A different perspective.
Surgery proven successful.
* * *
I am myself.
Henderson stood at the blackboard, knowing what he knew was what he knew. The class had gone under and came back up on the other side with fresh faces, ready to face the fangs of tomorrow’s tick tock.
He saw himself as the breath that blows mediocrity away.
The janitor who cleans up issues that collect in the back of minds.
The fly who prods the horse to kick and question.
The wrinkles on his face paid tribute to his sagacity.
“These three weeks have been a privilege. We have made some great progress, and we’ve got quite a ways to go. This week, I’ve got another question for you.”
Harriet knew this was coming. She sat, wearing a dress she’d borrowed from Marilyn. Marilyn sat a few seats down, wearing her reading classes. She’d dared to consider her own education ahead of her concern for looking perfect.
The class braced themselves for a shovel that would
“Ask, ‘Who am I, really?’
Created: Jan 29, 2010Document Media