I started my college creative writing program in the fall of 2004 with the hopes of becoming a poet. I almost fancied myself one of those artsy, beret-wearing, coffeehouse-frequenting moody types who wear black and don't talk. You know the stereotype. Anyway, when I started the program, I realized that poetry was okay, but not really my thing. I wasn't sure what I wanted to write, but I knew I wanted to write something.
The next semester, I reluctantly signed up for creative nonfiction. I thought this sounded horribly boring, as I associated nonfiction with textbooks. My advisor thought it would be a good choice, though, and as my school didn't have many creative writing courses during any one semester, I decided to give it a go.
I'll admit I thought my professor was a bit odd, and even crass at times, but I grew to like him. He was painfully honest about his students' work, and I didn't mind taking constructive criticism from him (though I was generally pretty sensitive about having my work torn to shreds). I learned a lot from him. Taking this class, I knew I wanted to be a personal essayist, rather than a poet. I ditched the bohemian ideals and focused on just being myself (though I have learned to love independent coffee houses, and I'm even making myself a beret!).
Things were going well. My professor had told me that he could hear my voice in my writing. That's a good sign. He liked my style, and he was teaching me to cut out unnecessary details, while expanding on more meaningful ones. Then, on April Fool's Day, I started to walk into class just like any other day. I was consciously remembering that it was April Fool's and that someone would try to trip me up when I least expected it. But when one of my fellow classmates told me that the professor had died, I wasn't sure how to react. That was a really cruel April Fool's joke.
We all wandered into the classroom, expecting the prof to barge in at any moment, saying something like, "Oh, I was just wondering how many of you actually cared if I lived or died," but it never happened. Instead, the department head came in and confirmed the professor's death, assuring us that this was not an April Fool's joke. I had to go home. I couldn't go to my ancient literature class--this was all too weird.
A few weeks later, the coroner's report indicated suicide. Who knows what was going on in my professor's life. I know he really impacted a lot of us, though. If I could go back, I would have had all those conversations with him, the ones I always thought I'd "talk to him about next time," not realizing that there would be no next time. Wishing I'd told him I thought his Johnny Cash poster kicked butt, thanking him for being such a great and helpful critic of my writing, telling him what an awesome professor he really was, just talking. I wondered why I never went to any of the local bars to hear him play bluegrass music with his band. Now I'd never have the chance to hear them. For weeks after his death, I'd have nightmares of me trying unsuccessfully to save him, only to wake up knowing there was nothing that could be done. Yes, if I could go back to the spring of 2005, I'd sure have a lot to talk about with my professor.
Dedicated to M.S.
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