eyes

In the backyard, a hammock stretched between two trees like a fishing net. It was just before our speech communications department’s welcome potluck with fruit-in-wiggly-Jell-O and foil-covered casseroles and jalapeño-cheddar burgers. Amy, the director, was sick. So, Christopher, the assistant director, had hosted it. Out by the hammock, he asked one of the new graduate students if she wanted to have a threesome with him and his fiancé. She walked away.

When it happened, I was looking through the porch’s screen. My girlfriend Lauren and I were ready to eat. The evening tinted darker despite flames licking out of the fire pit.

***

I found porn on my computer, Lauren texted.

I had checked the time on my phone as I made copies of rubrics for class. I wondered what the porn was and how I hadn’t deleted it. I didn’t use my laptop for the Internet, only Lauren’s which was always on. I always covered my tracks by clearing history, emptying cookies, and refreshing the cache. I never downloaded anything and never paid for anything. The laptop had pop-up software and virus detectors. It almost would have been easier to deny the porn if I could pass it off as randomly appearing. Without more information, I needed to be vague.

Do you know anything about this? Lauren texted.

What?! I texted back and then turned off my phone and shoved it in my pocket.

***

One of my students was advocating for emergency poles on campus. Her plan for installing poles in the line of sight all around campus made sense. Then she began to list off other colleges to support her argument. While our university was a public research school, the ones she used were historically women-only private institutions.

I’d had another female student attempt to turn in a persuasive topic calling all women to not walk alone at night. In office hours, I had asked her if our town was unsafe. And were only women at risk? I didn’t ask if all crime—want of money, want of flesh, want of power—was mostly done by men. The girl changed her topic to suggest every college student not walk alone.

During the emergency pole speech, I didn’t interrupt. I let her finish. The class applauded as they always did. I wrote on the notes section of her rubric: So, are men the real problem?

It’s a trite but truism that there are certain films, certain albums, and certain books that serve as barometers for where we are in life: By our late-twenties, the Holden Caulfield who articulated everything we hoped that we hoped the green hair we had in high school would (but didn’t) had become that creeper who cornered us in the kitchens at house parties and shared weirdly personal details that were entirely unrelated to the conversation. When we were fifteen, the meanings behind a Tori Amos song were like goldfish flitting through a quick stream, we could glimpse them, but not catch them. We believed that they’d stop eluding us when we were older, but when we were older, we realized that we’d never understand what it meant for Jupiter to be gay or blue and we felt strangely cheated by this; then, once we’d had our hearts well and thoroughly broken for the first time, we found ourselves skipping backward on our iPods, just to hear her sing “thought we both could use a friend to run to,” and what we felt was more important that what we could understand.