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It was a three-by-five index card with thin blue lines and a thicker magenta header.  On the blank side someone had written “Are you happy?” in black calligraphy, slightly left of center.  I found the card resting on a chalkboard tray in Manchester 245.  Sitting in the room, waiting for statistics students who never showed, shuffling through Stephan Grappelli, Sound Tribe Sector 9, and Matisyahu while working problems for complex analysis, I convinced myself the answer was yes.  But I wasn’t sure. 

* * * * 

There’s a student who I first saw this summer, cruising back and forth from the library on an electric wheelchair.  He drove his wheelchair slowly, calmly, and wore his isolation like a crown.  With dignity, and pain.  He never smiled.  He was outside the caf the other evening, and I did a double take.  A girl behind his wheelchair was talking to him, but that wasn’t the odd part: what didn’t make sense was that she was moving twice as fast as the other walkers, while simultaneously arguing the merits of a particular fantasy card game, and with no apparent need to pause for breath.  And then I saw her feet, planted firmly on the back platform of his wheelchair, her hands gripping the seat as they whizzed by.  And he was still looking straight ahead, calmly, almost unmoving.  But the faintest thread of a smile was twitching at the corners of his mouth.  When I see him on campus, he’s not driving slowly anymore.  

* * * *

The Post Secret guy came to Wake Forest last night.  I’ve seen some of the books, but never followed the website.  We got there 15 minutes before the talk, and ended up standing in the back row of a crowd of more than 600 people.  He showed postcards that hadn’t been published in the books, and talked about the idea of secrets, and then invited people in the audience to share their own secrets.  And a girl in front stood up, and told about how she’d tried to kill herself the year before, and how her sister had saved her, and how she’d never told anyone that it was thanks to her sister she was still alive.  And then I realized I knew her.  That it was Nina.  We sing together in choir.  Her sister is my friend Becky.  We go to daily Mass together.  And I didn’t cry.  But I think my heart tried to turn inside-out.  I think I presume that I would be able to sense that kind of unhappiness.  Really, I just don’t know.

* * * *

I finally turned the romantic-relationship part of my life over to God two weeks ago.  20 years of being attracted to girls (yes, it started that early), and it’s taken me this long to give up.  Taken me this long to say “I don’t know what the crap’s going on here, I don’t know what I need, and if I’m perfectly honest I don’t know what I want.  I need you to show me these things.  I don’t care how long it takes, and I don’t care what needs to happen.”  Those are dangerous, scary, scary words.  I’m gritting my teeth right now.  I’m clenching them the way I did when I wanted to stay angry at my father as a four year-old.  When I desperately wanted and hated his hug simultaneously, when I would push away and hit at his arms before finally breaking down and crying in them.  And he would say “Did you really want to stay mad?  Did it really make you happy?”  And I’d squeeze my fists and say “YES!” and he’d smile sadly, sidewise, with eyes that seemed to look far beyond me, far away to a place I did not understand.  Then he’d look back, straight into my eyes, and say “Is this better?”  And I’d lose my grip and rest in his arms, and sob.  “Yes,  this is better.”

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Tommy and I threw a cookout for the math grad students and post-docs last night, largely in an effort to build solidarity with the new first-years, but also because hey, it’s Labor Day weekend, and beer and hamburgers are fun.  The party was a smashing success.  Everyone had a great time, the food was delicious, and people are now excited about organizing more social events.  Apparently we set the bar. Score!

And I say we, but Tommy’s involvement was fairly limited.  He was kind enough to make a last minute run to Food Lion for ice, cheese and a two liter of Coke, and it’s entirely due to his suggestion that the post-docs were invited (I didn’t even think of it).  But the invitations, organization, alcohol provisioning, food purchasing, vegetable prepping, hamburger making and grilling fell to me.  Voluntarily, because I knew this party wouldn’t happen if I didn’t make it happen.  Voluntarily, because I didn’t want this to be another “byob and pay us back for the meat” event.  But then, when somebody disses your acquisition of Mike’s Hard Lemonade (even when he’s not helping pay for it), further comments that the Cottonwood Low Down Brown Ale you bought was a little too sweet for his taste (after drinking it), and finally drinks one of your (more expensive) bottles of Rogue instead of his own Sam Adams, it bites.

Do you remember The Little Red Hen?  In our Golden Book version there were a host of selfish and self-absorbed freeloading barnyard animals who refused to help in any part of the hen’s breadmaking.  

“Who will help me grind the wheat?” said the Little Red Hen.  “Not I,” said the Dog.  “Not I,” said the Cat.  “Not I,” said the Pig.  “Oh, not I,” said the Sheep.  And so the Little Red Hen ground the wheat into flower all by herself…

Naturally, at the end of story all the animals want to share in the loaf.  And the hen, a model social conservative, lets them smell the bread and then eats it – all by herself.  

As I kid, I loved that story.  My mom did, too, and I think I know why.  But the older I get, the more I wonder if the hen got indigestion.

What Tommy did makes me mad, but what am I going to do about it?  The only way to do anything is to compromise the hospitality and generosity I worked so hard to present last night.  And the only way to actually be generous, to not have simply put on a show, is to just let my resentment go.  What am I holding onto?  One beer?  A few hours of work and some money I could afford to spend?  

Or maybe I simply enjoy the righteous anger at having been ill-used.  Am I that petty?  Possibly.  But if that’s the case, I deserve a quote from Juliette: “Bitch, Puhleeze!”

That goes for you, too, Little Red Hen.