I threw into the recycling bin today a stack of index cards four inches tall, inscribed with Latin declensions and vocabulary. With the paper-dust came the memory of scrambling to my feet in the hallway of the classics department.
Professor Hexter was young and vigorous, and his eyes, too close together, were oddly
attractive and compelling, as if his surplus of energy had clenched them tight together. I was sitting in the hall by his office. He asked if I had been waiting long, and I had been, but I said cheerfully, "A man with his Latin grammar cards is never without employment," as I slipped these cards, the very same, into my pack. They were not yellow then. I wanted to ask him about some glosses in a medieval manuscript of Ovid's Heroides.
Memory leads to memory; Hexter walking rapidly among the desks, handing back exams. He stopped abruptly at mine.
"This," he drawled, "is disgusting." He slapped down my exam. "No one has ever gotten a perfect score on this test."
I could have told him why I had done so well. My dissertation on Chaucer was dead in the water, and to avoid working on it I had flung myself into Latin. I remember that moment, because it was the last triumph I had in graduate school. It was all unravelling. Tori was two and had still never slept through the night. Every day I trudged off to Sterling library; every evening I trudged back, my Latin texts thoroughly mastered, my dissertation untouched. My friendship with Marina was dead. Other friends were vanishing, one by one, as they finished their dissertations and found teaching positions. I had already written half of a dissertation on Old English poetics, and given it up. This dissertation on Chaucer was my second attempt, and I knew in my bones that I would never finish it, either.
Things have been conspiring recently to evoke those days. The sleeplessness; the anxiety about not doing my work. And I've been rereading Chaucer:
O yonge, fresshe folkes, he or she,
In which that loue vp groweth with youre age,
Repeyreth hom fro worldly vanyte,
And of youre herte vp casteth the visage
To thilke god that after his ymage
Yow made, and thynketh al nys but a faire
This world that passeth soone as floures faire
Filled with love tonight, both for those repairing home, and those still caught in worldly vanity. It is all so beautiful, and it all hurts so deeply. Bless you. Good night.