A journal of narrative writing.
Look Where You’re Going, Boy

David came out of a fissure in the earth. There was no doubt about that; it showed in his smoky complexion and the drill bits of his eyes. He sat at the rear of the classroom, as if that rendered him somehow invisible. You could hear him during lectures at the back of the room, seething with frustration. Professors covered his tests in red marks and clucked in disapproval. You could not teach a Paper Mache Godzilla, a swamp thing with its puppet strings showing.

As his tutor I received service learning hours for my valiant efforts. Dr. Denzie, the writing lab advisor, signed my time sheets and peered over her bifocals, melting with sympathy. What a guy. What a little trooper. But she didn’t know David any better than I. No one knew David but David.

The Bangladeshi kid in my study group spread the rumor that his mom committed suicide after his father’s coffin came back from Afghanistan. He said she drove off a cliff into Lake Cayuga. I attempted to silence the kid with my best look of worldly skepticism but he didn’t notice. No amount of glaring could penetrate the study group's wall of mocha latte, Colombian Grande and espresso. The parapets of the ivory tower, sponsored by Starbucks. It didn’t matter as the kid was already drumming on the glowing screen of his touch phone. Besides, I believed it. I believed everything I heard about David.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays we met at the library. I think the sterility of the place soothed him. This was a conscious choice. Customarily, opposing armies hold talks inside a demilitarized zone. That’s International Relations 102.

David sat there, still as a boulder, while we reviewed his notes. After a week of this it became clear that his grammar was just the frosting on a big, ugly cake. He needed an attitude adjustment. This was funny because I had my own issues with academic motivation.

I slid neatly-typed primers in front of him and pointed at each sentence. A good tutor has to fight the instinct to supply answers for his student. You have to let him guess, even if it takes a while. I’ll admit that my eyes wandered. A girl that I liked from Mass Media came in frequently to use the computer terminals. David muttered impotently while my eyes took in the girl’s glossy brown hair, tied up in a funny bundle on top of her head. My index finger did the work.

Sometime in early November David yawned and sat back in his chair. Outside, a cold wind screamed in the bare limbs of the trees. Somebody had turned the thermostat all the way up and kids on the second floor were slumped over, drooling in their textbooks. I had to hand it to him, David was still awake.

“You got Facebook,” he said to me. It was the most substantial sentence I’d heard him utter. Subject and object. It was grammatically incorrect, but still. Subject and object.

“Nah,” I said.

“An iPhone?”


David nodded solemnly. Long pause. We listened to the sound of papers shuffling, someone sneezing, anything but the damned rhetoric homework.

“You don’t have to do this.”


“Can’t be too fun, sitting here with my dumb ass. I’ll tell the tutoring department to sign off on your hours.”


He gave me a spooky, calm look. I hesitated.

“OK. If you think you’ve got it. Thanks, David.”

He nodded and leaned back, squinting up at the ceiling. I gathered my books and primers and pencils and binders and headed for the door, fleece jacket over my arm. It was that easy. Sometimes the world just gave you what you wanted and cleared your way, felled the trees in one heavenly whoosh of nature. I had stumbled upon the legendary free lunch. But as I passed the information desk, for some reason I stopped at the sight of the girl behind the counter. I’d never seen an expression more drained of vitality than the face behind that desk. She just sat there, slack-jawed, for all appearances brain dead. The girl was probably a service learner like me. A free lunch, of course. I turned around and went back to David. He hadn’t moved an inch.

“It’s cold as hell out there. I think I’ll just stick around. If that’s ok with you.”

David crossed his arms and nodded, placid as a dog sprawled in the sun. Free will is an unproven hypothesis. Philosophy 305.

We continued to meet without much progress. I tried all the tricks; mnemonic devices, puzzles, sports analogies. But nothing helped. We were trapped in a limbo of senseless academic jargon that, in his case, was inscrutable as a foreign language. In that sense I related to him, to David’s frustration with himself. The world was a vicious ball of yarn and he did not have the patience or the inclination to untangle it. At least I could fake it.

One afternoon at the library we were taking a break and I was ogling the brown-haired girl from about twenty feet away. David put his pencil down and almost smiled. The corners of his mouth jerked.

“You talk to her yet,” he said.


He cocked his big caveman head at the girl, all business.


“You gonna say something?”

“Nah. Come on, focus.”

He was gazing at her and twirling a pencil between his fingers. She appeared to be absorbed in a textbook but with a single glance in our direction the jig would be up. David was waiting for it to happen. I hissed and jabbed him with my eraser but he hardly flinched. Rubber bouncing off rock. I felt like I was watching an oblivious family of villagers nearing a land mine. A God-fearing man would hide his face. Of course I didn’t and when she looked up we were both examining her like a ripe mango. I recoiled but David waved with one heavy paw. Her eyebrows lifted in an expression of amusement and she turned back to her textbook.

“You have no class,” I said. “No class at all.”

A sane human being would have left it alone but David placed his pencil on the desk and began to stare with greater enthusiasm. I snapped my fingers in his ear and considered abandoning him before any further humiliation. But there was no viable escape route. When she glanced up he waved again, fighter’s jaw hanging open in concentration. The girl finally stood, smoothed the wrinkles in her blouse, and walked directly up to us.

“Hi,” she said.

“What’re you working on over there.”

“A paper. Sociology.”

“How’s it coming.”

“It’s ok. A little slow. I don’t care about it.”

She stuck two fingers in the back pocket of her jeans and looked at me.

“This is John,” said David. “He’s pretty good at that stuff. I got him to help with my paper.”


“How’s it going,” I said briskly. My heart was attempting to hammer through my ribs.

“Aren’t you in my Mass Media class?”

“Yeah, I think so.”
“We should get a study group going. You and John can share notes and shit.”


“Here,” David said, tearing off a piece of his rhetoric homework. “Write down your number and John will call you.”

She bent over to scribble the information on the scrap of paper. It said ‘Amy’ in swooping blue curves. I took a deep breath and put it in the front folder of my notebook.

“Bye,” she said, tilting her head to one side.

David waved again, as if it was a new move he had just made up. We watched her go back to her desk. After a few moments of stunned silence I turned to him.

“Wow. I wonder how she knew you were checking her out?”

“Female intuition.”

“Female intuition? You were drilling a hole in the side of her head. “

He shrugged.

“Unbelievable,” I said, but I was grinning.

“When I turn this garbage in we are going to the bar.”

Cowardice is one of those traits you keep secret, even from yourself. I was a coward. David, on the other hand, was an entirely different creature. He had an aura; a physicality that people could not explain, like a magnetic field. My own aura smelled strongly of whiskey, thanks to the shots we had taken earlier in the night. We must have looked ridiculous strutting down South Hill Road, one Incredible Hulk and one Bruce Banner in a ratty polo shirt.

I talked and as usual David responded in incomplete sentences but he was attentive and upbeat. When I made jokes about his size he even gave me a playful jab in the shoulder. I grimaced, rubbing the feeling back into my arm. Make way for two dangerous bachelors.

“You gotta keep me out of trouble tonight,” he said.

“Yeah, sure.”

“You gonna?”

“I guess. Sure, David. I’ll restrain you myself. Piece of cake.”