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The first time, I assumed it was an anomaly. The third time? I’m not stupid: the reason the third-floor women’s bathroom smells overwhelmingly like vomit at 3:15 p.m. every day is because someone has bulimia and makes herself throw up after her Thursday afternoon class. And, not to get too graphic, here, but… she’s not great at her aim. Which indicates that she’s new to this whole “throwing up to gain control” thing. Which indicates that there’s still time to save her.

As a student and a human being, I get it. I empathize with the sighs girls emit as they weigh themselves on the big manual scale in the Rec Center’s locker room, and I am not fooled by the trying-too-hard-to-sound-generic coughing and multiple flushes of the same toilet while I’m finishing my makeup after a workout. But I don’t judge, I relate… maybe more than I should. What women doesn’t want to be thinner, prettier, fitter, better? I do! I get it!

But as a teacher and a human being, I want to stand outside that bathroom at 3:10 p.m. on a Thursday, identify this girl and hug her. Hard. And tell her that whatever stupid ideals to which a person holds herself at 19 years old are ridiculous and she will outgrow them; don’t punish yourself for something you haven’t done. Don’t be naive enough to think life is as simple as “Thin girls are happier,” because unfortunately, it’s not. You’ll learn that in time, I promise, so give yourself time to learn it before you start fucking up your body and your mind. Don’t start something your adult self won’t want to finish. Even if you hate your current self, be nice to your future self.

My new lifestyle has given me a new perspective on age, gender relations, socioeconomic status–basically everything. It’s hard to be thrown into a brand new environment, and even harder to have to play both roles (teacher AND student). But that’s kind of the point, right? That’s kind of why I’m here*. I want to learn everything about everyone, and I want to know it all. What better way to learn than to jump into the crowd and observe, right? And trying to affect your surroundings means that you’re not really learning, you’re imposing, which defeats the point. So, I’ll just quietly watch and learn and evolve. That’s the student part of me.

But the teacher part of me physically hurts for that bulimic girl, even as I know that I can’t save her–maybe I can’t save anybody. And if that’s true, what am I doing here?

Heavy thoughts for a weekend.

 

*For those of you not keeping track, “here” is “Lincoln, NE, to pursue a Ph.D. after 10 years in Corporate America left me unimpressed and unengaged.”

In my Health Comm. class last week, we were engaged in a discussion about studying “fringe” populations, and whether more funding should be allocated to research rare-but-horrible diseases vs. very common illnesses. The instructor’s example was infertility–it only affects about 10% of the American population, yet it’s her main focus of study.

Trying to be helpful, one of my fellow Ph.D. students mentioned a research project she’s doing with childless women — specifically, interviewing women who are choosing to remain childless and (I’m paraphrasing, here), “Figuring out what in their past made them not want kids. If it was their family structure, some sort of bad experience, or… whatever else, we want to understand that decision.”

It wasn’t until about an hour after class that I realized how much she’d just insulted me without realizing it.  According to her, my decision to remain childless implies that there’s something odd about me — something worth studying — and that a horrible trauma in my past is the only reason I don’t want to procreate, because no healthy, balanced woman would voluntarily choose to be infertile, right? That she’s spending research dollars looking for a dramatic impetus for my apparently radical and unhealthy decision seems hurtful. Am I so broken that academics struggle to understand me? Is my preference to remain childless so confusing and threatening that dollars must be spent learning how to prevent my mindset in others?

Beyond being insulting, her study seems completely impractical: she could just give me the $5,000 and I’ll flat-out explain that children are loud, selfish and dirty, I do not find kids funny or entertaining, I have zero maternal instinct and I believe that my energy and passion is more effectively spent teaching numerous adults how to communicate better, rather than teaching one person not to shit their pants. I feel about kids the way most people feel about African lions: I’m happy they exist, I financially and emotionally support others’ efforts to nurture their development and I hope someone enjoys taking care of them…but I don’t want one in my home for 18 years.

Nope. Not a thing I want.

Some (most) women disagree with my statements above, but I don’t think they’re “wrong,” nor do I think I’m “right.” I simply disagree on this one topic, and my reasons for that aren’t sinister or complicated. Ask any woman who has kids why she wanted them, and she’ll probably say, “I just did.”  In that same vein, I just didn’t. Why is one answer perfectly reasonable and the other arouses suspicion and requires investigation?

Does her study insinuate that my classmate is prejudiced? Or that I truly am a freak with dark motives?

Or am I putting too much thought into this because I’m avoiding homework?

Another day at the office

Responding to student emails on my laptop from a shaded bench by the campus library = what “work” looks like for me now. 

Thank you, Past Heather, for being fearless and making scary choices. It was totally worth it, and I won’t let you down.

Soulmates

All last week, I was the only moped to park in the motorcycle parking area near my building on campus; little Skylar made company with a dozen real-life, badass, intimidating cycles. It’s not that I care about being an outsider (riding an under-powered moped in a town bereft of two-wheeled vehicles, you quickly learn to drop your ego), but I was surprised to learn that no one else has discovered how efficient, how quick, how fun, how cheap scooters can be in a college town.

So, imagine my delight when I came out to the motorcycle parking lot after class today and discovered my secret soulmate:

Skylar and friends

Aiiyeeeee!!!! A partner in mint-green, 35-mph crime! I found it nothing less than magical that the model of Skylar’s doppelganger is the Buddy.

Now, I just have to time it exactly right in order to meet Buddy’s owner. We can trade stories, share tips about riding in the rain, maybe get coffee together sometime, uncover similarities in our tastes in wine and movies, become best friends, move in together and…

Wait! Heather, breathe. You’re getting ahead of yourself, here.

For now, I’m just tickled that Skylar’s not alone. Where I was once a proud outsider, I’m now part of a club. A tiny and strange club, but still.🙂

Note to Self: I have got to stop eating popcorn in bed right before I fall asleep. I mean, as of today, I’m a teacher for chrissake, and waking up in a minefield of errant kernels does not scream “Go mold some minds today, wise sage!”