As the class dismissed, I watched the students file out of the room one, two, three at a time. As the classroom emptied and I said goodbye to the first day of class, I looked up to see her still sitting in her seat, stonefaced. Our lives had taken us on two different paths of a similar journey. I could see she was realizing this through every point of the lecture, but I also saw the embarrassment that flushed over her as she realized I was more than her. I don’t want my students to feel this way, but I don’t like feeling as though I am nothing either.
“Do you have any questions?” I ask as she sits there still confused in the fluster of what had just happened in the last hour.
I watched her startle as she realizes we are the only two individuals left in the room. Gathering her things and standing quickly she started to rush towards me.
“I’m so sorry about…” she started to say as I put my hand up to stop her. She just stands there mouth half open, horror swirling in her eyes.
“You are an adult, you should act like one. Today you acted like a sixteen your old girl who wanted to make an impression on the cool kids. Instead, you embarrassed not only me in front of my boss, but the rest of the students and faculty in that building. On top of that, you also embarrassed yourself. This course is required by you, it’s also a pre-requisite. Which means I get the privilege of seeing your face three times a week and you get a reminder that the world doesn’t revolve around you.”
“But…” she says as her confusion mixes with her boiling pot of shock and disbelief of the last few hours of her life. I conclude that she likely is terrified that I will automatically fail her, make her life miserable or worse. Although, I’m not entirely sure what worse I could do to her, maybe get her removed from the university?
“You are caught in a catch 22 aren’t you?” I say with a smirk across my face.
“I’ve worked so hard to get here. And it has felt like you have followed me throughout my whole career.” Her voice begins to rise as she emphasizes all of the things she feels I have done. “Every single time I turned around you were there. From peer review journals and industry magazines to conferences. And now here you are…”
“Teaching me.” She says with a sigh in her voice.
“The difference was you paid attention to your competition. Which you thought was me. When it wasn’t. We enjoyed and excelled at the same things. You kept your eyes on someone behind you while I kept my eyes on the future.”
“No…no I didn’t.” She is starting to become stone-faced and the redness of embarrassment is growing up her neck into a heated anger as I tell her the reality. “If I was paying attention to you, my competition as you put it, then how did I not know you were married?”
“Simple, we are not friends,” I say grabbing my bag from the table and making my way to the door.
“So how can I pass this class?”
“Do the work, show up, participate, and leave your feelings about me at the door, just as I will for you.”
“That’s it? You aren’t going to hold this over my head for the rest of the semester?” She asks with a flare of confusion.
I stop myself for a moment before answering. How low can I go without harming myself and reputation in this conversation? I could simply leave the issue at the door, but revenge sometimes feels bittersweet. But going home to tell Frank that I got into a fight my first day of school will feel more like I was back in middle school than a professor at a University. “I could, and I will if and only if you don’t meet your potential. I know you have it in you, I know you have worked hard to get here. From relationships and jobs, life is unfair, but unless you don’t do what is laid out in that syllabus you will have this day held over you for the rest of the semester.”
“That’s not fair. I didn’t know you where my professor!”
“Exactly!” I say leaving the doorway and making my way down the hall. I don’t have time for long drawn out apologies or excuses. She knows what she did was wrong, she knows she is better than that. At least I hope she does.