09 February 2009

Spoken For (Part 2)

In my freshman year of college I received my first ever F on an exam. It was Intro to Art History, a class I had been terribly excited to take, having no idea it would entail memorizing the names, dates and construction details of countless medieval churches, all of which looked exactly alike. What a bore! (Naive thing that I was, I had assumed we would philosophize rhapsodically about ART, not dissect it and categorize its parts as if it were an earthworm.)

Having always been an assiduous student, I was horrified. Not one minute of the previous 13 years of schooling had prepared me for this. An F! Only half-way through my first semester of college and already I was a failure. (I know, I know, your heart bleeds for me.) Depressed and mortified, I dragged my leaden feet to a lonely bench under a tree and sat down to contemplate the fullness of my degradation.

I took my sandwich out of its bag and held it in my dead fingers, staring but not seeing. Across the courtyard, people talked and laughed as if no tragedy had occurred. I felt the despair of utter isolation.

But I wasn't alone. A bushy-tailed gray squirrel had hopped onto my bench and was looking at me. Not at my sandwich—at

I returned his gaze, wondering what it was he wanted. He just looked. At a loss, I broke a piece of bread off my lunch and held it up. He moved closer. I lowered the bread and the squirrel climbed up onto my thigh and gingerly took it from my fingers, never dropping eye contact with me. He ate the bread noisily. I offered him another piece. Moving my arms to break off more bread did not scare him away. He simply sat on my leg and waited, still examining my face. And then he spoke.

Exactly what he said, I may never recall. But his gentle, wise presence served to pull me out of my torpor and see my situation in a more realistic light. When the sandwich was gone, we gazed at each other very earnestly for a moment and then said our goodbyes. His included a thank you, as did mine.

Was it real? Did the squirrel talk to me? Did he use words? To this day, I don't know. While I doubt that I could have been comforted by a human voice in that moment (my agony was so over-blown I don't think I could have let a person in) I am certain that, by extending the paw of friendship when I needed it most, a small mammal made a big difference in my life.

I didn't quit school. I went back to the dorms and, before the next test, memorized all those damn slides. I pulled out a B, despite the failed mid-term, and I never took Art History again. I'd learned my lesson.

See Spoken For (Part 1) here.