Lime Hawk

Joanell Serra
6 min readNov 26, 2018

Alma Mater

Inside the building, we almost run up to two flights of stairs, because Jeanie is so determined to get to class on time. It’s one of her more annoying traits, this insistence on being prompt. And prepared. She probably has paper, pencils, pens, a highlighter and the textbook in her backpack. I, as usual, have nothing but indigestion.

The lecture hall door is wide open, and inside, a crowd of students mills about, grabbing seats, popping open their cans of Diet Coke, lining up pens on the tiny desks.

I’m frustrated, climbing over the long legs of jocks to get a seat. “Fuck, this class is crowded. There must be four hundred in this one.” I usually take strange classes no one else wants. French Enlightenment Theorists, for instance. That way I get to be one of fifteen students in a class. “Why is this class so packed? Is it a GE?”

“It should be required,” Jeanie says, “But it’s not. It is the most important class you take here though, so pay attention.”

I sink into a hard wooden seat, borrow a piece of paper from Jeanie, and try to settle in as a professor enters the room, strapping on a microphone. The feedback screeching through the loudspeaker is our notice to shut up and listen. The professor is an older woman, short cropped grey hair standing out against dark skin. She might be Asian, or Latina — I can’t tell. I glance at the syllabus Jeanie has slipped me and see the professor’s name is Bea Goodman.

“She speaks like four languages,” Jeanie whispers to me. “And she’s a vegan.”

The professor is talking about pedagogy, a word I never understood, and the dialectical bind found within all societies.

“I don’t get it,” I scribble on my paper, then poke Jeanie to show her my note.

“Just try to listen. And remember.” She doesn’t sound bored, as I expected. Not ready for a game of tic-tac-toe on my notepad, or to share a stick of gum. There’s a note of urgency, even desperation, in her voice.

I glance at her, seeing for the first time today that her eyeliner has been applied carefully, as always, to accentuate her narrow green eyes. She is prettier than I ever realized. Even beautiful. I look away, embarrassed at a sense of longing I feel. I want to reach out and hold her hand, to stroke her cheek, to tell her, all of a sudden, that I love her too. Very much. Even though I never make the bed, and I forget birthdays.

I force my attention back to the professor, who is waving her arms somewhat hysterically.

“We have systematically shifted all the power from the haves to the have mores, disallowing the poor a voice in the political process, in effect, returning to a system of slavery within our own country. It’s financial slavery, but people are in chains nonetheless. We are losing the battle, people. We are at the point of moral Armageddon.”

I take a few notes: Slavery. Poor. A voice. Did she say Armageddon?

And then the professor switches to Latin, which I do not speak.

“Radix onmium malorium est cupiditas.”

I assume she will return to English and translate her phrase. We will then know that whatever she said is very important, because it was said in Latin. Something like Carpe Diem. Or Semper Fi.

But she goes on, continuing the lecture in Latin. Or is it Greek? I’m lost. Did I skip a prerequisite for this class?

“Why is she doing this?” I ask Jeanie. “I mean, I get it. She’s really smart and speaks lots of languages. But we don’t. So what’s the point?”

Jeanie looks at me, her carefully trimmed eyebrows lifting. “What do you mean?” Then she glances at my notes, where I have tried to write a word in Latin.

Avaritia.

“Oh, God. You’re not even going to hear the rest of the lecture. Shit!”

Jeanie rises, pulling me from my seat and down the aisle, over the legs and feet of a variety of annoyed students. Her hand on my sweatshirt is strong, insistent, and she pulls me out into the hallway like we are escaping a vacuum.

It’s cooler in the hallway, and I shiver for a minute. On the wall are the portraits of college professors of the past, dour looking men. I look closer and see one woman as Jeanie pulls me by. She looks curiously like my grandmother. But Nana never went to college or even spoke English.

“That looks so much like my grand — ”

“Listen. You’re leaving.”

“What?”

Jeanie has her arms crossed and bites on her small lower lip. “You don’t have all the credits, I guess. Or some shit. You’re not going to be staying here.”

“At Rutgers?”

“At…here. It’s not Rutgers. It’s like graduate school, sort of. I know it doesn’t makes sense, but you have to go.”

My eye starts to twitch, like a migraine is coming on. “Go where?”

“Look, this isn’t what you thought.”

I hear her but I don’t. I’m noticing that I’m barefoot, which is very strange. It occurs to me for the first time that I could be dreaming. But her hand on my shoulder presses down. It feels real. I try to hear what she’s saying.

“This is where you go if you die.”

I look down the long, empty hallway. The windows are open, and a chilly breeze is pushing in.

“Why is it so much like college?”

“Because that’s where everyone wants to go when they die. Back to college. People miss it, I guess. When they get older. This world is mirrored by their desire. Sort of.”

“I miss it. College.” Awareness comes in, things I don’t want to know. That college is over, that I’m older than this. That Jeanie hasn’t aged with me. I stare at her fresh, young face, her perfect eye make-up and unblemished skin. “You’re here because you died here.”

She nods again as if I’m stating the obvious. “I guess I lacked the imagination to go somewhere else.”

“And I’m here because you’re here.”

She shrugs, her left shoulder lifting gently, for just a second. It’s the shrug that sends me over, that makes me know it’s really her. My girl. My bestie. My morning stretch and end-of-day goodnight. The girl who shares my paperbacks, shoes, and boxes of tampons. My confidant, my second mother, my sister. My first love, in some ways. My roommate. My friend.

“But I don’t want to leave.” I reach for her, but I know it’s already over. I can feel pain shooting through my chest, hear the sounds of earthly chaos coming closer.

“No one does.” She reaches over and tucks my loose hair behind my ear. Her skin brushing mine pulls tears from my eyes. Oh my God, I realize. I’ve missed her so much. I try to form her name with my lips, to say it once more to her face. To say goodbye this time. Jeanie. But I can’t speak.

“Don’t forget to study your notes!”

It’s the last thing she says to me before I fall asleep. Or wake up, depending on how you view things.

Two weeks later, I am discharged from the hospital, leaning heavily on my family. I wobble with a walker around my apartment. I eat tasteless, mushy food, even after the wire is removed from my jaw. And I watch too much reality TV.

I stop telling anyone I died and went to college. That I saw Jeanie. That if I just spoke Latin, I might have a crucial message to share. About pedagogy and poverty and some other things I can’t recall.

I tell them instead to eat well, while their taste buds are fresh. And visit their old colleges once in a while.

A month after the accident, I bring a burrito to the homeless man near my office, my first day back on the job. He accepts it reluctantly, says, “I don’t really like Mexican food.”

I look at old pictures from college, tracing our outline with my finger. Jeanie and me, dressed up as Simon and Garfunkel for Halloween. The two of us sitting in the fresh grass of a spring day, her arms thrown up in the air. Jeanie laughing in the back of someone’s car, high.

I find a radio station that plays only the Grateful Dead, a kind of heavenly oasis as I drive home from work every night.

I cry easily.

I tell a few old friends that I love them, to make sure they know it, and to sign up to vote for Bernie Sanders.

I pull out my boxes from college, brushing off my translation of Rousseau. I read it in the woods, under a very old tree.

I donate to a scholarship at our Alma Mater.

I begin a Latin class in the evenings.

I try to study my notes.

Originally published at www.limehawk.org.

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Joanell Serra

Joanell Serra MFT . Writer/therapist/ consultant/social change maker/ bio/adoptive mom. The Vines We Planted debut novel. May 2018. (Wido)