Alison Stine, 3/11/2013

Current Occupation: University Instructor / PhD Student
Former Occupation: High School Teacher
Contact Information: Alison Stine is the author of Wait, winner of the 2010 Brittingham Prize, and Ohio Violence, winner of the 2008 Vassar Miller Prize. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, and a recipient of the Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, her first book of essays, The Last Hotel, has been a finalist for theGraywolf Press Nonfiction Prize.

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No Earthquake

Up and down the short street, the cars are double parked, as usual: vans, gypsy cabs, the drivers all out somewhere, smoking. The street glimmers. It gets dark at three.

Up the hill, a car turns off from the Henry Hudson Parkway and zooms down the block into the neighborhood, still going highway speeds. I could make it, I think. I see the car’s headlights, yellow cat lights—but I could rush across. It’s dark, but they would see me. Wouldn’t they? I have a blue coat on. I have the right of way.

I have just come from my first class without him.

The student has been asked to leave. The student has been told not to speak to me, not to contact me, not to come close, not to get within feet. It is not the first time he been asked to do this, but they—the university, the administrators, the chair—will not tell me of others. They cannot.

I have my time, my moment. I have his weeks of murmurs, scoffs, his eyes rolling back in his head. Once, I thought he was drunk, his words so slurred, his hair greasy and scuffed and sticking up like someone had rolled his head in dirt. He is big, much bigger than me.

I have what happened in class, when he began screaming. When he turned red. When he started panting, growling, gnashing his teeth. His eyes went white. He bit his own hand.

We are animals, I think.

They are other times, but they cannot tell me about them.

I felt my blood beat in my face. I drove an hour each way to teach. If I arrived early, I had to wait in the bathroom, my briefcase on my knees. I was not prepared for this, not this: to stand in front of this room, and not die. To keep it together—and not die, not die.

 

No earthquake, no earthquake, no earthquake, no earthquake, my friend Ceilo used to repeat from the steering wheel when we drove the bridge from San Francisco to Oakland. If the big one came—if any earthquake came—the bridge wouldn’t survive it, she said. Everyone knew this.

 

Keep it together. Keep it together.

“Change the room,” my mother says. “He might come back.”

The only room left on campus, this late in the semester, is the dance studio: our class’s new home. I e-mail all the students—all except him. I come in early and arrange the seats so that I am in the middle, facing the doors. Find all the exits before class starts, and mark them. Unlock the windows. Post signs on the old door that read: Check your e-mail for where we are.

“It’s like a scavenger hunt!” my student Erin says.

Sweet Erin with her round face and Matt Dillon haircut, chains on her pants, her fantasy novel, her habit of putting her cheek down on the desk and dreaming during class. I love Erin. I love Polina. I love Tom. I love them all.

And I am afraid when I go to my car. It is dark then, winter dark. My keys rattle like bones; my hood is pulled up over my face. Faux fur trim, imaginary animal: Protect me. Car: Start and protect me. Bridge: Hold and protect me.

No earthquake, no earthquake, no earthquake, no earthquake.

On the hill, I wait for the car to pass. I was not prepared for this life, but I want to live it. I wait for the car, then I cross the street.

 

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