An Essay by Steven Schroeder
Michael stood in front of the classroom with his partner, Gretchen. She was a foot shorter than him with brown hair, almond-colored eyes, and wore a green sundress. He wore a button-down shirt tucked into slacks with brown dress shoes. Michael could feel the sweat collecting in his armpits as he read off the PowerPoint presentation behind him,
“So although there are no physical symptoms of illness or perhaps meeting set criteria, it would be difficult for a doctor to allow physicians to assisted suicide based on the principle that it is against a doctor’s code to cause death. Without a severe medical condition, seeking to ask a doctor to commit suicide because of something they cannot see. Where one person may be suffering a debilitating disease such as cancer, a person suffering from mental illness would be intangible and therefore the legality of allowing for products such as euthanasia, which are the most harmless form of suicide.”
A hand rose. It belonged to a girl named Tina who sat in the front of the classroom. She titled her chin up and said, “What you’re saying is, is that if someone goes to a doctor, and let’s say, I don’t know, that you are sitting in a room blaring music all day, has no friends, don’t talk to anyone, that the doctor wouldn’t describe you as being depressed.”
Professor Durlich interrupted: “If I may class, I believe that what Michael is saying is that without such visible signs such as mental retardation, its impossible to know the mindset the patient is under when considering suicide. Now, being retarded is no doubt difficult but can be managed, simply having a bad day, going to a doctor, and asking for euthanasia is not in either party’s interest.”
Professor Durlich nodded his head, satisfied with his own opinion. He sat in the back corner of the classroom, one leg over the other revealing his Patriots Football socks. He had on a black sports jacket with missing gold buttons, a white polo shirt that had a mustard stain on the collar, and the jeans that must have been purchased a size too short so that everyone could see his patriot’s socks which he possessed infinite quantities.
Michael and Gretchen looked at each other. Gretchen pressed the small remote in her hand and the last slide came on the screen that stated their sources.
The classroom applauded.
The next pair came and gave their presentation on a different topic of mental illness, picked at random from Mr.Dulrich’s old Red Sox hat. The windows of the classroom were large and evenly spaced, giving a warming amount of sunlight through the leaves of the oak trees tapping the window, calling for the classroom to be let outside. Their desks were cheap plastic with small tables that would fold up and were just big enough to fit an open notebook and underneath was the name of the prison where they were manufactured from in Western Massachusetts.
Michael stared at his phone. He had an email from campus security:
“Dear Mr. Gallagher,
“As of this moment you are on academic probation. Below you will find the incident report filed by one of our campus officers.
“At approximately 20:55 hrs, a marked State Police Cruiser entered campus with Trooper Samson operating it. This officer was standing outside the security booth and in a brief conversation with Trooper, Samson learned that he came upon a Devos College student who was intoxicated and sitting in the middle of Boylston Ave. You are in the back of the cruiser loud, abusive and banging on the petition. Informing Trooper Samson that we had no place on campus to house loud, abusive and intoxicated students, he stated he would handle the matter personally and exited from campus.
“Lt. Tyler Fitzpatrick”
The class ended. Michael gathered his things. Gretchen tried to tell Michael that he did a good job on the presentation. The crowd around him carried on their schedules, their lives where Michael once valued their opinions but now he felt the black edges of his sight creep in toward tunnel vision and a ringing in his ears that followed down the marble stairs.
The hallway had no discernable features from any other hallway, high ceilings, polished tile floor, tack boards made by student government. In the middle, leading out to the quad, was a café. Michael hadn’t eaten all day. The door to campus security was toward the end, off a smaller hallway to a room without a door next to a locked room.
A student worked the front desk, a high piece of a cubicle wall that had a counter that went up to Michaels’s neck as he scanned the stack of charging radios, the book with names and address, times, he looked around and there, sitting by a filling cabinet in a chair was Lt. Fitzpatrick Oafish, ugly, with a dropping Boston drawl, and narrow metal glasses on a mushroom sized nose, he sighed as he stood up. His uniform resembled that of a police officer and he spoke with a weak authority,
“you, uh, get my message?”
The student at the desk looked up at Michael from their homework and left the room. Fitzpatrick made a few clicks, and then stood up, hand on his gun, and motioned for Michael to come over and take a look. Fitzpatrick pointed at the screen,
“There. That’s you. I saw you in the back of the car you were drunk, spitting, yelling, and cursing. I thought you were going to break the window you were pounding on it so hard. When Tony came to drop you off, he said you were sitting in the middle of the road, like a drunk monk. ”
“You didn’t even get the time right”
Michael was late for economics. He walked to the door in defeat, his shoulders hung low. He went into the men’s bathroom and looked at himself. He cried but that was all, a little pale and he splashed some water on his face.
The class was debating who was better, China or the US. By the time Michael climbed to the top floor he was out of breath, and more tired than angry. He went into the classroom and sat down. Professor Len was taking attendance, “Lauren.”
“Here.” She raised her hand. She was the last name on the list.
Michael took a seat and raised a hand, “I’m here.”
“You are not.”
Michael lowered his hand and his neck twitched. The classroom laughed. Michael opened his notes for the debate. He didn’t get called on and spent the class looking over the news on campus. Lately, there had been cases of someone rubbing their shit on the men’s bathroom walls. They wrote slogans in shit on the mirrors. More than once Michael had gone in to have his nostrils assaulted by the odor of burnt hairs that rose into a gargantuan odor that pushed him out gagging. Michael closed his computer and spent the rest of the class doodling in his notebook, a picture of a handgun, a man with narrow eyes and mouth, and what looked like scissors coming out of his head, and a jug of whiskey marked by the double x on the barrel.
Michael had the paper in his backpack signed from his guidance counselor to drop the class. When the debate was over no one cared who won and Professor Len pointed to the homework assignment on the chalkboard. Michael handed her the form without a word, and she flicked her pen on the signature line. Michael put the paper in his backpack and walked down the stairwell out the metal doors to the quad.
Michael heard his name called and saw that Fitzpatrick was waving at him, smiling. He looked clumsy as he hopped off the curb, his gun belt, and keys clanking from across the street; Michael could see the campus security officer sweating.
“How’s it going, Michael?”
He acted like they were old friends.
Michael veered off course from the dining hall and made a straight line for his dorm. His roommate Rob unofficially moved into his girlfriend’s apartment. There was no natural sunlight, the windows looked into a common room of the dorm building. Michael closed the lights and went to bed, his alarm set for the next lesson.
Michael heard the guidance counselor give his speech through the door as he peered through the chicken wire window to the one open seat directly in front of the class. When the guidance counselor had his back turned to gesture to the PowerPoint Michael opened the door and sulked over to the chair and put his backpack down. The counselor pretended not to notice him, “college will change your life, like never before. The difference in income with a college degree, and without on, is staggering.”
He wasn’t a teacher though he gave his lectures on the merits of college to students who were already enrolled in college. This was meant to motivate those who would be seeking their internships in the coming semester. The guidance counselor was in his late 40s, had thin combed over blond hair with a wide gap in his front teeth. He wore a sweater vest over a button-down shirt, wrinkled khakis, and grass-stained track shoes.
“Within the first 10 years of your graduation from Devos, you should all have had made at least 1 million dollars. Compared to a person without an undergraduate degree and we see that number doubling. Not only that but your potential for earning increase with your experience to add with your knowledge.”
He was reading from a sheet of paper. “A college degree guarantees a person’s life to pursue their own interests. A degree from Devos opens doors to countless fields in STEM and business. Finding these jobs can be difficult though, with a competitive field of applicants. Now, we are going to do a classroom exercise. Everyone will stand up, and I will describe a job to you. Based on my description you must decide if this is a job you would apply for or not.”
Everyone stood. The counselor read off the sheet. Michael heard laughter. He turned and the rest of the classroom was seated. He was the only one and the guidance counselor looked at him and grinned, “Michel, it looks like you have just been given a job as a blackjack dealer. Now, let’s do another one.”
Michael heard the class behind him stand up. Michael again heard laughter. He stood alone in front of the class. The guidance counselor turned his page in half so he could peer at him and smile, “ Michael, looks like you are hired. You would be a city garbage worker.”
Michael sat down in his chair and the guidance counselor continued. “The positions I described to you may have been a bit out of proportion but never the less the situations and the work are real. These are some of the jobs you will be able to avoid thanks to a degree.”
Michael was the last to leave the room as if he was searching for ripcord he could pull that might eject him from the building. A security guard Michael didn’t recognize came in the classroom and motioned with his hand for Michael to follow him. He had perfect posture, a grey buzz cut, and a blank, expressionless face. In the empty hallway, it was just their footsteps down into the basement. They didn’t go to the campus security office, but to the unmarked door across the hall.
The floor had just been waxed, and a yellow plastic triangle was folded against the wall. When the guard walked past the sign collapsed on the floor in a loud smack. He hooked his thumbs in his gun belt and kicked the ground as if to say “sorry bud, looks like this is the end.”
The door closed behind Michael. He was in a small anteroom, with a desk and an empty green velvet chair. The door beyond that was open, and the head of campus security peeked around the corner and said, “Here.”
Michael walked forward.
Jack Prescott the head of campus security sat, hunched over in a grey shirt with a red tie. He had a furrowed look on his face as if he was hiding something, and Michael knew it was a pleasure, as one might feel relief after extracting a splinter. He said, “Michael, you, submitted a fiction writing piece for your English lit 101. I’d like to read it out loud for everyone to hear.”
Sitting next to him was the dean of students, her face wrinkled and bunched together in fake concern. She wore a navy blue suit, and a bright handkerchief round her neck in an attempt not to cover, but highlight the gold necklace, the gold earrings, the gold rings on her fingers that tapped her bare knee as she put on her best sympathy.
Jack picked up a folder next to him and handed it with the story to Michael, who had sat down in the empty chair, starring in the corner, hearing his own words as if they came from a stranger. Jack said, “I crossed the street too my college dorm room. I didn’t see anyone. The streetlights turned red. Headlights enveloped me. Tires squealed on the ground. Blue and red lights splashed on the trees, on the buildings. My hands came out of my pockets. The car stopped inches from me. I was terrified. I backed away. The driver door opened. A state trooper grabbed arm. He pulled me to the side of the car. I couldn’t scream. I didn’t know what was happening. The police officer didn’t say anything.
He put on the handcuffs. He put them on as tight as he could. I quaked and from my shaking throat
He walked me back to the sidewalk. I screamed as he opened the door. I cried again. He reached in. His hand closed around my throat. I tried to pull away; I looked out the windows. No one.
“You better shut the fuck up.”
I couldn’t breathe. The door heaved shut.
He stepped on the gas. He turned on the siren. He pulled around corners and rocked my head against the door. I fell on the floor. We came to a stop. I looked up. We were under a highway. The door opened. He pulled me by the ankle. I fell to the gravel. He picked me up. He put his arm under my handcuffs, bending me over, and he walked me to a grey brick building with no windows, just a metal door under lamplight.
There are more police officers, bored looking, behind a high counter. There is a bench. I sit down. He cuffs me to the bench. While he takes off my shoes, he says,
“I caught this dumb fuck, you guys, I caught this dumb fuck, and I shit you not, sitting, in the middle of the fucking road. I go to help him, and you know what this kid does? He takes a swing at me! Drunk bastard.”
“What’s your name? Date of birth.”
“Who cares just fucking book him, I got to head out.”
“I’m going to take your picture now.”
I hadn’t been drinking, but I felt like I had. I hadn’t been sitting in the road, but I felt like I had. I have never punched a person in my life. They walk me to a cell. There is a metal bed. There is a metal mirror with a metal sink, a metal toilet with a camera lens in the corner. He takes the handcuffs off me.
I walk inside. The door closes. I looked at my veins. Blue, but the blood is red. They were blue, were they blue? Did I see a color that no one else saw? I press my head against the cell door until I crawl on the metal bed and use my hands as a pillow and go to sleep.
What I had been before, I would never be again.
I forgot how long, maybe less than a week, but I received a notice that I was under academic suspension and had been stripped of campus privileges such as parking and having guests over. A campus security guard said that the police officer who arrested me came back to the college first, and said that I was acting like a wild animal, pounding my hands against the glass in the backseat. I showed him the scars from the handcuffs, and he told me to leave his office. At this point, I could no longer understand what was real anymore. I felt again like I had done something wrong and so I began to do crazy things. I started to write. I wrote this story, though not as well, and gave it to my English teacher who gave it to campus security who made the case that I was a danger to the school.”
Jack finished reading Michael looked at the scars on his wrist, and he could feel the grip of the state police officer tightening around his throat. The person behind him was the state trooper. He could see that in his eyes, and he could see that in his blank face, unassuming, and unimpressed. The dean handed Michael his diploma.
“We think its best if everyone leaves on good terms. Congratulations. You are now Alumni.”
Michael took his diploma and left.
Steven Schroeder is a 30-year-old salesman living in Boston. He uses the air fryer for everything, wears a facemask, and has a blog of additional writing at Lay Low Magazine.