I felt my eyes glaze over. Felt tired. Couldn’t stifle my yawns. The hot room, Earl’s dull drone, the wash of dry data—it was too much. I looked at my phone—at Facebook, at Devon’s page, which had now become a tribute page, filled with messages from friends and family and former students. Devon’s rant was still there. Amid a trail of responses, I spotted Courtney’s name.
Courtney K. Keadle: I think this post is defamatory slander and I demand that it be taken down.
Someone named Anthony Shepherd—Devon’s brother, I guess—replied.
Anthony Shepherd: Devon hated that fucking place and she hated you too.
Courtney fired back.
Courtney K. Keadle: This place isn’t bad not like that she was wrong
Anthony fired back.
Anthony Shepherd: Ur a loser and so is everyone else at that shithole
Ha! Anthony for the win! Then:
Anthony Shepherd: Ur fucking prison killed Devon fuck u
Anthony for the knockout!
Down the row, Courtney was sitting there watching the dull assessment presentation, waiting for poor Earl to stop rambling long enough for her to jump in and tell everybody what she thought about it. Nancy Buckley and Ted Shuey were paying attention, too. All three creative writers were paying attention, as if what Earl said meant something. What a fucking joke.
Back during her campus visit, her big job interview, Devon had told the faculty that she really loved meetings. Almost everyone laughed. Almost everyone was really kind of—charmed. I think that’s maybe even what got her the job. Devon of course meant that she liked the idea of sitting around with interesting colleagues and solving departmental problems. She liked the idea of making things better. She liked the idea of working with smart, kind people. But even on that day, at that interview—and I’d only known Devon for about 12 hours—I was already a little worried for her, because at Southeast Kansas State, faculty meetings were nothing like what she apparently imagined they might be. At Southeast Kansas State, meetings were nothing more than target-rich opportunities for fatuous people with power to grind down and step on people without power. Junior faculty—Devon and myself, mostly, but even poet Ted, who’d been around for 15 years, was considered junior faculty—spent eight, ten, even twelve hours a week—in addition to all the time they spent teaching and grading and prepping for all our too many students!—sitting in stifling hot rooms with angry, mediocre people, with narcissists you would never want to sit with on your own. Man, it was brutal. The whole fucking department was brutal.
Though Devon learned that soon enough.
Finally—now—Earl paused to catch his breath.
I looked up from my phone.
“Well, I just want to say—”
“Courtney!” Tee tried to head her off. “Maybe we’d better wait until Earl finishes?”
“Well—no,” Courtney said. “I was just thinking that….”
Whatever stupid bullshit, blah blah blah, fuck infinitum. Courtney was too much. What was there to say about her? Nothing. What was there to say to her? Less than nothing. There was nothing to do but look and be appalled. I know I did that a lot. Devon said that merely looking at people with disgust, looking without acting, was another passive-aggressive response on my part, and an ineffective response, too. I just shrugged her off. Fuck. Who cared? It was how I felt for a long time. For four years. I’d just sit and listen and look at these fucking people—I looked them askance, I looked at them incredulously. I looked at them baffled, amazed, bewildered--
But Devon was right about that too, like she was right about so many things. I was ineffective in dealing with the department. You could spend a whole lifetime looking at these fools contemptuously, and nothing would ever happen. The contemptible fools didn’t give a shit how you looked at them. They just kept on being contemptible fools.
After the meeting, I packed up my phone and my unopened Potemkin notebook—I just carried the notebook to meetings to appear professorial, sort of like Fred’s stupid pipe—and I headed down the hall and up the stairs to my office—to get my hat, to get my jacket, to get the hell out of Reeb Hall and on my way home. But as I turned up the landing on the stairs, Ted Shuey caught up with me.
“Tom! Do you have a minute?”
I stopped and watched Ted come slowly up the stairs, his absurd bushy brown beard flopping against his chest. Breathing hard, too—behind the beard, Ted was a little chubby and out of shape.
“I just wanted to ask you something,” Ted said.
“Of course you do,” I said. People were always asking me for things—people were always wanting things. Usually fucked-up things. I almost always said yes, I almost always gave them things. I was tired of that, too. I needed to change. I needed to say No. I started back up the stairs, Ted behind, breathless.
“I just wanted to know,” Ted gasped. “We just wanted to know—if you’d like to say a few words at Devon’s memorial service? We need to know.”
Another fucking We heard from. There were too many Wes in this place. Though with Ted, I was pretty sure who the We were.
At the top of the stairs, at the fourth floor, I held the fire door open for Ted and followed him through to the office corridor.
“A memorial service?” I asked. “Uh—like, you know Devon really hated this place, right? Devon was very unhappy.”
“Right, well.” Ted ran a hand through his gross beard, tugged on it. “We just sort of thought it would be--appropriate—to do something for her. I mean, it’s for the department, too.”
“She hated this department, too, and everyone in it.”
“Trust me,” I said. “Devon hated everybody here. She especially hated you.”
Ted flinched. “Well—I don’t know about all that.” He was maybe blushing a bit behind his beard. “But—but—the department’s had a big loss. We need—you know, closure. And healing.”
“Yeah, well,” I said. “I think it would have been more appropriate to do something for Devon while she was still alive. Maybe then she wouldn’t have hated you all so much.”
I turned down the side hallway leading to my office—my office, and Devon’s office next door. Ted was right behind me. I stopped and looked at Devon’s door: at the foot, on the floor, were a pair of teddy bears and a bunch of yellow daisies and a bag of leftover Halloween candy. Tributes to Devon. In memoriam. The bears were from Jackie Sewell and Dawn Gaske, cheerful though overworked composition lecturers who shared an office down the hall. The flowers and candy came from students, probably. I guess that was nice. Devon’s door, though—I remembered how the door had been vandalized three times in Devon’s first month at SEKSU, how each time someone had poured glue all over the door handle. I remembered Martie and Otto, the custodians, scrubbing the glue away. Otto was a true FLP with a giant shiny goiter hanging from his neck, and he said to Devon, “Gosh, I wouldn’t think you’d been here long enough to get people mad.” It was very petty vandalism—we always figured Nancy or Ted did it.
“Yeah,” I said. “Devon hated everybody here.”
“Well,” Ted said behind me. “Devon seemed to be a very private person. I mean—she had you for a friend.”
I looked back over my shoulder at Ted and frowned. Was that a fucking insult or something? It sounded like an insult. Fucking idiot Ted. He was definitely a You People. Or worse. Not even a People—he wasn’t even human. Also, he was probably involved in whatever bad shit Courtney and Nancy were up to. I unlocked my office door and went in and sat behind the desk. Ted stood there in the doorway.
“Okay,” I said. “The memorial service—what’re you going to do?”
“What I think we’re going to do,” Ted said. He took a breath. “I think, provisionally, that we’re going to ask Deborah—in her official role as Provost, you know—to say a few words, and perhaps the dean. And maybe the president. And then perhaps Tee will say a few words, if she’s not too upset.”
I laughed aloud at that one. Tee too upset! Okay.
Ted ignored me. He said, “And then you.”
“And Courtney will read a poem.”
“Of course Courtney will read a poem!” I said.
There’s just some bad shit going on with Courtney and Nancy.
And probably Ted, too.
“Oh—and the marching band’s brass ensemble will provide music.”
“Wow! That’s terrific!” I smiled at Ted—Ted looked back at me, suspicious and confused. I said, “Uh—I’ll think about it.”
Ted stood there bristling behind his beard, waiting to see if I would say anything more. But I was waiting, too. I was looking at him, blankly. Then, after a moment, I slowly wheeled my chair around and looked at the computer, and Ted took the hint and disappeared.