I had a birthday this week. I'm old and young now, and it's actually the first time in years that it actually occurred to me that I am no longer 19 or 20. It's strange how that pseudo-teenage feeling stuck around for so long. Wishful thinking, perhaps? Who knows.
I had a meeting with my thesis advisor on that day. It was a busy day with work and going to the photo lab to turn in other homework, and when I got to her office, there was another student in there, also talking about some sort of thesis. Her French is beautiful, I thought to myself. Much more refined than mine. I waited, slightly awkardly. My insides churned a little; the deadline for my thesis is very soon, it should be done, but life, as I should have known, never runs the way I want it to. I'm not done.
I peered in the crack of the door, debating. Knock? Loud cough? I knew whoever was in there also needed the time to talk. I didn't technically have to talk to my advisor right away. Twenty minutes of stepping up to the door, lifting my hand and hesitating went by much quicker than I thought they would. Then suddenly they switched to English, talking about some format changes, and I heard my advisor exclaim that she'd forgotten about her other appointment: me. The door was yanked open and her head was there, just at my level, and I tried my best to grin and not look exhausted. "You should have knocked, or something!"
"Désolée," the other student said when she left, smiling conciliatorily at me. I shrugged. "Ben, ça va." I went inside and put my bag and waterbottle down on one end of the gold couch. It hugged my legs and sucked me down, making it hard to sit up straight. My shoulders squared, we began. The format was better, the phrasing had improved. Little things, all of them, but together it was a huge improvement. Ten minutes, fifteen, twenty, and then she leaned back in her chair and said, "I spoke with Chris Braider this week."
I nodded. I took a Lit Theory class with him a while ago. Pseudo-atheistic Quaker who grew up in Ireland and went to Trinity College. One of the best profs, and the most fascinating, I've had. He's now the French Honors Department chair.
"I wanted to check on the deadlines with him; I've been concerned with our speed of progress." The final copy is due on October 27. Defenses must be made by November 6. "But we spoke and no matter what happens, you'll be able to graduate."
I cocked my head, probably also squinting a little. "What do you mean?"
"If you truly only have until the 27th or 28th, we don't have enough time. We still have to correct the French." My advisor raises her eyebrows in that French way, making my insides churn once again. I feel for an instant like I'm about to hit the floor, but it passes and I smile. "I can do it," I hear myself saying.
"Well no matter what, if we do not make the deadline, Chris says you may present your paper as a senior essay. It's not honors, but..." she trails into oblivion, which also seems to be where I am going.
"But we can still try?"
"Of course. We will still work toward honors. And if it doesn't happen, well, it was just honors." I laugh a little, like the sad thing she just said was a joke about my life, which I suddenly realise it was. She laughs too, caught in the same sort of realisation. I look at her, and at the large calendar behind her. Dates and weeks twist in my head.
"So you don't think I have enough time?"
"Not if the date is truly the 27th, no. But..."
"I'll call tomorrow and double check."
"Ok," she says, looking at me strangely. I can't tell if it's pity or a milder sentiment. "Let's keep in touch, then, let me know what you find out."
"Of course. And I'll work this weekend using this new draft for a foundation."
"Good. Well, bon week-end!"
"Merci! A vous aussi."
I leave, she locks her door behind us, pausing to wave a little. I don't know if she's just waiting a while so we don't have to awkwardly walk down the stairs together, or if she is really going the other way, but it doesn't matter. I catch my breath, stop for a second in a dark corner, and breathe out. I feel sick and thirsty. Laughing, I shake my head and head down the stairs, focusing on the sound of my flats slapping the treated concrete. No one else is in the stair well, and the lump in my throat is getting larger. By the time I get down the three floors to the doors leading outside, I can barely swallow, and I'm hiding well behind my black sunglasses.
A girl looks at me strangely; she is entering the building through the door next to mine as I leave. I look back at her, about to challenge, when I realise my cheek is wet. I toss my head and lift my chin, at least superiority is easy to assume behind disks of anti-light. Fixing my cheek is easy; going to pick up my check from work and joking with my co-workers is the hard part.