Homework Help 2
Impersonal grows from personal love, the cooling breeding,
in place of obsession, attention that seeks virtue and wisdom
and sees the loved object as means to those things.
Jason, the high school junior assigned to me, with the daughter
of the owner of the vineyard was in love. Because his parents
liked his progress, my volunteer gig had turned with the season
to paid summer tutoring during which Jason confided in me
and completed assignments I devised. Because he was in love
I had asked him to write a brief essay relating Denis Johnson’s
“Car Crash While Hitchhiking” to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Love.”
In his first draft, he had tried to prove that the salesman driver,
a minor character, the first of four to pick up the hitchhiker,
in being, as Johnson says, “gifted with love,” in loving his wife,
kids, girlfriend, relatives, boat, two cars and backyard
had, in Emerson’s terms, supplanted relation after relation
“only by what is more beautiful.” Errors in speech point
to errors in thinking, and I asked Jason to consider that
in his thesis there might be a grammatical one. “Was it in where I said,
‘Johnson’s protagonist is a drug addict?’” he asked. “Why would it
be in that sentence?” I said. “I don’t know,” said Jason,
“should it just say he’s addicted to drugs?” “I’ll give you a hint,”
I said. “It’s a preposition.” “Remind me,” said Jason,
“what a preposition is.” “Over under through with by,” said I.
Jason looked over his paper, at me, then over his paper again.
I pointed to a region on the page. “Oh—” he said, “I said that
the salesman supplants the relations ‘by’ when I should have said ‘with.’”
We high fived. “So how,” I asked, “does that reveal a larger problem?”
Jason then acted on an instinct I love, which was to retrieve
from his backpack the Emerson essay and find in the original
the disputed quote. “He says, ‘That which is so beautiful and
attractive as these relations must be succeeded and supplanted
only by what is more beautiful, and so on forever.’” “Ok,”
I said, “who supplants in your thesis?” “The salesman,” said Jason.
“Who supplants in the Emerson?” Jason reread the quote a few times.
“No one,” he said. “The relations just are supplanted by each other,
it’s like they don’t really supplant.” “That’s passive voice,” I said,
“and Emerson is using it to speak of the natural course of things,
how love progresses without will, just by letting beauty have its way.”
“Oh,” said Jason, “so I can’t say the salesman supplants his wife
with his girlfriend—or I can but that’s not what Emerson means?”
“Exactly,” I said. “So what do I do?” “You revise your essay
for next week.” Jason sighed and gave me a look that meant
my devices were working on him, but still he was forced
by his parents to attend summer tutoring that life would be better,
be simpler without. Others might call this an eye roll. I laughed,
and teased, “Have fun with Molly.” “Molly goes to camp this week.”
“Oh no!” I said. “Yeah,” he said, “life is over.” “May as well
write a good essay,” I said, “that’s what we do when life ends.”
A lot of what I told him we both hoped he’d understand
later, when he was a little older. His mom honked in the Saab.
She held up to the window a sandwich in a Ziploc. “Tuna,” said Jason.
“I’m going to a music lesson.” “Why don’t they let you off the hook
once in a while?” “They will,” said Jason. “I get August off
for camp.” “Have you ever done nothing or had nothing to do?”
“No,” he said, “but I have been bored.” Sometimes it seemed like
the library door remained completely open once he’d left
and I’d finish the parts of the crossword I could do, until a huge
wind blew the paper away and slowly, over many Thursdays,
the library filled past recognition with my papers, blown
against the far wall like a dune. I’d browse the DVDs,
text Meg to see if she wanted anything, then stop by
the IGA on my way home. Life couldn’t have been more
sutured to normalcy, and yet I felt like I had no family,
felt far away from being known. On Friday nights,
the library showed cult classics at 11. Once I saw Jason
and Molly on a Friday, driving his mom’s Saab away
from the library. Goodbye, I thought and said quietly, Goodbye
young lovers, good day, goodbye, my heart goes with you, my soul
and my body—as if to them I had relinquished all
memory of love, as if I had to learn it all again.
The movie had been Troll Hunter and I had fallen asleep, Meg
beside me eating Twizzlers. She hadn’t been drinking and then
she started up again. Her eyes would bug out and she’d open my door
to tell me she was in love with me, that I was the most beautiful
woman she’d seen. Meg, I’d say, it’s time to go to sleep, but she’d
say no and weep in my arms, and we would talk about her family.
I was so into the idea that we knew each other fully
I couldn’t see I knew nothing of her. She felt like a sister
but wasn’t familiar to me. I didn’t know how different
other people could be, that my upbringing shaped my expectation
of friendship, hers shaped hers differently, and by these
expectations we were led blindly, laid down and swaddled.
Amazingly, despite what I just said, I still believe nothing
ensures a happy adult like the child’s perseverance.