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The Education of Elisabeth Eckleman

November Rain

It’s Elisabeth Eckleman’s first year of college, and she has a lot of tough choices to make. In this installment, Elisabeth lies to protect Raj, then tries to determine who told the professor about their extracurricular activities in the first place. You decide what happens next.

Poor Elisabeth. She’s been stuck in time for more than a month. Back then, she had to decide whether to tell her Reality Television professor about going out with Raj, her T.A. in the course. It was a messy situation: After all, the date had been Elisabeth’s idea, and she suspected they had been ratted out by her semi-ex Chad just to get back at her. But what the professor said unsettled her—had Raj dated other students and doctored her grades? Could she really trust this guy enough to risk her academic integrity? It wasn’t an easy choice— you voted for her to... protect Raj and lie to the professor.

 

Back in seventh grade, I gave all the answers on the Texas History final to Deborah McNabb, the most popular girl in school. I don’t know why I did this—she wasn’t nice; she didn’t deserve it. Maybe I was just flattered that someone thought I knew all the answers; maybe it was a small way to brag. Later that week, Mrs. Weaver held both of us after class, waving the Scantrons in our face—”Could it be a coincidence that you two gave the same exact answers?” (Answers which, I might add, were 97.5% accurate.) After I wrangled my way out of it, I swore I’d never lie to another teacher again.

Well, that was a lie.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I lock eyes with the professor, because that’s what good liars do. “I’m not sure who told you that, but it’s not true.”

“I see.” He scooches his glasses up the bridge of his nose. He types something on his computer. It takes far too long. “Very well, then. We’ll be in touch.”

About what? And who is “we”? My face flushes crimson, but I have to ask. “I know it’s none of my business, but did this come from someone named Chad?”

He finishes typing and looks up at me. “You’re right. It’s none of your business.”

I nod and leave. I’ve passed two Starbucks before my hands stop shaking.

“I’m so sorry you’ve been dragged into this,” Raj says when I call. “That man has it in for me. You did the right thing. Don’t be upset.”

What’s weird is that I’m not nearly as upset as I should be. I just lied to my professor, I’m possibly facing repercussions and exposure. I should be pissed or, at least, worried. So what’s wrong with me? I’m kinda excited.

“You better make this up to me,” I tell Raj.

I can almost hear him smile. “Just wait till next semester. Registration’s soon.”

 

The following Wednesday I take Kat to her “very special” appointment. Outside, an older woman knits beside a sign that reads, “Protect our unborn children.”

Kat hands her a dollar as we walk past. “I see we found the right place.”

The waiting room is filled with mothers and boyfriends, watching a daytime soap without the sound. Girls keep passing through, wearing sweatpants and no makeup, their hair pulled back in scrunchies, and I try not to stare. I want to crack open their brains and peer inside—how do you feel when this happens? Are you sad? Are you scared?

Everyone looks up when the door opens. It’s always some other girl.

I wait for hours, flipping through magazines. I learn a thousand beauty tips. I take a hundred quizzes: What kind of lover are you? Are you good in bed? I memorize every poster hanging on the walls: “Kiss Me...I’m Pro Choice!” “Maybe YOU have the human papilloma virus.” (Crap. Maybe I do!)

When Kat finally hobbles out, her face is so pale it looks blue.

I wrap my arm around her tiny waist. She feels so small and brittle. “Are you all right? Can I get you anything?”

“A cheese pizza,” she says, and gives my hand a weak little squeeze.

As we walk to the car, she turns to the old woman sitting beside the billboard. “Hey!” Kat yells at her, and I scramble to find my keys. “I pity you, did you know that?”

The woman looks up. She opens her mouth to speak, but Kat spits at her. The woman stares for a moment, and then turns away.

“Get in the car,” I say, nearly jamming Kat’s limp body into the front seat. “She doesn’t mean that,” I tell the woman, although I’m not sure why.

Kat collapses into the front seat, laughing. “What a fugging cunt,” she says, her voice all mushy. Then she falls asleep, her head crammed up against the window.

The whole ride home, all I think is this: Screw Geoff.

 

That afternoon, while Kat is sleeping, I slip over to Chad’s room. I can hear his television from down the hall. Law & Order. God, he loves that show.

“Come in,” he says, kicking an empty Doritos bag out of the way. “Want a Diet Coke?”

“Actually,” I say, taking a deep breath. “I think I’d like a beer.”

Chad opens two Shiners. He has this stupid plastic Simpsons bottle opener. Whenever you use it, it goes, “MMM. Beer.”

“This is a great episode,” he says, plopping on his lower bunk and clutching a pillow to his chest. “McCoy gets suspended for withholding evidence, but they’ve got the wrong guy. It was his girlfriend at the time, the other ADA. Not Jill Hennessy, although I think she’s the best of the ADAs. Oh, I shouldn’t have told you how it ends. I’m sorry. It’s a really good episode. I’ll shut up now.” He takes a slug of his drink. “Mmm. Beer.”

“I need to talk to you about something.” Sometimes, out of nowhere, I remember that we slept together, and it totally grosses me out. “Did you email my professor?”

He stops mid-drink and looks at me. “What are you talking about?”

I tear at the beer label as I tell him everything—about Raj, about getting called into the office, about lying, and saying it out loud makes me aware that it all sounds slightly preposterous. I ball up pieces of the label with my fingers, placing them in a straight line, but Chad does nothing, just sips his beer and stares at me, which makes me even more nervous. “I couldn’t figure out who else would do that, so I thought it must be—”

“The creepy guy down the hall?”

“That’s not how I think about you.” But I wonder, as I say it, if it is.

Chad goes to the mini-fridge. “There were 300 people at that party, and you assume it was me. Jesus, Elisabeth, you act like I’m obsessed with you or something,” he says, opening another Shiner. (“MMM. Beer.”) “I didn’t want to go to the party with you either. I told Kevin right before you came over. I met this really cool girl from Oberlin online. She’s coming down at the end of the month.”

The whole label tears off the beer, leaving a wet, gummy film. “I didn’t know that,” I say. Oberlin? Well, la-dee-dah.

“Of course you didn’t know that, because every time I try to talk to you, you treat me like some panty-sniffing stalker.”

Eww. That image was a bit much. “I thought you were mad at me.”

“I am mad at you,” he says, staring at the television. “But that hardly makes me the only candidate for outrage when it comes to your student-professor relations.”

“He’s my T.A.”

Chad drains his beer and tosses it in the trash. “Whatever.”

I skim my fingernail over the slimy Braille left on the bottle for maybe a minute. Chad watches television. Then, somebody knocks on the door. It’s India, coming to pick up Chad for Geoff’s weekly stoner Frisbee event in the courtyard.

“You’re welcome to join us,” says India, reapplying her lipstick. “Nobody’s gonna make you smoke or anything.” She raises one eyebrow. It has been picked to slivers. I can see the shiny, inflamed skin that surrounds those severe black arcs, the red pores where hair used to be.

“You know, India, they have professionals who will do your eyebrows for you,” I say.

“What the fuck does that mean?” she asks.

I toss my beer, half-full, into the trash. “Nothing,” I say. “Have fun with Geoff.”

 

Everybody seems really excited about the upcoming Thanksgiving break, and then after that the semester break, but for me November passes in a blur. There are study sessions and tests, and I meet with an academic adviser who wants to know what I’m majoring in, what I want to do with my life. I don’t know the answer to this, so I tell her I’d like to be a psychologist. I’d like to be a teacher. I’d like to be a broadcast journalist, like Diane Sawyer, who is my mom’s favorite, because she is both wise and compassionate.

I miss my mom. I’m scared to go home, but I miss her. I don’t want to see how her body has deteriorated, how her mind stutters. There are so many things I miss these days: I miss Brad, and the way his hand rested on my hipbone as we slept. I miss my room, my own private bathroom, my bed with its needless throw pillows. I miss high school, and I am embarrassed by this—I would never tell anyone, because missing high school is the stupidest, lamest thing a college freshman could possibly do—especially my high school, with its ignorance and insularity. And yet, it was something I learned to navigate. I knew the trap doors and the landmines. Here, everything blows up in my face.

In Reality Television, I get placed with a new T.A. She is a dour woman named Nola who’s obsessed with Cops. I still see Raj in class sometimes. One night, after Kat and I kill an evening with a series of tequila shots, I call him. It’s 1:30 in the morning.

“Did I wake you?”

“Elisabeth!” he says, rather startled. “I’m delighted to hear from you.”

I would fall for a guy who uses the word “delighted.”

“I’m sorry about your probation,” I say. I try very hard not to sound drunk.

“There’s nothing for you to be sorry about,” he says. “I should be apologizing to you.”

I’ve been thinking about Raj for weeks, and this is exactly how I hoped it would go. “I miss you.” / “No, I miss you more.” I think about what it might be like next semester, if I take his American Slacker class. How we might keep things under the radar. Closed doors, my body pushed up against the desk. “I found out who told on us,” I tell him, hugging a pillow to my chest.

There’s a long silence. “Oh God, I’m so sorry, Elisabeth. She’s crazy.”

Let’s pause for a moment. She?!?

Her name is Regan Turner. She’s a blond girl in our T.A. group—tall, beautiful, goes on and on about socialism. A few weeks ago I saw a picture of her in the college paper. She was topless with bright red targets drawn around each nipple. I never could figure out what she was protesting.

He says it was a mistake from the beginning. She was just so outrageous, so aggressive, so captivating that one night, following a few ill-advised drinks, things happened. He swore it would never happen again and, of course, it did. And of course she’s crazy so when he tried to cut things off, she threatened to tell, to make up lies about him, to say he took advantage of her.

“It was such a mistake,” he says. “Please don’t tell. It could ruin my future here.”

Suddenly, my glands start to squirt, and I feel the old, familiar warning signs. “Raj, I have to go.” I hang up, and then I throw up in the sink.

 

The next morning, I get a call from the professor. He wants me to speak to an academic advisory board the Monday after we get back from Thanksgiving break.

I can’t sleep that night. And when I finally do fall asleep, I have a dream that people are falling from the sky. I’m lying on the ground, and bodies start to fall like hail, ricocheting off the concrete all around me. I can’t see where they’re coming from—all I can see is their bodies hurtling toward me, all I can hear is a flat thwacking sound. I see Chad, his eyes bulging and terrified, arms flailing against a clear-blue sky. I see Kat, smiling. I see Raj, and Geoff, and India, and I don’t even think to catch them because it happens so fast. They just keep falling, and falling.

I wake up in a sweat. I want my mom.

Should Elisabeth come clean to her professor and tell him what she knows or lie and continue to protect Raj?