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Less Awful

From: New England Review
Volume 33, Number 4, 2013
pp. 135-146 | 10.1353/ner.2013.0008

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

And how are you adjusting?” asked Mr. Hasslinger.

April rested her hands on her knees and looked down at her chipped blue nail polish. “Fine, I guess.” She sat with her shoulders slightly hunched and only looked up at Mr. Hasslinger’s face when she thought he was looking the other way. “I missed orientation, so there are all these basic things everybody else knows how to do. But mostly, you know, whatever. I don’t know what the big deal is.”

“Why did you miss orientation?” asked Mr. Hasslinger.

April shrugged. “I lost the introductory packet.” Actually, she had not only lost the packet but also deleted the reminder e-mails. She did not want to meet the other freshmen, or take guided tours, or participate in any way.

“Are you enjoying your classes?”

“I don’t know. They’re all basic requirements. I just want to be in the theater department all the time, but apparently I have to do all this other stuff, too.”

“The basic requirements are important.” Mr. Hasslinger smiled at her, an expression as gentle and cautious as a guidance counselor’s.

“What about you?” April asked. “Are you enjoying any of your classes?”

“I am.” Mr. Hasslinger tilted his head in something that might have been a nod or a very small bow. “The university has been kind enough to grant me a very light load this semester, and I’m teaching a class on Edmund Spenser and one on the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance. Spenser is in my area of expertise, but the sheer exuberance of more modern poets makes them a joy to explore with students.”

April tried to picture poetry as a joy, but couldn’t.

“Are you making friends?” Mr. Hasslinger asked.

“No. Well, kind of.” She looked up from her nail polish to examine the posters on Mr. Hasslinger’s wall. The Who was represented, and a large mandala in navy blues and dull oranges, and a poster with print so small she couldn’t read it from across the room. “My roommate, Megan, is nice. She and half the other girls on the floor hang out all the time, and they’re only friends because we happened to be roomed near each other. And they keep asking me to go places with them, but all the places they want to go are dumb.”

Mr. Hasslinger tilted his head again. He was either sympathizing with her or laughing at her.

“None of my other friends went to college,” said April. “I guess Héctor joined the Marines, so we’re the only ones who left. Everybody else just stayed in Upper Sandusky.”

Her mouth was dry. What she wanted to say, even though it was a bad idea was: well, of course Davy left. But the word “Davy” was so thick in the room that just the idea of saying it out loud seemed crude.

For no reason her eyes started watering.

“I should go,” April said, standing up. “It was nice to talk to you, Mr. Hasslinger.”

He stood up and reached out to shake her hand. “Maybe we could talk again next week, April.”

“Yeah,” she said. “That would be nice.”

His hand was large and warm and dry. April scurried out of his office and through the warren of tiny spaces reserved for graduate students and assistant professors. Everything seemed muddled and dimly lit.

Outside the sky was rich and blue, with wispy clouds that moved slowly in the breeze. The air was warm, and there were students everywhere, sunbathing and playing Frisbee on the green; two boys sat on the edge of the sidewalk talking, one of them idly strumming melodies on his guitar.

April still wanted to cry.

“Have you made any friends yet?” asked her mother.

“Yeah,” lied April. “Tons. Me and my roommate get along really well. I think it’s just living in the honors dorm—there’s no partying here, and tomorrow night we’re all going to see a lecture from this neuropsychologist visiting from Penn State.”

“Neuropsychology, huh?” asked her mother. The fuzzy cell phone reception in April’s dorm room muffled any...



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