HABOOB by Dan Crawley

I like to play a few songs at the beginning of class, let the students write about the music, or the lyrics, or whatever comes to mind. Today I start with Lynn Anderson’s “If I Kiss You (Will You Go Away).” The students give me perplexed looks and begin writing. The wind is apoplectic outside the long bank of classroom windows, so I turn up the speakers. For the second song, I play Nilsson’s “Without You.” I notice some of the students write with an intensity, much like the manner Nilsson’s voice escalates. The storm outside rages. Pink dirt soars by the windows like a swollen river. It seems like the whole world reaches a crescendo.

After class I read these journal entries in the adjunct lounge and record points at the top of the pages. I come across one entry that unsettles me. The student writes of his hatred for the university, and for his roommate in the dorm, who doesn’t want to buy his own deodorant or toothpaste and stays up all night blaring music. He writes of his hatred for all his classes, even mine. I remember how he’d heaved his backpack down by a desk, crashed down in the corner seat, and didn’t say a word for the hour. I’d occasionally looked over his way. A heavy fog surrounded him. So I ignored him for the rest of the class. I thought, Baby.

I read his rant again. I write a zero at the top of the page and for a moment, I feel better. Then I stare at the lack of even one point value for this student’s writing. I remember my syllabus stating that they could write about anything. No limits.

I hate how everyone I love dissolves in an obscure dust cloud, leaving the air dense and choking. Then comes the raging winds, the battering deluge, the rapid flood waters trapping me up a precarious limb. And I hate that there is no escape. I write the number two in front of the zero on the student’s entry, full points. I write Good job and I’m glad you’re here, and I hope you decide to stay across the top of the page. I wonder if I’ll see a place of calm ever again. Grains of sand tink madly against the lounge’s windows.

At the beginning of the next class, I hand him his rant, and he gives me an embarrassed smirk. He says he’s sorry. During class I notice something out of the corner of my eye, over where this student sits. It’s a refraction of light. As if the fullness of the sun through the window zeros in on his countenance like a divine vision. But the sun isn’t out today. The sky is tenebrous. If only the dust could settle, the waters recede. I could climb down. I could wade over to the clearing.

Photo by SD Anderson, used and adapted under CC.