Thursday, May 25, 2006

Literary Tools

When I was in sixth grade, I was in trouble. I was acing every test I took, but I was refusing to do my homework. This resulted in a below-average grade on my progress report for the first time in my life. Naturally, my mother, upset at the C that was staring at her from Greenspun Jr. High's mid-quarter report, scheduled a conference with my teacher.

"The problem," she said to my mother, crossing her legs in the quiet of the eerily empty classroom, "is that Laurie figures out the formula, the pattern, of the tests." She glanced at me as she spoke, perhaps expecting me to add something to the conversation. But I kept my mouth shut, embarrassed. I looked, instead, over the rows of desks that were so full during normal school hours. It was strange to see them vacant, strange to be there when there was hardly a soul in the building. I didn't want to look at her or my mother. She turned her attention back to my mom, smoothing her skirt over her pantyhose. "She doesn't need to do the homework if she can just rule out two of the three options on a multiple choice test. She sees the pattern in the quizzes, recognizes what we're looking for and does that. So her test scores are excellent. But this class's grade is based, also, on her homework. The worksheets. And they bore her."

It was the middle of the school year, and I had just transferred into this school from my school in Kentucky. I didn't know what they did in Vegas when your grades started slipping, but I was sure it was horrible.

She suggested Honors classes.

This trend follows me through to this day. I look for it in books and movies and television shows. Nine times out of ten, I'll finger the correct murderer in CSI because of some random appearance he or she made in the first five minutes of the show. Not because of the evidence Grissom unearths throughout the hour, but because the creators almost always give you a shot of the assailant in the beginning. It's the formula of the show. It's the ancient literary trick of foreshadowing. It works like magic.

But I think I've been reading too many books, watching too much forensic science, looking for too much foreshadowing. Because it's wormed its way into my life, as though the author of my life has stuck a few clues into my daily routine as to how it will all turn out.

If I counsel a friend through a breakup, I imagine the flashback sequence later, when I'm breaking up with my significant other. When a friend of mine teetered on the edge of a breakup with her boyfriend because he wouldn't talk marriage with her, I saw it clearly: Me, crying over the exact same thing, but thinking back to telling her everything would be alright. Stupid, I'd think then, in the midst of my own marriage fight. You should've known it was going to come down to this. Remember when you talked her through it? That was your warning.

When my fiancee and I were months away from our wedding, West Point was redoing their sidewalks. In the wet concrete, we carved a tiny "L+D" in the corner of a square by the library. The next day, it was gone. After the breakup, I would say to friends "I should've known we wouldn't make it when they re-paved the sidewalk we'd written in. It's like it wasn't meant to last there forever. Like someone knew."

As a result, I'm terrified. Like the universe is sending me signs. Signs of failure, or a rocky future, that I could avoid if only I'd actually pay attention.

It's so stupid, I know. But, in the midst of my own fights, I think back to the fights of friends. "Well," I think, "they didn't break up, so we'll be fine, too." Or, conversely, "Uh-oh. Their relationship plummeted after that fight. We're doomed."

I think it's that I just feel so powerless, so clueless, when it comes to relationships. How much is too much; which battles do I pick; what do I do to fix it, without compromising what really matters to me? And the foreshadowing gives me some sort of artificial grasp on the situation.

And, sometimes, it just makes me worry unnecessarily.

I just never know which one it is.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very nicely written blog.

I'm not sure what your relationship with God is, but He could be the one sending you these signs of things to come. Don't be afraid of the gift, embrace it.