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Living With Integrity: A Parable
I once met a woman who didn’t give a fuck. She was so devoid of a fuck to give, it radiated off her. She tattooed it on other people, tattooed it on the world.
I wanted that.
My junior year of college had just begun. The grassy sigh of late summer wisped through the windows. We sat in neat desks, in neat rows, making neat, little small talk.
The neat little small talk whispered with two recurring words: bitch and cancer. These words would gestate into a theme, into inspiration.
A fragile old lady floated through the door, snapping our bodies to attention.
She possessed a delicate cartoon quality. She looked like the granny owner of Tweedy Bird. A gray knot of hair hovered over her head, tied with a lavish blue ribbon. At the time, I found this comically cute.
It was her idea of a joke.
She beelined across the front of the class, distributing neat stacks of paper to eager hands. “Take one,” she commanded in a booming voice. “Then pass it back.” Her voice contradicted her grannyness. It cracked in a throaty way as if a demon shrieked cranky orders from her belly.
“This is Comparative Endocrinology. If you’re not here for Comparative Endocrinology, leave. Now.”
No one moved.
“Good. My name is Dr. Greene. I am an Endocrinologist. Before we discuss the syllabus, let’s briefly go over some housekeeping. As some of you know, I have cancer and will die shortly. Probably before the end of the semester. Should that happen, Dr. Hanson will finish teaching this course.”
Someone made a noise, a murmur. It was a girl named Gracy. Not Grace, Gracy. She may or may not have wanted to become a veterinarian. She loved showing people pictures of her sister’s baby. She loved babies.
“How…” Gracy tried to say, justifying the murmur. “How…that’s so sad…how….”
Dr. Greene gazed at Gracy. Her eyes appeared huge and monstrous behind her glasses. Then she waved her hand and said, “See me after class.”
Gracy never came back.
The semester progressed and I displayed my dazzling mediocrity as a science student. Dr. Greene regarded me merely as a name that got 70s on exams, until one morning in late October.
We were in lab. My lab partner was a chubby girl named Lesley who wore beaded jewelry and was only capable of talking about the MCATs and her future career as an optometrist. I humored her for weeks with head bobs and “uh-huh”s.
Then, I snapped. In a blink of glory.
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