(From Marvin's Book: The Story of a Professor and a Promise, 2011)
I never start class without my ASL interpreter Carol being there to translate.
I don’t want to exclude any students from the pre-class questions and answers, so I just don’t talk at all unless she is there. It’s awkward for me to not talk, to not warm the room up, but the students understand. I look down. I cross my arms in front of me. I scowl and check the clock repeatedly.
In the three semesters Carol had been in my classroom as a translator, she never missed a class and was always early.
On this Monday in March, for the first time ever, the time for the class to begin came and passed and Carol wasn’t there.
I asked the class permission to delay class five more minutes and they sat still (texting!) while I went out the lecture hall’s back door and stood at the glass door entrance to the building.
It was a complete and almost perfect flashback to the day I stood in the door of another building on this same campus ten years ago, waiting for Marvin. An ache twisted itself into a knot so badly that by the time Carol dashed into the building apologizing I was nearing a panic attack.
When she appeared I hugged her, then put my arm around her and walked her into the room while just this once pretending to not notice students putting away their cellphones that they compulsively pulled out to fill the empty minute or two.
“Don’t ever be late. You gave me an awful scare, a Marvin scare,” I told her.
“Nothing will happen to me,” she said as she took off her jacket and settled into translating.
I believed her enough to let it go.
Because class was already starting “strange” I took a risk too, and told the class about my student with perfect attendance who was never late and never missed class named Marvin Scott.
A sadness fell over the room, one that didn’t settle, because I told my students—in case I hadn’t told them before—that I was writing a book for Marvin, using their bloopers, and it would fund scholarships at TCC. I wasn’t sure when I’d be done, or exactly how I’d take care of this (Sallie Mae has to be handled too), but I told them my grief for Marvin made my heart grow bigger so I didn’t take any of them for granted.
That satisfied the room, and after that I went into my lecture on the early Cold War.
And after class—when I should have been writing Marvin’s book, and I felt guilty for not writing Marvin’s book—I wrote and posted a blog called “Point Your Guns at Carol” and laughed.
Point Your Guns at Carol
One way—just one, of course—to teach the Cold War concept of “containment” is to pretend your translator is the dreaded manifestation of the enemy—communism. Move the classroom furniture around and surround the translator, shouting “Don’t expand!!! NOOO!!” while pointing overhead projectors and finger guns at him or her.
Then, while you are acting all crazy, shout out, “Who wants some money?” to your wide-eyed class.
This is an excellent time to discuss the “Marshall Plan,” the “Berlin Candy Drop” and then NATO.
f they say yes (and believe me, they’ll say yes, especially the ones who are never in class and are so lost they aren’t even taking notes) tell them to point their “finger guns” at your translator if they are your real allies.
Believe it or not, a few students will make guns. Usually a guy in the back stands up, as if relieved to finally be called into action.
While students are laughing at the translator translating the entire scenario, you race around the room all panicked saying something like ”Contain her! Contain her! POINT YOUR GUNS AT CAROL. SHE’S COMMUNISM AND SHE’S SPREADING LIKE SMALLPOX!! We will go to WAR to STOP WAR. There will BE NO MORE WAR. Now KEEP POINTING YOUR GUNS AT CAROL.”
Usually, at this point, your students will decide they might like the Cold War.
Your interpreter will probably a little traumatized, though.
Grambling Men and Pretty Women
A lot of fathers were staying out all night drinking and grambling up there money at soolans. After a while a lot of women started having lots of babys. Women wanted to go out and get jobs but men thought that it was women’s job to stay home and look pretty and take care of
Battle of Wounded Knee (Not)
….battle between the Southern states that led to the Spanish American War.
The Many Oceans of Cuba
During the time of going out west a journalist (I think?) Mahan says we need a 2 ocean fleet, so we want Cuba.
Imagine You Didn’t Study “Open Door Note”
Open Door Note: The notion that we will never fully close a door to others that we might need help from later. To leave the option open if in the future a country will be able to help us.
The first picture is a famous general, I think his name was Henry.
Secret Communist History of the Spanish-American War
When the Dictator of Cuba first established communism in Cuba, Reconcentrado camps were where Cubans were sent by the government if they wanted to escape communism. In return, they didn’t escape but died there in the camps. Starvation and other unsanitary issues were going on.
Rough Riders of the Sea
Rough Riders: volunteer cavalry for the US and the only war they fought was near Cuba
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Wars
Once the Americans see pictures with women being half naked, they become concerned about war.
Yellow Journalism, Polished
Hearst says to the Spaniards, “if you polish the picture, I’ll polish the war.”
An Island by Any Other Name…
Don’t know much about this. Didn’t even know we had a test today really but I know the US controlled Guantanamo and it is a key for our military and prison folks. Isn’t Puerto Rico part of the US now?
Morgan told me. When she was in my class, she was a silent sponge who laughed with her hand over her mouth. She took my classes for two semesters, and Carol was one of her translators, so she knew that I knew Carol.
She messaged me on Facebook: “Did you hear? We lost one of our translators.”
“Can’t be” I message back. Then I go right to Carol’s Face-book wall.
She was in the Keys, diving.
Just like she said she would be. Her status said that she was going back down for another dive.
Already people were posting “I can’t believe it,” and “I’m going to miss you.”
I can’t believe it. Last week she specifically promised me she wouldn’t die.
This is totally not OK. I can’t teach. How can I act like things are normal?
As I pull up to school the next day my phone rings. It’s Josephine, another TCC interpreter who often worked closely with Carol. I guess it fell on her, today, to make sure that all hearing-impaired students navigated this tragedy.
“Do you know?” she asks, quietly.
I know, I told her. Then we figured out how to make it through the day.
Translators didn’t get the day off, but I told Josephine I’d be talking about Carol in class today, and that she shouldn’t have to translate my tribute to her friend.
That’s too much, I said. Neither of us cried.
At 10:10 I went into class—Carol’s class, the same classroom David had sat in, the same classroom Matthew sat in—and before I can speak, I light a candle.
Pictures of Carol pop up large behind me on PPT slides. One of them is her in her ninja black belt gear. The other is a funny picture she took just earlier that week with a pretend dive mask on. She was happy.
The class is ready for me to talk, and I’m ready to talk to them.
I remind them about the day, before the exam we took just before Spring Break, when Carol was running late.
The class remembered. I reminded them we’d talked about Marvin that day…. And they all understood.
I can’t tell you exactly what I said—it was along the lines of “She promised me I’d never have to worry about her. Crazy. Life is crazy. We had a good time with her didn’t we? An awfully good time?”
They nod. There are sniffs. I’ve done enough crying all morning and weekend. I’m too tired to cry right now, so I sit on a table in front of the auditorium, mascara-free, cross-legged in jeans.
No one comes in late or early that day.
I eulogize my friend, standing next to her silent empty chair and a candle.
Carol led a great life.
She knew what it was she had to give, and she gave it boldly.
She lived the life she wanted to, always growing, always giving.
I wish that for you all, I tell them. I hope they wish it for themselves as well.
I tell them I hope they find what they love to give and just give it freely and happily. That’s the whole point. The rest comes and goes. But what you have to give only grows if you keep giving it.
After class, I extinguished the candle and brought it back to my office. I can’t grade exams. Or write. Or think.
I can’t imagine just going on through my history classes, through teaching Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement and the Gulf War like no one died.
For a few days I brought the candle to my other classes, the ones Carol wasn’t in, and tell them stories about Carol.
“I’d jump and about ten seconds later, she’d stomp her feet and sometimes I’d stop lecture and ask, “Was that Lysol? Douche? How do you sign that again?”
The class cracked up. We went back into history, back where we were supposed to go together.
Classes went on all week, mercilessly, until Carol’s funeral that Friday, a week after she died.
I met Morgan at the church. She saved me a seat close enough to the front that I could easily feel and see Carol’s unusual stillness in her open casket.
“Can you hear me?” I ask Morgan, not for the first time.
She nods yes, she can hear me, which is cool because I can’t sign.
We make small whispering gestures, talk, look around.
Pictures of Carol change every few seconds. There she is in Peru. In high school. Happy, outside, free. An adventurous woman. She had a good time.
When the service ends Morgan and I slip out together—her with long silent graceful strides, me clicking away in heels, separating after a big hug.
“See you at graduation!” I call out, hoping she heard me.
Graduation. Something to look forward to.
Meanwhile, I followed up with Dr. Law, emailing my letter to him, cc’ing the vice presidents.
No response, not yet.
The tenth anniversary of Marvin’s death loomed days away, and I didn’t have a book done, or a degree for him, or even an answer about a degree.
Still, on March 27, we drove to Chiefland, Florida to see Marvin’s family and take part in their church’s annual tribute to Marvin.
Monica, Marvin’s sister, hugged me tightly and asked about Marvin’s degree. I told her I was trying, that I didn’t have an answer…. Yet.
Later, they asked me on stage. I’d never been on stage in a church, nothing like that ever.
I wasn’t prepared to say anything, actually. I just wanted to be there. And also, as I’d been getting dressed I had the spectacular idea of wearing three separate layers of girdles so I could hardly breathe.
I told them that Marvin’s life and death changed me.
I told them that because of Marvin, I was more present with every single student, savoring our time together.
I said that my grief for Marvin and my love for his family has borne fruit and planted seeds that have changed the landscape of my life.
And I know I told them that I’d keep pestering the president to award Marvin’s degree.
I didn’t tell them that I’d told Carol about Marvin, and that she’d died anyway.
If you are enjoying this story about former students, I hope you will consider supporting a current student, Marvin Cristopher Blanco https://www.gofundme.com/ydb92-marvins-kidney-transplant