My TA responsibilities are limited: taking attendance, scoring quizzes and assignments and responding to the occasional email about the attendance policy.
This week, scanning the front row for attendees and absentees, I noticed a student crying. Hysterically, hand-to-the-face, mascara dripping kind of crying.
They didn’t prepare me for this in TA Orientation.
I exited the lecture hall, beckoned her as discreetly as I could, so as not to draw attention. Outside the door, she apologized and explained that her boyfriend had just broken up with her the night before.
“He was just telling me he loved me on Thursday,” she said. Her fingernails were matted black from rubbing her eyes and squiggles of tears marbled her cheeks.
“That’s tough. Difficult, like,” I said. “I get it.”
And I did — to an extent.
I, too, had arrived in college with a significant other, but mine was living across an ocean five hours ahead. We had broken up over Skype, shaky video reception distorting our faces into pixelated shadows of what we’d been when we’d said goodbye in the airport, promising forever.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, hoping to appear sympathetic to the gravity of her situation, to make her feel like she was already making strides by being able to attend class.
“I didn’t want to miss the quiz.”
I told her briefly — the quiz would start soon, and I didn’t want my romantic reminiscing to ruin the whole reason she’d come to class—that I’d been through something similar when I was a freshman, had my plans fall from under my feet. It’s like falling through ice, into a freezing lake: you can never imagine the cold until you’re actually in the water treading desperately and searching frantically for a warning sign that read: Thin Ice.
“I just thought, you know, we’d been together for three years. We were supposed to get married,” she said.
I was cautious now of becoming melancholy about my past relationships in front of a student. “Yeah, it sucks, but hey, you’re here! And that’s something, isn’t it?”
She nodded, ran the tips of her little fingers across the purple bags under her eyes and sniffed back whatever leakage had entered her nose.
“Maybe you take the quiz and dip out, job done? And we’ll see you Wednesday?”
She nodded again. Then, straightening from the hunch she’d been sporting, she looked me in the eyes, hers yawning like two sleeping spiders, and extended a hand and introduced herself, first and last name. I took her hand— it was grubby from repeatedly wiping away tears — shook it firmly to remind her that she was here, getting on with things, taking that damn quiz.
I didn’t see her slip out, busy entering scores on Canvas.
I searched the stack of quizzes for hers, quietly hoping she’d crushed it. I found it toward the bottom of the pile, smudged where she’d dragged her hand across the page while writing, the writing jagged and hasty. She’d nailed it.
The On Campus column appears weekly. Read last week's column here.