Winter 2013 — THE POTOMAC

To Merced College

  Yu-Han Chao


Some days it seems there is a monomyth, the story of the young mother, the single mother, the divorced mother, the mother returned to school, the mother sneaking to school while kids are in daycare/at school/at Grandma's, and while some Bad Things have happened to them, the Best Thing that Ever Happened also did, and now school is also a good thing that will lead to better things.

Toddlers on campus, pressing their faces into the glass wall of the cafeteria, looking out. Toddlers hanging between two adults, holding on to mommy's hand, in strollers, wandering into the library, tutorial center, water fountain.


After a financial aid check goes out, attendance drops. The better the weather, the fewer the students. You always lose a few, but fewer and fewer of those now, since it became hard to fight through the wait list, even if one brings one's mother, resorts to emotional blackmail, lies, argues, refuses to leave, emails daily, promises to keep coming back until the end of time.

There are rumors about people who are perpetually trying to leave, but cannot. The community college ghetto, they call it. After two years here you develop severe allergies, and if you are a dean, that happens even faster. There are interviews, mock teaching sessions, the inability to mention what from now on shall not be spoken of lest one break into tears, two-year-trips to Italy, one-year stints at a bridal company, and sometimes people settle down and marry, after trying to leave for so many times, for so long.


They are in class at 7am, before it's bright outside, and after class they head off to work. They juggle pregnancies and homework, multiple jobs, seven or eight children, live out of their cars, live with war injuries, work injuries, and this after they lost children, lost jobs, lost retirement money, lost parents.

The stories they tell. Foster Farms an archetypal theme. The home of illegal workers, the death stick, two-headed chicks, four-legged chickens. The military another theme. Post traumatic stress syndrome, college paid for, college not paid for because of injury and lies two weeks before fulfilling the requirement, teenage son joining the military against distressed mother's wishes. The military also accounts for lost children. Children always a theme, lost children a theme.


Babies and childbirth. Stories about fifteen-year-old cousins giving birth then dying in a nap the next day from drug interaction. Student falling asleep during labor because of mistakenly administered medication. The description of the sound made by an episiotomy, unfortunately unforgettable. Student saying, unless I get knocked up and receive financial aid, I won't be able to afford college next year.

Then there's the student who begs to not be dropped from the class because otherwise she cannot afford her upcoming surgery and will die and her blood will be on the instructor's hands. It's easier to be the student than the teacher—such moral dilemmas. If you want health insurance, teach two classes at Stan State. UC is okay. The JC, sorry, unless you're full time.


Lab is a supermarket or doctor's office: stand in line or take a number. Study Central like friendly workers handing out free samples in paper cups at Costco. The Tutorial Center wants your commitment, and there will be no lounging or studying without a tutor or facebooking unless you have a Note. If you have a Note, then it's okay. The second floor of the library is haunted, as is the three-row fiction section. Do people check out anything other than computer passes?

Sometimes one gets student déjà vu. I have seen this student. I have seen this couple. How long ago was it? How many times? I think I may also have seen this paper before. I'm still deciding on my major, some say, I'm waiting to transfer, I'm going to have to transfer because I failed a class too many times, I couldn't get a requirement last semester so I'm staying another year. Welcome to English 1A. You look familiar.

Books for sale. 25 cents at the library, a dollar from the anthropology club book sale, where a former student announces that the Joseph Campbell book and other things we read in class made her go into anthropology. What have I done?


The pre-semester adjunct key party is nothing like what you're thinking. Line up for a parking pass, keys (if you don't already have more than Bluebeard's child bride), listen to speeches, eat cheese, fruit, stuffed mushrooms, wings, mingle. Mostly the elderly, post-retirement folk, saying I just teach one class. It's fun for me.

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