“The midterm is tomorrow,” Tara said, lifting her eyes from her pool of books.
“Yeah, I know,” Damian sighed with a carefree smile. He smoothed back his hair as he took notice of the Tara’s many books. The thought of being in the center of those texts were too much to conceive.
“You don’t look like you know,” Tara said checking off bullet points on her notebook pad. Damian’s brow burrowed. “You stroll in here like you’re in your freshman year.”
“Relax,” Damian exclaimed. “I got this!” And to his knowledge, he did. He bumbled throughout college without much of a care and managed to guess correctly on the key exams. He had never experienced the freedom of college life and was studious throughout his prep high school career.
“Shhhh,” came from the corner of the lounge area.
Damian frowned as he peered and identified who was silencing him. “What’s wrong with Tyler?”
“The lounge area has become a makeshift library,” Tara said, scribbling a note in the corner of her pad.
“Seriously,” Damian said, scrunching up his face.
“The library is full. You should really be studying. Unless of course you’ve completed the twenty page report.”
Tara rolled her eyes.
“Wait,” Damian begged.
“Damian, I legitimately don’t have time for you. I am studying.” Tara resumed her digging for key notes for her study sheet.
Damian began to pace. “Maybe he could find his frat brothers. They knew shortcuts around exams like these. He’d just check over at their lunch table where they typically would sit. Except they weren’t there. A handful of foreign exchange students were there with their books sprawled about them. Damian lost his breath and suddenly the memories of the last couple of weeks disappeared and whatever Damian did was wholly inconsequential to the feeling of dread that settled in the pit of his stomach. He felt naked without his book bags.
A tiny hand pulled him back into the lounge are and spun him around. Tara placed a thick black book square into his palm.
“What’s this,” Damian asked.
“It’s my assignment book for the semester,” Tara replied. “It has all the homework assignments and study materials that needed to be reviewed and memorized.”
Damian stuttered as he flipped through the book. Her neat handwriting appeared foreign to him. Nothing she had written in the last month and a half made sense and there were chapters of information to be reviewed.
“I can’t take this,” Damian protested.
Tara shoved it back into his chest. “You need this more than I do. Go on. Hurry!”
Damian rushed to his dorm room and saw his roommate, Chin playing video games. Damian pulled out his dusty books and started to pull up to the pages on Tara’s book. The aggressive gunfire rattled across the television screen from the game to Damian’s ears.
“Chin,” Damian screamed.
“…yeah,” Chin answered lazily.
“Shouldn’t you be studying?”
Chin snorted. “Nope. Relaxing. I earned it.”
“How? Did you see the materials?”
“Course I did,” Chin said with his eyes glued to the television. “Photographic memory bro! Got all them memorized! I’m getting an A.”
Damian became incredibly weak as he flipped through his textbook. He highlighted the review notes shakily. This couldn’t be happening. But it was.”
-12 days later…-
“Damian,” Mr. Finnegan exclaimed! His short frame moved swiftly, stacking his papers together in a neat bundle as students headed out of his class. “How can I help you,” he asked as he pushed his thick, plastic glasses up the bridge of his nose.
“I didn’t get my test back,” Damian said quietly.
“You sure you want it,” the professor asked after a moment. “Because you failed, Damian.” He pulled his test out of his case. Red marker littered the surface.
“No,” Damian replied hoarsely. “I don’t want it.”
“I understand.” The professor nodded and shuffled his test back into his briefcase.
“Can I make up the test? Anything?”
“In the first class,” Mr. Finnegan answered immediately, “I stated the importance of the midterm and how it coincided with the final exam. It’s not that I don’t want to help you, Damian, but the materials are massive. Backtracking to learn old materials when you need to be learning new materials is virtually impossible.”
“I can try!”
“No, you cannot.”
“I didn’t know midterms would be this important,” Damian said as he struggled to swallow the frog in his throat.
“You wouldn’t because you missed that class according to my records.”
“I need to pass this exam. If I don’t, I won’t graduate on time. My life is riding on this.”
“Your attitude for the majority of my class states otherwise. I don’t take pleasure in failing students. But I’m not going to chase you down either. It’s my job to show up and teach. It’s your job to show up and learn. Now I must go. There are other students that are depending on me.”
-End of the school term-
“Damian,” Mr. Finnegan said as he closed his briefcase. He saw a stapled set of papers resting in the middle of his desk. “What’s this?”
“It’s the twenty page paper you asked for,” Damian replied.
“3 months late,” the professor responded, not picking up his paper.
“I’m trying to pass this class,” Damian said, grabbing his paper and shoving it in Mr. Finnegan’s space.
“And I’m trying to teach you something,” the professor said, taking his paper and dropping in the trash bin. “Not just get the right answers on a test! This is a gracious attempt, but this wasn’t the assignment.” Damian took a step back in horror as he saw his work in the trash. “Don’t get sour on me. I’m not raising geniuses. What I’m teaching is diligence. You’re sprinting. Stop and realize that you need to accept the loss.”
Damian could feel the bile buildup in his stomach. Feeling nausea as his professor continued on.
“I’m telling you something you’re not understanding. When a harvest comes, there’s a season of prepping and work. You’re trying to collect corn stalk when the root is in the ground and hasn’t broken the surface yet.”
“Maybe I’ll just quit then,” Damian said in a huff.
“Why do you have to go to extremes,” Mr. Finnegan said softly. “Passing the class on your terms and dropping out are two ends of a spectrum you don’t need to entertain.”
“My mom needs to see me walk,” Damian said tearfully.
“She will,” Mr. Finnegan replied lightly. “Just not in June. Now there’s a group you can study with over the summer. I know the teacher that will be teaching it then. If you keep this intensity, you will pass.”
-Over 1 year later…-
“Damian,” Mr. Finnegan yelled gleefully. “You did it! Looking good!” The professor landed soft punches on Damian’s sides. “How do you feel?”
“Alright, I guess,” Damian responded quietly.
“Don’t look so somber. You graduated,” the professor said, slapping Damian’s shoulder. “Are your parents here?”
“No. They weren’t able to attend.”
“Aw… that’s a shame I wanted to congratulate them. Maybe I can get a mailing address to send them a letter. I’m really proud of the work you’ve done!”
“They don’t have a mailing address… anymore. I’ll tell them what you said.”
“My mom passed away last July. She was terminal. My dad went two months later because of the grief of my mom passing.”
Mr. Finnegan’s shoulders dropped. “Oh my God. I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”
“Wouldn’t have mattered. This isn’t your fault. It’s mine. But she’s here,” Damian said, nodding. “She’s here. She’s here.”