The Harried Student: Thesis

December 18, 2002

Unashamedly exhausted, after hoarsely whispering “It is done,” he beseeched, “Why have you forsaken me?” and closed his eyes.

I was not without heart; I could feel his pain. I knew he needed me to acknowledge the honour he had won for himself, our family, our country. The gruelling ritual was finally over. Sole representative of Canada in a bitter academic scenario, he had vanquished the scourge of studentship on Salisbury’s plains, had faced and beaten the fiercest of the Celtic war gods, he who never dies, Thesis.

Grandly beating a 9:00 a.m. deadline, the brave Canadian had finished with Thesis with 2 hours to spare. He was luckier than some in slapping Thesis with 230 deadly paragraphs in time. This success he attributed to the powerful weaponry brought to the battle: namely, a Dell notebook having a really big backspace key. The Dell was critical in fashioning an arsenal of 230 sleep-deprived, unified thoughts”?230 singeing topic sentences with supporting arguments”?230 brave and bold yet neither trite nor awkwardly unbelievable insights. Bullets every one, and each a dire sacrifice, I knew.

I knew too that though Thesis was despatched and our man Canada had survived – had proven Alberta and AU admirable – comrades had fallen. I did not need to wait until years later when with eyes wide and in a hushed whisper he told his son of what he had seen during the 230 paragraphs with Thesis. I already knew the horrors. I was not surprised that Thesis had been harsh, had left in his deathlike grip several sorry sots, all stuck, regrettably entrapped in eternal run-on sentences, forever fused to their keyboards.

I even knew that some sad students had not made it past initiation. Men and women of many nations had been humbled by earlier rites of the British tutorial system. This is not the “Tutors R Us” kiddie show you might know from sweet, sweet AU, gentle reader. Oh no no no. This is the mysterious tutorial system erected by the same mysterious peoples who convinced Stonehenge to stand up. I mean the mysterious tutorial system wherein a tutorial’s agenda is never its content yet always its test. I’m talking about the mysterious tutorial system wherein tutor is neither man nor beast, but evil essence:where grown men of many tribes and nations have for years been frightened by the unshorn, gaunt, white-maned principal tutor always on the couch in the staff lounge, perpetually reading a toner bottle, muttering over and over like a question “Mad cow” and randomly assigning marks to anyone who dares approach him. I mean the British tutorial system for which grown men bear memories especially of the haunting, haunted eyes of frightened Greek students pleading with British tutors whose ear drums are as unaffectable as their upper lips; Greeks crying in vain that it is all English to them.

I knew that the Canadian had survived this and more and had returned, spent but worthy, to these meagre rented quarters built on the graves of knights of old. Breathing without assistance, he had returned at 7:00 am in the misty British morning. His hands and face were streaked red by so many felt markers. Dispassionate and used, a minute after the wheels had stopped turning and the latch had clicked, his nearly dead weight cracked the car door open.

As he waited, propped, a cascade of emptied shells falling from his pocket onto the drive rolled under the car, souvenirs of terror past. A moment after the last pen stopped its roll, he blessed their lost souls with a well-known friendly Albertan oath, and wedged first one black-booted leg then another “?twixt damnable right car door and frame. I was ignoring nothing; I was all too aware. From above I heard heavy, dragging feet follow each other”?faithful dogs carrying the plasticine torso of a worn Canadian student body.

I knew his pain, his fatigue complete. Before I heard the key in the door below my window I sensed the bulk of spent self funnelled to a finger and directing itself at a scratched plastic button, conjuring a muffled yet highly offensive buzz like a secret call to his fairest love (me, obviously). Yet I did not move. Deep in the towers of our temporary rented home, beyond the mist, beyond the shade of Stonehenge, hidden from the brick halls of British academia and even farther from the Rockies and the drywall of Albertan academia, as the trill rang on I did not move. Unanswered, he slumped for an instant eternity, then resumed consciousness, searching his fist for his own key.

I was ignoring nothing. For part of the long buzzing I was silently deferring to what I knew had been done, but for most of it I was unable to move. And I silently honoured every plod up the stairs, nodding solemnly for every creak as he gently eased his academic warrior self onto folds of cool, thick, white cotton comforter and fell asleep with his boots on.

I wasn’t ignoring him. I could feel the scars of his ended battle. I heard the return of the perpetual student. I had not forsaken him; nor had I been to bed. Academia is our religion. He worships in the halls of ancient British educational institutes; I in our home, wherever our home may be, wherever we set up the Shrine of Gigabyte.

This life leaves us sleepless, ringing our own doorbell, deferring to each other, and jetlagged by the academic distances we travel every day. But we do it. I was expecting him to work all night to conquer the enemy/meet his deadline; he, likewise, might have expected to pass by me at the computer as I was when he left last night after putting his heirs to bed. No, I was not ignoring him, would never ignore him. I was deep in battle myself. Honour, shorter lived than ever he might have imagined, needed constant renewal. There, in our supposed haven from the busy leftover Celtic world about us, mysterious Thesis was far from defeated. Thesis was back and had me in a death grip.