Flight has been prominent in my life. Not the aerial kind but the fleeing kind.
I vaguely recall that Sartre’s play “Huis Clos” (No Exit) ends with several people enclosed in a room condemned for all eternity to talk at and past each other with no escape. Sartre concludes, “L’enfer, c’est les autres.” Hell is other people.
My personal take on the matter is that maybe Hell is not others but oneself. How would that go in French? “L’enfer, c’est soi-même”?
As a newly minted scholar in an abstruse field I landed an assistant professorship at the University of State-Somewhere, a hyphenated campus of a good school.
In year two I realized my destiny there was to teach basic language classes to students majoring in other disciplines. I should’ve gotten a masters in applied linguistics to do that, I told myself, not a doctorate in fuzzy studies
In year five I pitched translation as a new offering to ground my discipline in something practical. It was a hail Mary, and brutally swatted down in my annual performance review.
My tenured superiors had noticed by then that my student evaluations, glowing at first, were now in the toilet. I knew I was doomed. I gave notice, to spare them and me my firing, and limped lame-duckedly through year six while they searched for my replacement. I fled the scene but took myself with me.
In the last stage of my academic unraveling I convinced a good person to join me in having another go at marriage, the second one for both her and myself. What could go wrong?
In marital year three I wasn’t overtly suicidal but may have exhibited a symptom: I started throwing away my personal effects. I destroyed the typewritten original copy of my dissertation. I carted all my books to the curb to be picked up by the garbage truck. (My wife asked me if I really wanted to do that, and prevailed on me to bring them back inside.)
An insidious voice in my head whispered that I was lightening my load for the moment when I’d find an exit again. As it happened, that moment was still several years away.
[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]