Is that all you need?
Dr. Askew was short and loud. His voice boomed and he wore wire, thin spectacles over a freckled nose. He was a tenured professor at the local university and well known for his classroom antics, standing on student desks, dressing like the historical characters that he taught and often basing his tests on a writing prompt instead of multiple choice exams. “So, what are you saying” he asked towards Dr. Hawthorne.
Dr. Hawthorne was tall and reserved. A military veteran of the Vietnam War, he spoke with quiet strength. “I’m saying that I believe him.” He wore his usual university uniform, khakis, polo, blazer and retro Jordan shoes. He sat at his office desk, everything neatly organized, pictures of his friends and family were fixed to the walls. As he answered Dr. Askew’s questions, he kept his eyes on the student sitting on the other side of his desk.
Strange felt supremely uneasy sitting across from Dr. Hawthorne while Dr. Askew dramatically paced the room behind him. He wanted to leave. He didn’t trust that two white men were discussing his future at the university, openly, in front of him, but he had no choice. He was eternally making piss poor decisions and his latest arrest was another example. Dr. Hawthorne appeared to be looking for a lie somewhere in the middle of his forehead. His legs twitched and shaked nervously, uncontrollably. His left fingers were numb or going through the muscle loss phase and he didn’t know what to do. “Look guys, I appreciate the opportunity to explain myself and all but I get it.”
Dr. Askew abruptly stopped his pacing. Strange could see him from the corner of the left eye. His face flustered red, “What do you get?” he asked.
Strange, surprised by the answer, finally had somewhere to look besides the gaze of Dr. Hawthorne. “I get that you have jobs to do. I get that I broke the attendance rules. I get that I’m out of school. Again.” He spoke with his head down but clear. As if he had gone through this before, “I get it.”
“Mr. Chase, understand this” started Dr. Hawthorne. “No one here is judging you. Even university professors appreciate the challenges of life, school and mistakes. You’re here because I believe you but I need help too.”
“Help with what?” Dr. Askew looked suspiciously at Dr. Hawthorne.
Strange looked at both of them, Dr. Askew in his left corner and Dr. Fluellen in front of him. His unease turning his stomach, he felt himself getting angry. He hadn’t asked for help. He made A’s in their classes, just missed classes. A lot of classes. “I don’t,” he began to interrupt.
Dr. Hawthorne dismissed his attempt to speak by making the shh signal, touching two fingers to his lips. “Stop and listen young man. You’re floundering and I’ll not waste another moment with this. Ty is being difficult.” He paused, only for a moment, to nod his head towards Dr. Askew. “Strange, you have a 3.5 GPA despite attending half of my classes.”
Dr. Askew interjected, “He has a 4.0 in mine. Last semester too. I don’t pay attention to attendance at all so I can’t comment on his absences. Wait. Stop. Somebody has to explain. What is going on here?” Dr. Askew checked his watch, “Greg, you have a course to teach. Take care of that, I’ll talk with Knowledge. Or do I call you Strange now?” The two men shook hands and looked at Strange. Greg Hawthorne left the office and Ty Askew sat beside Strange. “Well, I have time, tell me whats going on?”
Strange had been watching them intensely through teary eyes, “I’m dropping out.” he shrugged.
Ty Askew did not respond. He sat comfortably in a chair and looked straight ahead, ignoring Strange’s comment. “Kendrick, I’m a history professor. I asked for a story and you gave me a sentence. What is going on?” He didn’t know what came faster, the tears or the story.
“I’m dropping out because I’m facing a felony possession charge of marijuana. It wasn’t mine but I was in the car.” He sighed and looked down as the tears flowed faster. “Jesus Christ, I try so hard but I’m always fucking myself with bad decisions. The other guy? The driver? He was released from the holding cell two hours after we were arrested. I know what that means!” The tears were turning to sobs. His shoulders sagged in defeat. “I have two jobs to pay for some wack defense attorney and I can’t afford his wack ass retainer fee. On top of all that, my girl kicked me out so I’ve been sleeping in my van. It’s why I’ve missed so many days. I work night shifts at a gas station and I work days as hotel room service. I slide out ONE time to celebrate my GPA and get arrested. I can’t make this shit up.” He did his best to suck the mucus back into his nose, wiped his eyes and stared up. Slowly, the tears began to dry as he continued hard sniff. He did not look at the clearly shaken Dr. Askew.
“Oh my. This is more serious than a failing quiz or need for extra time to complete work. Wow.” Ty Askew continued looking straight forward. Neither man would chance a look at each other, the student nor the professor. “Ok; first, the obvious, are your parents aware of what is going on?”
Staring up at white ceiling tiles, “No sir,” his voice low, weak. He swallowed loudly. “I’m cool with going to prison before seeing the disappointment in my parents’ eyes. I don’t need help. I didn’t ask. I’ll get myself out of this or I won’t but it’ll be me. All me.”
“Ahhhh, I remember thinking that I could beat the world too. I never needed help because I was a man. A grown man. I hitchhiked from Louisiana to New York City without my parent’s permission. I sent postcards until I got home about a month later.” He chuckled softly to himself. “I’ve hitchhiked. Greg fought in Vietnam and we both believe you’re in deeper shit than either of us.” He removed his glasses, set them on Dr. Hawthorne’s desk and turned the chair to look at Strange.
Strange, caught off-guard by the story, laughed himself. “How do you compare Vietnam, hitchhiking and my arrest?” The two doctors were history professors and his favorite because of their personal stories of success, failure and the pursuit of happiness. He turned his chair to face Dr. Askew. The two made an odd scene in that small office, young vs. older, black man vs. white man, one with several visible tattoos and piercings vs. one in professional attire, one with long braids on hair ending in bedazzled beads and jewels vs. one bald.
“We all volunteered to jump in shit with our friends and none of us had any concept of how deep the shit is and the time required to clean ourselves up. He leaned forward, “Everybody has a story kid. Don’t let your preconceptions and stereotypes of white men deny you necessary help.” He sat back and smiled. “Number one, drop that court appointed attorney. He’s paid to make you go away quietly, not clear you. Number two, you will need an African-American woman to represent you. Someone ready to present you as a changed man and role model. There is absolutely no one better than a woman. Do you know any?”
Strange was shocked enough to choke on his response, “Huh? Me? No to that too.”
“Good. I have someone in mind. She loves defending black youth, well known in the community and teaches here at the university part time.” He sat back in thought.
“I am not going to my folks for help Dr. Askew.” Strange shook his head. “I can’t. I’ve wrecked their names enough with my bullshit. I made up my mind, for better or worse, I’m doing this alone.”
“There is some saying, maybe quote that I’m thinking.” said Dr. Askew. He stood up and put on his glasses. “I’m sure you’re familiar with it. The ignorance of youth?”
Strange stood up as well. “I got it. I listened. Thanks for the classes and the advice with a black woman lawyer.”
“Knowledge,” Dr. Askew began, “two questions. One, why do you continue mentioning your refusal to involve your parents?”
“I’m broke Dr. Askew” he shrugged. “My folks have other kids, other responsibilities, this is my fourth college in five years but most of all, I just know better. Of course, they would go broke trying to save me but sometimes, you gotta fall to rock bottom.”
“Is that all you need?” Dr. Askew asked. “Help with the retainer and making payments? If so, he picked up the phone from Dr. Hawthorne’s desk, “Greg and I already agreed to pay the retainer fee.”
“Wait. Huh? Hold up sir, I can’t..” Strange froze in mid-sentence.
Into the phone, Ty Askew boomed, “Hello?! Linda? Hey, look I gotta a kid here we can help. BIG potential. You busy?”
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