On the first day of Spring semester, I ask my students about obsessions because they want to be writers, and it’s good to feel hooked. It’s a state school, eight in the morning on a Monday, and I’m in my best professor’s blazer to warrant an early crumb of respect. These students like video games, Taylor Swift, they watch Schitt’s Creek and drink boba. Other students like telenovelas and wrestling, they listen to Lil Baby and read brick-shaped fantasy books I never heard of. Instructors are not supposed to admit this, but I spot my favorite before he speaks: Jeyson—spelled that way—in a varsity jacket though I already know he doesn’t play sports. Jeyson’s smug when it’s his turn, when he tells us he’s been thinking about the apocalypse, no smile, just a deep exhale before a contemplative: Well… We all know it’s coming, Jeyson says, and there’s an air of sarcasm in his voice, or is it too early to tell? Two days before this one, Kobe Bryant dies in that helicopter crash, and for most of Southern California, it’s a real tragedy. Some students are wearing his jersey still, purple and gold sweatshirts, hats, even socks—pulled over their sweatpant-ends or with plastic slides so the colors show. Will it be an asteroid? A massive fire? Will global-warming spawn a drought? Jeyson asks—a theatre major—his hands fashioning an explosion on the desk. And by February, I’m writing the words, WASH YOUR HANDS, on the whiteboard for homework, the campus bathroom lines are longer, and we are all singing some song under our breath as we lather and rinse in the mirror. In March, it’s an emailed goodbye. Instead of Zoom, my students play video games, we all watch television, and once a week, I post a gif on an obligatory Discussion Board with my feedback. During workshop, Jeyson writes a story about brothers playing pretend at night, outside with a spoon and ladder to slice the moon. By April, my contract expires, and because of COVID and enrollment fluctuations, I’m not hired back, and I’m not sure what classes I’ll have to teach the following semester, so leave my apartment in the city, move back into my parents’ and sleep in the RV parked out back. In May, I read their final portfolios, the world so steeped in doom I barely recognize it. Will it be a civil war? Jeyson had said. A flood of biblical proportions? Aliens, Demons, Zombies? Of course, his story about the brothers was more than the moon: a sick mother, holes in the wall, someone disappearing that way forever. The end is coming, Jeyson was saying then, brushing his hair behind his neck, behind the white leather sleeves and black fleece of his coat on a Monday in January, and we laughed, all of us, a little too cool or certain to believe it.
Katrina Prow lives and writes in Long Beach, CA. Her writing recently appeared in decomP, The Journal, Pithead Chapel, Redivider, and elsewhere. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing, Fiction from Texas Tech University, and she teaches Creative Writing at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. You can find her discussing pop culture and literature on Twitter @katprow.