I didn’t think of myself as a stalker, but I can see now that my behavior came close. I walked right over to the reception desk at Johnson Hall and asked the student on duty if Anna was still living there.
“I’m sorry, but we don’t give out that kind of information.”
I looked at him, puzzled. “Do you know who she is?”
“I’m sorry, we can’t tell you whether we are familiar with a particular student.”
Man, this guy was a tough case. “Then you can’t tell me if you’ve seen her recently, right?”
He gave me the kind of look I would eventually use when I dealt with annoying customers at the Madison record store where I worked a few years later.
“Nothing about her at all, right?”
He continued his buggah-I-have-had-it-with-you stare. No reply was forthcoming. I suppose if I’d been in his position, I might be about ready to call Campus Security. But when you’re very probably in love, well, it’s hard to see lots of things clearly.
I wheeled around, unsure about my next move, pushed through the door and stepped down onto the walkway. I’d taken a few totally confused and dazed steps toward the Dole Street sidewalk, when all of a sudden, a car pulled up, and out stepped Anna.
She was carrying a small suitcase and hadn’t noticed me yet. I wasn’t sure what to say, if I should say anything.
She looked equally in kind of a brain fog.
She walked toward me and recognition dawned. “Lanning?”
“Ah, yes, it’s, ah, me. Hey, you. How’re you doing?”
Then she burst into tears. This confused me even way further. I mean, I know from experience I can have this kind of effect on women, but I didn’t think I’d done anything to get her crying. Yet.
She just stood there crying. Now, if we were some longtime couple, I might have thrown my arms around her or some such romantic scenario type thing, but I didn’t know what might be appropriate behavior given that I’d only met her once so far.
I decided the best thing to do would be to relieve her of the suitcase, so I, very gently, slipped it out of her hand.
She put both hands to her face. “I’m so sorry,” she said, her sobbing subsiding. “I’m . . . “
She reached in her pocket and produced a humongous wad of tissue that looked well used. Blowing her nose and wiping her eyes settled her a little.
I still had the overpowering urge to just grab her and hug her. But, I mean, we didn’t even really know each other much at all.
She returned the wad to her pocket. “I’m so sorry about that,” she said.
“Hey, ah, no problem. You okay?”
Brilliant question. Really. Obviously she was not okay.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
I put down her suitcase, trying to come up with some kind of innocuous, non-incriminating answer. “I was, well I wondered . . . .”
I had a strong feeling that saying, “I was worried about you,” even though I had been plenty worried about her, would still be a little too familiar. So I settled for, “I didn’t see you in class.”
Now if this was an answer to her question, I’m not exactly sure, but it’s all I could thionk of that wasn’t too chummy and also didn’t make me seem like I was hunting her down. Which of course I was.
Big relief, she seemed satisfied with it.
“I was back home, my brother. He’s sick, really sick. I had to go home. They thought he might die.”
My eyes widened with shock and sympathy, but I said nothing. She passed me and sat down on the step. I went and sat beside her. But not too close.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “Is he better?”
She shook her head. “No, he’s much worse. He was hospitalized in Hilo, but his respiratory system, for some reason they can’t figure out, it’s failing. Not working the way it should be. We just flew him to Honolulu this morning. He’s in Kapiʻolani Hospital.
Kapiʻolani was the main women’s and children’s hospital. I’d been born there.
“Your folks came with you?”
“Yes, both. My dad who just dropped me off.”
She reached in her pocket and pulled out the wad again, holding it to her eyes. Her shoulders heaved up and down a few times and she shook her head. I wanted so badly to put my arm around her shoulders.
She stood up slowly and reached for her bag. “I have to go in. I haven’t been sleeping. I need to sleep.”
I nodded, even though she wouldn’t have seen that. “Okay,” I said. “Hey, if you need any kind of help, please call me.”
I tore a sheet of paper out of my composition book and wrote down my number. Me, giving a girl my number. Stop the presses. This was a first. I’m usually too shy to even ask for theirs.
“Thanks, Lanning. I’ll see you.”
I hoped so badly that this would be true, and I could hardly wait for it to happen. I went to the door and let her in.
Two days later I sat in the second row of Bilger Hall, again one seat from the end. My heart pounded harder and harder as class time approached. I watched folks piling in the door, wondering if Anna was feeling well enough to make it to class.
And then she came down from the back and sat next to me.
Ever the brilliant conversationalist, I managed, “Hey.” If there’d been anymore adrenaline running through my system, I think I would have had a heart attack.
She smiled. That best smile ever.
“Hi,” she said. “Thanks for the other day.”
Not quite sure exactly what I’d done, I said, “Oh, yes, okay. No problem. How’s your brother?”
“He’s better. Stable. Thanks. It looks like he’ll probably be okay.”
“Good,” I said, “good. I’m glad.”
She smiled again.
Dr. Miller plowed through the door. I checked my watch. He was early by a minute, and he was bright red.
“I’m here,” he announced loudly. The class burst into applause.
“Thank you, thank you,” he said. “I actually had some solid food for lunch, along with my beverages. And do you know why?”
Someone yelled out: “Because it was free!”
Everyone laughed. Even Anna. I felt very relaxed all of a sudden.
Dr. Miller, laughing too, pointed up toward the voice. “Young man, you’re not going to do very well on the final.”
There was more laughter.
He looked around the room. “A colleague did in fact buy me a sandwich. But even so, there is no such thing as a free lunch. There are always costs involved. We’ve talked about a few, and we’re going to talk about more of them.”
He then launched into his sermon of the day on something I’d never heard of before, even though he called it a brief review of last time’s information. Then he referred to something we’d apparently studied last week.
As the lecture progressed, I realized two every important things. First, this was the first time I’d actually listened to him since the day one of class, and second, I understood very, very little about economics. The exam was coming up fast, and they only thing I knew for sure was that the free lunch issue would not be addressed until the final.
Everything that bubbled out of his mouth was a mystery to me. Dr. Miller seemed to be speaking in toungues. I saw, too, that my half-assed reading of his Rosetta tome was paying the exact measly dividends I deserved.
What the hell was I going to do about the midterm?