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  • Writer's pictureKathy Coudle-King

End of a Chapter

a detail in the staircase

What a strange week. The snowstorms prompted me to stay home for three days, a blessing and a curse. I had grading. I had 64 papers and 21 creative writing portfolios to read. So, I hunkered down, having no other distractions, all my "tea dates" cancelled. I did manage to alternate between grading and Netflixing; grading and cleaning. Alan trudged to campus through the snow, “neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow” can keep that academic away from his office.

Office. The reason I am writing today: To mark an end, to document, to give closure. As some of you know, Merrifield Hall on the University of ND campus is about to undergo a massive, two-year renovation. Everyone with an office in the building was given notice last spring that we would be moved during winter break. We were encouraged to start packing up in summer. I have not heard from anyone who is particularly enthusiastic about the renovation or the move. I am sure there are people, but however they feel, a lot of people put off the inevitable until just this month. Just last week. Maybe today.

Books were taken off shelves, some dusty, some well-used, all examined. Need? Donate? I’ll never teach ____ again. Do I keep? No. Oo, I never read this. Keep. I don’t want this, but I know who will. Some are boxed up, others donated to the “Free Table” in the hall. It is hard parting with books, like parting with good friends.

The shelves cleared, next were the old papers, oh, so many papers, tucked in folders, in binders, transferred from office to office – for this is not my first move while at UND. (It is my – 8th! Seven were in Merrifield, one was in Old Science, which was torn down years ago.)

Back to the papers. I cannot just dump them. I saved them, but for what reason? Who was this student? Usually, I am good with names, but these names conjure no faces. I read my notes on the front page: “Good job!” “Excellent work!” and “You should be really proud of this.” There’s a grade at the top, all in my handwriting in purple or pink ink because someone pointed out when I began teaching – Dan Sheridan? -- that red ink looks “aggressive,” like blood on paper, so I’ve never used a red pen.

I begin reading a few lines of the old papers, some from twenty years or more ago, assignments we have long since retired, then it comes to me why I held onto this particular paper. It was clever. It stood out from the pile. Does the student remember this paper? Do they remember me? And finally, can I let go of it? Mostly, I do. Some I “save” (from what I don’t know). I stick them in a box, to be sifted through another day. Or not. Burn and disperse with my ashes.

“And so, it goes . . . “ I end up paring down three decades of books and papers to seven boxes to be moved. Not bad, I think.

In November, before it got really cold and snow was on the ground, I took home five boxes of personal items, a small table, books, CDs, my deceased brother’s Star Trek dolls that sat on a shelf , Betty Boop VHS tapes . . . I know, it's like the CDs -- obsolete. But listen, I can’t just put Betty Boop in a trashcan, okay?

Betty represents a year when I buried myself in cartoon analysis, another year when I wrote a book, and another year when that manuscript was rejected, and rejected, and -- rejected. But I am not ready to let go of Betty. Or the manuscript. Letting go means accepting defeat. Betty now waits in a box at home, waiting to be unpacked.

Despite my November haul, I have accumulated a pile of stuff that was left on the “Free Table” in the hall. I couldn’t resist the metal scale. I might use it in a show someday. Or the red, plastic drawer thingee for utensils. This will help me organize my junk drawer at home. The white coffee carafe. I’ve always wanted one of these. The dozen or so discarded black binders. Sound and light crews can use these at the Empire. Or the overhead projector that actually works. Oh, my God, I can use this in a play! I practically wet my pants when I plugged it in and the light came on. It makes me even happier than a large cardboard box does, and you know how I feel about cardboard.

Trash and treasure, people. Trash and treasure.

My “score” pile grew, and since we were given until today to completely empty our offices, minus the boxes the movers would take, I knew I had to get it done. So, yesterday, with just five student “stragglers” to get their work in, and with temps around 12 and winds around 25 mph, I drove to campus at eight a.m. It was Saturday, which meant I could pull up in front of the building and avoid getting a ticket, “run in,” grab my stuff, load my stuff, and finish the move a day ahead of deadline.

+ + +

Well, there’s been a four-day snow event, dontcha know. The roads are not completely ploughed on campus. The sidewalks have three foot drifts. My footprints are the only ones in this new fallen snow since Friday.

The building is eerily quiet. I am alone in this place that is about to undergo a seismic change. I am alone in this place that has helped define my life over thirty-two years. I am alone with too many memories.

I do not pause for long; however, for I have a task to accomplish. I begin gathering up what will be seven trips-worth of treasures. One load at a time, I bring them to the vestibule doors – those tall, heavy metal doors Prof. Sandy Donaldson once called “the patriarchal doors” – and I leave my stuff there while I go back for more. A tripod I forgot I had. A raincoat. A Writers Conference poster. The overhead projector. (You’re jealous, right?)

the patriarchal doors

Seven times, up the steps, to my office, then down the steps. At last, it’s all there. Nothing left to move. Next week, the professionals will take my seven boxes to my new office. The shelves are bare. The desk drawers are empty. The metal lockers, a strange and delightful Merrifield room element, are open and void of any odds and ends. ‘tis done.


I venture out into the snow to move my car in front of the patriarchal doors and open the trunk to store my loot. Seven times I march through the snow, knees high, careful not to slip. Seven times I carry my treasure down the slick, granite steps. Finally, I am sweating, despite the cold, but my task is complete.

I go to the imposing door I’ve propped open with my tripod and enter this version of Merrifield one last time. I look down the empty hallway, just a week ago filled with anxious students finishing up classes. I recall potlucks and “Pie Day” and some game Dan Sheridan wanted to play involving the sunburst pattern in the floor in front of room 100. I smile at the memory of Dan Sheridan, Jay Meek, John Little, Bill Borden, Bob Lewis, all who taught me in these classrooms, all who are gone now. I think of Sandra Donaldson, Sherry O’Donnell, and Susan Koprince, who had such a profound impact on the trajectory of my writing. I took up graduate studies to learn about the “canon” – the “dead, old white guys” I’d never studied as an undergrad in playwriting at NYU. I completed my degree inspired by my new found love of feminist writers and diverse voices.

I remember going to Professor Emeritus Jim McKenzie, anxious the day before the first comp class I taught, and he assuaged my fears: “If you don’t know something, just admit it and look it up. Show them how you learn.”

I remember them all: Ursula Hovet, who ran the English office so brilliantly for years. She was like a queen in that front office, respected and loved. Only her daughter Kristin could have filled her shoes when Ursula retired. Kristin -- now presiding over this colossal move in the midst of end of the semester duties. Let's name buildings after all the office managers who keep the wheels turning for decades instead of rich people. I sat in David Marshall's ethnography class in room 10, and in Martha Meek's Intro to Poetry in room 114 where she told me I could interpret a poem anyway I wanted -- MIND BLOWING -- as long as I could justify it in the text, and Elizabeth Hampsten – what a role model for both her academic and social work, whose testimonios of Uruguayan political prisoners led to my play Companeras.

But, well, it’s time to go now. Change is at the door. I whisper the words before I am conscious of creating them: Good luck, Merrifield. Good luck.

Then I walk out, leaving the ghosts behind me.

(But not the overhead projector. Score!)

Overhead Projector - Still in My Car

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