Saving the Life of Another

We're sitting at the bar talking, Barry and I, and he's telling me about how he went to India.

There, one day he was sunning himself on a rock island in the middle of the Ganges when people on the banks started yelling at him, "Save the boy," they yelled in their native tongue. "Fetch him." He didn't understand and didn't see what they were referring to. What he didn't see was a small Indian boy being sucked under by the currents.

Barry stood still for a moment. And waited. For things to pass. He looked down river but didn't see what the commotion was about. He stood. Still.

A woman on the bank Barry knew wanted him to dive in after the boy. She wanted him to be the hero. But he wasn't that. He didn't even see the boy. Also, "I don't have the hero complex," Barry told me at the bar.

So he stood, Barry did, on that rock. And watched water. Barry watched and waited as the boy went under.

Another woman Barry knew from his travels also watched what was going on. From the other bank, this another woman saw Barry and the boy. But she, not knowing that Barry didn't even see the young child, wished Barry to remain on the rock. Not to jump but to just be there. And not put himself in harm's way. Just stay where I can see you, she must have thought.

The fate of the boy's was his own and not Barry's. If he'd die it was because he needed to die, and not because Barry, who'd remain, couldn't rescue him. Don't do it, Barry, the other woman on the other bank must have thought.

In the end he didn't, Barry didn't even see the boy. Instead, he stood on the rock and realized there was a boy. And that that boy got swept under. He saw people jump in the river after him. But he, Barry, he didn't jump. He stood and waited.

And later he was told by the girl on the bank, "I'm gland you didn't jump in after him.

"I was thinking the whole time, I hope he doesn't jump in the river after that boy."

She knew that if Barry dove in, that he might also die, that they could both die in the Ganges. She must have thought that Barry diving in the river trying to save the life of the boy would probably cost him his own.

Barry didn't even see the boy at first. Or he would have dove in, he says, sitting at the bar.


We came from cells, she said.

I didn't think too deep about it. She would always try to say shit like that. Like she wanted to connect with me on a deeper level. I guess it was me. At the time I couldn't think of anything except what was right in front of me. What I was doing, the day-to-day. But women would bring up things they thought was mind blowing: how we grow, how we can know one another, connect, think outside our skull. Shit like that. I didn't pay attention half the time. Half the time I was thinking about the office case I was in charge of or what I was going to make for dinner. Where I left my wallet.

Cells? Is what I said.

Yeah, inside your mom your cells spit. You developed into a baby. And look at you now, Jim. Grown to the age she probably was when she had you. How old are you?

Thirty-two, I said. And my mom had me when she was nineteen.

Women always think I'm younger than I really am. I guess it's nice. But the truth of the matter is that I don't feel like I'm 32, or don't act it. So I usually don't say how old I am. Or most times I lie because I can, lying comes easy for me. But this time I told the truth because why-the-hell not.

Oh, was all she said at first. And there was a pause in the conversation. I was kind of hoping it would be over, that we could just be quiet for a while, then she went on.

Well, next year, I'm going to be twenty-four. Same age as my mom was when she had Beth.

Beth was her older sister. I wanted to meet her just then. Wondered what she looked like. Was she more mature? Would we have more in common?

Huh, was the noise I made, hoping that the conversation was going to cease or become something beyond age. Like she might stop talking. And might start taking her clothing off.

I'm ready too, she said instead. To settle down, to start a family. I mean, I'm looking for that someone...special.

And she actually giggled. I felt turned off. Annoyed almost. I wasn't interested in her anymore. And wanted to be alone. I got depressed about where I was and who I wasn't with. I stood up without saying anything and went into the kitchen and turned on the stove top.

I mean, aren't you? I could hear her call from the other room.

Aren't I what? I yelled back, pretending I didn't understand what we were talking abut. Trying again to get her to stop talking altogether.

Never mind. She trailed off as water came out the faucet.

And I thought she would stop, so I went back to her on the couch after I set the kettle on the burner.

Instead she smiled sadly and I became interested in her again. But she wouldn't look at me, and I knew that if I was going to get her clothes off I was going to have to make her feel better about this. So it was a dilemma for me. I reached for the tip of her chin and said what came to mind, You deserve someone special.

a short breath came out her nose like she knew what I was saying was true but that she knew, too, that that person was not me. She got it, and that turned her sad smile into a knowing smile. She leaned in and accepted my touch and she kissed me. Appreciating my honesty, or my whatever. Hoping maybe I could change. As if a future realization would be that she didn't deserve someone better than me, but that she might as well just settle with this older man because he listened to her sort of. He got her enough.

I pulled away from her when I heard the kettle whine.


Last Friday I took an exam. Now, I’m waiting for the results.

The test, administered by Nichols Miller of the Office of Foreign Language in room 364 of Neuberger Hall at Portland State University was at two o’ clock, and the results will tell me whether I am proficient in the Spanish language. It will also notify me as to which degree I will obtain come June when I'm finished with this master's program.

My first question (not on the test but to myself) was: Does it matter? Am I taking the test to make sure I was a master of arts? Do I not want to be a master of science? I think I just want an MA over an MS because I have a BS (in BS?) not a BA and want to add some variance to my resume. But two bucks. Forget the fact that I had borrowed $32,166.00 for this degree. Eh, what's eight more quarters ($2).

For those unaware the language proficiency exam is held the first Friday of the month, it's two dollars, and you have two hours.

I had less time-- and barely two bucks. I had to be at work at 3 p.m. And the test didn’t actually start at 2, but at 2:15. Nicholas wrote on the board 4:15. I thought, I have to leave before three.

I check my email awaiting the results. Nicholas said he would get them to us on Tuesday morning. It's now after noon and I don't have an email from him.

In the meantime I'll give you some background. I took Spanish in high school. I had a Ms. Justiz, who said, and I can still hear her, "You haf to do it," and in college-- Don Kurtz was my favorite teacher--I took him twice. You should also be aware that my girlfriend of one year, who's last name begins with and Fer and ends with a nandez, speaks Spanish more that proficiently, she speaks it fluently. Also, I’m from New Mexico. I should speak it. But I can't. I don't, after all of this, I don't think I’m proficient, is what I'm trying to say here.

You should also know of the formula. The proficiency exam is graded based on a formula. Though it's not a math test you have to do some calculations to know if/how you'll pass (to find out if I'll pass keep reading, if you are still reading, you'll find out soon enough). Anyway, it's not that hard to figure our. Wrap your mind around this: Total answered minus incorrect, divided by three. Thirty-three to pass. You aren't penalized for those left blank. At least not like you might normally be on a scantron exam that you are used to. It's been so long since I've taken one of these!

I battle with the thought of getting an MFA. If I have the MA, that place in my mind that wants a writing degree in the arts, the one that's questioning my next step will be satisfied without the F, but with an S and not an F, a whole group of untrustworthy thoughts enter this future-plans department.

I'm sending Nicholas an email, reminding him which test I took and asking when the results will be ready. I also email the Office of Graduate Studies and tell them I can't say for sure which degree I'm applying for because I don't have the results of the language test. I don't hear from anyone. I close my laptop and walk my dog.

This morning I check my email and don't have any messages. So I'm waiting, and wondering: Do I deserve a Masters of Science? What was necessarily scientific about the program I successfully(?) completed? I mean, what about it was more scientific than artistic? Do I feel like a master of science? In publishing? A scientist in writing? I haven’t written a science paper since I was in undergrad, back when I was a bachelor.

I check my email again and have a response from Nicholas.


You completed 62 questions of which 28 were correct. Your formula score was 16.6;
unfortunately the Humanities section of Spanish requires a score of 33 so you did not
pass. You may take the test again the first Friday of May, on the 2nd at 2:00 p.m. If you have further questions please contact the FLL office.


(Pinche Espanol)