On Being Human

Lily Meyer

Winter 2019

The professor who taught On Being Human was new. First semester. He’d spent the past two years conducting interviews in El Salvador. Interviews on how to be human? He didn’t say. He paced the room in his sport coat, sleeves pushed up. He tugged on his hair, filling it with chalk dust, and sweated as he lectured on the Greeks. My head was always spinning after I left class, and by the end of September I was in love. 

“It can’t be love,” my roommate, Edith, said. “It has to be lust.”

“Why?”

“Because.”

The problem with Edith was that she was sure about everything. It was her dominant trait. Even her name didn’t faze her. She was so sure it wasn’t a social handicap that, somehow, it wasn’t. If I were named Edith, I wouldn’t have left my room since second grade.

“But it’s not just about sex,” I told her. 

“How do you know?”

“I know what I think!”

Edith turned from the Madonna poster she was blue-taping to the wall above her bed. Earlier I’d asked if it was ironic, and she gave me a baffled stare. “I think, therefore I am,” she said.

“We’re not reading that.”

“What are you reading?”

“We just finished Augustine.”

“What would Augustine say?” 

The poster was crooked, but Edith didn’t fix it. She lay on her back and stretched her arms all the way over her head. I could see her nipple through the loose armhole of her shirt. We’d lived together a month, and I wasn’t sure she owned a bra.  

“When he was our age, he mostly stole fruit and jerked off.” 

“What about when he was older?”

“He’d tell me to turn away from evil.”

“That’s no fun.” 

“I don’t like Augustine, anyway.”

“Then why are we talking about him?”

“You asked.” 

“What should I have asked instead?”

“I don’t know. You’re supposed to be helping me.”

Edith rolled to her left, and I wondered how I would look lying on my side like that. Squashed, probably. “What kind of help do you want?”

“Tell me how to act in office hours.” 

“Stop thinking about it so much, and you’ll act fine.”

“Too late.”

“Then here.” She stood up and went to her closet, emerging with a striped dress on a hanger and a grim plastic handle of tequila. It was Gatorade-gold, viscous-looking. “Take a shot.”

“Are you—” She was sure. And I had no better ideas, no other friend for counsel. It was Thursday afternoon, four o’clock. I raised the handle to my mouth and drank. Then I wiped my eyes, brushed my teeth, changed into Edith’s dress, and went to ask Professor Michael Newsom why he’d given my first paper a C.

Lily Meyer is a writer, critic, and translator from Washington, DC

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