She was uncomfortable the first time she walked into my office. It was the second week of the classes. I knew her face, but for names, as always, I had to check the class roster. She was tall with strong arms. Her hair was short and silky. Her eyes… I wish I remembered. I wish I looked at them better and for longer. She was a soldier. Four years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Honorably discharged. She knew three languages. She was an athlete; best at volleyball.
I remember the first thing she said, after I asked her to take the seat next to me. In a low voice she said, “I have never done this before.” I wasn’t sure what she meant. She sat there. She didn’t offer more explanation. I asked, “ Do you mean you never had an art course before?” She looked at me and said, “Ya, I did drawing in school. But not art history. We didn’t need to talk about art.” I understood. I said, “I know, it is strange to talk about art and how you feel about it.” She said, “I like to. But I don’t know how.” I told her how this class will help and that she should come to my office hours if she needs any help with the course.
She was hardworking. She stopped by my office almost every week. She sat in the back of the class. Never volunteered any answers. On exam weeks she looked more uncomfortable. Sometimes I could see her frustration. She liked Renoir. I saw her joking once with other students outside the class, but the moment she noticed me she swallowed her laughter. She was too polite with me.
I am trying to remember as much as I can of her. She was thirty-two last autumn. Two days a week for sixteen weeks! That’s the memory pool I am fishing into. Sixteen weeks! It may be enough for an introductory course to the visual arts, but it is not long enough to know a student and definitely not enough to know a soldier!
Once she came to the office with a male friend; a classmate perhaps form her other courses. He was not in my class. He said hi and stood in the corridor near the exit, while she discussed her paper topic with me. She chose to write on Lorenzo Lippi’s painting, St. Agatha. I liked her paper topic. She left the office. I did not look to see if she held hands with the guy. Now I wish I did. I don’t know if they were together. She once mentioned something about her ex. I don’t remember. She got ninety on her paper. I could see how she was engrossed by Lippi’s ability in capturing a look of innocence and determination within a playful setting.
In the last day of our class I had my climbing shoes with me, planning to go for bouldering after the exam. She saw the shoes. She liked climbing. We talked about going for a climb in spring. It was just a talk. One of those talks that never actualizes and we both knew it. That was the last I saw her.
I wish I knew what was her favorite color. I wish I knew her favorite book, her favorite song, her favorite movie. I wish I knew her. She was a soldier. She survived the war. I am trying to remember as much as I can. I want to remember everything about her; a student, my student, who passed away three days ago in a car accident. I wish I could remember the color of her eyes!