At the university graduation, a family looks unhappy

by | Apr 9, 2024 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-Eight

Grey, granite, immovable.

So described by a student with a shiny new degree in 19th century European literature. She doesn’t know why. Other families—including her own—are smiling and waving, recording the proud moment on their phones. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”(Tolstoy, Anna Karenina), sighs the student.     

Another graduate, a major in psychology, hears the sighing. He’s studied it. Although every subconsciousness is unconscious in its own way, sighing can signal undiagnosed unhappiness. The psych pokes the lit. “Was your mother named Anna?” Poke. “Was she unfaithful?”

The Tolstoy and such pushiness irk a student of classical studies. Millennia ago, Aristotle said, “For men are good in but one way, but bad in many.” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2). True. The student could not make fries fast enough, crispy enough for the bossy boss at Bob’s Big Burgers. In the graduation crowd is her father, smiling. “Smiling because he was right: no one hires long dead Greeks and Romans,” moans the student.

A math grad, better with numbers than words, nudges the classics. “π. See, a useful Greek letter!” He would explain, but cannot, that everyone here is a dataset in violation of the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis being that nothing is wrong, that all assumptions and expectations and desires are satisfied. He would sweet talk this Venus, but cannot. The math student twirls the tassel of his mortar board.

And flicks a wild-eyed biology student in the eye. Of a different stripe, she believes university has been an attempt at domestication. The zebra, for example, has proven untamable, but not because of a lack of qualities useful to itself. Stubbornness and a free-spirit, resistance to social hierarchy and a slowness to mate disappoint both ranchers and parents. Hers blithely elbow other happy families out of the way for a good photo of a purple-haired daughter at what is, they believe, her surrender. 

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