In preparation for my first day of classes I purchase a new spiral ring notebook, choose an outfit that makes me look intelligent, and arrive to class five minutes early. I sit down near the back of the class, not because I’m afraid to sit near the professor or want to look cool. I sit in the back of the class because I want a clear view of all of my classmates. The makeup of my class is typical of any English class at William & Mary, comprised of a handful of stock characters. After three and a half years here I’ve become quite adept at spotting them. Some are easier to identify than others. Some won’t reveal themselves until they speak.
I scan the room, hoping to identify a few of these characters and spot a gaggle of girls sitting diagonally in front of me. They chat quietly while scrolling through pictures of themselves on Facebook. I can’t remember taking an English class that didn’t have at least one girl looking at pictures of herself during the lecture. What luck! I’ve already spotted three of “The Girl Who’s Constantly Looking at Pictures of Herself.” I keep looking for the usual suspects of the English department but don’t find much. The girl and guy next to me might be “That Couple That Takes Every Class Together” but it’s really too early to tell.
Our professor enters the room and immediately assigns us the daunting task of selecting our favorite contemporary novel and sharing it with the class. Since everyone in the class will have to speak, this is my perfect chance to identify the rest of the characters. I’ll have to be careful about my response. This is a big decision. I’m tempted to choose The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera but worry this will mark me as “That Girl Who Tries to Sound Worldly By Referencing Novels by Czech Authors.” I don’t want to be that girl. No one speaks. We are all too busy over-thinking this decision.
“Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.” One brave soul breaks the silence. I immediately identify him as “The Guy Who Tries to Relate Everything to Kurt Vonnegut.” I’ve seen a few of these guys before. “The Guy Who Tries to Relate Everything to Kurt Vonnegut” brings up Kurt Vonnegut every chance he gets, often referring to him as “Kurt,” like they’re old friends. Suddenly another character pops up. It’s “The Girl Who Disagrees with Everything for the Sake of Disagreeing” and unsurprisingly, she disagrees with the disciple of Vonnegut’s choice. This girl loves questioning anything from the norms of society to other peoples’ personal tastes. The girl speaks. “I’m not sure I agree that Kurt Vonnegut qualifies as a contemporary author. I mean, he’s been dead for a long time.” “The Guy Who Tries to Relate Everything to Kurt Vonnegut” slams his fists down on the table in front of him, whips his head around, and screams “THREE YEARS!” I readjust my assessment of him. I was wrong before. He is “The Guy Who Tries to Relate Everything to Kurt Vonnegut and Gets Angry When Questioned.”
As the class goes on I spot a few more characters.
- “The Girl Who Keeps Referencing that One Article by Foucault. You Know that One Article?” She can’t remember the name. No one knows what she’s talking about but no one wants to admit he or she doesn’t know. We all nod, knowingly.
- “The Guy Playing Tetris or Some Other Innocuous Game On His Cell Phone”
- “The Girl Who Shares Too Much Personal Information, Too Quickly”
- “The Guy Who Shows Up 15 Minutes Late and Immediately Proceeds to Fall Asleep”
- “The Girl Who is personally offended by Improper Use of Grammar”
After three and a half years of college, I’ve come to know these people and sort of love them. Their presence is comforting and when I graduate this year, I will miss them all. They are strange people but how could I not love them? I’m one of them. I don’t know what my character is but I’m sure I have one. I’m just too close to see it, I guess. I’m probably “That Girl Who Spends Class Sizing Up the Rest of the Class” or “That Girl Who Gets Sappy at the End of Her Blog Post.”