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Bookshelves cover most of the walls of my bedroom, but there is enough wall space for a few trinkets: a Trainspotting poster, a Hokusai print, a strip of police line tape I swiped from in front of the White House, that chattering skeleton toy I bought in Columbus that I named “dem bones”. The first time she was there, she unknowingly noticed the most important one.

“Why do you have a drawing of a squirrel playing the bagpipes on your wall?” she asked.

Fools rush in, and I’m one of them. I know I feel too much, I trust too fast, I love too easily, perhaps. But there are some things that I keep for myself.

“That’s a long story,” I said. “I’ll have to tell you someday.”

I didn’t tell her the story of that drawing that night, and she didn’t stick around long enough for me to tell her at all, but then I might never have told her. And shortly after that I turned off the lights and there was no more talk of squirrels that night.

That drawing was one of the hundreds of art projects turned in from students in an introductory humanities class I taught for three years. It would stand out regardless on the level of sheer technical skill among the half-assed fingerpaints and collages of pictures cut out from magazines, but that’s not why it’s still on my wall.

The artist was blond, tall, and absoultely gorgeous, but what I noticed about her was that she was intelligent. I always notice the smart ones. She was from Toronto and had moved down here to live with a guy she met on the Internet, I think. That relationship quickly disintigrated, but she was stuck down here living with the guy, marking time by taking whatever classes she could get into before she returned to Canada. I was on the rebound too, looking for reasons not to kill myself after the woman I had wanted to marry got hitched to someone else.

We started sleeping together about two and a half months into the semester. Our courtship was awkward but exciting because it was all clandestine, knowing glances, sly grins, constantly looking over our shoulder in case we got caught (which we did, at least once, but nothing came over it). We spent a number of evenings wandering around the campus hand in hand or laying or rolling around in the grass. A number of times we heard the sound of bagpipes in the distance. I heard it first, and she would tease me claiming I was hearing things, but she would soon hear it too. A man spent his evenings practicing his pipes on campus. We never did talk to him, but one night we gave him a standing ovation from a distance, which I’m sure he appreciated.

She took a camera and wandered around the campus by herself, snapping pictures. The campus was and is infested with squirrels, as I’m sure many campuses are, because of the many trees and the many students who feed them. The one she captured on film was perched on a wooden fence post. Then she reimagined those photos, drawing copies and reinterpreting them. A stand of trees became a dragon, and that squirrel lost his nut and gained a set of bagpipes. The first time I saw that drawing was when she nervously presented her project, like all the students did, to the class. The other students laughed, while I bit my tongue, the only other person who got the joke.

It ended, of course, as all things must. There were too many obstacles and the difficulty of maintaining a long distance relationship for two poor people was too much on top of that, so we drifted apart, and after some bitterness and resentment, that was that. But I never think of any of that when I look at the drawing. I keep it on the wall because it makes me think of beginnings, not endings.

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