Failing the Grade
Summary: Blair suffers a black-out during a test.
Disclaimer: The guys aren’t mine, they are owned by Pet Fly, UPN and Paramount. I just used them to bring across some personal experiences. I hopefully returned them unharmed to the owners.
Notes: I’m no anthropologist, I’m just really good at getting info off the Internet, so if any of you know the answers to some of the questions in the story, I’d be happy you let me know.
/ means thinking, // the other side of a telephone converstation, * are what is read.
‘Ladies and gents, You may open your test papers, you’ve got two hours to complete your exam..’
The supervising professor sat down behind the desk.
There was a rustling of papers and from different corners of the room grunts and sighs could be heard.
Blair was skimming through at his exam form to get a first look at the questions asked. He had come in to this mid-term exam already tense. Juggling between the CPD, teaching classes, social contacts (read women) and studying for this exam. As always, he had come to the conclusion that he had not enough hours in a day. He had to stop trying to please everyone around him and cut himself some slack.
Yesterday afternoon a headache had kicked in and refused to leave. Despite meditating and herbal teas. His head felt like there was a steel band tied around it and someone was tightening the screws. He was nauseous, and he noticed his hands trembling. Nothing had helped, and pulling two all-nighters in a row hadn’t helped his condition at all. His last studying session had been hell. Every time he tried to cram the data into his head he was overpowered by sleep. A sure sign of overload.
Jim had found him with his face on his laptop completely out of it. ‘Hey Chief, it’s three a.m., time to go to bed and get those squares out of your forehead?’ He had grunted felt his head and yes indeed his keyboard left its mark there and schlepped himself to his room. There he crashed again, not even undressing.
Before he knew it Jim had been tugging his arm trying to get him up.
‘Sandburg, wake up, I think you have an exam today.’
He had sprung into action like a coil completely bewildered.
‘O yeah, man,’ he looked at his clock; //oh no// ‘why didn’t you wake me any earlier man? Now I have to hurry…’,
‘Ow, my head…’,
I have to be there on time…’
/Trust Blair to keep up a conversation all by himself…/ Jim thought. He laid a hand on his roommate’s shoulder; ‘Calm down Blair, coffee and breakfast are ready, clean clothes are already laid out in the bathroom.’
‘You’re a lifesaver, you know that Jim?’ He sprinted to the shower. Ten minutes later he came out shaven, showered and dressed in recordtime. ‘Sit down and have your breakfast Chief,’ Jim said, his voice having a stern undertone.
Blair had his protest already on the tip of his tongue, he felt he couldn’t get one bite down his throat but sat down obediently, recognizing the no-nonsense tone in Jim’s voice, ‘I know you are tense and say you’re not hungry but you’ve got to eat. I see you lose too much weight when you’re cramming for these exams.’
‘And why? He kept on his side of the conversation, ‘You are one of the most resourceful human beings I’ve ever met, Blair. You’ll pass with flying colours. As usual.’
“In order to appear so intelligent I still have to cram all those data into my head man,’ Blair quipped, they wouldn’t ‘have let you shoot a gun if you hadn’t learned to handle one first, would they?’
Jim had to acknowledge Blair was right. He nodded, ‘Yes, but in order to keep that computer you call a brain, running you need to fuel it. So eat.’
Blair took bites from his bagel and flushing it down with coffee. ‘Got to run, see ya later.’ He jumped out of his chair, grabbed his coat and backpack and keys, opened the door and rushed downstairs.
‘Good luck with your exam Darwin,’ he heard Jim calling after him and he heard the door shut with a click.
Blair ran to his car, opened the door threw in his backpack and jumped in. Key in the ignition. Turn. Nothing.
Turn again. Nothing.
‘Shit, shit, shit!’ Not the battery! Not now!’ He yelled. But the engine stayed as dead as a doornail. He banged his hands on the steering wheel.
He jumped out his car again and ran back towards the building. Started running up the stairs only to be met by Jim who was coming down.
‘I’ll take you. Don’t worry.’
‘Thanks again man. I’ll get my stuff out of the car.’ He walked to his Volvo and took out his belongings.
Jim had already started the car and was waiting for Blair to join him.
Just on time Blair had arrived at Rainier and sprinted to the auditorium where the test would take place, earning him a look of desperation from the supervisor.
And now he was here, sitting and staring at his term paper and not understanding one word of it
*Question : Why at this apex point in human history, according to our various socio-evolutionary theories, are we rushing once more to embrace the cast-off ‘primitive’?
Question: Why are modern primitives once again reinventing ways to mark, inscribe and incise the body?
Question : Why is it that the fastest growing areas in cyberspace are MUDs (multi-user dungeons) where people can become wizards and fight dragons?
Question : Why are ‘raves’ bringing us back to Levy-Bruhl’s earliest phase of human consciousness – the participation mystique?
How is the Net helping to create a new ‘oral’ culture of folkore?*
He kept staring at his paper as if it were Chinese. The words on paper just didn’t seem to reach his brain, he read them again and again, but one way or another his brain wouldn’t accept or translate the words. sweat breaking out. No, this couldn’t be happening. He started to panic. Nothing from what he had learned was to be found back in the texts lying in front of him Not now, not now. I know this stuff, I’ve even taught classes about these subjects.
//Not a blackout, puhleasse! //
He started shifting his papers and leafed to the multiple choice section, see if he could force a breakthrough. Maybe try one of the easier questions and work from there.
*Question: In his studies of the life cycle rituals, Van Gennep discovers that universally, the initiated go through three distinct stages during life cycle rituals. What are they?
A. Separation, transition and incorporation b. transgression, ostracism and forgiveness c. separation test and performance d. none of the above*
He let out his breath. This one was easy. He circled the A answer. One down thirty-nine to go.
He tried breathing to calm his panicking brain down.
Come on Blair you can do it, he encouraged himself. He covertly looked round the room. Some of the other TA’s were scribbling away like mad, others he saw sported the expression of utter panic he was feeling himself.
He went back to scanning his paper.
Okay here was another one he knew.
*Much anthropological literature has been written on the topic of potlatch, where does this ceremony take place a. The samoan Islands b. Central Amazonia c.Northern Yemen d. None of the above. He circled the the d. Potlach was something typical for North American Indians. *
He started doodling on his scratch-pad. Maybe that would jog his memory.
The next question; *describe the difference between Hawaiian and Iroquois kinship terminology, had him on the verge of panic again. He tried to recall the different kinship charts. If he could recall those, he could sift the answer from his drawings.*
After half an hour he had to admit defeat. He probably would fail to make the grade on this test. Well, that would be a first. Never in his life had he failed a written test. His self-esteem got a huge battering. However he kept stumbling through the exam. Question after question he kept trying. In his mind he rattled of all the expletives associated with damming yourself to hell, /stupid, stupid, why can’t I remember any of it?/ He had the urge to slam his head onto the table or ripping of his just, just to get over the feeling something was slowly choking him, leaving a black empty whole just above his collar where his brains should have been.
‘You all have got half an hour to finish your paper, people´, came the voice of the supervisor.
One minute before the deadline he closed his exam papers, stood up, walked to the desk and put the papers the professor’s desk. He didn’t dare to look up, afraid that everybody could read of his face he had failed.
Hoisting up his backpack he made a beeline for the exit.
He avoided the other TA’s already discussing their given answers and headed for the men’s room and just made it into the cubicle before throwing up his breakfast.
He sagged against the door. Man, was he sick. And his headache still wouldn’t dissipate.
He could not forgive himself for not being able to handle the simplest question. It was the first time in his lifetime this happened and made him doubt himself. His self-esteem had been dealt a sharp blow. Blair Sandburg, child genius, always depending on his ability of his photographic memory and his uncanny ability to remember the most minute details, had failed.
He felt he had lost face.
After a long time he hoisted himself from the floor, lifted his backpack over his shoulder and left the men’s room.
He was supposed to call Jim to pick him up but decided he couldn’t stand any kind words of compassion right now or he might break.
He sneaked through the halls and went outside.
It took him over two hours to walk back to Prospect Street. Every step he took vibrated to his already painful head.
Fortunately he was spared one of Cascade’s famous rain showers.
He dragged himself up the stairs and hesitated going in, hoping to avoid Jim and hide in his room.
No such luck.
‘Hey Darwin, as I understood you would call me to pick you up,’ Jim said coming down the stairs from his bedroom.
‘Felt like walking, ‘was the short answer.
‘So how did it go?’
‘Oh man, Blair grumbled, saggin onto one of the dining room chairs, ‘I think I failed the test.’
‘Failed?’ said Jim questioningly, ‘What do you mean…
‘I mean, I sat there staring at my papers and all the words were jumbled, I couldn’t remember the simplest answer, I developed a humongous headache over the last couple a’ days that I can’t seem to get rid of and the minute I left the auditorium I knew I was screwed big time.’
‘Well Chief, from the sound of it you suffered from a black-out, you know, be there in body not in mind.
‘’I feel like shit, man, I totally failed’,’ Blair complained
‘Knowing you, you just worry too much.’
‘No, I have a very bad feeling’
'Can I get you anything, Darwin? Tea, beer, algae shake, Tylenol?’
‘Can you please leave me be for a while? I need my space right now. I’m angry with me and my head is ready to burst and I’m on the verge of an emotional outburst, you’re warned.’
Jim put his hands on Blair’s shoulders in an effort to lend his moral support, but got his arms angrily swatted away by Blair whose voice erupted , ‘I told you I don’t want a pity party, leave me be.’
Jim raised his arms in surrender, ‘Hey Darwin, don’t use me as your target to let off steam.’
Blair stomped of to his bedroom and slammed the door shut.
‘Tsk Tsk, short-tempered,’ Jim mumbled. He trotted back to the couch where he had been reading a book.
But he felt uneasy. His best friend was suffering and he was reluctant to help.
He could imagine what it was to fail. He didn’t like to fail either but for someone like Blair who was an absolute number one in the brain department it had to be a nightmare having your biggest asset in life betray you. Muffled sobs came from his friend’s room.
Putting down his book, he walked to Blair’s room and carefully opened the door. Blair was lying on his bed; eyes closed pressing both his hands to the sides of his head.
‘Hey Chief? Let me help you?’ And he sat down on the bed next to his friend, ‘there’s some painkillers and a cup with your favourite tea on your nightstand, I leave you to it.’
‘I’m sorry, a muffled voice rose from the face under the crossed arms, ‘I’m just so disappointed in myself that I lashed out at the one person I care most about.’
‘Already forgiven, you probably passed the test anyway.’
Ten days later Blair was leafing through the mail. /Insurance. Junk. PD stuff for Jim. TV-Guide. Anthropology Monthly and ah…Rainier University./
He put the rest of the mail down and reluctantly opened the letter. Utterly convinced he had failed, hope still lingering he’d pulled it off he started skimming the paper… F he read.
He sagged down on the nearest chair and groaned. The feeling of dread he’d supported all week long came crushing down on him.
/See? You couldn’t do it. Failed! Boy Wonder failed. He wanted to creep into his room and never come out again. What would they think of him now? Everybody would laugh at him./
He threw the letter onto the table and doing exactly what he intended he stood up en went into his bedroom.
He dreaded telling Jim or any other member of Major Crime and what was worse; they were coming for their monthly poker game. He groaned again. So, no hiding. He closed the door of his bedroom and sat on his bed, feeling very sorry for himself. His thoughts were going around in circles. /Why- o- why?/ He buried his face in his hands, trying to stop the stream of failures big and small that seemed to seep from his unconscious. The what ifs, floating freely. In the end he knew if he went on like this he would make himself feel ever so crappy. Fortunately his body’s defence mechanism overtook him and he fell sideways on the bed utterly exhausted and escaped in deep sleep.
That how Jim found him when he returned home late afternoon.
Having read the letter lying on the table he opened the door to Blair’s room and looked at the crumpled form of his partner.
He stepped to Blair's bed, bent over and nudged him carefully on the shoulder, as not to startle him . ‘Hey Chief, wake up, the …’
The body underneath his hand stiffened and a moan came up, ‘Nooo, I didn’t do it on purpose, don’t punish me!’
Startled by the reaction Jim withdrew his hand and stood up’, ‘nobody’s punishing you here Chief ‘.
Blair, now coming fully awake, sat up on the bed and looked at Jim ‘Oh man, I say out loud what I thought I dreamt?’
‘Yep, I don’t know what you meant by that remark, but hey Blair, I’m sorry you failed your exam, you can do it again, can you? So what’s the problem?’
‘Jesus, man, I was having a nightmare I guess, one of Naomi’s boyfriends had a habit of punishing me if a failed a test, so I learned not to. This is actually the first time I didn’t pass an exam, and I feel like crap. Just stay of the boyfriend topic, it was just a dream.’
‘Yeah sure, Chief., he thought, and lightening the mood he said, ‘Welcome to the world of us mere mortals Blair,’ and swapped him on the shoulder.
‘Ha Ha, funny, man.’
‘Come on Chief, I need your help, As I was starting to say, the gang will be here in an hour and we still have to prepare some food for those hungry loudmouths.’
/The evening had gone by in a nice relaxed way,/ Blair mused at night in his bed. The world hadn’t collapsed, he still had his friends and lo and behold nobody had thought any less of him when he told them he failed a test. It turned out that all of them had their share of failures and he began to realize that it was more a Sandburg quirk than anything else.
They all encouraged him to try again at a later date. Having tackled that topic everybody concentrated on the poker game. Case closed.
Two months later, just after the summer holidays
Blair was fidgeting. It had been a more fortnight after he had done his re-examination, and he’d checked the message board on the universities website every day, for the last four days. They were late publishing the results. After a two month summer recess he felt better and more rested as he had felt in months. Having developed a rhythm in splitting his time between studies and going working with Jim, he found that he could do this exam more relaxed than the last time.
But now waiting for the test results had him on edge again. He’d even had received an email from a fellow student, feeling sorry for him he had failed the test. It turned out the guy had looked up the wrong information, it were the old test results. Definitely not a good way to start your day.
Blair powered up his laptop and logged on to the Anthropology department. Entering his password he waited for the site to come up. Scrolling to the test-results he saw the update from this morning. This was it…., his heart rate sped up… There is was: the ABD’s .. Sandburg, Blair J. – B+.
He let out his breath in a huff. PASSED! YESSS!
He jumped up and grabbed the phone, punching in Jim’s number at the PD.
Hey Jim, it’s me. Guess what; I passed!’
//so maybe that dark mood will lift from the Sandburg – Ellison household now//, Jim said.
‘Aw Jim, it couldn’t have been that bad, or was I?’ Blair voiced his uncertainty.
//As is, we’re not married or else I would have had a reason to divorce you.//
//Only joking Sandburg, you weren’t that bad. Congratulations by the way, from me and the guys. Drinks will be on you, Darwin//
‘Thanks, but it is still a B+…’Blair protested.
//It was probably the most what you could get out of this test given the circumstance, you passed, period.//he heard Jim say. //Chief got to go, see you this afternoon at home.//
/‘I guess you’re right Jim, the world didn’t collapse on me not acing the test, so Mr. Straight A’s not infallible./ he thought grinning. /’whadda ya know, I even can get used to that.// and happily sagged onto the couch.