A Choice of Profession
Cronin, after discovering that his wife, Marge, had been two-timing him with a friend, suffered months of crisis. He had loved Marge and jealousy lingered unbearably. He lived through an anguish of degrading emotions, and a few months after his divorce, left a well-paying job in Chicago to take up teaching. He had always wanted to teach. Cronin taught composition and survey of literature in a small college town in Northern California, and after an initially exhilarating period, began to find it a bore. This caused him to worry because he hoped to be at peace in the profession. He wasn’t sure whether it was true boredom or simply not knowing whether he wanted to teach the rest of his life. He was bored mostly outside the classroom—the endless grading of papers and bookkeeping chores; and for a man of his type, Cronin felt, he had too much to read. He also felt he had been asking from teaching more than he was entitled to. He had always thought of teaching as something religious and perhaps still did. It had to do with giving oneself to others, a way of being he hadn’t achieved in his marriage. Cronin, a tall, bulky-shouldered man with sensitive eyes, and a full brown mustache, smoked too much. His trousers were usually smeared with cigarette ashes he brushed off his thighs; and lately, after a period of forbearance, he had begun to drink. Apart from students there were few women around who weren’t married, and he was alone too often. Though at the beginning he was invited to faculty parties, he wanted nothing to do with the wives of his colleagues.
The fall wore away. Cronin remained aimlessly in town during the winter vacation. In the spring term a new student, an older girl, appeared in his literature class. Unlike most of the other girls, she wore bright attractive dresses and high heels. She wore her light hair in a bun from which strands slipped but she was otherwise feminine and neat, a mature woman, he realized. Although she wasn’t really pretty, her face was open and attractive. Cronin wondered at her experienced eyes and deep-breasted figure. She had slender shoulders and fairly heavy but shapely legs. He thought at first she might be a faculty wife but she was without their combination of articulateness and timidity; he didn’t think she was married. He also liked the way she listened to him in class. Many of the students, when he lectured or read poetry, looked sleepy, stupefied, or exalted, but she listened down to bedrock, as if she were expecting a message or had got it. Cronin noticed that the others in the class might listen to the poetry but she also listened to Cronin. Her name, not very charming, was Mary Lou Miller. He could tell she regarded him as a man, and after so long a dry, almost perilous season, he responded to her as a woman. Though Cronin wasn’t planning to become involved with a student, he had at times considered taking up with one but resisted it on principle. He wanted to be protected in love by certain rules, but loving a student meant no rules to begin with.
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