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The Student

 At this point, I should explain what had happened to me since that summer day when I last hugged my dear and wise professor, and promised to keep in touch.

I did not keep in touch.

In fact, I lost contact with most of the people I knew in college, including my, beer-drinking friends and the first woman I ever woke up with in the morning. The years after graduation hardened me into someone quite different from the strutting graduate who left campus that day headed for New York City, ready to offer the world his talent.

The world, I discovered, was not all that interested. I wandered around my early twenties, paying rent and reading classifieds and wondering why the lights were not turning green for me. My dream was to be a famous musician (I played the piano), but after several years of dark, empty nightclubs, broken promises, bands that kept breaking up and producers who seemed excited about everyone but me, the dream soured. I was failing for the first time in my life.

At the same time, I had my first serious encounter with death. My favorite uncle, my mother's brother, the man who had taught me music, taught me to drive, teased me about girls, thrown me a football-that one adult whom I targeted as a child and said, "That's who I want to be when I grow up"-died of pancreatic cancer at the age of forty-four. He was a short, handsome man with a thick mustache, and I was with him for the last year of his life, living in an apartment just below his. I watched his strong body wither, then bloat, saw him suffer, night after night, doubled over at the dinner table, pressing on his stomach, his eyes shut, his mouth contorted in pain. "Ahhhhh, God," he would moan. "Ahhhhhh, Jesus!" The rest of us-my aunt, his two young sons, me-stood there, silently, cleaning the plates, averting our eyes.

It was the most helpless I have ever felt in my life. One night in May, my uncle and I sat on the balcony of his apartment. It was breezy and warm. He looked out toward the horizon and said, through gritted teeth, that he wouldn't be around to see his kids into the next school year. He asked if I would look after them. I told him not to talk that way. He stared at me sadly.

He died a few weeks later.

After the funeral, my life changed. I felt as if time were suddenly precious, water going down an open drain, and I could not move quickly enough. No more playing music at half-empty night clubs. No more writing songs in my apartment, songs that no one would hear. I returned to school. I earned a master's degree in journalism and took the first job offered, as a sports writer. Instead of chasing my own fame, I wrote about famous athletes chasing theirs. I worked for newspapers and freelanced for magazines. I worked at a pace that knew no hours, no limits. I would wake up in the morning, brush my teeth, and sit down at the typewriter in the same clothes I had slept in. My uncle had worked for a corporation and hated it-same thing, every day-and I was determined never to end up like him.

I bounced around from New York to Florida and eventually took a job in Detroit as a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. The sports appetite in that city was insatiable-they had professional teams in football, basketball, baseball, and hockey-and it matched my ambition. In a few years, I was not only penning columns, I was writing sports books, doing radio shows, and appearing regularly on TV, spouting my opinions on rich football players and hypocritical college sports programs. I was part of the media thunderstorm that now soaks our country. I was in demand.

I stopped renting. I started buying. I bought a house on a hill. I bought cars. I invested in stocks and built a portfolio. I was cranked to a fifth gear, and everything I did, I did on a deadline. I exercised like a demon. I drove my car at breakneck speed. I made more money than I had ever figured to see. I met a dark-haired woman named Janine who somehow loved me despite my schedule and the constant absences. We married after a seven year courtship. I was back to work a week after the wedding. I told her-and myself-that we would one day start a family, something she wanted very much. But that day never came.

Instead, I buried myself in accomplishments, because with accomplishments, I believed I could control things, I could squeeze in every last piece of happiness before I got sick and died, like my uncle before me, which I figured was my natural fate.

As for Morrie? Well, I thought about him now and then, the things he had taught me about "being human" and "relating to others," but it was always in the distance, as if from another life. Over the years, I threw away any mail that came from Brandeis University, figuring they were only asking for money. So I did not know of Morrie's illness. The people who might have told me were long forgotten, their phone numbers buried in some packed-away box in the attic.

It might have stayed that way, had I not been flicking through the TV channels late one night, when something caught my ear . . .

 

   现在,我必须交代一下自从那个夏日我最后一次拥抱了我那位可亲、睿智的教授。并答应和他保持联系后我所发生的变化。
   我没有和他联系。
   事实上,我同学校的大部分人都失去了联系,包括我的酒友和第一个和我早晨一起醒来的女朋友。毕业后的几年把我磨炼成了另一个人,他身上再也没有那个当年离开校园准备去纽约向全世界贡献才智的年轻人的影子了。
   我发现,这个世界并不那么吸引人。我浑浑噩噩地打发着二十刚出头的那几年:付房租,看广告,寻思着生活为何不向我开绿灯。我的梦想是成为一个大音乐家(我那时在弹钢琴),但几年昏暗、空虚的夜总会生活,从不兑现的允诺,不断拆散的乐队以及除了我对谁都感兴趣的制作人,终于使我的梦想变了味。我第一次在生活中成了失败者。
   与此同时,我第一次真正见到了死亡。我最亲近的舅舅,我母亲的弟弟,那个为我取名、教我音乐、教我驾驶,和我开姑娘的玩笑,和我玩足球的人——那个在我眼里仍是个孩子,也是我长大后要学习的楷模——在他四十四岁那年死于了胰腺癌。他是个矮小、漂亮的男人,长着浓浓的胡子。在他生命的最后一年我一直陪伴着他,我住在他楼下的一间公寓里。我看着他强壮的身体一天天瘦削下去,然后又开始浮肿,看着他整夜整夜地受罪:身体趴在餐桌上,手按着肚子、闭着眼睛,嘴巴痛得都变了形。“嗷——上帝,”他常常呻吟不止,“嗷——那稣!”其余的人——我舅妈,他两个年少的儿子,以及我——则站在一旁,默默地收拾着盘子,眼睛躲避着这痛苦的场面。
   这是我一生中感到最无能为力的时刻。
   一天晚上,那是在五月,舅舅和我坐在他寓所的阳台上。天气很暖和,微风习习。他望着远处,从牙缝里硬挤出几句话来,他说他看不到他的儿子读下一个学期了,问我能不能照顾好他们。我让他别这么说。他哀伤地望着我。
   几个星期后他去世了。
   葬礼之后,我的生活改变了。我感觉到时间突然变得宝贵起来,年华似水,而我却追赶不上。我不再去空着一半座位的俱乐部弹琴,不再呆在屋子里写那些没人要听的歌。我又回到了学校,读完了新闻专业的硕士学位,并找到了一份体育记者的工作。我不再追求自己的名望,转而开始写那些渴望成名的运动员。我给报纸和杂志专栏撰稿。我夜以继日、没有节制地工作着。我早上醒来后,刷完牙便穿着睡衣坐到了打字机前。我舅舅过去在一家公司工作,他后来十分怨恨这份工作——天天老一套——于是我发誓不要有他那样的结局。
   我从纽约又跳槽到佛罗里达,最后在底特律找了一份工作,当《底特律自由报》的专栏作家。这个城市对体育有着疯狂的需求——它有职业的橄榄球队。篮球队。棒球队和冰球队——这给我雄心勃勃的理想提供了机会。几年后,我除了撰写体育报道评论外,还开始写体育方面的专著,制作广播节目,经常在电视上抛头露面,对暴富的橄榄球明星和好矫饰的大学体育活动评头论足,我成了淹没这个国家的传媒风暴的一部分。人们需要我。
   我不再租房,开始买房。我买了一幢山间别墅。我买了汽车。我投资股市并建立了有价证券组合。我就像一辆推到最高挡速的车子运行着,任何事情我都规定了最后日期。我玩命似地锻炼身子,发疯似地开着汽车。我赚的钱超过了我的期望值。我遇上了一位名叫詹宁的黑发姑娘,她很爱我,不嫌弃我毫无时间规律的工作。经过七年的恋爱我们结了婚。婚后一个星期我便回到了工作堆里。我对她说——也是对自己说——我们会生儿育女成立一个家庭的,这是她渴望的事情。可那一天却遥遥无期。
   相反,我仍热衷于工作上的成就,因为只有成就感能使我相信我在主宰自己,我可以在末日到来之前享受到每一份最后的快乐。我认为舅舅的厄运也将是我命中注定的结局。
   至于莫里?是的,我时常会想起他,想起他教我如何“做人”,如何“与人相处”。但这一切总显得有些遥远,似乎来自另一种生活。这几年里,凡是从布兰代斯大学寄来的邮件都被我扔进了废纸篓,我认为它们无非是来募捐的。因此我毫不知晓莫里得病的情况。那些能告诉我的人早已被我遗忘了,他们的电话号码早已束之高阁,埋在了顶楼小屋的某个盒子里,
   要不是那天晚上我随手调换电视频道时偶尔听见了那几句话,我的生活仍会这样继续下去。



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