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Trigger Warnings

by Mickey J. Corrigan

Trigger Warnings: synopsis

Springfield Andrisson is a very intelligent teenager, but she has also been very sheltered. When she is sent away from home for the first time, to attend a private college in Boston, she finds some of her course assignments oppressive, and she formally declines to participate in some of them. Her overprotective parents send her to an alternative psychotherapist, with results that are by turns amusing and frightening, funny and deeply disturbing. Springie’s story will resonate especially for readers of the Millennial generation in this troubled time.

Table of Contents

Chapter 4: Change the System

At my desk the next day, I scanned the reading list for my European History class. There were several assignments on there I found personally distasteful. So I fired off an email to the prof and told him I would be passing on those sections from the syllabus. I wouldn’t attend the lectures, either. I didn’t want to learn about any more atrocities. Hearing about such things upset me. I wanted to be chill.

Next up: Human Anatomy. A lot to dislike coming up in that class. I wrote to the prof and sent an attachment containing a list of the objectionable topics I planned to avoid exposing myself to. Gastrointestinal diseases? The gut microflora? No, thanks.

Calculus looked okay, so did Computer Science. The material seemed benign. I registered no complaints for those courses.

I was sure Professor Ivaniloff would also receive a pass. But when I examined his reading list for the rest of the semester, I was shocked. Nabokov’s Lolita? Oh no. No, no, no! Pedophilia was not appropriate subject matter for the college classroom. Absolutely not. And American Psycho? He had to be kidding. That novel was violent and misogynist, or so I’d heard.

Instead of emailing, however, I decided to make an appointment with him. He had already noted my abilities in class, and I thought he would appreciate my enthusiasm for literature. I would speak to him in person about how the Jack London book had inspired me. Then I would tell him how I felt about micro-aggressions on campus. Once we discussed the subject of triggers, he would understand you can’t make kids read books like Lolita and American Psycho. Not these days.

I went on his scheduling page and reserved fifteen minutes. After an early lunch of spinach salad and fresh melon slices in the quiet, clean cafeteria, I walked across the rolling hills of the campus. It was one of those autumn days when the air is crisp, the sky like a pale blue sweater around your shoulders. You would have to describe the setting as bucolic. I liked the school a lot. I thought I could feel at peace here. As long as I didn’t have to immerse myself in upsetting material.

When I arrived at the Language Arts building, I took the elevator to the third floor and walked down the tiled hallway to Professor Ivaniloff’s office. The smoked glass door was open a few inches, so I knocked softly.

“Come right in,” he said in his amusing non-accent.

He was on the phone, but he waved at me, indicating the office chair across from his own. I sat down and looked around the cluttered room. Stacks of papers, two computers, books everywhere. What a mess!

“I told you, Coach, I do not do that. Will not do that. Tell him to write the paper. Nobody gets a free pass in my class, no matter how many yards he can throw.”

I was hot in my hoodie but too embarrassed to remove it. My heart raced a little, and my confidence ebbed. The office was stuffy, and sweat dripped down my sides.

He said, “You heard my decision” a few more times, then clicked off. When he looked at me, his blue eyes were like icicles. They melted, though, and the pink faded from his cheeks. “Sorry about that. Now, what can I help you with? Questions about the meta parallels in The Assassination Bureau?”

His friendly smile relaxed me enough that my legs stopped twitching. The easy way he sat back in his chair, hands behind his head, made me feel like I could tell him what I felt and he would understand.

“I read the whole book in one sitting,” I blurted. “I’ve said this before with like other books? But I have to tell you this one changed me. It really changed me.”

When he sat forward, his rolling chair squeaked. Putting his hands on the cluttered desk, he leaned toward me and grinned. His look was sharp, leonine. “Well well. This is a first. No student has ever told me that before.” He laughed, a gruff sound. “Few actually read the book. I start with London in order that I might weed out those students who will not tackle the intellectual challenge posed by complex literature. Sometimes I have only a handful left in a class by semester’s end.” He cocked his head. “Your fellow students are quite the teacups.”

I wasn’t sure what “teacups” were. Maybe it was a British expression. Those people were always drinking tea.

I took a deep breath. “Professor, the book challenged me. It wasn’t an easy read. But it also made me realize how important it can be to stick to your principles. I want to be a person like that, I really do.”

He nodded, a smile twitching at his full lips.

“So I want to tell you my reservations about reading some of the novels on your syllabus. I think they should be optional.” I paused.

His thick gray brows lifted. Was he smirking?

I hurried on with my complaint. “Lolita, for one, has been banned in schools and libraries, and with good reason. The topic is not only distasteful and perverse, the story may trigger students who have suffered sexual abuse.”

He laughed.

I sat straight up in my chair. He found this funny?

He shook his shaggy head, still smiling. “Ms. Andrisson, please forgive me. But you are the sixth student from the freshman class to come to me with this same concern. I will ask you what I have asked each of the others. Have you read Nabokov’s Lolita?”

Of course not. I wouldn’t, either. Not that I’d ever been abused, but I didn’t like reading about girls who had been. I shook my head.

Again, the smirk. “It’s satire, Ms. Andrisson. A keenly observed and beautifully written farce. Nabokov satirizes American sexual mores, as well as showing us a picturesque landscape that no longer exists. Read the novel, Ms. Andrisson. As with London, you will appreciate the writer’s great skill. It may be another book that changes you.”

I doubted that. Even thinking about the plot gave me the creeps. I didn’t have to read the book. It was my right to refuse to upset myself. This was my choice and I was making it.

My whole body was trembling, and I had to force the words out. “No. I refuse to read it. I refuse to purchase it. I’m not going to support the publisher. Or participate in this assignment.”

I had never spoken up like this before to someone in a position of authority. I’d never said no to a teacher. When I stood up, my knees quaked and I had to hold onto the back of the chair. I stared down at him. He had sat back in his chair again, his thick fingers laced behind his head. He looked so sure of himself, so relaxed, it made me angry.

I said, “And you shouldn’t take any points off my GPA because of it. I came in today to tell you my feelings about the book. So now you know, and in advance of the time allotted to cover the material in class. I feel the same way about American Psycho. I won’t participate in that one, either. I can’t believe you’re assigning a book like that to kids my age.”

I waited for him to get angry, to flush with irritation.

Instead, he grinned. His teeth were large in his mouth, fanglike. “You have said your piece, Ms. Andrisson. Congratulations and duly noted. But if you do not do the assigned reading, participate in class, and turn in each required paper when it is due, you will receive a failing grade. That’s the way I run my classes. Always have, always will.”

As I left the office, I heard him mutter, “Teacup.” I still had no idea what that meant.

Proceed to Chapter 5...

Copyright © 2020 by Mickey J. Corrigan

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