What Happens If You Fail Again?

by Jeff Elkins

My first college class was Music Theory. It started at eight in the morning every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Dr. Lia was the professor. His daily uniform consisted of thick black glasses, a striped tie, and a gray sweater-vest.

On the first day of class, I remember him storming into the room, running to the piano, and hammering out a series of chords as loudly and quickly as he could. Then he looked at the class and asked with enthusiasm, “Who’s was that? Who’s was it? Beethoven? Brahms? Who?” Before we could answer, he jumped to his feet and yelled in celebration, “It was Doctor Lia! Ha ha ha ha ha!” He began every class this way.

Our first test was three weeks into the semester. Being anxious about acing my first college exam, I studied hard the night before. Sometime after midnight, I fell asleep at my desk with my face in my theory book.

I forgot to set my alarm.

One of my roommates woke me up at eight-o-five. After clearing my head, I saw the time on my clock and panicked. I ran from my room in the clothes I had on and sprinted across campus as fast as I could. Sweaty, huffing, and exhausted, I arrived at the classroom and tried the door handle. It was locked. Pressing my hands against the small rectangular window, I peered in. Dr. Lia was sitting behind his desk watching the class. He made eye contact with me and smiled. Then he waved, pointed at his watch, wagged his finger “no,” and laughed.

Defeated, I pressed my back against the wall, sat down in the hallway, and waited. One by one my classmates exited the room and asked me what happened. Each time, my story grew more dramatic. I’d studied late into the night mulling over the problems of the theory book. My alarm clock had clearly broken because there was no way I had forgotten to set it. And my roommates were complete ogres who had waited until the last minute to wake me up, probably on purpose. Each one of my classmates offered the appropriate amount of sympathy and condolences.

Dr. Lai was the final person to exit the classroom. He didn’t stop to ask me what had happened. Rather, he continued on to his office, calling over his shoulder, “Follow me. Follow me.” I stood and chased after him, struggling to keep up with his brisk pace. He entered his office without speaking a word to me. It was a small room covered in jammed packed bookcases with a paper-cluttered desk in the middle that faced the door. Dr. Lai sat in the chair behind the desk and began shuffling through one of the many piles of papers.

Not waiting for his acknowledgment, I launched into my explanation. “I’m so sorry… I was studying really hard last night… My alarm… My stupid roommates… I lost track of time… I promise I was studying… I’m really sorry… I was just five minutes late… Is it common practice to lock the door on a test day? Did I say I was sorry? I know you have another class at ten. Is there any way I could take the test with them?”

My last question caught his attention. He looked up from the pile of paper he was shuffling through and said with a smile, “Oh no. You failed.”

My heart sank. Tears formed in my eyes. I was crushed and confused. “But I’ve never failed a test,” I said. “I can’t get an F in my first class.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” he said beaming. “There are more tests. You won’t fail the class.”

“Oh thank you, Dr. Lia,” I said, backing out of his office. “Thank you so much. I promise I’ll do better next time.”

“Yeah,” he called. “You’re okay.” Then he added with enthusiasm, “Unless you fail again! Ha ha ha ha ha!”

The lesson I learned: Failure happens. Just try not to make a habit of it.

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