I am history. Half a century. I’ve seen things. Things are not like your textbooks paint them. But you already know that. You’ve known since they first corrupted you with reading,’ rightin, ’ ‘rithmetic. I’m here to disabuse you. And abuse you. My son called me a “cunt” when he was seventeen. Something about the car. He’s junior at Yale now. My daughter a freshman at Cornell. My husband — we have money… Don’t ask me what my children study. I’d like to say I miss them, but I don’t. Many of you will be going to college. It’s expensive. Like the electoral college, and just as corrupt. Look what it did to me.
How old are you all, seventeen? Listen to me: don’t listen to me! I’ll warp your minds, I’ll break your hearts. When my husband was in Vietnam he wrote to me, “I saw a guy get fucked up bad my second day here I have 363 days to go…” I prayed that he would make it home. He made it home. Be careful what you pray for — sometimes God listens. In college I had a crush on Andrew Jackson. “Old Hickory” dueled to defend his wife’s honor. He crushed the federal bank. He had wild white hair, and rode a white horse to battle. My husband fucked 100 women. He told me that.
100 women since we took the vow. “I came five times in a single night,” he said, and I said, “Didn’t your hand get tired?” and he said “If I was with you it would have.” Jackson, Lincoln, FDR…You weren’t even born yet when Reagan finally won in ’80. I have a gun. I know how to use it. How many of you are virgins?
When I was your age — when was I your age? – I believed Jim Morrison was a great poet. I believed in God, but also indiscriminate fucking. I smoked hashish, but would have dropped the bomb on Vietnam unless they renounced communism forever. I’ll drop the bomb on Redmond, Washington, unless they renounce Windows forever. I need something, don’t you? You don’t need anything. You’re young. My daughter doesn’t call home except to ask for money. I suppose that’s typical. But when she calls, she’ll only speak to “Daddy.” Is that typical? Listen to me! Everything you’ve read or heard up till this moment was a lie. Go read your New York Times. Gaze like autistics upon the network news. You’ll make fine citizens of the Nation. My son called me a cunt when he was seventeen. How old are you all, seventeen? You don’t know anything. You don’t know anything. Repeat after me: “I don’t know anything. I don’t know anything. I don’t know anything.”
The cruelest cut: Time exhausts me. Time wipes me out. I smoked my first cigarette on my fiftieth birthday. Now I can’t stop. Mind if I light up? Over the course of this semester I’ve imagined every one of you naked, helpless, tied to my bed. Sometimes my mind has a mind of its own. Sometimes I don’t have any mind. Sometimes I’ve a good mind to shoot someone, anyone. Or write an angry letter. Do you believe in ghosts?
I saw myself as a young woman. a real hot number, yesterday, in the faculty lounge, coming on to my colleagues. Gentlemen, do you have fantasies of me? How ‘bout you, girls? Once up on a time that question would not have seemed so…ludicrous. But as you can see, Time and alcohol don’t mix.
I’m paid to teach you American History. But whose history is more important than your own? Problem is, you don’t have histories. You’re teeny-boppers, babies, twerps. One day you’ll say, “When I was seventeen…” By then I’ll be dead. You’ll have done things in the world, accumulated regrets.
Unable to face you own mismanaged lives, you’ll invent lies about yourselves to convince yourselves that you are happy, or at the very least, not mad with despair. That the future is not as hopeless as it seems.
History is written by winners. “I’m a winner,” you’ll tell yourself. Those who lack imagination to lie to themselves are destined to lose. I know what you’re thinking. “That is a million years away. I can save myself. I can adulterate my destiny. I won’t lose. Things will go right.” But experience will take you by surprise. Life will come to you one night – soon, very soon – sit beside you on your bed, and whisper, ever so disingenuously, “Tell me about yourself…”