M, the superman

I arrived at the OIT dormitory several days before my first term began. I spent these days hanging around the campus to know what is where. There were many straight-out-of-high-school students moving into the dormitory. They usually first appeared in the parking lot in their own pick up trucks that play rap music or heavy metal songs incredibly loud. Actually so were themselves. They talked loud. They banged on the doors. They strode with enormously heavy steps with baggy basketball shoes.

I hated these stupid kids. The object of my main concern during the days was my roommate yet to appear. The housing office attendant and RA (Residential Advisor) told me that my roommate would be a straight-out-of-high-school kid from a town near Klamath Falls. I was wishing and hoping that he be not so airhead nor noisy.

My wish came true. Two days before the first day of the term, he showed up. He first knocked on the door with his silvery bike next to him. I could tell at the first sight that he was an exceptionally serious person. He looked like a would-be forest-patrolling ranger or cavalry policeman. I could bet that he used to be a cub scout member.

He said, “Hi, you are Sho! How are you? I’m M. I dropped by the RA’s office and heard about you.” He gave a badly nice smile to me and shook my hand. His brace was shining. He walked into the room without stomping sound and said, “Oh, you take left side of the room. Okay, so this is my bed and my desk.” He stepped further into the room as he checked the only few pieces of furniture allocated. He moved over to the other end of room where the window was left open. He suddenly waved and shouted, “Hey, Mom! Dad! I’m over here!”

His father brought his belongings to the room. He looked like a little difficult person. He did not speak clearly. I can not recall what he said exactly. He was not very happy to find that his son’s roommate was an alien. He said to me, “So you are M’s roommate. You are from… Japan! Well, my son might learn something new.” He just looked around the room and left the room saying “good-bye.” M followed his father and left the room for a while. He came back to the room soon and started to put his things on the shelf.

He was a unique person. Unique from many aspects. He was quiet and serious. That was a very unique attribute of his, while other students at his age running around and dribbling a basketball around in the dormitory. He often read books. He read Bible every day. He was basically from Klamath Falls. But he did not have anyone to hang around with on campus.

His home town is so close to Klamath Falls that he could go back home on every weekend. He, for some reason, spent Friday night in the dormitory room reading books or doing assignments. He said he did not go back home on Friday because it gets too dark to go home on bike if he leaves the school after class. But I knew that the last class he attended on Friday ended around four o’clock.

He rode his bike back home on Saturday morning while I was still in bed. He spent a night at home and went to church next morning on his bike. After church, he returned to school.

People around me, after realizing how interesting to be around this specimen of the Japanese, usually asked many questions about me and my home country. M never asked about Japan. He did not ask me personal questions. He might have disliked me. Even if so, he never complained on anything to me, we never argued with each other. We just simultaneously existed in the same closed space.

Days passed by. His major was not yet determined. He thought that he would major in something related to electronics. So he was taking basic EET courses that I later challenged. Beginning level courses of EET are required to some majors. There were many class sessions offered by a few instructors. His EET 111 class was not the same one that I was taking. I did not know how he was doing in the class until I noticed his strange behavior.

I was running around the campus talking to instructors and my advisor in order to have them arrange challenge exams for me. I usually came back to the room around four or five in the afternoon. He was usually in the dormitory room when I returned. And he was at the desk. On the desk, his textbook for EET classes or math classes was left open. He appeared to be reading the book. I asked “Hi, M, how are you doing? Are you working on the assignment of your EET class?”

Then, he would say, “Oh, hi, Sho. Yes, I’m doing the assignments. There are some hard ones in this assignment. So I’m thinking over it.” These assignments were actually piece of cake to me. M knew it, but he never asked for any help. “Okay, work on it. You know I can help you any time. If you need it, just tell me so.” I left the room for cafeteria. After the supper, I dropped by an international friend’s room to have him help me to understand what I learned at the psychology class.

I came back to the room at nine. There was M sitting at his desk. The same book was still open in front of him. His posture had not been changed only a little. I said, “Hi, I’m back.” He replied, “Oh, hi!” giving me a glance and smiled. Then he turned back to the book and concentrated again. I walked behind him to look at where he was at in the assignment. I was frightened. He was doing the same question as I looked before.

At that night, when we both went to sleep, I asked him, “So your homework is done today?” He said, “Well, I’ve done most of it. I’ll work on the rest tomorrow. I have to study hard. Learning something new is really exciting. I hope I can be some kind of engineer some day!” I knew he was working on the same assignment for whole half day.

If he had really wanted to solve his questions, he could have gone visit the instructors’ office. Some office hours were set at late in the afternoon. He could have done so, if he had been in the dormitory room before four working on the assignments. Or he could have visited his classmates or even call his classmates for help. Obviously he just simply stayed in the room and remained frozen at the desk for more than six hours.

Next day, I was having my lunch at cafeteria with Niall, a minority student from Hawaii. Then M came into the cafeteria alone and took a seat a little far from me. He stood up and walked around to take some food for him on the tray. He passed by me. He noticed me and said “Hi, Sho!” I said hi back to him.

Niall asked me, “You know that guy, Sho.” I said, “Yeah, he’s M. My roommate in the dormitory. He’s a nice person. At least he is not noisy.” Niall said, “Oh, he’s your roommate. I wondered how you got to know him. I’m taking a math class with him. He rarely moves, Sho. He just stares at the teacher, stares at the textbook, you know with that really serious face! Sho, you know superman right? He looks at things just like he’s emitting an eye-beam to penetrate through things.” I laughed.

I told him “Oh really? Is he famous in your class now? Yeah, he almost never moves when he is at his desk. I was reading a book on the bed last night for an hour. He was doing his homework. He once went to the restroom. But other than that, he kept the same posture all the time. Superman, huh! Yes, he looks like he is going to throw eye-beam. Or he is gonna do some psychic thing to lift things without touching.”

“Oh, yeah! That’s what superman does, too! Or maybe not.” Since that day Niall, whenever he talked about M, called M “superman.” Sometimes he used the word with gesture opening his jacket as if he would change into superman.

M’s situation was not something we could laugh about. He once came back to the room a little later than he normally did. He came into the room sighing, shaking his head right and left. “Oh, how are you today?” I said. “You went to somewhere?” He didn’t say much. He just said, “I went to the instructor’s office and talked about how I should study. I needed some advice because the result of the exam was not quite good. Well, I’ll work on it.”

Two weeks later, as he normally did, he left for his home on Saturday morning on his bike. On Sunday afternoon, he did not return to school. He did not appear even at night. Next day at the cafeteria, Niall asked me about superman as he knew that the superman had been absent from the class. I told him that I would tell the RA if the superman does not return tonight. Niall agreed to my decision and told me, “Maybe superman has found some new planet where he can enjoy.”

That night, before I went to the RA’s room, the RA gave me a call. He was to tell me something about M. In those days, my English conversation skill was especially poor when it was over the phone. I hang up the phone and rushed to his room. He said he did not know much about M’s situation. He just had received a call from M’s father that M was sick and that M would take a rest for a few days at home. But in the end, I never saw M.

The next Saturday, a week after M left the room, his father knocked on the door. I answered and let him in. He said, with his unclear pronunciation that I refer to “Marlboro country dialogue,” something about M pointing his head. I responded, “Well, sorry that my English skill is not good enough to understand what you told me. Would you explain it in other words?”

He looked a little confused momentarily and opened his mouth “Well, Sho, maybe this is not a right word to say it, but M became insane. He can’t study at school any more.” I said, “insane?” He said yes and he was already packing up M’s belongings. I grabbed my English-Japanese dictionary but the spelling came up in my mind was not right. He found me puzzled. He disappointedly said in a small low voice, “Sho, you are not sure what ‘insane’ is, aren’t you? Well, M became crazy. I know this is not the right word to say.” The word “crazy” lingered around in my head. To obtain more information, I instantly asked, ”What kind of crazy?” Then, he sadly murmured, “Very crazy.”

After a while, M’s father stopped packing things and took my dictionary. He opened a page and pointed the word “insane.” “Now you know what I meant, right?”

I stayed in the room alone paying double room accommodation fee until the term end. I requested for a room in the senior wing where mature students live. I moved to the wing next term and learned that mature students were just mature enough to indulge themselves with a wider variation of entertainment. My new roommate there was a considerate person but loved throwing parties and watching TV. I moved again to a single room in the middle of the term where I stayed until I moved into Mr. And Mrs. Armstrong.

While moving around in the dormitory, I saw many students disappointedly pack their stuffs and leave school. They could not catch up with the classes and their financial supports were cut off. They may have felt miserable but at least they were sane and left school. I never see M since I saw him on that Saturday. I sometimes wonder what really happened to him and how he’s doing now.