Since arriving the previous week I'd kept hearing about a notorious person, and now as I entered the packed lecture hall my gaze caught on a highly conspicuous man. That's him I declared inwardly, which of course was absurd. It was a vast university, of thousands of souls. There was no reason these two kinds of prominence — scandalous noteworthiness, and exceptional, even sinister, attractiveness — must belong to the same human being. Yet they had. The man was Nicholas Brodeur, though I knew it for sure only later.
That first time seeing him, even before being sure who he was, it was already clear that his attractiveness was mixed up with a great deal of ridiculousness. He wore a long duster coat, in the heat of September. His filthy blond hair stuck up and out in thatchy spikes from heavy use of some kind of pomade, as if it were 1982, not '92, and he wore Lennon shades with completely black lenses, as if it were outdoors, not in, and overall, in his resemblance to a Joy Division poster, he comported himself as if twenty and not, as I'd come to find out, almost forty. Still he was the best-looking man, by a league, in the room and certainly the best-looking man I had seen in the flesh to that point in my life. I hadn't yet lived in one of the world's great cities, where such specimens congregate, but even now that I have, he still ranks. And he must have realized; there was in his posture a kind of inverse vanity, a suggestion that he engaged in his sartorial ridiculousness out of some impatience with the effects of his beauty. He stood alone at the back, his feet away from the wall and his shoulders slumped against it. An ambiguous expression that was not quite a smile slightly lifted the sides of his mouth. His hands remained stuffed in the duster's deep pockets. The inappropriate hoodlum charade seemed to chide anybody who stared, as I did.
Casper was the only fellow student in my program I'd managed so far to befriend. When he arrived and dropped into the seat I had saved him, I directed his eyes to the man. "Oh my," Casper said. "Do I want to f**k him, or just be him?" Just being him did seem the lesser risk.
I'd been inoculated against the villain Brodeur before I'd even enrolled. On my visit to campus the previous spring, my informational coffee with a second-year poetry student had been interrupted by a timorous and blushing undergraduate whom the second-year had caught in a fervent embrace, and then presented to me portentously as someone "any woman considering coming here needs to talk to." In the course of preparing her senior thesis under Brodeur's direction, the undergraduate had been victimized by him, in what precise way it would victimize her further to ask her to relate. The result, thus far, had been a petition demanding his firing, but the second-year was confident that far more severe retribution would follow. This was only the most recent petition, and the most recent of his sexual crimes. He was rumored to ask female students to read Donne to him while he lay on the floor of his office, in darkness, it was presumed masturbating himself. He was said to recite bawdy couplets referring to breasts while directing his gaze in the classroom at actual breasts. He'd attended, at the repertory cinema on campus, a screening of a late-career, poorly received film by Roman Polanski — the rapist — and unlike the rest of the solemn, censorious house, there to sharpen the critical blades, he'd apparently laughed so hard as to have literally fallen from his seat onto the floor. Amid all this baleful intelligence it came as a superfluous footnote that his relations with his wife, who was also a faculty member, were obscure and chaotic.
From My Education by Susan Choi. Copyright 2013 by Susan Choi. Excerpted by permission of Viking.