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A Very Awkward Moment

I found out a while back that there is a rumor going around the students here that I used to be married and my wife died. I'm not sure how it got started. I told a colleague about it, and she said she first heard it back when my mother died, and students thought it was my wife. But that was back in 1994, and I'm pretty sure none of my current students were around then (we do a little better job of graduating people than that.)

I don't really object to this rumor as such. It flatters me that students think there was someone who wanted to marry me. And a part of me likes having a tragic backstory. But another part of me feels a little guilty about it. And after an awkward moment last night I feel even guiltier.

I was discussing the rumor with a couple of former students in the coffee shop last night. We all thought it was pretty amusing. Then I started coughing. After the coughing stopped I said "I've been having that problem ever since my wife died."

I thought that was pretty funny. At least until a guy at an adjacent table stopped what he was doing and said to me "I am so sorry that your wife died." He hadn't paid attention to the rest of the conversation because he was too involved in productive work he was doing. Unlike me.

I felt horrible. I didn't deliberately try to make him think my wife died, but that only made me feel slightly less horrible. I explained that my wife hadn't really died apologized profusely to him. I also thanked him for his sympathy, even though the reason for it was non-existent. He still demonstrated how supportive he would be if I really did go through such a tragedy, and he deserved gratitude for that.

Another rumor about me is that I used to sit around in the woods across from the university and smoke weed. I wouldn't mind if it supplanted the dead wife rumor.It does involve illegal activity, but it could never lead to a situation as awkward as the one last night.