An Impossible Grief

Reckoning with a beloved teacher’s complicated legacy

Amy Susanne Robinson
Gay Mag
Published in
15 min readMar 30, 2020


Illustration by Carmen Johns

TTruth: This essay is supposed to be about an impossible grief.
Truth: This essay is supposed to be about power.
Lie: This essay is about what it’s supposed to be about.

We’ve all heard famous women defend famous men who have been accused of abuse, of rape, of sexual harassment and violence.

We blame the men, the abuser himself, but we also blame, or call out or in, or “cancel” the women who defend them. We remind them that abusers don’t abuse everyone, that your story, your experience of a person doesn’t negate someone else’s story or experience of the same person. It doesn’t mean the story of abuse is a lie.

We’ve heard the women’s apologies. We’ve heard that they can’t reconcile the man they know and love with the man described in the accounts of abuse.

The truth is, there are truths that can’t be reconciled.

TTruth: At Pomona College, I took an intro fiction workshop and an advanced nonfiction workshop with David Foster Wallace.

Truth: Professor Wallace (I could never call him Dave) was the best teacher I’ve had before or since.

Lie: The line between truth and lie, nonfiction and fiction, is clear and distinct.

TThe first day of fiction workshop, we played a round of Two Truths and a Lie, except Professor Wallace changed it to Two Lies and a Truth and introduced a new feature: after reading our three anecdotes, we would be cross-examined about each one by the rest of the class. I wrote and defended a lie about a dream I never had, a lie about a funny thing that never happened at a Braves game, and the following true story: Two weeks ago, I got my Mustang convertible stuck in a ditch in southern Alabama. Four men came to my rescue with a rope, a 2x4, and a shovel.

After I read and defended my anecdotes, the class voted on which they thought was true. Just over half voted for one lie, and everyone else chose the other lie. At the last second, Professor Wallace switched his vote, remarked on the brilliance of including a dream, and split the vote evenly between the two lies.



Amy Susanne Robinson
Gay Mag

Essayist, poet, writing teacher. Mom. Very good cook. Web: Twitter/IG: @amysmcd