“What makes them better than you?” Teacher asks from the door.
“Took you long enough!” the voice says. He sounds angry or maybe just impatient. I can’t tell, the voice is still without a source.
What I take to be anger makes me lose it: “What? What do you need? Why are you rushing me?”
“Take my hand …”
“I would if I could see you.” Then I wish I’d kept my mouth shut. Suddenly, breaking through the air, a disembodied hand reaches for me. I pull myself back briefly before I remember I know the voice. I put my hand in his, “Where are we going?”
“Over the river and through the woods –”
“—to grandmother’s house we go,” I finish the old Christmas Carol.
My grandmother doesn’t live anywhere near this place. “I don’t get it, Teacher. You are Teacher, right?” I ask the voice.
“You don’t need to get it,” he says, ignoring my question. “Just come along.”
We go through the field and past the huge tree of life. In my head, as if I was plugged into my MP3 player, the scattered words of a song play, as if prodding itself into the worst kind of ear worm — the kind where you can’t remember the words:
“There’s got to be another way out. I’m ready for you now. Break me out from the prison of my own mind. I was never meant to fight on my own. I don’t want to fight alone anymore. I need to let go.” … Really?
I don’t understand this. Is this Teacher talking to me? I mean, I guess I have been feeling alone lately.
We break through the trees and that damned squirrel meets me again. “Really, you?”
His little shoulders shrug toward his ears before he drops back down on all fours and scurries off, calling out, “Come.”
Then he takes me someplace new. I mean, I’ve seen this bridge before. Its brilliant violet body started peeking through the shedding branches of the oaks and elms in the forest a little over a week ago, but I’ve never actually stepped onto the covered bridge that spans the river to the other side of this school’s campus.
Squirrel chirps angrily at me when I finally reach him. I guess I’m too slow.
“Dude,” I say. “Take it easy. I’m coming.”
“She won’t wait,” he says.
The voice, Teacher’s voice, blows my mind.
“What do you mean? Who won’t wait?”
“You humans think you need to do it all alone,” he says, then he’s a blur. I move with my ears, following the light snaps and crackling leaves until I get to the bridge.
Squirrel is standing just this side of the opening onto the bridge — it’s rounded and just big enough for one horse and buggy, or a small pick-up truck. The early morning throws shadows under the covered bridge’s roof, but there are glimpses of the sky blue walls inside.
Squirrel waits for me to approach him.
“What are you talking about?” I say. He doesn’t wait to answer. His little feet click over the wooden bridge and he waits for me from the other side. First, it’s the little squirrel with the tan fur and the blue eyes, then it twists itself like a wet towel and suddenly becomes my teacher. In the shadows, his blue eyes are beacons.
“Humans are very willing to volunteer their desire to help each other, and I understand their need to work alone. I get that. The Collective Consciousness of Home can get pretty annoying to those who can’t appreciate the beauty of a family – everyone working for each other.”
“What’s going on, Teacher?”
“You don’t have to go it alone, Writer. None of you do. Why do you rarely get together with your classmates to try to work out your questions?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’d rather figure it out on my own.”
“I think better when I’m alone.” It’s true. When I’m with my friends, I find our meetings tend to get a little long-winded and off-kilter. I get more done alone.
“That’s because you don’t know the beauty of working together as a family unit – all the pieces working together to make one dream come true. It’s a pretty awesome thing to witness.”
“I don’t get why this is so important, Teacher. Where are you taking me?”
He reaches for me from his end of the bridge. I step slowly, cautiously, not knowing where it’s going to get me or if I’ll be able to come back to the safety of my side of the bridge. When I’m at his side, he takes my hand, more to keep me from leaving than for any kind of guidance of affection!
And, as we cross to the other side, a sea of long, purple grass waves to us to the tune of the song that had been in my head earlier, and as we approach the field I realize that in the purple grass are beings holding hands. People I don’t know and people I recognize from earlier times in my life.
Making a crop circle in the middle of the field, the notes and bars of a music sheet float around my grandmother sitting and playing at a great white piano. She’s laughing as her fingers bounce over the keys.
Teacher stands behind me then, pushing me gently toward the grandmother who fed my love of music as I grew up. “What you need to understand, dear Writer, is that you are never alone. It is no sin to ask and accept help. A family is what we are meant to be. To not accept that help is to deny the existence of all of those who love you.”
And, as I take a seat on the bench next to my grandmother and she envelops me in her arms, I understand.
Namaste, dear friends,
The Dragonfly’s Student
When I wake, my sheets are drenched in my sweat. My heart is trying to fight its way out of my chest and I can’t catch a breath. Then the tears come.
I was in my old car, a mini SUV with an awesome sound system. Then I wasn’t.
I want out of this dream. Maybe I can dream myself into a new one. I roll over, squeeze my eyes shut tight, and clutch my teddy bear.
Sleep doesn’t come. I just keep running the dream through my mind. Over and over — a scary movie on a loop.
Finally, I give up and get dressed. Maybe the answer to my insomnia can be found in the TV in the common room of these student apartments. Pillow and blanket in tow, I wander into the darkened room and locate the remote control.
I settle into a comfortable position then hit the power button.
“Hit Channel 247,” a quiet voice says from the end of the couch.
“Who is it?” I whisper, as if anyone could hear us from the bedrooms on the other side of the building.
“Someone who shouldn’t be here.”
“Ding! Let’s tell her what she wins, folks.” The words sound light, but they’re anything but.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. It’s been a hard day, but don’t worry about it. What’s wrong with you, dear Writer?”
I shrug, not wanting to talk about it. I mindlessly switch the channel to 247 like he told me to. It’s a music channel. JukeBox. The song is a slow Ballad called Believe.
I can’t hold back the flood.
“I had the weirdest nightmare, Teacher. It felt so real. I was jamming out in my old car. I’d cranked the music up to listen to my favorite song, now I can’t remember what it was.”
Teacher scoots closer on the couch. Only when he holds my hand do I realize that I’d been flailing my arms in a panic. “Take a breath,” he says. His voice soothes me, then sends me over the edge.
“It was stupid, really, really stupid. Everyone else had stopped. Everyone else had seen the two sports cars drag racing. Some even honked at me, but I didn’t hear them.” By this time I’m telling the story through sobs. Teacher takes me in his arms and lets me finish.
“The white car hit me first and spun me around, then the red car hit me. I kept rolling over. I heard a woman scream. That’s when I woke up.”
A nightmare had never affected me like this. Maybe that’s why I lost control. He holds me as I let my fear out on his purple Shazam! T-shirt. I only know it’s purple because it’s one of my favorites. He hands me a box of tissues then, but I think it’s too late. My snot’s all over his shirt.
“What bothers you most about this nightmare, my dear?”
“What if it’s true? What if I’m dead?”
“What if it is? What if you’re dead? Are you scared now?”
Then I can’t breathe, I can’t think. I can’t answer.
He gets lost in thought as I try to focus mine. “That’s really what I was pondering tonight,” he says. “How long is too long?”
“What are you saying?”
He doesn’t address my question. “What scares you about that nightmare? What about it brought you here?”
Shaking my head to loosen the confusion that has such a tight hold me, I notice the music has stopped. When I open my eyes, what I see freaks me out. I’m not in the TV room anymore. We’re sitting on the double swing under the huge juniper tree in the school gardens. Right next to the river.
“I didn’t come here,” I gasp, then I forget it. This is Teacher, after all.
“You were lost. You sought answers,” he prodded. “So what frightens you? Why do you think it’s in the past and not in your future? Isn’t that what most people would assume?”
“Yeah, well.” I run the glimpses over quickly. “Well, I don’t have that car anymore.”
He nods, his hand on his chin, caught mid-stroke as if he had a beard. “And…”
“I remember that day, but I stopped in time.” A chill runs through me as the memory resurfaces. “I hit the brakes a breath of an inch from the white car.”
Again, the chill takes my breath.
“What if I didn’t? What if I really died?”
“Would it make that much of a difference?”
“Well, yeah. Why am I living if I’m just spinning my wheels? Aren’t we supposed to be working for a goal? Aren’t we on a journey in this life? Aren’t we supposed to get somewhere?”
“Why do you think you have to do anything? Why does life have to be a journey? What if it’s just a ride or a game?”
“A game?” The thought works its way through and around my brain.
“Yes, what if this is all just a game? What if that near-accident was a do-over moment in the game of your life?”
For the first time since I awoke in tears, I can breathe deeply. “It’s not a mistake? There’s no finish line?”
“I’m suggesting that maybe there is nothing you have to do, no finish line you to reach. How does that make you feel?”
I smile, the relief tickling at my heart. “Good, Teach. I feel real good.”
“Do you think you can go back to sleep again?”
“Yes, thank you.” My relief is so great, I wrap my arms around him and place a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you for being there for me.”
But when he leaves, I can’t help but think that he’s still troubled. If his question was answered, it was not the answer he wanted.
Because I can’t help him solve his problems if he doesn’t include me, I return to a peaceful night’s sleep after that, dreaming of Super Mario Brothers and Zelda. I can do this.
Until next time, dear friends, I remain
The Dragonfly’s Student
The text from the university was simple: Your teacher will be holding his next class this afternoon. Please plan to attend.
It has been a while. After the first handful of substitutes, the school decided to just cancel the classes. Now, we’re all sitting in our old seats. Except for Irreverent Student. Cleanly shaved after his No-Shave-November experience, he’s standing by the door, backpack slung over one shoulder.
“Is he here yet?”
Glancing at my watch, all I can do is shake my head.
“Figured. He doesn’t care if we graduate. Doesn’t he get that we need to pass his class?”
“I’m sure he does, Irreverent –”
“Ivan. My name is Ivan.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Why haven’t you said anything before?”
He shrugs as if the answer should be obvious. “It’s no big deal, really. I just ….”
His answer gets lost in a thought. I’m ready to wait for him to finish, but that’s when the dragonfly swoops past his face in a jet-like fly-by. So unlike a normal dragonfly.
He zooms by every student before finally hovering over the stage at the front of the room and unfolding himself into the tall human form he takes. Tall, blonde crew-cut under a deep purple baseball cap, strong swimmer’s body covered today by a royal blue knee-length kimono-type thing. What the hell?
“Good afternoon, dear students. I am so glad you were able to come.”
Like dutiful students, we respond in chorus: “Good afternoon, Teacher.”
And he laughs. Not a soft chuckle or a sharp “Ha!,” but a whole-hearted, belly rolling roar.
“Is that what the subs did to you?” He skips down the steps and plops himself on the bottom one. “Seriously, did they make you into Stepford-wives or something? Did they remove your frontal lobes?”
We stare at him. I’m trying to figure out what we were supposed to say and why what we said made him laugh. I don’t get it. Did we do something wrong?
“What were we supposed to say?” Irreverent, I mean, Ivan, asks.
“It’s not what you were supposed to say that I’m laughing about,” Teacher says. “It’s how you did it. And how you’re reacting. Fuck, a few weeks away from me and now you’re back to being mush-brains.”
Hope shoots her hand into the air, but instead of letting her talk, Teacher addresses her next. “No questions, Hope. I thought at least you would not have changed. You were so far ahead of the others.”
Then he turns toward me.
“And you, Writer. What has my absence done to you? How have you changed?”
“Don’t bother.” In silence, he walks up the steps and takes his place at the podium. Why does he seem angry?
This isn’t right. I can’t stand by and let him treat us this way.
“Wait a minute,” I say. “You leave us with babysitters for three weeks and you think we’re acting like idiots because we can’t explain why we answered in chorus?”
Then I can’t hold it in. I leap from my seat and slowly walk up the aisle toward his stage.
“Did you ever think that we are ecstatic to be free of the substitute hell we were in? Did you ever think that we would miss you? Maybe we can’t answer your questions because we don’t know why you left. Maybe we wonder if something we did before is what caused you to leave us in the first place or what makes you mad now. Did you ever think of that?”
The tears flow freely then. I collapse at the base of the steps, drop my head between my knees and wipe my face with my hands.
I’m not crying. This is stupid. I didn’t do this for attention. Someone slides out of a seat and approaches me. Probably to soothe me.
No, I can’t have that. I stand up to walk out of the room and almost run over Ivan. He holds my shoulders to stop me. “Don’t leave.”
His patience surprises me.
“It just hit me. Could this be one of his lessons?” he asks.
We turn to look toward Teacher, who’s smiling slyly. “Well, well. Dear Irreverent is learning.”
“Ivan,” he repeats his name. “Teacher, I would like to be known by my real name.”
“Is that what you’ve learned since I’ve been gone?”
“Yes, sir.” He steps from me and faces the class, his fists on his waist like some kind of superhero. “I am Ivan …” he glances toward me before continuing. “Ivan the Irreverent!”
“Big step,” Teacher says, pulling his chair from behind the desk. “Now, about Writer’s questions. My dear, were you worried that I was gone? Were you worried you were alone?”
He doesn’t wait for my answer. That’s good, because I don’t think I have a good one ready.
“You were never alone. None of you were. Writer, I saw you screaming at the dragonflies when none of them was me. Hope, I was there when you were frantically looking for guidance. Who do you think played that song?”
Obviously shocked, “I thought I would never know what to do. The song is what helped. Thank you.”
He walks around the room, telling each and every one of my classmates where he was when they were lost or desperate. I wait, running possibilities through my head as I try to pinpoint what was him in the silence of his absence. Finally, he approaches me.
“And you, dear Writer. Do you know where I was for you?” I start to shake my head, because I don’t know. Then something in my heart flutters. I whiplash my face toward his – “Were you that? Are you the flutter in my heart when I’m trying to move through the day?”
He smiles then turns to the class. “So what’s the lesson, class?”
Then, as the good students we are, in chorus, “We’re never alone.”
“Believe it, it’s always true!”
Until next class, my friends,
The Dragonfly’s Student
… And when the student is ready, the teacher will leave.
All my love always,
From the student:
The lessons with my new, beloved teacher, El Juglador, will continue. And, despite the fact my Dragonfly Teacher has released me to continue my lessons, he is the one who found me and set me on this path. I remain, most devotedly,
The Dragonfly’s Student