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