“What makes them better than you?” Teacher asks from the door.
We had been talking about the kids we’d known growing up who always seemed to have everything together. His question silences the room. Really, that’s what we had all been wondering. All those kids who were perfect test-takers or perfect ball players always befuddled us.
“Is it magic?” Teacher continues as he hops up the steps heading to his stage. “Really, are those kids all master illusionists? Is their perfection a ruse to confuse the adults?”
A nervous twitter moves around the room. We’d considered that, too.
Hope is the first one to speak up. “No, teacher. It’s not magic. Well, I don’t think. We just wish we had the secret. It would sure make this life so much easier.”
“Sure, it would,” he nods, flipping his blue fedora off his head and onto one of the hooks on the hat rack at the edge of the stage. He slips out of his purple jacket, whipping it like a matador’s cape. Then his jacket becomes a purple cape.
“Magic would mean everyone was just a flick-of-the-wrist from coming Home, wouldn’t it?”
The answer is like a rehearsed song — “Yes, sir,” from all of us in the classroom.
“Maybe the answer is more simple than that.” He flicks the cape around the stool he has placed at center-stage. With a couple of flourishes, he snaps it at the stool. When he lets the cape settle, it takes on the form of an object that had not been there a second before. It’s small, and it looks like it’s moving. When he pulls the cape away, it reveals a dove — pure white with gray tips on its wings. Upon being freed, she lifts off and flies around the room. It settles at last on Teacher’s left shoulder.
“Hello, my love,” he says in a voice one reserves for a beloved. He turns to us, “Was that magic?”
“Of course that’s magic,” Ivan, the irreverent students says. “We’re not idiots. We know the difference between a real magic show and people who have it easier dealing with the life shit that gets thrown our way.”
“Ah, but do you? What is the difference between –”
“Teacher,” I have to speak up. “I don’t think you understand. What Ivan is talking about, what all of us are talking about, is how some people find life so easy. We try so hard. We meditate. We concentrate. We turn-the-other-cheek and love-out-neighbors. And still, we are having a hard time with all of this. We feel like we’ve been left to deal with this on our own.” I want to make him feel better. I want to tell him that we appreciate his guidance, but I fear that if I say another word my tears will become a flood.
Teacher shoos the dove away and she flutters out of the open door at the back of the class. He sits on the top step, resting his forearms on his knees and clasping his hands together.
“Oh, my dear ones, I am so sorry.” He scans the room. “Is this true?”
The nods of my classmates silence him. His gaze locks onto his hands, his fingers moving restlessly.
“I know this is difficult.” He looks up. “What if I tell you that those who look like they have it all together really don’t? That’s the real magic show. What if I tell you that?”
“Teacher, that doesn’t make me feel better. I am not happy in someone else’s pain,” I say.
“But don’t you see? That is what separates you from the others.”
“And what is that getting us?” Clever Clyde echoes my thoughts.
Hope’s soft voice chimes in then. “Teacher, we don’t want to know other people are suffering. We want to know that our hard work is getting us somewhere. We want to know that these lessons are not a waste of time. I mean, really, we’re wondering if, after we die, we’ll find out that we all end up in the same place. That these lessons are doing nothing for us.”
“Shit, I’ve failed.” The voice that says these words shocks us all as Teacher bows his head and buries his face in his hands. “This is not the lesson I wanted to teach.”
We sit in silence for a long time as the minute hand on the analog clock ticks closer to the 12 until Teacher suddenly leaps up. “Field trip. Come along.”
But he doesn’t take the entire class. Before I have a chance to even realize what has happened, I am at the foot of a large tree, its trunk so large I can’t wrap my arms around it. With me are Ivan, Clyde, Hope and Teacher.
“I’ve brought you so that you can share. You are ready for this, yes, even you, Irreverent.” He turns toward the river I hear rushing nearby. “A magic show is an illusion, as are many of the illusions that don’t look like magic. We cannot assume. A smile can mask pain. Judging others by the face they paint is the secret of illusionists.”
He takes us closer to the river. Under the towering trees and the dropping branches, I spy a touch of rich purple. As it takes shape, I realize the purple is the body of a covered bridge. Its roof is the unmarred white of the clouds. “As you continue working on your meditations, my dear students, I would like to encourage you to add a bridge such as this one. Yes, I understand this work seems to be taking you nowhere. I understand you feel disillusioned, as if you are playing a game where you will not ever be able to win. But I want you to give me just a little bit of faith.”
“What is this bridge?” I ask. I’m already burning this image into my mind, ready to transfer its twin to my meditation space. “I need to know what I will get from it–”
Irreverent interrupts my question to rush onto the bridge. “Come on, Teach. What does this thing do?”
“To you, my bridge does nothing, Ivan.” He turns to me. “Writer, have you added one to your space?”
Closing my eyes, I take apart the bridge I had burned in my mind and I place it across my river. Piece by piece, I become an engineer.
“May we watch?” Hope asks. When I nod, Teacher brings my friends into my meditation space, and they watch breathlessly.
When the bridge is complete, I paint the outside a lilac color that washes my space with the scent my Cuban heritage links with babies. The roof I color like the clouds, just like Teacher’s original, but inside the bridge, the part I have to walk through, I paint a sky blue as beautiful as the most refreshingly sunny day I remember. When it’s ready, I step onto the bridge.
“Ask what?” I’m lost. Who am I asking?
“Ask whatever you want. Do you want to have an answer? Do you want to see someone that’s on the other side? Ask. This, what you’ve just built, is your bridge to whatever you want. Do you want it to bridge the distance between your questions and the answers, then that’s what this is.”
As the questions hit Teacher, I step farther from him and my classmates and closer to the friends who talk to me in my head. I wonder. Does he mean to suggest I can talk to the friends who have already crossed the veil between our dimensions? Names and faces pound my consciousness until one stands out above the others.
Fine. Tommy. He was a former student who died in a horrific car accident. And right now he wants to come through.
“Hey, Teach,” he says in that carefree, anti-establishment way he always had.
Is this real?
“It’s as real as you make it. I’m here, so it’s real to me.” He plucks a cherry blossom off the tree he’s standing under and holds it out for me. “Flower for the teacher.”
I cross the bridge, but I stop to shake this from my head.
“Hey, before you kick me out – you tend to do that a lot with those of us who try to come through – I wanted to say thanks. You loved me and you showed me what I could do with my life. I was too much of an ass to earn that!”
I try to make him feel better, but he doesn’t let me talk.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t do more with what I had. Everything was wrong in my life. I felt like I couldn’t get out. Until you made me change my mind.”
I don’t remember what he’s talking about.
“So, if you want me to give you an answer that will prove to you that this is real, fuck, I can’t do that. But you’re doing so great with all this shit. I wish my family could talk to me like this.”
What is this? This can’t be real?
“See you’re doing it already. You’re starting to doubt yourself. Doubt’s a bitch. She fucks things up big time. Just believe. It doesn’t really matter what happens with everybody else. The only thing that matters is the shit you create. The shit you can do. Everything else just is!”
He calls me by my real name then, “Don’t be afraid. This bridge is your little piece of heaven. This is how you can get your answers.” He smiles. “All you need to do is believe.”
I think I’m going to try my hand at believing.
Until next time, dear classmates, I remain ever-grateful,
The Dragonfly’s Student
The Dragonfly’s Student