“Experience,” he said in his button up shirt, no tie, sleeves rolled up, and a tangle of religious symbols circling his neck; “experience,” he repeated, “juxtaposes, at all times, existing in contraposition, to innocence.” He paced the room: “beware The Ides of March!” he called out, then-
“How can the bird that is born for joy
Sit in a cage and sing?
How can a child, when fears annoy,
But droop his tender wing,
And forget his youthful spring!”
And again, on this last line he repeated himself: “and forget” — a pause — “his youthful” — another — “spring!” The bell rang. As always, the teacher tried to squeeze in a few extra words as the students rushed out: “Remember, The Ides mark the first day of spring and the beginning of the Roman new year! Rush out and meet the world — a new world.”
Blake packed his things into his bag. Vintage 90’s Trapper Keeper with checkerboard and two moons converging behind neon squiggly dagger. A calculator with all his physics formulas loaded into its memory. A small pencil box holding four perfectly sharpened No. 2 pencils. Everything in its place in his bag, he followed the crowd out. At the precipice the teacher called out, “Little Lamb!”
“Yes,” Blake answered.
“Sound of flute! / Now it’s mute.”
“I know,” Blake said. “I’m trying.”
“What’s the hang up? You had so many wonderful thoughts on ‘Songs of Innocence.’ It’s only a five-hundred-word essay. What can I do to help you?” The teacher sat down on the corner of his desk and crossed his arms. Blake thought that his teacher looked like someone bound to sling a chair around backwards to “rap” about feelings. Even his rolled-up sleeves suggested a “let’s-get-down-to-business” working class demeanor belying the most inauthentic expression of an authentic urge to connect; or, as many of the other students said, “teach, you tryin’ too hard.” Blake, however, didn’t feel that way. He thought effort was caring, which is why it hurt him that the teacher had noticed he hadn’t put in the effort.
“What do you want to say Blake?” and with those words actually stepped away from his desk and did turn a chair around and sit, legs open and arms resting on the back panel. Blake knew the body language was a “teacher move” meant to convey openness and break down the walls of power. Blake didn’t like towering over his teacher, so he sat down feeling manipulated by strategic caring.
“I started reading Nietzsche.”
“I made that mistake once too.”
“It’s this ‘flat circle’ thing. What’s the point if we are always looping? I’ve already written your paper or I’ve never written it. Either way it’s been done. If I do it now, I will have always done it and having done it before I don’t really have a choice now.”
The teacher looked like he was going to cry, but he was smiling, too. “Blake,” he said, “that’s the point.” He noticed the light outside had shifted to a cold electric purple, like the cool glow of an arcade. The room was unusually dim, as if the lights were fading above them; and the checkerboard tile floor seemed unnaturally bright in comparison. “See, what you have to do is make the decisions now that you are okay with living again and again.” Something quaked. “You’re not trapped by the future or the past, you’re bending them to your will.” All other desks began to vibrate slightly and move away from the teacher and his student. The walls were fading into a scrim which revealed the extension of the black and white floor. “Blake,” he repeated in the way all teachers ceaselessly repeat things, “how old are you?”
“I..…” Blake hesitated in the madness of the moment, in the dissolving of the roof which revealed twin moons moving towards eclipse. “I’ll be eighteen on the 20th.”
“Blake, I should have known you were an Equinox child. It’s written all over you. This is your spring break assignment — the break between the Ides and the Equinox, the break between two first days of the same spring — you are going to write me —“
Blake interrupted, letting the fact that he was indeed a teenager supersede the fact that reality had ceased to follow any coherent logic. In the space that use to be a room but was now a vast field of infinite checkerboard earth underneath two electric-neon purple moons, he said, “I know, Mister, I wrote the dang essay.”
The teacher laughed. “No,” he said, “you’re going to write the world.” Blake’s backpack emptied itself, letting the contents float freely between him and his teacher. The teacher waved his hand and the Trapper Keeper flew gently to Blake, “you have all the paper you need to write it the way you want.” The pencils floated to him: “four pencils, four seasons, four ages of man — pick your metaphor, Blake, but pick.” And then, of course the calculator: “use what you know or make something better, but build.”
Blake looked up at his teacher. “These are just my things. They are nothing special.”
The teacher laughed again. “Blake what did I teach you about Chekov?”
“The gun has to go off.”
“All of that and...”
“Yes. Exactly. Humans like stories with balance. We feel good when the details of the first part of the story become significant later.”
“Are you saying I’m in a story?” Blake was visibly upset, quickly sliding out of the shock that made this moment bearable into frenzy.
The teacher touched his arm. “Blake, everyone is in a story — their own story. That’s why the writing is important.” He pointed up at the moons: “innocence and experience. They will meet on your birthday, when you become an adult. And when they meet, whatever you’ve written onto that flat disc will be forever, at least until you see me again, and I remind you.”
Blake looked down for a moment. He swirled his finger in the air near his shoe and a foxglove sprouted by his foot. Without looking up he asked his teacher, “if I have all this power, why should I be beware The Ides of March?”
The teacher was gone, but his voice floated down from the ether: “because on this first day of spring, on the first day of the Roman new year, you have learned what you can do... you have learned...”