Monday, May 7, 2012

Perigee Apogee

Julie has this reoccurring dream of riding on a train through a forest. She is resting her head against the cold window watching her breath fog up the glass. Outside, the landscape passes in blurs, the density of the trees overwhelming as it rushes by like a mirage. It is only when she turns and faces the window directly that she sees they have been planted in rows.
At that exact moment there is an explosion and she is completely certain that her speeding train has run head on with another. A terrifying ball of fire races through the cabin burning the chairs and ripping the shattered metal ceiling to shreds.
It is then she turns in her seat and sees two eyes staring back at her, and for the briefest instant before the fire engulfs them she knows she is going to die, but this person is going to live.
She tells me, “Teacher, that person was you.”
I don’t know Julie. Don’t know the first thing about her. Little mopped head of black hair and oversized dark black horn-rimmed glasses she keeps pushing back up the bridge of her nose. Squatty and cumuliform, short-sighted and squab, hanging around my door until I look up then poof. Gone like a stone dropped into the sea.
Julie is not the first student I’ve known just by their breathing.
There’s Stanley the beautiful apple-shape faced autistic boy, who pops his head into my classroom to make fire engine sounds and I find crying in the bathroom after his teacher scolds him viciously in front of the class, or Vincent with his black puffy eyes and rotund belly, pushing his broom toward my desk and waiting, just waiting for me to look up at him, ask him about his computer games or to teach me some new Chinese words. Yesterday it was, “Yuan.” Far away.
They come and they go. They enter into my life for a season and then they are gone. So be it. It will always mean more to me than it does them. That’s the constancy. I don’t mind it. In fact, I prefer it that way. You can only give so much to someone and then you’re taken for granted.
For some strange reason today it is Julie. She has made it to my desk this period. Fiddling with the colored pencils in the mason jar and dragging her finger in the little zen garden next to the homework pile. A month ago she only got as far as the wooden Balinese mask. A week ago she was trying on the rice hat and laughing. She is moving closer, but I don’t know why or for what purpose.
When Julie told me about the dream, about dying on the train, we were sitting by the window. She had brought in a couple of friends for moral support but they stayed away. Taiwanese students often hang back, just outside the door waiting, saying nothing. That’s friendship here.
When she finished I asked her why she told me and she said, “In Chinese we believe, that if you are haunted by a ghost you need to tell another person. That way, the ghost leaves you, and haunts somebody else instead. The ghost is now yours.”
Then she got up and walked across the room, closed the door, and joined her friends in a circle whispering short breaths in the hall.

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