Ago 11, 2002

Both Ways

Take care of the preschool children Teacher Nikki. They're in that tender, precious age. Yes, I know they're in good hands (with soft, tapered fingers, I must add) and I love how your eyes sparkle when you speak of them.

I delight in your stories. But I cannot help it, freak that I am, I hear - beneath their mischief and laughter - the danger. The awareness of this peril drove you from one school to another with a practice you better prefer. It lies behind that serious diligence in your additional Education classes. It is exactly why you naturally live to teach and not the other way around.

Sometimes, I muse how much easier it would all be if only I were in perfect agreement with a curious statement from George Orwell:

What can England of 1940 have in common with England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except you happen to be the same person.

He has a point. But I don't share it. Maybe because I don't think it applies to me. You may say, in your offhanded nonchalance, that you know how it is, how one always thinks he's the exception to the rule. Which would be fine, except that everybody else thinks so too.

With you, of course, I cannot disagree. Still - hear me out - what if I still have too much of that five-year-old in me?

I remember how when he was a bit younger, he cried whenever his mother left to teach her own schoolchildren. I remember how, one morning at breakfast, he suddenly knew death, how it was possible and very real and that someday it would take everybody away. He was so angry then, as if the whole world was based on a glaring unfairness.

I know him still you see, how he never walked with certainty, always with his eyes on the road, afraid maybe that he might lose his way or forget the directions when crossing the street.

Always look both ways.

I remember how he once did, on his way home from preschool, when he tried crossing the nearby tributary of Pasig river and got caught in an unintelligible maze of bridges. He never forgot how it was to be truly alone, with no one to blame but himself.

A few years later, the grader would sometimes leave his companions and sit out his lunches alone, at one side of the basketball courts. He never plays the game. He just sits there, throwing his gaze across the courts, outward, passing the gates and fences, and even the forbidden streets. He was looking into the future, wondering what will become of himself.

He wanted to be something better you know? So he did something serious. He conjured a future self, a self ten or twenty years hence, and threw everything at him, all his dreams. How he didn't want where he was. But also, how he never wants to get lost again.

I'm surprised how much I'm still holding his gaze, those empty but hoping eyes. It's exacting you know, quietly maddening at times. Sometimes, I feel his stare burning like the plain accusations of an innocent. It's wrenching, really, being told you're not any better. And I try to escape by denying that I am his ten to twenty years hence. Denial is futile though. There's this long extended gut between us.

So there? Do I qualify as your true-blue exception?

Of course now, I deal with more convoluted labyrinths. And I would not care about getting lost except for the fact that you walk my paths with me. From where I see it, I've not really aged with much grace, completely artless, I sometimes feel.

Sometimes though, everything seems to make sense. This plot of a life thickens by the minute, with twist and turns that are wonderfully haphazard. But maybe it wouldn't really count for much in the megalithic bookstores of our world.

Do you recall when I gave you my little volume of Edgar Allan Poe poems in that little program our college friends set up? He was my first major influence, I told you. The tehnical precision of "The Raven" told me how far I was from whatever it was I wanted to achieve. So I told you to please take with the volume my every insecurity. Dreams, of course, the stuff that define how we live, those count as insecurities, visions that whip us from any contentment with harvested laurels.

I'll take your soft, tapered fingers because for some reason entirely alien to me, you've given me the privilege. As it stands, you know your way better than I know my paths. We don't know how everything will add up, what it will ever add up to, and if all of that would really be worth it.

You have taught me life, my dear one. And as you've said, just let me tell that kid how I've got someone lovely by my side. Let me tell you something. For all intents and purposes, for whatever it's worth, you'll always have the respectful eye of that old child and the loving hand of this young man.

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