As the summer marches toward certain death, the university springs to life. This particular school year is in its infancy, but the minds of students have already served the majority of a life sentence within the education system. For many, their release is still so many years away it’s not even worth thinking about.
We take certain classes at the university level to ensure that we’re able to succeed in our professional lives, but after so many years, certain restless thoughts clatter around with all the history lessons and grammar rules that have collected in our minds. How much of our education can we possibly retain? And how do we know if we’re even taking the right courses? What if we were meant to take a different path? This line of questioning reminds me of my first year. I remember thinking about the paths that education can take us down as I wandered into my very first university class.
While I can’t remember very much of that specific year, I do remember the first day quite well. I remember stepping off the bus into chaos and feeling alone and younger than everybody else. Pushing through the throng of students, I focused on locating my first classroom to avoid crumbling into a quivering fetal position. When I did find it, the muttering of a hundred strangers spilling from the open door as I approached immediately spawned an even older memory.
From this older memory, I could recall stepping out of mum’s car into a quiet parking lot. There were a couple other boy-mum teams walking from their cars to the big front door. A blonde mother reached the door first, then a bigger mother, and then my mum and me.
The origin of this memory was revealed as I listened to the muttering from within the classroom. It was from grade one — my very first day of school. I can recall the mums taking us to our classrooms, and the moment of shock, accompanied by that same murmur of restless students, as our hands unclasped and I was nudged into the room.
I can remember that day back in grade one, maybe even during the very first class, thinking as if this was the beginning of an extremely long series of similar days. I traced forward in my mind, trying to imagine what would change in school as I aged. It got to the point where I was envisioning actually sitting in the classroom on my last day of post-graduate studies:
Teacher would know that all of us students were really excited for summer vacation — especially on this, the last day of school ever — so we would watch a movie and take a half-day (I imagined that the movie would be one of those fancy ones with boobs and swears, but no action). None of us would be very capable of focusing on the film. We would all be staring out the windows trying to imagine what the summer and the rest of our lives would hold. I would be daydreaming about the origins of my first big film project, which I would base on a short film that I would have created during the first week of the program, two years previous.
This short film, as I imagined recalling, would have been produced for an assignment to help get the ball rolling in, presumably, film school. Unable to decide on a topic, I would have had to have resorted to using a short story about a very old man that I would have written a year previous, in the fourth year of my English degree.
The movie — the one I would be planning during the last day of post-graduate studies — would be about an old man who, bored with his garden and pond, decides to take a few history courses. He figures history will be the most life-enriching form of education at this point in his experience. He always wished he had a better understanding of the French Revolution, which had an adverse affect on his ancestry.
But the short story — the one from my fourth year of English upon which the short film (the one in the first year of post-graduate studies) would be loosely based — would eventually make a cameo in the film that I imagined that I would be planning. It would be an anecdote, told to by the old man as he registers for his French history course, about an old man who goes walking through the woods one day to think about his life. He reminisces for several pages about his past acquaintances, until noticing a glimmer on the ground. He bends over to look and there before him is an Indian arrowhead. As he examines it he suddenly remembers a time when he was very, very young, nearly 67 years before.
It was 1934 and he was off to his very first day of school. He walked out the door, adjusted his brand new ball cap, and turned back to give his mum a wave. As he made his way to the bus stop, his granddad stopped him. “Hey sonny, come here a minute, got something for you” he called out. Granddad handed him a necklace; an old worn string through an Indian arrowhead.
“Got this one almost 60 years ago,” said granddad. “I was real young, and smaller than yerself. It was the middle of summer. I remember because I was out in the yard digging for teeth.
“You see father was a dentist. I can remember coming into the kitchen back in those days and seeing old pappy, bless his soul, with a set of pliers deep in some poor kid’s mouth, pulling with all his might, his foot against the kid’s chest for leverage. We had no painkillers in those days, so the kid would be gurgling little bloody yelps as the tooth edged out.
“Pappy always hung on to those teeth when he pulled them. He’d set them aside in a little drawer down at the base of his tool-rack. You see we had no plastic molds in those days so we made pretty good business fabricating dentures out of those discarded teeth.
“But the teeth, they kept going missing somewhere and the blame always had a way of falling squarely on my shoulders. ‘What do you keep doing with those teeth,’ Mum would always ask.
“One weekend I found myself grounded due to missing teeth, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and figure out this mystery once and for all. I hid behind the curtains all day to watch the tooth drawer. After several hours of fleeting excitement, trapped there behind the curtain, Nancy, our Yorkshire terrier, came stalking into the room and went straight for the rack. I wanted to see what she was doing with them, so I waited a little longer.
“She grabbed a few teeth and made straight for the dog door and out to the back of the yard. I took my queue when I saw her starting to dig. Out I ran, yelling to high heaven.
“There in her hole I found all the teeth we’d ever lost, and underneath them all was a sparkling obsidian arrowhead. I picked it up and realized it still had a piece of wood on it; it wasn’t just an arrowhead, it was the whole arrow! And wrapped around the shaft was a message of some kind. I opened it up and there was some indecipherable chicken scratches on it; some other alphabet.
“Well, I never discovered the meaning of that note. In fact I lost it several years later during the Great Fire of the Wild Crock Hole out at Yobaha Path Grounds. Heh heh, guess it never made it where it was meant to be headed. Well, who am I to say.
“The point is, here’s this arrowhead for you on your first day of school, little fella. It may well not have got to where it was going, but it got to you so now you gotta take it with you to where you’re headed.
“It’s funny if you think of it. When the arrow was originally fired, that missing message was the whole purpose, you see? Now that’s not even the part we remember. It’s just this arrowhead, like a thousand others. And it wasn’t even us who found it; it was that mangy old bitch that hid pappy’s pulled denture teeth in a hole in the ground out back. Hell, she didn’t probably even know it was an arrowhead when she picked it up. Probably just thought it was an old tooth.”
The bus came and the boy — who was the old man telling the story in my short story that I would have written in the fourth year of my English degree, and then used to create a short film the following year, the first year of my graduate film program, that I would eventually use to outline a feature film project, that I might be planning on the last day of my graduate studies, as I imagined it back on the first day of grade one, from what I could recall, at any rate, on the first day of university, as best as I can remember it now — climbed aboard and started on his academic journey through school.