A short and strange story by D. F. Wharton
I was standing in front of this waterfall and looking over, watching the water run so smoothly over the edge and then come apart as it went into its freefall and plummet to the river below, getting louder, rumbling, thundering, chaos, war of water fighting for the lowest place. I started looking into that violence at the bottom of the waterfall. I kept leaning forward, leaning, leaning, and I was way over the ledge.
Hey, somebody yelled.
Somebody else said, You’re gonna fall, man.
And I fell.
But it wasn’t scary. I was in with the water and now that I was falling, moving with the water at the same speed, the water appearing to move in slow motion. There it was, suspended around me in huge drops, coming apart, leisurely. I was in a trance. One of the big drops first formed into a face, then the form of a body. It moved toward me—closer… closer—then embraced me. I instinctively knew that it was protecting me from the coming crash at the base of the waterfall. It took its hands of water, caressing both sides of my face, and pulled me into its face, past its outer surface, and there in the midst of his head there was air to breathe. Fresh air. It wrapped its legs around me and pulled my body into its body and I was wrapped up, protected.
I realized that the fight was not in going against the current, as I had been led and inclined to believe. Now, the fight was in letting go. Not in avoiding the ledge, or trying to walk along its edge, but in going over it: giving up, quitting, letting go. These things passed in my thought like a cool breeze on a hot sunny day while I was in the chaos at the bottom, where the waterfall met the river. It was amazing. When you’re free from ambition, not trying to do anything but be, the chaos and destructive powers were more like a mural, removed from my personal realm.
When I got out of the water I soon found out that I could jump very high, move faster than a speeding bullet, leap a tall building in a single bound. Later that day I jumped so high that I left the earth’s atmosphere. I didn’t want to come back right then so I stayed in space. The face of a constellation looked at me with open arms but a venomous face. I took a leak and the urine drifted off into space.
I made my way to a star. There was a woman in a bar serving drinks. I sat down and looked over the selection. They were all various brands of water. The top shelf was Fiji.
I’ll have the house water, I said.
You drink from the tap? she said with a raised eyebrow.
I like to try the local stuff, I said.
She poured me a pint of water from a local keg and we talked about China and their toys on the dark side of the moon.
It’s no coincidence they went to the dark side, she said.
What do you mean by that, I said.
Hmmmmm, she intoned with a smirk, as if I knew good and well what she was talking about.
I settled my tab and made another leap of faith.
I settled on planet education where there was a school. I landed in front of the building. I’m always into learning so I gladly entered.
We have a zero-tolerance policy on bullying, said the principal.
That’s great, I said.
I went to class and was immediately bullied. I eventually found a seat at a table where the group let me join, and said,
What’er we learning?
We don’t learn here, unless you’re talking about how to take the state test, said a student.
Test? I said.
Yeah, the state test, said another student.
Oh, I said.
The teacher was frantically trying to emulate Doug Lemov’s Champion Teaching Techniques. The principal came into the room and accused the teacher of being ineffective. I was once again being bullied, but the teacher and principal were too busy arguing over rubric to notice. Meanwhile, Doug Lemov and many other professional hucksters were on a different planet, drinking glory, lavishing in all the money that planet education bestowed on them for their services. Later that year the principal was fired, the school closed down. Nobody ever learned on planet education.
When I moved to leave the school building I was stopped by a social worker and told that I could never get a job if I did not graduate from their school. And, said the social worker, you will not be able to go to a prestigious university. It was my right, she said.
I’m not interested, I said. I can’t afford it and I don’t need a mountain of debt. But the social worker could not process this, because she went to a university that she could not afford and was now living under a mountain of debt, and this school job on planet education was the only job she could get. Otherwise the degree was worthless. So she had no choice but to keep saying the things that the ministers of education told her to say.
When I said that I wasn’t interested in their education she brought me to the school psychologist and they explained to me that I had a learning disability and was a special education student. The big difference between the social worker and the school psychologist was that the shrink knew it was all bullshit, but had adapted his conscience to accept his role as a necessary evil. It’s a great thing for you, they said, you’ll have a smaller class setting, lower teacher to student ratio, and a personal individualized educational plan. It sounded too good. I acquiesced. When I got to the new class, I saw that it was nothing more than a roundup of the worst of the school bullies.
I jumped, never to return to planet education.
On to the next…