Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mr. Holt's first time

"And... uh... OK... uhm... Do you, do you... I'm trying to think if... Uhm. Oh. Mae'n flin 'da fi. Dwi newydd golli fy lle. Pawb yn deall? Na? No... I'm... I'm not..."

Mr. Holt was lost. Totally. Whoever had been sent forward, wherever he had come from, he didn't have a clue. He didn't shout, "Hey-hey now!" He didn't step back to the podium to check his notes. He didn't wave his hand across the room, randomly pick a student and say: "Atgoffwch fi: ble 'dyn ni?" He didn't even look at his wrist.

His reaction to the episodes was the best part of Mr. Holt's class for most people, I think. I mean, what the hell were so many people going to do with the Welsh language? Mid-sentence, he would rock over and to the side, his head moving in semi-circle, then he'd right himself, and his eyes would refocus onto a roomful of people sat up and eager to see who had been brought forward this time. Probably the best episodes were the ones that brought forward a Mr. Holt who knew all the routines, one who had already had several episodes and had learned to easily deal with them.

Sometimes, thinking we'd not noticed, he would slyly look at his wrist and try to play it all off as if nothing had happened. Other times, he'd run to the window like a little boy to see what kind of day he'd been given. Often, he would smile and joke. I remember his coming out of an episode once, staring quietly at Callum Johnson for about half a minute, then leaning forward and putting his hand on Callum's shoulder.

"I have grave news for you, my boy," he said. "Your haircut makes you look an absolute fool, and I'm pretty sure everyone in here knows it."

This episode, though, was obviously different. This Mr. Holt didn't know what to do. Instead of being fun or joking he looked sad and almost terrified. His shoulders slouched down. He touched the right side of his head, looked at his hand. And in his being lost we were all lost, too. We just stared back until finally Marilyn tapped me on the shoulder and said: "Hey, you're supposed to help him out."

"Mr. Holt?" I said, raising my hand. "Hi, it's me, Minnesota. Look at your wrist, Mr. Holt. The band on your left wrist."

"Moorhead. 23.09.24," he read.

He stared at it, blank. The wristband didn't even make sense to him!

"Where you are, and the date," I explained. "The wristbands help you get your bearings. You like to write the date like that. You know, September 23rd, 2024. That's today."

Probably the easiest way to think of it is to say that Mr. Holt was a time traveller. Except that he never actually went anywhere. Mr. Holt sometimes compared it to an old TV show, "Quantum Leap," which I've never seen. Apparently, though, the main character would travel through time and find himself in the bodies of different people. But in this case it was always just Mr. Holt in the body of Mr. Holt. It was mental illness rather than science fiction. Various things would cause him to have flashbacks, the same things that cause flashbacks in all of us, I would guess: the weather, a smell, lighting, someone's clothes or voice, whatever. It happens all the time.

Like, I'll be in the grocery store and suddenly think of being 6 years old and singing old Lady Gaga songs in my underwear. But where it's different is that I'm still in the grocery store and I'm still 20. Mr. Holt's mind sends him back and finds that person he was, then, as quickly as the mind works, it sends that older version of himself forward, intact. He has an episode and suddenly there's a younger version of Mr. Holt standing in front of you. Or, at least there is as far as he's concerned. Sometimes he's a few years younger, sometimes only a few days.

His condition made him famous for a while all across the country. He was on all kinds of shows. He's still a celebrity up here. His classes fill up every year, despite the fact that they are hard, and in a subject no one cares about. He suffers about two or three episodes a month and usually they wear off within an hour or so -- sometimes before the end of class. That's the funny thing about him: he always just rolls with it and keeps teaching. Nothing will stop Mr. Holt from making us conjugate all the forms of "bod."

"I'm sorry. It's the year 2024?" he asked.
"Yes," I said.
"And I'm in Moorhead?"
"Moorhead, Minnesota?"
"This, uhm, iPad thing in my hand... I'm up here teaching Welsh, it would seem. I'm teaching Welsh in Moorhead, Minnesota?"
"It's called a tablet. And, yes, you teach Welsh at MSU Moorhead."
"How the fuck did that happen?"

The class laughed. Partly in relief.

"You say that a lot," I said.
"I do, huh? I'm sorry, please don't be offended, but do I know you?"
"Yes," I said. "It's me, Minnesota. Remember?"
"Your name is Minnesota?"
"Ah. It's a very pretty name. Unique. Beautiful, actually."
"Well, I guess you'd think that. You're the one who came up with it," I said.

Light chuckling through the classroom.

"What, I named you?"
"Yes. I'm Pete Ericson's daughter."
"Pete? My best friend, Pete?" he rubbed his face, doing that man thing of trying to rub away tears. "What? After Alia and... the boy... he's not even born yet."

There was that mystery solved. This Mr. Holt had come from a time before my older brother had even been born. That put him about 22 years or so from the present -- the youngest version of Mr. Holt I had ever met. From his confusion, this was the first time he had ever experienced an episode.

"Pete let me name one of his daughters?" asked Mr. Holt. "Why on Earth did he let me do that? Was your mother in on it? She let me do that?"
"Well, I guess maybe it was their way of saying thanks for the house you bought them."
"I bought your parents a house?! How the hell did that happen? I don't even have money for new shoes, love!"

Laughter. This was why people showed up to Mr. Holt's classes -- the joy of getting to watch someone see himself with fresh eyes. Our lives are so much more than we usually realize. We get lost in the immediate, in the day to day, and lose grasp of how amazing is the whole.

"I guess things get better for you," I said.
"I guess they do. That's very comforting. And I'm very glad to see, Minnesota, that you've not inherited your father's looks."

He was starting to warm, more aware of the fact he had an audience. He grinned and did a little dance of shifting his weight from one to another. His eyes wandered out the window, to the autumn leaves and ivy on the walls of MacLean Hall.

"Minnesota, I'm afraid I've got a lot of questions I'd like to ask you," he said. "For example, this wedding ring on my finger. I'm looking forward to finding out who's on the other end of it. I hope she's hot. Well, I'm sure she is; I've always had very good taste. I'm also eager to find out where I live. And this whole Moorhead thing -- that's really intriguing. But, first, I see by the clock that it is 11:10. I am guessing that, bare minimum, this class does not end until noon..."

"Yeah, class goes 'til 12."

"Fifty minutes. Cool. Good," he said, grabbing pieces of paper from the podium. "And I'm guessing these are my notes. Hey-hey now, da iawn. This looks like the lesson I was just about to teach, actually. I was in Newport just now, setting up for a night course. I had been attacked whilst walking to the class but hadn't called the police because it would have meant missing the lesson. And I needed the money, see?"

1 comment:

Lucky said...

Can't believe no one has commented on this one yet.

Loved it.