This story is a sequel to The Therapy Sessions, which I strongly recommend reading first!
They all sit to casual, but careful, attention; cautiously paying more heed to their phones and other assorted devices than to him. He slaps his cane against the chalkboard once more, and slowly drags the metal tip down its rough surface, screeching the students to a temporary focus.
‘Look folks, I know you don’t give a damn about this class, but pay attention, would you? What I’m telling you might not be worth credits at the end of the term, but it might save your life one day.’
A couple of raised eyebrows; a cough pierces the silence.
‘Life lessons are just as important as whatever else you’re studying. I can’t teach you about unearthing fossils or crafting great sculptures, but this is the very core of adulthood! Making it in society is much less about what you can achieve,’ He pauses, putting emphasis on each word, ‘It is about having the ability to pick yourself up when you do not! About having the experience to fail, and the wisdom to be greater than you used to be!’
Through one of the two open archway doors into the lecture hall, a feminine figure is outlined in black as she walks in. He recognises her immediately; taller and older than anyone else in the room, she saunters confidently into one of the seats at the back, puts her feet up on the headrest of the student in front of her, and listens with a demure smile.
‘It is, it is about how you-’ He falters, stuttering and repeating himself without thinking. The point trails away as his rigid thoughts turn silken and fluid, rushing back in time to familiar images.
‘Do you have to go?’ He asks, her nude form silhouetted in the lights from the city through the window; the gleaming of this unfamiliar place, where neither of them is recognised.
‘We’ve been over this, love.’ She sighs, turning to face him, ‘I’m going. I’m going, and I’m not coming back. And you can’t follow me, not this time.’
‘Tonight’s all we’ve got. I’m leaving in the morning. Don’t waste what we’ve got.’
The lecture theatre rushes back; he clears his throat and tries desperately to focus on the next slide on the projector; a young man falling from a bucking horse.
‘Sorry. Yes, anyway, back to the lesson.’ Eyes and ears have pricked up now; it isn’t like the professor to have difficulties giving his lectures. ‘We all make mistakes. It’s unavoidable. I judge none of you for making mistakes, we must judge ourselves and others on how we recover, who we become after the fall, whether we make the same mistake again.’
She smiles. He can see her so clearly now. Her hair is slightly thinner, and gentle waves of grey have blended into the gold. Her eyes are more tired now; yet still so, so alive. He knew she was back. He’d heard from a friend that she’d caught a plane on the weekend, and then from another that she’d taken the early train back into town. He hasn’t seen her in so very long, though; he doesn’t know what to make of her.
She’s facing away from him. Rifling through her belongings for the ticket; he runs up behind her, spins her by her shoulder and through his tears he just barely croaks what he has to say, ‘Stay. God, please just stay.’
‘Goodbye, love.’ She whispers to him. She’d told him, she’d told him so many times, just how much she didn’t love him. That all they had was a sandcastle, a transient thing waiting to be carried away by the disastrous tide. But somehow they’d stuck; this desperate need for the other had revealed something far deeper. She cursed him every day they were together, for letting her fall in love with him. As he gripped her shoulder, to hold on to her or to hold on to himself he no longer knew, he saw how hard her face was, how strong she was pretending to be; and in the corner of her eye, the faintest hint of another tear.
‘Goodbye, love.’ She’d said, turning away once more.
And now here she was. Just across the room from him. Years later and many deeds darker; they’re once again staring eye to eye. She looks so happy; there is a deep sadness of what she’s done and what she’s lost, but a joy to have returned as well.
‘I will not judge you, I will not judge any of you, for what you do. For what you fail to do. You, you; each and every one of you, you will all fall down. No matter how tall you are, you will be brought low.’ They’re paying attention now; this is a passion they’ve not seen before.
‘Write me a story.’ She said, ‘Just write me a story. Isn’t that how you solve all our problems, how you make everything right? You write the happy ending you’re sure you could have achieved if only you’d tried harder. Write me that story; our story.’
‘You won’t be able to read it.’
‘No. No, I won’t. I’ll be somewhere else, someone else; and if I ever come back, I won’t be myself ever again. But write me a story, and know you wrote it. Know that our story happened, somewhere. That has to be enough, love.’
‘I will not judge you for those failures! And neither must you, or you, or you, do not judge each other on how far you fall! When you are brought low, you must not wallow in how or why, you must climb! You must pick yourself back up and find yourself again!’
He looks at her, he looks right into her eyes. He sees every bit of recognition he dreaded ever seeing again. She has always had such a perfect control over him. She could always call for him, and he would come running desperately to her. He needed, needs, so desperately to be needed, and she so needed him. At least, that is the story he told himself. It is so much easier to pretend he had no willpower; no ability to change or grow beyond who and what they were.
When he finds his voice again, he is barely whispering. Hundreds of young men and women lean forward, trying to hear every syllable: ‘When you find yourself back where you were, you won’t recognise yourself. You won’t be that person anymore, and never will be again. Do not mourn, for who you were,’ He continues; in the back of the classroom, tears begin to fall silently from her eyes. ‘Do not mourn! Instead, celebrate who you were. Celebrate all the wonderful things that person taught you; and then keep climbing. Find out just how much you can achieve, with all your newfound wisdom and strength. Do not fear falling, relish climbing ever higher.’
Somewhere, elsewhere, a bell rings. The students begin to filter out. She hides herself behind stolen notes, recovering her composure. As the last students filter out, he sees she is still sitting, still waiting for him.
He knows her too well. He knows how well prepared she always is. He knows what she’ll have done to protect herself; there is a train ticket to somewhere far away in her back pocket, surely, she hopes she’ll never need to use it but can wear it like armour if she must. She’s looking at him now, just waiting for the queue of students to dissipate so she can descend the stairs and meet him on his little stage.
He smiles at her. She smiles back. He goes to wave but decides against it; but not before she notices, and she laughs at his awkward stillness as they both wait in chaotic silence.
He smiles again, to himself; ‘Climb higher.’ He whispers.
He turns, and leaves through the back exit.