When I decided I was going to write my story down, I read some how-to books and watched some videos. One of the things they all agreed on was that the main character needed a strong goal. I don’t know what’s up with that.
Back then I had zero aspirations, not a single life goal. I did not know what I wanted to do when I graduated. I did not want to teach school or farm or be an astronaut or a firefighter or a veterinarian or especially a salesperson. I’d done a few customer service jobs and been fired from all of them for ignoring the customers.
The only thing I’d ever wanted to be was an actress. And that was a very brief thought, unexplored and quickly discarded. But I was taking a drama class.
That’s where I met Kate. She’s important.
She was in the fetal position on the floor in one corner of the classroom. She had gorgeous hair and a face that could have launched a thousand ships into a category four hurricane in the middle of the night without lifeboats, though just then we couldn’t see it.
“Are you all right?” a guy asked her.
Kate didn’t say anything. The guy reached out and touched her shoulder. She uncoiled slowly like a snake or something boneless. “I’m fine,” she said. “I was just practicing being small.”
She got up and went to the middle of the room. “I’m Kate,” she said. “Is everybody here?” I’m teaching this class.” People exchanged looks. She didn’t look much older than me.
“I was practicing being small,” she said. “We’re going to do that for a bit. Then we’ll practice being big. Then we’ll do some of that fun admin stuff we have to do the first day.”
We all made a circle and practiced being small. It didn’t matter what position we assumed as long as we thought that we were small. She told us to imagine something very big like an elephant or tyrannosaur was standing over us, was going to step on us and crush us like a grape unless we were so small it couldn’t help but miss us with its feet. It was very different from what I imagined a drama class would be like.
After practicing being small we practiced being big. Then we paired off and some of us pretended to be big while others pretended to be small.
There was an odd number of students so Kate said she’d be big and I could be small. And I actually became small. She just shot up like a giant. It caught me off guard and I just flattened myself. I kind of felt embarrassed, but she said I did a really good job. She’d believed I was small. “That’s what matters,” she says. “It’s about making people imagine or believe what you want them to. It doesn’t have to do at all with what the reality of the situation is.”
Things made sense then. I tried to be big, with a little bit less success, stamping around and raising my arms over my head as if I were a puppet controlled by a toddler. Kate mimicked my movements, stamping and waving her arms just the same, only somehow she was small when she did it. It was kind of incredible.
Then we got back into the circle and she passed around the student conduct forms and course outlines and she made us read out a paragraph each as a different farmyard animal.
“This is a safe space for everyone to make idiots of themselves,” she told us. “Sound like a fool and you’ll get an A+.”
She didn’t really need to bribe us. We were eating out of her hands by that point. I still can’t put my finger on why we all bleated and meowed and neighed are way through that outline as if we’d all cast out our human minds. If we watched it back on a video tape, I bet you we would all have been freaked out.
Afterward the corridors of the university buildings seem barren, the grounds that were strewn with fall colours seemed lifeless. We’d taken off our 3D glasses and returned to a much flatter world.
One of the guys from the class caught up with me outside. It was the one who’d asked Kate if she was okay. He said, “Some class, eh? I thought drama would just be an easy elective, you know. Something I could skip after partying too hard. My name’s Brian.”
“Laura,” I said. Brian was tall, had hockey player shoulders and a wide, wholesome smile. I thought, hey, here’s a normal person, Laura. Remember your manners.
“Are you going to a class?” he asked.
“No. I was going to get some food and then I have a meeting with someone about moving out of res.”
“Are you in the building where they’re doing all the renovations?”
“Yeah. It’s pretty noisy and there’s like exhaust fumes or something in the halls.”
“Sounds rough.” He reached into his pocket and came out with his phone. “I’ve got a contact here on campus if you’re struggling to find a place or if they’re giving you problems about moving.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I don’t think it’s going to be that tough. I have a place already picked out.”
“Good,” he said. “Umm.” “Guess I’ll see you Thursday?”
“Yeah” I said. “Wonder what Kate will be having us do then.”
He laughed. I felt a warmth squeeze around me at the sound.
Then Monster waved at me and came jogging over. “Hello, Laura,” he said. There was a huge grin, like our dog Marsh chasing a ball, on his face. If he’d had a tail, I was sure Monster would have been wagging it. He had a huge cardboard box in his arms. It had air vents in the top. A label on the box said: This is A Box
I saw the are-you-kidding-me look on Brian’s face when he took in Monster, but it was there only for a second. “Nice box,” he said. Then to me, “See you Thursday then.” And he headed off almost as if he was afraid some Monster would get on his nice clothes.
I was peeved. I’d been having an actual conversation with a cute guy who seemed vaguely interested in me. That was a step in the right direction, surely. And then Monster had come along and scared him off.
“What’s in the box?” I asked.
“Just some stuff,” he said.
I guess you could say my goal at that point was to find a friend more like Brian, in terms of being vaguely regular. But, no. I had the stomach-dropping feeling that hanging around with Monster would isolate me from the other students. I was probably over reacting. Highschool stuff like that probably didn’t happen as much here.
I said, “I’ve got to go to a meeting to see about moving out of res.”
He nodded. “It shouldn’t be any trouble,” he said.
I started to turn, then turned back. “Monster,” I said.
“Never mind,” I said. I’d been going to ask if we could refrain from meeting on campus. We could still hang out off campus, away from people who’d see me. But I couldn’t ask that. “I’ll see you later,” I said and gave him a bright smile.