I got faster as I got better, and I always finished what I was creating long before the rest of the class. There was a nook of books in the back of the room, and Ms. Ferris had me go there, and would suggest books she thought I’d like. I read Jack London and Dickens, Twain, Poe, the poems of Emily Dickinson, interspersed with volumes collecting the Peanuts cartoon strips of the 1960s, laden with the existential crises of Charlie Brown and the selfless sagacity—the true writer’s call to connective arms—of Linus van Pelt.
That classroom became a magical space, that was still rooted in the real world. My characters lived with me there, brought in from the bus, and it was as if the entire universe—or the assorted potentials of the universe—could exist within a single room, were reachable within that room, if you knew the access codes. Sometimes Pucci would pop in from across the hall, on some errand, or to ask Ms. Ferris a question. I had the sense that the latter regarded my former checkers rival as an annoyance, but I might have been projecting. Each day took on the temporal value of 100 years, and then I realized that a century wasn’t enough, that in other, more important ways, a clock didn’t exist when it came to stories; there was no timestamp one could place on that which reaches out and connects with someone else and may always do so. What was happening to me in that room, during those periods of recess, when the other kids played kickball and hopscotch, started to venture with me elsewhere, with elsewhere getting closer and closer to becoming everywhere.
My best friend, Andy Smith, lived across the street. We were both big baseball fans, but he hated to go outside, which seemed odd, given that he was sporty and skilled at baseball. He was a shortstop who could, as they say, pick it.
We were at his house watching the Red Sox late that season, right around the time I started composing my stories. The announcer, Ned Martin, who was famous in New England for his Shakespearean references during his broadcasts, made some offhand remark about how the 1983 campaign was nearing its end. I brought that up with my dad later at our house. I asked him if it would ever be 1983 again, and he said, no, when a year is done, it’s done, it doesn’t come around again.
“It only gets the one chance?” I queried, still incredulous, but not as much as I would have expected myself to be. He replied in the affirmative. I asked if the same was true for whatever day that was, September 30, 1983, maybe. He said yes again, and told me that a date on the calendar was finite. I’m not sure how I knew it, but I knew that other things were not, and I knew that writing was one of them. I knew that my writing was one of them. Or it would be eventually, because like those characters I was first getting to know in Ms. Ferris’s third grade classroom, I understood that my own ability existed as beyond me, and that it would also always be present; what would matter was my faith and how far I would keep going. In finite time, for infinite purpose.
My dad had cut the grass that day. I walked over the lawn behind our house. I found a flat rock to sit on in the nearby woods, crisscrossed with walls made up of piles of stones farmers once used to separate their fields, long before we had arrived or were alive. The grass smelled good. I began to write in my head. I closed my eyes, and I wrote. I opened them, and I wrote. Had anyone seen me, I would have appeared to be an idle child doing no more than letting his eyes follow the path of a butterfly. I was a child in the woods behind his house, and in the classroom of his third grade teacher, and a man decades later who has remained in that endless space, and only happens to understand it better today, as he will understand it better tomorrow.