My first day of school determined the plot of the rest of my life.
Walking to school alone, in the opinion of my parents, would be a beautiful demonstration of maturity.
We lived one block from the school.
I was only late because I stopped to pet a ginger cat along the way.
When I stepped into the classroom, twenty heads turned.
A mature woman pointed to the empty desk.
It was the desk by the window.
A boy who sits by a window will look out the window.
A boy who looks out a window will daydream.
A daydreaming boy grows into a daydreaming man.
A daydreaming man becomes a writer. Or a drunk. There’s no way to predict which.
I took my seat. Then I looked out the window.
I didn’t know it then. But I was doomed.
I remember several things about high school.
I disappeared. This happened quite a bit.
I’d vanish — from a classroom, a gym — and materialize … somewhere else. Without anyone seeing me leave. Without intending to leave, even. But just — leaving.
Eventually, a teacher would notice the empty desk and send some reliable person to retrieve me. That person always checked the library first. They rarely had to look anywhere else.
By grade eight, I was required to present a slip of paper with a teacher’s signature on it, and the date, to the librarian. Or she’d fold her arms and block the door.
I learned to materialize in other spots, too.
In tenth grade, while my classmates were writing a midterm exam, I was sitting in the middle of the baseball diamond, petting a ginger cat. When the cat ambled away, I ambled back inside.
“You missed the test,” said Mr. X, testily.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“You’ll have an excuse. But there’s really no excuse.”
“There was a cat.”
“It was a ginger cat,” I said.
Mr. X rubbed his head. Then he dropped it on the desk. A minute or two later, he lifted it.
“What’s going to happen to you?” he said.
I ask myself that every day.
I went to university for quite a few years. It became a habit.
Whether you attend class or don’t, or daydream, or sleep, it’s all the same to tenured professors. They get their paychecks either way.
It’s a beautiful system.
Lecture theatres don’t have windows. So I started bringing books to class. To educate myself.
I read a lot of Nietzsche in those days. And murder mysteries.
When the library bought new chairs, padded ones, I stopped attending lectures altogether.
I read a book a day, most days. Sometimes two.
It became a habit.
In the ensuing years, via an embarrassment of miracles, I recovered from alcoholism. And wound up a writer.
My desk is by the window.
My cat’s name is Tummywumps. She’s a ginger cat.
I spend more time petting Tummywumps and looking out the window than writing. A lot more.
When I get tired of wasting time indoors, I waste time out-of-doors. I walk an hour or two a day, usually. Not for the exercise, not really. Just — to walk. Tummywumps trails behind me.
There’s an elementary school not far from my apartment. Whenever I stroll past it, I glance at the windows. And I’ll see one, nearly always.
A boy in the window. Gawking at the cat.
And I’ll shake my head. Button up my jacket, and shudder. And walk a little faster.
Rolli’s most recent title is the dark poetic novel The Sea-Wave.