one day, when i was in the second grade we had a substitute teacher who, in typical "sub" style, put on a "made for classroom" movie about tsunamis. i was immediately and deeply fascinated by the idea of a gigantic wave that was as tall as a building and moving as fast as a car, and that would destroy everything in its path once it crashed to shore. better yet, after the scientific facts and graphs explaining the basic physics of the wave, the movie went on to depict a dramatization of a tsunami striking, which began with a boring blonde couple strolling leisurely on a beach, enjoying a nice summer's day. suddenly, the perspective shifts and the woman is filmed facing the ocean, (which the audience can no longer see) with a concerned look on her face. the narrator explained in his matter-of-fact, "this is the cold truth of the world" voice, that when a tide has gone out so dramatically it was a sign that a tsunami might be on its way... and should one ever witness such a thing, they should run (immediatley! don't hesitate!) to high ground.

but there was the couple, standing there holding hands and staring at the sea like dumb ducks.

my classmates and i were at the edge of our seats.

"man," the boy in front of me exclaimed, "those white people better MOVE!"

it was at that crucial, exciting moment that the substitute teacher came over to my desk and told me that there was a lady who wanted to seem me in the hall. i remember trying to look over her shoulder to see the screen, where the couple were shielding their eyes and staring out at the sea...hypnotized perhaps by the dark wall rising on the horizon...?

can i go in just a minute, i asked the teacher, but there was no delaying. she put her hands on my shoulders and steered me out of the room, while i craned my neck to catch a last glimpse of the screen, where the couple had broken into a run...

the image of them on the beach burned into my mind...forever freeze-framed and blasted through with the white light of imminent destruction.

the woman was waiting for me in the hall. she stood beside a classroom desk that had a two stacks of cards upon it, about the size of supermarket flyers. she had long, silky straight brown hair and a warm, smile.

she said hello and asked me to sit at the desk. she told me her name and asked me mine. then she told me that she was going to play a few games with me and ask me some questions. i said yes, although it was difficult to care about anything besides the vision of the actual tsunami, which now i would now get to see.

my sense of frustration was nearly overwhelming, but even so, i noticed that she looked me in the eye when she spoke, and her voice was not one of an adult talking to a little kid, but of an adult talking to another adult.

i sat down and accepted the pencil she gave me.

she then showed me cards with shapes on them and asked me what i saw. they were dark blobs of ink, out of which evil, leering faces seemed to spring as well as exploding buildings and volcanos spewing fountains of blood...all as clear as day, but i hesitated, as i'd already learned that i sometimes made people upset when i described the things i saw.

"it's OK," she said, "there are no right answers...you can draw me a picture if you'd like."

stupidly, i believed her, about there being no right answers. i told her...first just a little--the nicer stuff that was there--but as she showed me more and more cards, i held back less and less, eventually stumbling over my own words in an effort to tell her everything.

"good, good," she said, her voice encouraging but not pandering.

i told her about the fields i saw filled with dead flowers, or the crowds of people running like ants from some unforseen force raining down destruction from the sky...

all the while blue and white light flashed from out of the classroom window, as the hypothetical tsunami struck the hypothetical shore, sucking the hypothetical couple out to sea...

"yes, you've done very well," the hippy woman told me, as she put back the last card in the first deck, face down.

then she reached over to the other deck and got ready to pull up the first card.

"ok, now we're going to do the same exact thing," she said, her voice still warm and adult.

"i'm going to hold up a card and you're going to tell me what you see, only this time," --she picked up the first card and held it up with the plain white back facing me--

"this time i'm not going to show you the picture."

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