Victor, a first grader, came to school this morning dressed sharp in a bright red shirt, new sneakers and stiff new blue jeans. He bopped more than walked, bounding in rings around his mother who trudged next to him, eyes down on the cracks in the pavement, wearing her weight like a woolen shawl.
The pair came within fifty yards of the playground gate when something in the boy shifted. I heard him growl, saw hime claw at the air, and watched him spin to confront unseen critters who approached from above. I could see that his transformation was total. Throughout, however, his mother gave no clue that she noticed anything different.
Onward she trudged
When he and his mother came within feet of the gate, Victor the Wild reverted. He became good little Victor. The change took only a second. Mom murmured good morning and kept walking. So, I spoke to the boy:
How are you?
He grinned. A couple of teeth had yet to fill in. We both watched as his mom ascended the steps to the blacktop without looking back. I took Victor aside for a short walk.. I had to ask a couple of questions:
Who was that who came with you up the hill? Not your mom. I mean the wild guy? Do you know him?
Victor stopped short. What. . Oh. . .That’s Wild Man.
Oh, Wild Man. . . I see. . .He seems kind of powerful.
Could you see him?
I could see a lot of him.
Could you see all of him?
I saw a lot. Want to tell me what I missed?
The boy eyed me up and down.
Come on, Victor, I can take it. Tell me about Wild Man. . .
So, he let me have it. About how Wild Man comes on, takes over, scares away the sticky-finger people, makes him strong, tells him to eat raw meat, and lets him “smell everything and hear even the tiny sounds.”
Just then, I remembered a piece I had read that spoke of an ancient time – when both people and animals lived on earth. In that time, a person could become an animal if he wanted to and an animal could become a human being.
Animals and people all spoke the same language. “That was the time when words were like magic. They would suddenly come alive and what people wanted to happen could happen–all you had to do was say it. Nobody could explain this. That’s the way it was.”
I beheld the boy before me as basketballs flew overhead. Neither of us budged. Instead, he looked me in the eye:
Principal, can I tell you something? Wolf Man is real. He’s not pretend. That story is me. Right now. Every day. I can’t explain. Do you believe me?
Sometimes magic just shows up. Was this morning was one of those times? I came to the edge of a memory both old and shadowed – one that I couldn’t quite bring forward. I placed an index finger over my lips. Shhhh! Victor. That’s enough for now. Go play! Go!
He split and I puzzled. . .How to make safe the way for this shape-shifting boy?
Might today be a good day to attend to the quiet ones? To the wind bending a single tree or the hawk overhead? Listen both to sounds and silence. Just listen deep and pay attention. Start by saying nothing and breathing. That may be the best place to hear what you have forgotten.