I awoke from wonderful dreams of yesteryear, when in the beginning of my senior year at the College of William and Mary, I felt like I was in the movie, Dead Poet's Society. It was the first day of the semester. Students rushed to and fro upon cobblestone paths between halls of academia; a scene of recrudescence since the school days of Thomas Jefferson. On that day I came to class early as I always did. Fifteen minutes prior to be exact. The habit had been instilled in me by the weapon masters of Parris Island, drill instructors of the United States Marine Corps. I had been looking forward to this class, though I wasn't officially enrolled. I came in hope of adding to the class. It was a freshman seminar on Hemingway: The Man and the Myth. I would argue that as a transfer student I never had an opportunity to take part in a freshman seminar. It did not matter that I was now a twenty five year old senior. I loved Hemingway, or knew that I would love him.
The classroom was in Wren Hall. It was the oldest building on campus. Ivy scaled its brick walls. Legend had it that Christopher Wren had designed an earlier incarnation of the building. Wren Hall, like much of Williamsburg, was merely a simulacrum, albeit an authoritative one. During the previous semester, a writing instructor had told us that she had to make sure everyone was out of the building, as she would have to lock the building with an archaic-looking key. It looked like a skeleton key, and it conjured up images of flying keys from a Harry Potter novel, deep in the catacombs beneath Hogswarts. The floor boards creaked, and the air smelt of wooden construction. History seemed to emanate from the walls. Indeed, it was said that a French soldier haunted those fabled halls. In any case, I awaited the class.
One by one the freshman entered and sat. They waited patiently, or pretended to find interest in the ornate wood paneling. The room was dimly lit, and the round windows glowed. Outside the summer sun beckoned. It was as solemn as the Wren Chapel two floors below. There were fifteen students, young, fresh out of high school. Most sported varying forms of William and Mary paraphernalia: shirts, key chains, hats. One girl, light on her feet, so much so that even the floor boards held their silence, must have been a cheer leader; her left cheek was painted with a green and gold W&M like a coy kiss.
The gloomy atmosphere of the classroom was incongruous with my excitement. I toyed with the idea of pretending to be the professor. Instead, I used the old butter-bar lieutenant trick of asking where everyone was from.
Most replied that they were from Virginia. A girl said that she was from Herndon, which was a town near Sterling. Still another guy said he was from Florida. He wore a sweatshirt.
I looked around the room. "Any fans of Hemingway here?"
"I heard he's easy to read," said the girl from Herndon.
"Is that why you chose this class?" I said.
Yeah," she looked down at her shiny new William and Mary notebook, "And I need it for my writing requirement."
A student with straw colored hair, glasses and a lean, hungry physique introduced himself as Little Berry, and said that Hemingway was all right, but he was more into Salinger.
So I told the class that I was excited to be there, that I loved Hemingway, and I couldn't wait to share the experience with them, etc., etc. I had known that I would one love to read Hemingway. My earliest recollection of his name came when I was in middle school. My mother had been reading his biography. During dinner one evening, she told us, "He's so interesting. I gotta tell yuwh, he reminds me so much of my father." However, it wouldn't be until my early twenties that I would finally read one of his books.
"I hope we read Farewell to Arms," I told Little Berry. "It's one of his best."
Farewell to Arms was the first books Hemingway story I read. I had read it while serving the Marines as a Light Armored Reconnaissance scout, three or so months before the end of my active service. At the time, I felt that I had related to the story on so many levels. Now, I wanted to read it again, knowing what I know now, as trained English major.
The teacher came in. Small talk stopped. She introduced herself as Ms. Barnes, and then she told the class to form a circle with our chairs. Her tone was business-like. We all got up and organized the chairs. After taking roll, she looked at me and asked, "Is there anyone here that has not registered for the class?"
I raised my hand. "Ms. Barnes, I am a transfer student. I have never had a chance to take part in a freshman seminar. I'd really like that chance now, especially since the topic is Hemingway."
Despite her glasses, Ms. Barnes' eyes were like nails. "I am sorry, Matthew. This class is for freshmen ."
A ludicrous image of a cartoon rabbit advertising a cereal popped in my mind, "Silly rabbit, Trixx are for kids." The class was silent.
I apologized, gathered my books, and left the room.
Outside I stopped, where upon the stairwell I organized my books, put them into my backpack, and was just about to go on with life.
Ms. Barnes came out of the classroom.
"Matt," she said, "The class took a quick vote and unanimously agreed that you could stay." She looked at me.
I was almost startled, yet I had half-hoped something like this would happen, but quickly dismissed it before full cognizance could dispel the possibility. I couldn't read her thoughts, hidden behind a stoic expression, nerd glasses, and a short hair cut. I told Ms. Barnes that I would love to come back.
I walked into the classroom. Any embarrassment dissolved as the class applauded. I felt like jumping onto a desk and yawping, "Oh captain, my captain!"
In the beginning of our first lecture, Ms. Barnes described herself as "A feminist who loved Hemingway."
"Hemingway's cool," Little Berry said, "But you should teach a course on Salinger."
Now, these dreams of yesteryear energized me. My senses were heightened. The crossing of the Cascades was hyperreal, but now I awoke in a true enchanted forest. Such a statement seemed gay and trite. Yet here I was in the Pacific Northwest where everything was green and vibrant. The canopy above glowed like green stained glass in a cathedral. Ferns and firs grew and grew, and grew upon each other. Everything was mossy. The air smelt of moist earth and plant growth. Yellow winged butterflies flitted about the tree branches. Blue skies beckoned from above. Waterfalls poured from winding heights, and creeks gurgled as water made music upon rocky beds. Everything flowed westward toward the Pacific like some natural, metaphysical law of the cosmos. Great snowcapped peaks oversaw the lowlands. The rivers were turquoise, not muddy brown. Ubiquitous tufts of fuzz floated on the breeze like ephemeral tree tears. The most striking feature of these western woods was the ferns that hung from Fir branches like Inca quipu literature. All this beneath the snowcapped peaks of the northern Cascades.