Early in the morning, he can shake the apathy off his shoulder. The calm dullness of the morning sunlight beaming down on him, the momentum of his body as his feet hit the pavement, the feeling as his glasses bounce ever so slightly on his nose–it’s easy for it to fall off and die on the pavement. The apathy on his shoulder never stood two halves of a quarter of a chance in a lottery rigged so the mayor’s son would win, no sir. Apathy couldn’t really stand up to the power of morning sunlight, cool air, and the will to put feet into motion.
Mr. Brown can shake the apathy off his shoulder, but he can’t shake the apathy off the shoulder of that kid sitting silently in his classroom, looking down, not concentrating, carelessly careful to avoid achieving the slightest bit of momentum. Not there, no, not there.
When he runs, though, when the adrenaline is at full tilt, when his feet move so fast the cool air becomes cooler, and it’s that super-real thing called “will” pushing him forward, thoughts become power and defeatism loses to feetism (the power embodied in feet), then, maybe, maybe….
He wakes up at dawn in two places; two people. One place is the kind of nice neighborhood he lives in now, its occasional garden, occasional luxury car, and quietness. The other place is not so nice, with the occasional fight, the occasional drug dealer, occasional drug bust, and the ever-present noise. The calm dullness of the morning sunlight keeps him focused on his path and his goal: to shake the shadow behind him.
When he runs, he runs with his glasses on. His feet hit the pavement to the rhythm of his heartbeat, faster than a sleeping heartbeat. He takes pride counting them. Then, when the feet hurt and the will wavers, the screaming starts. He screams loud things in his head to frighten off the shadow of a man who would look with complacency at the comfort and old age education has brought him—more than he fears gangs, disease, and politicians, that shadow of a content man. Not a real man as far as that super-real thing the “will” is concerned. When he finishes the occasionally nice neighborhood is there, but the ghetto remains in his head.
He runs a mile, eats breakfast, and is fully dressed for work before the clock taps seven. He shows up to work an hour early and reviews his notes for the day. He reads newspapers, essays, and magazines. Debating in his head, he thinks now he can make the words move and work for him.
When asked by his students why he became an English teacher, he replies that he believes there is no nobler profession than an educator—a potentate of potential, negotiator of knowledge, farming fragile faculties. He preaches the virtues of reading and rereading. He says it’s soul-inspiring, life-nourishing, life-saving. It’s the words that can do the work of saints and devils, and word-users anyway are paid more than mechanics.
He can shake the apathy off his shoulder, but he can’t shake it off the shoulder of a kid, face-down, there and not there. But when he wakes up at dawn, runs, screams loud things in his head to scare off the shadow, comes to work early, does the debate in his head and then makes the words dance, he believes he can shake the apathy off the kid’s shoulder–hell, off anyone’s shoulder.
When he wakes up at dawn he thinks he can. If you can get a head start, if you can wake up when that alarm goes off, you can accomplish anything. You can shake off the disadvantages heaped on you for generations and accomplish those amazing feats (feets?) that seem ordinary. If you can wake up before the sun you can wake up in the projects you were born in. Wake up, relive them, and run past them. You run past them so fast you run the next kid out of the ghetto with you.
With words like lightning, a Spartan yet thinking like an Athenian, he runs in a pretty average neighborhood, teaching and preaching to pretty average students, accomplishments so average you wouldn’t hang them on a wall anywhere except in the ghetto in your mind.
Mr. Brown still lives there.
Mr. Brown thinks only of the ache in his feet, the debates in his head, and words moving like lightning.