by Ethel Rohan
Our college drama instructor, a German ex-pat, seemed to favor me over his American students because I was also European and had an accent and tragic air. He looked like Albert Einstein, only with black hair, and insisted none of us would ever succeed as actors if we didn't use all of ourselves. He liked to say "We each of us are a work of art if we'd only let ourselves." He ordered us out of the theatre and into the great outdoors. There he instructed us on how to nourish and heighten our senses, all six.He took to sitting with me on the park bench next to the duck pond, the sky usually overcast. As instructed, I closed my eyes and listened. There was nothing, I insisted. He coaxed me. In time, I stopped resisting and admitted that I could hear my heart beat, ducks quack, kids cry, dogs bark, and crazies shout. He urged me to go on. I heard sirens, car horns, airplanes, stereos, and the flies buzz. On and on he pressed me.
Another afternoon on the park bench, I closed my eyes and admitted I heard the birds sing and children laugh. The wind in the leaves. Bugs in the grass. Even the bench beneath us: I could hear it breathe. He clapped his hands together and cried out in delight. Weeks later, I could hear the grass move, sun fall, and clouds float. He bucked on the bench.
Next he encouraged our class to look at things, really look. It took practice, but I got to where I could see specks of green in his eyes, a pink scar on his scalp, blackhead in his ear, a brown mole on the back of his neck, blond hairs on his fingers and toes, and how his right arm was shorter than his left. I believed I saw the moisture in air, purple in breath, grey in tears, and orange in blood.
Insatiable, he convinced our class to taste-taste. I advanced from tasting meat, cigarettes, and Coca-Cola to savoring peaches, flowers, and the saltiness of skin.
"The trick is to use all of you," he repeated.
Next he nurtured our sense of touch. I went from feeling my every pore and peach fuzz to identifying fabrics while blindfolded. I balked, though, when he wanted us to tap into our gut instincts, to feel-feel.
He lost patience with me. "What is it you're so afraid of?"
On and on he badgered me, until, through snot and tears, I told him I was afraid of everything.
His expression softened. "Not everything," he said. "Something. There's one thing that feeds all the rest."
He drilled me. "What is it? Say it. Say it!"
I whirled around. "I'm afraid I'll go crazy like my mother."
"Good," he said. "Good."
I backed away from him, trembling and shaking my head. He was ruining me.
Ethel Rohan's most recent work has or will appear in Potomac Review, FRiGG, Southeast Review Online, and Southword Journal. Please visit her blog at ethelrohan.com.