hen I was in fourth grade, the most exciting thing in the world happened. I was told by actual grownups that I would shortly be possessed of magic powers.
I don't mean any nothing-up-my-sleeves kind of two-bit three-shows-a-night trash. I'm talking about the real thing here. Real live honest-to-gosh magic.
I was told in as many words that I would be able to do anything I wanted. Anything. I spent the interminable weeks before my powers were to be bestowed upon me looking at the tallest trees on my street and wondering how it was going to feel to be flying above them. Not metaphorically flying, like the way you feel when you get an A+ on a test you thought you bombed or you meet that certain special person and the universe just seems to open itself up to you. Actually up there with the birds.
Well, why not? When my parents told me they'd enrolled me in a special children's version of the Silva Mind Control class, they said it was all about tapping those special mental powers that everyone has -- you just have to learn to harness them. They told me that people had been healed of cancer and heart disease just because some of those who had learned had set their minds to making those who ailed well again. And of course there was the spoonbending.
That was the big goal. And the big test, as I'd find out later. That was what we were all aiming for -- moving metal with our minds. We'd seen it done. Uri Geller was all over the tube at the time. He could, it was reported, make a set table look like someone had taken a flame thrower to the cutlery just by thinking about it.
Which sounded like fun, but it wasn't what I was waiting for. After all, spoons worked better in their original shape; and if for some reason you really wanted them bent, you could always apply your hands or some tools instead of your mind. Why get so excited about what could, if necessary, be achieved by mundane means? I wanted something entirely new. I wanted something that had never been done and never could be by anything but magic. I wanted to fly without wings.
The night before the weekend-long class I barely slept, though we had to be up early for the drive out to the city -- itself a huge event in our quiet suburban lives. My three sisters and I were crammed in the back of the station wagon, for once hardly fighting at all. I was almost as distracted by the novelty of all of us being together and going somewhere exciting as I was by what awaited us. We had never been to a theme park or a museum in all my ten years of life, though we lived in southern California where these weren't exactly lacking; but now here we were, all headed out together in search of a great adventure. At two hundred 1978 dollars a head.
My parents had their priorities straight. We children were dropped off and told we'd be picked up again in eight hours, after that first day's class. I don't remember if my parents were taking another Silva class themselves (they'd already completed the course once, but repeat visits were encouraged) or just went off to relax and enjoy a rare childless day. At any rate, I didn't miss them at all, though I tended to be the homesick type. We were finally here. Our dreams were about to come true.
They would take some getting to, apparently. For the first several hours, we learned nothing but a lot of closing our eyes and counting backwards, which was relaxing but rather dull. We were taught how to make ourselves wake up at any time in the morning that we wished without needing an alarm clock, which looking back seems pretty funny since the oldest among us there was fourteen. I mean, we were still at the age where our big goal was not to wake up in the morning. Our mothers were our alarm clocks. But this skill, we were told, would come in handy later in our lives.
Then there was a lot of visualizing. I hated this. I thought entirely in words and concepts. When I closed my eyes and tried to make a picture of something in my mind, I saw nothing but blankness and fog. But all the other kids seemed fine with it, so I sat quietly and faked it as best I could.
Then, finally, came something exciting. We were told that we should now go to our special backward-counting place -- our "level" -- and imagine what we wanted most. We should think about that and only that for several uninterrupted minutes. And then we would be able to have it.
Those were the best five minutes in my life. I felt myself lifted into the air, felt the trees brushing beneath my feet, felt a delightful bit of elevator stomach as dipped and dove as free as a hummingbird. I still couldn't see much -- but how much, after all, would I be seeing when I was really flying? It was the feeling that was important. That was what I was after. The view could wait.
Afterwards we all talked about what we had thought of. I was a little surprised at how materialistic everyone else's wishes were. One boy had wished for a scooter. One girl had seen herself jumping on a brand-new trampoline in her own back yard.
"Those will come," our teacher, an earnest young man, said solemnly. "Visualize them every night, and they'll come to you."
I was taken aback. Come to you? Someone would buy them for you, he meant.
Was that what this was all about? Was the big goal of learning to control our minds -- psychic abilities and all -- being able to mentally manipulate our parents into shelling out for extra cool toys?
"And what did you wish for?" our teacher asked me kindly, looking and sounding like a sandy-haired Santa.
"I want to fly," I whispered, embarrassed at everyone's eyes being on me.
He smiled. "And where do you want to fly to?"
"No, no," I said a little louder. "I don't mean on a plane. I mean I want to fly. Just fly. Me. All by myself."
He frowned. "People can't fly," he said.
"I know. That's why I want to."
"But, I mean, you can't."
"You said we could do anything if we thought about it hard enough," I said, thinking this was a test of my faith.
He looked pained, and I felt the first tremors of doubt. "Yes, but I meant -- you know. We're talking about setting goals, and then achieving them. That's what Silva is all about."
"A trampoline isn't a goal. And you said we could make people better and bend spoons and stuff. If we can do that --" "Well, why don't we move on to that," the teacher said. "Making people better.
The spoons are for tomorrow."
They were. The grand finale. But first we all had to think about someone. We didn't know his name, but he was sick.
"How will we know when he's well?" I asked.
"You'll just know," the teacher said.
"You'll feel it."
This worried me. I preferred something more concrete. "Maybe we could write to him," I suggested. I loved writing letters. "And he could write back and tell us how he's doing."
"We don't do that," the teacher said a little shortly.
"That's just not how we do things," he said. "And now it's time for a break. You guys have been working very hard."
We played games and hung out and didn't do much more until our parents came to pick us up. I didn't say much when they asked how class had been. I felt disconcerted and vaguely alarmed. But it was only the first day. The really cool stuff would come tomorrow.
Before we started messing with the spoons on Sunday, we were told that now we would learn to have our own very special place to go, in our own minds. It was a room, but what kind of room was entirely up to us. We should decorate it any way we wished, and then, any time we wanted something, we should shut our eyes and come here and think about it.
Great. More work for my nonexistent visualization skills. I went along with it for a while, then gave up and daydreamed behind my closed lids. I wished I'd brought a book.
Then at last it was time to haul out the unfortunate cutlery. This was the least structured, and least supervised, segment of the class. We did not have to sit quietly at our desks with our eyes shut and concentrate on bending metal, though we could if we wished. But a lot of people got better results just going about their business with their spoons clasped absently in one hand. And so the teacher -- a different one today, a motherly young blonde woman -- hauled out a lot of toys and games and said we should just have fun. Then she went out to get a cup of coffee.
As soon as she left, the spoons started bending. They couldn't help it. Dozens of eager young hands went at them like grandmothers at a white sale. When I told the teacher about the not-so-psychic metal motion, she smiled and told me not to worry. They were just loosening the spoons up -- flexing their necks so they would bend more readily to the mental pressure that would soon be brought to bear.
"I didn't know we were supposed to do that," I said, looking at my own unmoving spoon.
"You can do whatever you want, sweetheart." Except bend a spoon, apparently. I tried the sneak-attack mode, just glancing down every now and then after a particularly exciting game of Perfection or Simon Says. Nothing. Toward the end of the day, I gave that up and sat myself down in my chair. I went to level with special care and thought of nothing -- nothing -- but bending my spoon. Even I could visualize a spoon. I saw the molecules like tiny blocks, nudged them with my mental hand and watched them yield readily to pretend pressure. But when I finally opened my eyes to check -- slowly, or I'd get dizzy -- nothing had happened. Nothing had changed. I couldn't do it.
How would I be able to launch myself into the air and stay there, if I couldn't even tweak a spoon out of alignment?
My next oldest sister fared little better than I had, and she admitted that the little hump in the neck of her spoon was probably from heat of her hand clenching it for several consecutive hours. My younger sister, whom I'd caught more than once wrenching at her spoon for all she was worth, had achieved a tradition, upsidedown U over-the-fingers fold. My very oldest sister was the star of the class, with a ripple in her handle that the teacher hailed gleefully as absolutely impossible by mundane means.
That night my parents took us out to dinner to celebrate. They consoled me over my failure. I just had to keep trying, was all. It would come.
It didn't. I spent whole afternoons that damned summer, sitting out on the back porch with a grape soda with one hand and a fresh spoon in the other, and closed my eyes and did every mental exercise they'd taught me. I waited for a miracle. All I got was a sunburn. And the ostentatious ostracization of one family on our block, whose parents told their two children (one of whom was too old for me to want to play with anyway) to stay away from us because we believed weird things. They were Catholic. They believed that wine could turn to blood and blood to wine, that if they behaved a certain way during their corporeal existence they'd go to a magic place in the sky after they died. But bending a spoon with your mind -- that was too far out. I guess it's whatever you're used to.
Gradually I became accustomed to the idea that I would never fly. But I never stopped feeling cheated. And confused. They'd said nothing was impossible. They'd said people were limited only by their own doubts. They'd held up Geller the miracle-worker as a shining example of what might be possible if people would just believe in themselves. And then, when I said that I wanted the impossible and I had no doubts at all that I could achieve it, they told me I was aiming too high, quite literally.
If they'd been speaking metaphorically about the miracles, why haul out the faithhealing? If we weren't supposed to wish for anything as showy as flying, why tell us to bend spoons? And if our teachers really believed we could bend spoons -- and even now I think they did -- why rule out flying? It was a matter of degree, not kind. If I could move a little metal, surely I could build up to pushing my sixty-pound self up in the air.
I didn't know the answers to these questions then. I don't now. But I know what I wish for when I close my eyes at night. I wish I had all that time I spent thinking about spoons back. I wish my family had decided to take the money they blew on that Silva weekend and taken us on a really nice trip somewhere. I wish I had at least my own two hundred bucks back. I still like the idea of flying; I'll take it any way I can get it. And plane tickets are cheap if you plan ahead.