“OK, pick a word,” Mika said as soon as I sat down.
I was a little out of breath because I had run all the way from the bus terminal in the middle of town to our school, and had made it to our psychology class just in time. I dropped my blue backpack on the floor, and sat down in the first row, next to him.
“Any word,” he added, like a magician, ready to amaze his crowd.
So I did.
Winter mornings have never been as dark as during my second year of high school. Not only didn’t the sun come up until at around 9.30 in December, on a clear day, it also set again at 2.30 in the afternoon. Basically, that meant that it was dark when I took the bus to school, and it was dark when I walked back to the bus in the afternoon. The whole day was dark, and if I didn’t run to the store during lunch break, I didn’t see natural light that day.
It felt worse in the morning, especially on Wednesday mornings because that’s when I had my psychology class. I don’t know why I had opted for that, most likely because the other options must have been classes I was no good at. But psychology sounded interesting, and with 30 years’ worth of hindsight and reading popular popular psychology magazine, I still find it interesting.
I had just two problems with high school psychology classes.
One, the teacher who was less than inspiring. And two, those mornings.
Since it was an optional class, kids from all three classes in our school took the class at the same time. To make the disruption to the regular teaching as small as possible, they had to schedule the psychology class either for the morning, or as the last class in the afternoon. It was scheduled as the first class on Wednesdays.
That wasn’t an insurmountable obstacle, it just felt like it. After all, my friends and I had taken our bikes to the hockey rink at six in the morning, just to get an hour and half of free ice time. And to be fair, I did make it to school for eight o’clock every Wednesday morning, as did Mika.
As was the teacher, who also doubled as our religion teacher. But even that would have been fine had she been inspiring and excited about the subject matter and I just didn’t think she was. (She seemed much more engaged in our religion class).
Mika and I quickly realized two things. First, the thing I just said about the teacher, and more importantly and related to it, that she had a habit of standing in the middle of the classroom, probably because that way she could keep an eye on the pupils she considered bad apples way in the back of the room.
That’s why Mika and I sat in the first row, now behind her back, minding our own business.
“Have you picked a word?” Mika asked me.
“Hold on,” I said, and opened my psychology textbook, then ran my finger down the page and just stopped at a random place.
“That it?” he asked me.
I looked at the word. “Deprivation”. It sounded good, even though I didn’t really like the d in the beginning. I knew it was bad news because not many Finnish words have a d.
“Sure, let’s do that one,” I said.
Mika stared at my book for a few seconds. Then he wrote down a word in his journal.
“Ride,” it said.
“Invade,” I wrote back.
And so on, until neither one of us could come up with any words using the letters in “deprivation”. Then we’d pick up a new word and work on that and then a new one until the class was dismissed.
Mika and I lost touch for decades after high school, but I’ve played the game with others, most recently with Daughter on our bus rides from school. Instead of letting her play games on her phone, I’d come up with different word games and one day a couple of years ago, I pointed at an advertisement and told her I had a new game in mind.
“Pick a word,” I told her.
“Any word on that ad,” I added, like a magician.
“And then we’ll try to come up with new words using the letters in that one. You start,” I said.
We played the game all the way to our bus stop, and continued playing it as we walked up the hill, all the way to our front door.
“That was fun,” Daughter said.
“I know. I used to play that with a buddy when I was in high school,” I told her.
And looking back, I did learn something in Psychology 101 in high school: That good memories last forever and they keep your buddies with you wherever you go. And that you can make magic with words.