I’m trying not to think of next year; trying not to make a decision about the trajectory of my life; trying not to look forward, all so that I won’t look back. I’m just not ready for it.
Today I packed up my classroom, room 208. I remember so well the feeling of unpacking it, of walking the four endless flights of stairs in the sticky August heat with box after box after box; setting down each one atop another desk with P. looking at me, exhaustedly after each trip; the sweet, unidentifiable aroma of the second floor in the warmth, a smell that I now know my dear friend Linda is responsible for with her incense cubes.
I remember fasting and feeling desperate for water as I blew dust like dandelion snow and sneezed for minutes afterward, particles stuck in my throat and nose. One of my students would sneeze like that each day of the year, and I would always think I just never got those back shelves quite clean enough.
I remember the feeling of nervous excitement, of anticipation; the feeling of pride as I hung the painting of the deer, adjusted the placement of my plants, clicked on my two lamps, and watched P. drill holes into my closet door to install the full-length mirror. (A mirror that would become famous among my students – I would often have them come in to “check themselves out” between classes and I would shoo them away, telling them to BE ON TIME! Several students told me that I’d see a lot of them next year, as I “have the best mirror in the school.”)
I remember the musty, yellow smell of the ragamuffin books on the one shelf in my room, the feeling that I needed to bring them back to life, bring the room back to life, bring myself into life. My new life. A life in which I would spend most of my week in that very room, with its cornflower walls and squeaky ceiling. I imagined myself clicking the lamplight on in the early winter mornings in my room, sitting at my desk grading papers, or planning, or eating my daily apple; or, simply being.
But I don’t remember the winter, don’t remember the cold weather. At least not by smell. I always say that smells change throughout the seasons; talk about how my parents’ home smells deliciously summerish when it gets warm, a smell that may be old wood expanding in the humidity, or allergens, or sweat, but to me means freedom and peace and long, languid afternoons spent floating in the pool and eating pretzels with pruney fingers – pretzels that always taste better because of the chlorine residue and the fact that mom put them out in the white metal bowl with the blue trim. But there’s nothing that reminds me of winter in room 208. Not even those lamps with their 60-watt bulbs softening the bleached fluorescence in the room, nor my winter boots sitting in puddles of former snow near the radiator, nor my thick socks on my curled up toes; not even the asbestos tiles on the floor. I did sit at my desk on those winter mornings, grading by lamplight, but that’s not what I think of when I think of my room, of my BKHS.
What I do think of are those humid, humid, beyond humid afternoons, my brow accumulating sweat despite the ferociously loud air conditioner (far more bark than bite, let me tell you), and the peace of organizing, of sorting, of putting things where they belong in my little world. Of finding treasures, like a lock of baby hair in a sock drawer: the letters my students wrote me on the first day of school, or the remnants of school days past; the bubbled handwriting of a now fully-grown student, or the forgotten resume of a young teacher with boyish annotations. All these I inspect, smile at, regard as sacred.
I wonder what of myself will be left behind when I leave. Who are we in pieces? What pieces of myself will remain and what will the person who finds them think of me? Will they find my lessons and think me creative, or neurotic, or neither? Or perhaps my letter to my students and think me sentimental, or devoted? Or perhaps they will find the letter I wrote to them, whoever they are, taped to the top of the little drawer in my desk, and understand.
What I do think of are the sounds of boisterous laughter echoing throughout my room when I have said something “corny,” or when someone has made a joke. What I do think of are the moments when I had to cover my face with a book because I was laughing so hard (usually trying to conceal my amusement at an off-color comment). What I do think of are my students skipping down the hallways after finding out their grades on the Regents, or having me call their mother to tell them that, YES, they passed! And yes, you should be so proud. What I do think of are the moments I felt my eyes well up during writes, and then spilling over when my students read about their families, and the homes they have left, and their broken hearts, and their endless, endless love. What I do think of are the moments when my stomach would flip-flop over and over, a student in my face and challenging me, and me, fighting with myself internally. What I do think of are the millions of moments spent sharing life with my kindred spirit. What I do think of are the looks on the faces of all of my students on the last day of class, when we realized that we had made it. We had made it to the end, together.
We began in a circle on an 80-degree day, and ended in a circle on an 80-degree day.
And I packed and packed today, carrying box after box down the four endless flights of stairs, joking about the elevator being broken, as on the first day of school, packing my things into our hunter green Honda Civic, feeling like I was moving, but not knowing where from or to. As we pulled away from the school, I didn’t look too hard, didn’t want to say goodbye, didn’t need to. It’s not goodbye, really. Only goodbye to this year, only goodbye to the Saadia of this year. So I did not roll down the window and rest my head on the door as I watched Longwood Avenue recede into the distance. Rather, I sang to the music in my head, looked long at the man sitting next to me, the one who was with me on the first day, and will be on the last, and was in love. With the summer, with a teaching life, with the person that teaching makes me. A better person than who I am without.
So I will not look forward today, nor back. Instead, I will stop for a moment, and look around.