Back to School

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

It’s in-service week for teachers. This means lots of meetings, some at the school where I teach and some at other schools in the district. Since I work in the same district I grew up in, in-service week sometimes means re-visiting my old haunts.

For today’s meeting, I’m back at my old middle school. Memories I haven’t prepared myself to face grab me by the throat.

Here’s the gym where my social anxiety first bloomed.

Here’s the bathroom where I hid from my P.E. class by locking myself in the corner stall and crouching on the toilet.

Here’s the classroom where I failed my weekly math tests. My teacher had the nasty habit of passing back quizzes and tests in descending order from As to Fs. Everyone else always seemed to have their test by the time the teacher finally got to mine.

Here’s the computer lab where I scrawled a vulgar phrase in MS-Paint and got sent to the principal’s office. I wanted to impress the boy with long hair who listened to Slayer.

Here’s the auditorium where I sat next to my crush, every cell in my body attuned to the distance between her forearm hair and mine.

Here’s the band room where the orchestra leader forced me to write “I will not chew gum in class” 500 times.

Here’s the science room where I watched my teacher push another student to the ground. We had a sub for the rest of the year.

Here’s the hallways where I learned you weren’t cool unless you wore Stussy and Mossimo shirts.

Here’s the hallway every classroom exploded outwards into after the OJ Simpson verdict was televised.

Here’s the tree I sat underneath every day during lunch. This is where I first began to master the subtle and consistent art of hating yourself.

Here’s the locker where friends and I debated the merits of Dave Grohl’s new band.

Here’s the locker where my ears burned from the gross things I heard 8th graders say about the young Spanish teacher.

Here’s the locker where I stashed my failed math and geography quizzes.

Here’s the cafeteria where I accidentally tossed out my final retainer along with the rest of my trash. My crooked smile is a testament to my ADHD.

Here’s the courtyard where Patricia rested her head on my stomach as I laid on my back. The warmth of her brown curls burned a hole through my guts.

Here’s the math trailer where Marissa, obsessed with my Ace Ventura impression, carved my name into her thigh.

My nervous system had become inverted. Everything was so intense. It still is.

To walk through these hallways now is to recognize that, regardless of how far I’ve come, I have yet to transcend the hyperactive terror of my early adolescence.

But maybe transcendence isn’t the goal. Maybe it’s integration. Maybe now I can truly appreciate these old fragments of myself and welcome them home.

As I leave the building after the meeting, I feel … lighter. I consider the 120 middle school students who will be under my care in four days.

I’m ready.

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