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School Memories: Slipping Through My Fingers

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SCHOOL BAG IN HAND, SHE LEAVES HOME IN THE EARLY MORNING

WAVING GOOD-BYE, WITH AN ABSENT-MINDED SMILE

I WATCH HER GO WITH A SURGE OF THAT WELL-KNOWN SADNESS

AND I HAVE TO SIT DOWN FOR A WHILE…

I clenched my Trapper Keeper with arms folded across my chest, even if it would have fit nicely into my new backpack. It was the only armor I had, and I held it over my heart as if that might shield me from missing my Mom. We gathered at the neighbor’s house for the traditional ‘First Day of School’ photo, then made off in a loose pack to McNulty School. This was the day I’d been dreading since the first back-to-school commercials had begun airing a few weeks prior.

I’m not sure why. At the time, school had been an easy and relatively enjoyable thing. I was a straight-A student (gay-A student?) and I never struggled with schoolwork the way some of my class did. I also didn’t have any real social anxiety after the first day or two. This was back before we entered adolescence and puberty, when boys and girls got along and were easy friends without any sort of separation or teasing, back when it didn’t matter what you wore, where you lived, or where your parents worked. Childhood was the great equalizer – the innocence of childhood, that is. We aren’t born hating or categorizing or judging others – we learn that – and in those early grade-school days I hadn’t experienced the darker side of it. Still, I didn’t want to leave the safety and security of home, and I certainly didn’t want to leave my mother’s side.

SLIPPING THROUGH MY FINGERS ALL THE TIME

I TRY TO CAPTURE EVERY MINUTE, THE FEELING IN IT

SLIPPING THROUGH MY FINGERS ALL THE TIME

DO I REALLY SEE WHAT’S IN HER MIND

EACH TIME I THINK I’M CLOSE TO KNOWING, SHE KEEPS ON GROWING

SLIPPING THROUGH MY FINGERS ALL THE TIME

It had been a few years since I’d hidden under the table, crying with the other boy who was afraid to leave his mom, but I still dreaded the arrival of school. Even now, I get a wave of heartsickness when those back-to-school commercials start. The familiar dread creeps into my stomach, the same way a recurring nightmare has one gasping for air, no matter how much you know it’s not real or actually happening.

SLEEP IN OUR EYES, HER AND ME AT THE BREAKFAST TABLE

BARELY AWAKE, I LET PRECIOUS TIME GO BY

THEN WHEN SHE’S GONE THERE’S THAT ODD MELANCHOLY FEELING

AND A SENSE OF GUILT I CAN’T DENY

Those early fall mornings, filled with fog, and so brisk before the sun broke through, were a tense time. The smell of toast and the warm glow of the kitchen lamp above the table were comforts, but only mild ones. The subdued rustling of a newspaper was the only whisper made as we all adjusted to the early hour. My brother and I finished our breakfast then walked across the street to meet the Mitchell girls for the walk to school. In their kitchen, we waited awkwardly for the three of them to get their stuff together. It was noisy and loud and chaotic – a different scene from our subdued home – and one that held its own allure and drawbacks. Every friend’s house we went to seemed strange and exotic, as I’m sure ours seemed to them. Some I envied, some I dreaded, and all were fascinating.

By that point, I’d almost outgrown the sadness I felt at leaving home every morning, but it would rear its head again as sickness and other manifestations of deeper problems added to my angst. I wasn’t quite there yet, and in that purgatorial fog I held on tight to the supposed ease of being a kid.

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE WONDERFUL ADVENTURES

THE PLACES I HAVE PLANNED FOR US TO GO

WELL, SOME OF THEM WE DID, BUT MOST WE DIDN’T

AND WHY, I JUST DON’T KNOW.

SLIPPING THROUGH MY FINGERS ALL THE TIME

I TRY TO CAPTURE EVERY MINUTE, THE FEELING IN IT

SLIPPING THROUGH MY FINGERS ALL THE TIME

DO I REALLY SEE WHAT’S IN HER MIND

EACH TIME I THINK I’M CLOSE TO KNOWING, SHE KEEPS ON GROWING

SLIPPING THROUGH MY FINGERS ALL THE TIME…

I don’t know if my parents ever felt those pangs of not wanting us to grow up, not wanting to send us out on our own. Maybe that was their way of making sure that we could do it, and for that I’m retrospectively thankful. (I’ve seen far too many kids today get coddled and pampered, and I worry how they will deal with the reality of a world that’s not going to treat them so carefully.) Back then, from the child’s perspective, I’m sure I felt a little slighted, but I remember thinking (while on a summer vacation with my Mom and brother) that maybe we were all a little sad at how things had to change.

SOMETIMES I WISH THAT I COULD FREEZE THE PICTURE

AND SAVE IT FROM THE FUNNY TRICKS OF TIME…

SLIPPING THROUGH MY FINGERS…

Whenever the first week of September rolls around, I feel the same dread and worry, even all these years later. It feels even more urgent of late, as many of my friends are sending their kids off to school. They’re on the other side of it now, and I don’t envy that either.

SCHOOL BAG IN HAND, SHE LEAVES HOME IN THE EARLY MORNING

WAVING GOOD-BYE, WITH AN ABSENT-MINDED SMILE

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