The kids went back to school yesterday. That’s when I heard that dreaded sound: the bell.
Now I haven’t attended school since the term “Early Birds” actually referred to hungry winged egg-layers, and there was no such thing as Zero Period. So it’s been, let me see, multiply by four, carry the six, divide by . . . a really long time.
But that bell going off raised the hair on the back of my neck, and shot a gallon of adrenaline coursing through my system just like it was yesterday. I think my inner voice cracked while I practiced reasons why I was late.
I instinctively wanted to head towards Mr. Puhl’s P.E. class so that I could hurriedly dress in damp and stinky P.E. clothes and help the “hard kids” exercise by letting them kick me on my exposed shins with their metal tipped boots while we played soccer. How come I had to wear tennis shoes, but they — oh, never mind.
Another bell sounded and my body twitched. It needed to go to the eternally tan Mrs. Cooper’s Algebra class where “no question is a stupid question” . . . except the one you just asked. I’ll never forget that long sigh, the cat’s eye glasses being dropped to dangle by the chain in front of her leathery chest, the pinching of the skin at the bridge of her nose, and her “Well, Mr. Brakeman, if you had been paying attention,” retort.
My memory lurched towards Bob Farina’s English class where no one on the planet shared his love for Shakespeare. Oh forsooth, would that I could banisheth from my mind’s eye the vision of spittle bridging the chasm betwixt Lord Farina’s excited lips as he doth prattle on about King Lear in voice excited, like groom who approacheth betrothal night anon . . .
I turned the corner and was in my 8th grade art class, handing in my still-life pastel to Mr. Ryan who would look down at my finished effort and either say, “That’s a good start,” or, “That’s very good 4th grade work.”
I took a walk down a hallway filled with lockers and remembered Diana Brauf slamming my locker door into my head hard enough to draw blood, and Darren Gallagher saying, “Wow, she really must like you.”
One look at the big building with the mascot painted on it, and I was back in the freshman dance where all the boys were lined up on one side of the gym, and all the girls on the other, just waiting for who would be brave enough to cross the Great Barrier of Humiliation (or Glory), and ask someone to dance while “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” blared through adequate speakers.
But then I remembered growing up in those short moments between the bells, when the halls were crowded with hundreds of kids that I knew by name who were excitedly trying to catch up on what just happened in the last hour, and how everything was open for discussion and at a zenith of emotional intensity.
“What? Debbie Stimmler crashed that brand new fire engine red Thunderbird that her parents gave her? How could she? I’d kill for that car!” (Just for the record, Debbie was fine. We just didn’t think to ask at the time.)
“What? Kenny and Sheila broke up? But they were, like, forever!”
“What? Conrad and Joey streaked the Quad and Mrs. Steiger is still looking for them?”
Then the late bell rang, and I was back in my mini-van, watching the last few stragglers running off into the middle of that beautiful mayhem. And I was glad that I wasn’t late for Mr. Johnstone’s Chem class, because the first six questions he asked would have been saved for me.