Back to School

When we were kids, my cousin threw himself down hills and and crashed into trees on his bicycle during the last few days before school resumed. His thinking, creative as it may have been, was that a broken arm would allow him to miss the first few days of school and, as a result, happily prolong his summer.

During those final, fleeting days of summer, I spent my time sharpening pencils and organizing my Trapper Keeper. I couldn’t wait for school to start. The anticipation of new teachers, new subjects, and seeing old friends made the hours before our first day back seem endless.

Whether we dreaded it or looked forward to it, the future always turned into the now, and we returned to school.

And now that I have run out of first days of school, I still get the first-day-approaching feeling every year when late August rolls around. It seems like an inevitable, visceral, reaction to shorter days and cricket song in the evening.

This year, I went back – to the schools three generations of women in my family, my grandmother, my mother and aunts, and I, all attended in Leicester, Massachusetts. I brought a camera instead of freshly sharpened pencils. Assistants and custodians graciously opened the doors to me as teachers were busy preparing for the new school year.

A familiar combination of floor wax, books, and generic cafeteria aroma ushered me into a hazy dreamlike experience where I belonged, but was an outsider. As often happens, the passage of time made everything seemed smaller and, I hate to admit, a little vintage. The dream snapped into sharp focus when I was confronted with my high school locker. I walked up, entered the combination, and it opened as if by magic. For a brief second I could hear my friends’ laughter in the hallways and felt again like my entire future was ahead of me.

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