This Old Town
The twins spent the week at a camp housed in my old elementary school. I hadn’t been back to the school since my brother transitioned to middle school over 20 years ago. It’s really been closer to 30 years since I had walked through the building. The night before, I had dreams about the school, though I couldn’t really remember where anything was located in the building except the front office.
Until I got in the building.
And then we walked past the place where I was standing when the Challenger exploded. And the library where Jonathan and I declared that when we grew up, we’d live together in Albania. As we turned the corner to the old 4th grade pod where their camp was located, I looked up on the wall and there was my SIXTH GRADE PICTURE. A little sixth grade Melissa in her Live Aid t-shirt staring out of the frame with the rest of my class. After I dropped them off, I swung through the rest of the school; down to my fourth grade classrooms where my teacher said inexplicably inappropriate things to us until it was discovered late in the year that she had a brain tumour that affected her personality. And the lunch room where I spent lunch trying to sit as far away from this one boy because his lunch bag was a mishmash of my worst food phobias all in one place and he accidentally spat food when he spoke.
It was too far to go back home, so I went through my old town trying to find some place to work. I swung by my old old elementary school, the one I went to before my old elementary school, which closed when I was in third grade and was turned into a community center. In the center of the main room, near where the shelves should have been that held the copy of the Phantom Tollbooth (that the librarian claimed I never returned), they had set up a welcome desk and the woman told me that the best she could do for me in terms of space was to set me up on a wooden bench near where my eighth grade boyfriend and I played pool in the summer. He would kiss me reciting the vocabulary words his mother was making him learn that summer.
So I left there (after peeing in the bathroom where I learned the word “fuck” which was written on a piece of toilet paper in my stall back when I was in kindergarten, and I brought it out to an older kid to ask them what it meant before asking my mother just to make sure that the older kid had it right) and went outside to walk around for a moment and see where we played Chinese jump rope (and I got to kneesies one-foot highsies before knocking the rope) and the place of my first kiss. He was a sixth grader and I was a third grader, and he had to bend down to kiss me very lightly on the lips after I blew those weeds at him that we used to call angel dust (angel dust in the PCP-sense, not in some beautiful ethereal sense). I wanted him to kiss me because he was one of the boys who would jump from the top of the red tower, and that seemed like the scariest thing in the world when I was eight.
And then I drove through my old town, past my parents’ old house, and took the long way past my eighth grade boyfriend’s old house (his parents have since died, and last I heard, his brother took over the house and is raising his children there) and the path through the woods that connected our two houses where we’d meet and stand halfway between the two houses filled with adults. And finally swung into the town center, down the one-lane road that always backs up with traffic, and noted that they had cut back the shrubbery near the cemetery revealing more headstones, and took the shortcut past the new library (remembering when the library used to be housed in what is now a bank building) to settle down in the Starbucks to work.
It was weird to be back there. To know everything but not really belong. It felt like speaking a foreign language after years of disuse, realizing that I now refer to it as a foreign language instead of my mothertongue.
Have you ever been back to your old elementary school and what would you remember there if you did?