THE LAST DAY OF SCHOOL, AGAIN

This is a recycled post, but I can’t help thinking about it this time of year.

Most seventh graders can’t wait until summer vacation. But I dreaded it. She was leaving, and I’d never see her again. 

Through that winter and spring, she was my reason for getting up in the morning. She’d been in my class for years, just another one of the girls. Until one day in seventh grade when she wasn’t. There were some whispers, some notes exchanged behind backs. What I gathered was that she liked me a little bit, and then of course I suddenly liked her a lot. That was the beginning of the romance and the end of all conversation between us. Communication after that was through intermediaries or tightly folded correspondence.

The chandeliers turned on above her head. She had gray eyes and a haircut in the style of the Olympic ice skater Dorothy Hamill, as did almost all of the girls and quite a few of the boys.

I went back through all our class photos. How could I not have seen what a beauty she was?

It was late winter. The radiators knocked in the background and I snuck peaks at her. Sent her notes about how bored I was and was she bored too?

Our teacher, knowing seventh graders, moved all our desks around frequently those last months of school. Sometimes the girl with the gray eyes was on the other side of the room. For three electrifying weeks she was only two desks away. 

But it didn’t really matter. I knew where she sat at all times and there were always ways to notice her. She held her pencil to the side of her face during math and pressed the eraser into her cheek while she thought. A little dimple around it. I thought: It’s an amazing person who does something like that. Beautiful and brainy.

The weather got warmer in May and our recesses got lazier. The boys didn’t play kickball or basketball but stood in circles and talked about the summer. We all looked to where the girls were. By that time of year, their uniforms, like ours, were exhausted and counting the days along with the rest of us. But I thought she was Audrey Hepburn.

Then there was a note from her. Call me tonight, and her number. We were still at the age when it was unusual to call, so I knew something was up and it could only be bad news. I waited until everyone was out of the room and dialed. I hadn’t spoken to her in weeks, so it was like talking to a stranger. We complained about school and how we couldn’t wait until the last day, then she took a deep breath and told me her dad was being transferred and they were moving. Very far away and very soon. 

The last Friday in May, which I had been thinking about since fall, suddenly became the end of all days. The classroom was stuffy and we yanked open the windows. The teacher didn’t bother teaching that last week but instructed us on cleaning out our desks. I lifted the top. All the leavings of the year were in there. I had been so sick of this desk, and now I wanted to sit behind it for the rest of my life.

The day came. I woke up early. Same old uniform. Same old walk by myself. But the school was buzzing. There were trash cans stuffed with paper and workbooks everywhere in the halls. Summer vacation was hours away! And when you’re in seventh grade and the eighth graders have already finished and their class is abandoned, that is the day of your coronation as the absolute monarchs of the school.

We shuffled through last routines in class, our teacher said have a happy summer. It was so fast, there was no time alone with her. My desk was barren.

Then it was over and we were all around the playground. The girl with the gray eyes came over to me with a piece of paper. Here’s our new address, she said. I got it last night. Write me. She pressed it into my hand and got into the familiar blue station wagon with her mom and left.

Later, when I looked at her address, it was in a state that was on the other end of the earth. I wrote her a a few times over the summer, and she wrote me back. Then we stopped. It was hard to think of things to say. I told her I was having a fun summer and going to the pool a little but was getting bored and was kind of excited for school to start again.