The Last Time

I’m sitting at my desk at work for the last time. The room is bare and empty. It’s dark because the lights are on a motion sensor, and I—the only living person in the room—have not been in motion for several hours now. The window is too small and high up in the wall to let in much light.

Today I cleaned my corner of the classroom. I took everything off my desk—off the walls—off the floor. I cleaned the whiteboard. I stacked the chairs. I pushed all the furniture up against the wall. Those were the things on my to-do list today, so those were the things that I did.

What wasn’t on the to-do list—what I did not foresee, did not prepare myself for, and did not acknowledge in writing or otherwise—was everything else I did today.

I packaged my students’ books back into the bags they came in.

I recycled student work. There was a drawing done with crayon by a child I know I loved. There is no name on the paper. With no particular child to link it to, there is no particular reason to save it.

I rolled up all my charts—the ones I made on purpose during professional development afternoons, planning ahead to teach the children things they need to know, and also the ones I made on the fly, sitting on the floor with my students gathered around me while I recorded their words and their learning in bold, brightly colored Sharpie.

I stuffed the last year and a half of my life into cupboards, into shelves that this time next year will belong to someone else, someone I do not know, someone who will fill the role that was mine until a pandemic ripped it away from me.

And now I sit here in a darkened room. There is nothing left that signals that this space was mine. And after today, I will have no reason to come back here again.

Oh, I’m still working for the school district, although these days I’m filling my hours in front of a computer instead of in front of all the children I used to teach. And there are still days I will come to work at the school, days like today, when I’m an on-call interpreter waiting to see if I’m needed.

But there will not be another reason to come back to my desk, to my corner of the classroom I shared. There are no more children to read books to—no more personal belongings to pack up and bring home—no more papers to file and surfaces to clean and furniture to push out of the way so the summer cleaning can begin.

If I were coming back next year, this moment wouldn’t feel quite so poignant. Even before the pandemic I knew I wouldn’t be back next year—knew ever since my now-fiancé and I first floated the word “marriage” into our still brand-new relationship. But the first week we got engaged—that week in February when I came to school with my sparkling new engagement ring (which not a single one of my students noticed)—that week I still thought I’d be here until June. And I had it all planned out—how I would wait until the last day I saw my students, and on that day I would let them know that I wouldn’t be coming back in the fall. And we would read stories and play games like we always did and I would say goodbye, even if they didn’t understand what it meant or didn’t care, but I would understand. I at least would know that I had said goodbye, and I at least would have those memories to carry with me, even after the children had forgotten me as anything but a vague memory of a grown-up who used to read to me when I was seven…

But on the last day I saw my students, I was swept up in what felt at the time like the excitement of an unexpected break from school.

On the last day I saw my students, I thought we would be back to school in six weeks.

Had I known, I would have done things differently. I would have…I would have…

But I didn’t know—no one did—and the school year as I knew it is over for me now. After today, the room that was once mine won’t really be mine any more, because I will not have a reason to come back to this room, to this place.

When I rolled up the charts and the posters, it seemed to me that I was rolling up the last year and a half of my life—rolling it unceremoniously and prosaically, stuffing it into a cupboard I’ll never have cause to open again, pushing it toward the back before closing the door on a chapter of my life I didn’t think would be over so soon.

And even though I knew that today was the last time, I don’t actually remember the moment I shut the cupboard door.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *