She walked along the sidewalk in the early morning fog, the gray sky and scudding clouds overhead providing a perfect mirror of her feelings. As she approached the building, her heels tapping out a staccato rhythm on the pavement, she was consumed with dread and a detached curiosity as to how on earth she was going to deal with this assault on her emotions that was surely going to take place shortly. The door swung open silently, releasing a ruch of cool air from the air-conditioned building. She silently congratulated herself on having the foresight to approach this situation alone, to allow herself to come to terms with memory before she was thrust into the professional role that somehow at this moment seemed secondary to the building pressure behind her eyes, which echoed in her heart. Willing the tears not to flow, she proceeded to embark on this journey for which she had prepared with years of studying and heart-felt dedication. Years of writing lesson plans, forming philosophies, and studying pedagogy had done much to prepare her professionally, but little to equip her emotionally to cope with the heartache of this day.
As she stepped over the threshold into the hallway, a barrage of powerful smells, reminiscent of the passage of time, assaulted her senses. The lingering, tangy scent of formaldehyde intermingled with the smell of aged paper and sweeping compound would forever bring forth in her memoty this building, and the many afternoons she had spen here as a child. A silent prayer went up as she again thanked God for giving her the wisdom to confront this at such an early hour, before the place became a swarm of activity and all privacy was lost. She made her way slowly down the corridor, observing the chipped tile covering the walls, the carred wood of which the doors were constrcted, and over there was the custodian’s closet, her favorite hiding place when playing hide-and-seek with the few other children who spent their afternoons here. As she turned the corner, she glanced into the room where she had in later years sat and completed her homework, secure in the knowledge that if she needed him to assist in any way, he was right down the hall.
If she listened closely, in her mind she could almost hear the echo of footsteps and laughter, of lightheartedness, hope, and dreams for the future. She could almost catch impressions of the students who walked these halls, many hundreds of students whose hopes and dreams had been encouraged and respected by him. Just a few steps more and she would be there, in the place where his presence was so strong in her mind’s eye, where she could still smell the lingering scent of his pipe tobacco, and where his booming laughter seemed to echo from the walls. Right there on the desk is where the picture of her in her treehouse had stood, framed in a frame made of Popsicle sticks and painted red because that was his favorite color. She walked around the desk and sat down in the chair that had once been his, the one where he sat as she climbed up onto his lap to hug his neck when she came running in from school, or where she sat and waited for him shile he was teaching a class, whirling around and around in the chair until she was dizzy. Tears stung her eyes as she looked around the barren room, empty of even the vaguest physical reminder of him.
If only she had come back here in the decades that had passed since her childhood, perhaps these impressions on her senses would not be quite so reminiscent of that happy time, of which he was so much a part. If only the memories in this place weren’t so poignant, so close to her heart. She sat down in the chair, looked out over the desk, and replayed in her mind the countless memories she had in this room. As she sat and absorbed the aura of the room, she was amazed at how close she felt to him here, how at peace, and how filled with the knowledge that she had come full circle. She leaned back and closed her eyes, coming to terms with these emotions. Then she pushed back the chair, and began unpacking the box that she had tugged with her from the car. She placed her books on the shelves, hung her certificates and degrees on the walls, and on the desk next to the photograph of her family, she placed a picture of him, framed in Popsicle sticks painted by her son in his kindergarten class, because it was her favorite color.