Wednesday, February 25, 2009


The Felix Chronicles, #6

In which we have an unexpectedly moving experience

There's a pleasant chill when I step outside and partake of the festive air as the school day ends. A string of school buses at the curb blends into the yellows and greens of the trees across the street; students trod across the freshly raked grass, backpacks casually slung over their shoulders. A group of boys cackles to my right, one of them exaggeratedly mocking another: “No no – Please let me do it!” and they all laugh hysterically. “Jenneeeeee!” one girl calls another as they rush to embrace. “I got an 87,” she says. “Ninety one,” her long lost pal replies. “I can’t believe how easy that was.”

I’m struck, maybe even shocked, by just how gleefully liberated these kids seem – no matter what they may have to do later, this is a moment of transitory freedom. There’s nothing else they’re supposed to be doing – except actually boarding the buses.

Further on ahead, a couple students actually do, and I can see indistinct silhouettes through some of the windows. Beyond the last bus, an ice cream truck is doing brisk business. Esteban the maintenance guy, who last week I found thumbing through a textbook in my classroom, is directing traffic, which has slowed to a crawl; a gust of wind swirls leaves around an SUV whose driver has raised her hands over the steering wheel in frustration.

Belatedly, I see some familiar faces. There’s Lisa, walking with Tom, who I taught last year. I didn’t know they knew each other. Over there are Joey and Nate; I remember Nate telling me on the Boston trip that he and Joey live across the street from each other. Ginger, who still hasn’t given me the revised version of that essay following the meeting we had weeks ago, is affectionately pinching the cheek of Peter, an openly gay student. Sam is awkwardly lugging a guitar case onto the bus. Just as he does, members of the boys Cross Country team cross the street on their way to Van Cortlandt Park. Some of them will be catching the late bus at 6:15, when it will be dark. Right now the sun, which has been intermittent all day, is blanketed by cloud cover. It will not surprise me if a damp rain begins to fall any minute.

There’s nothing memorable about this moment. Before this school year ends, there will be dozens more like it, varying only with the light and weather. But a year from now, a decade from now, a lifetime from now, fragments of this ritual will suddenly emerge, seemingly from nowhere – the cold gunmetal gray of a bus handrail; the smell of diesel fuel; “No no, please let me do it!” This will be what high school was about. Quadratic equations, haiku, and Alexander Hamilton will be the faded wallpaper.