Monday, June 8, 2009


In which we peer into the future on the first day of school

The Felix Chronicles, #33

Morning, first day of school, opening assembly. The student body chatters on the sun-dappled quad; my colleagues and I dot the rim. Summer heat and humidity linger, in no apparent hurry to depart. The collar on my new white oxford shirt is already damp.

A series of speakers go through their paces. The principal welcomes the students back, and gives a special nod to the seniors, who whoop it up: their Moment has come. The senior class presidents – white male, black female, the winning political combination for the past few years – make announcements, all of which are met with disproportionate enthusiasm, some of it mockery. The new head of school comes forward to say how excited he is to be a part of the community. Figuratively speaking, we’ve all been here before, but nobody seems to mind.

My eyes and mind drift, just like everybody else’s. I see my son in the corner of the quad, legs bent, knees in the air: this is his home. Black jeans, red dress shirt untucked, white basketball sneakers with black laces and red trim. Looks effortless, just the way he intended. Truly amazing that the hopeless dork I was in high school could have produced such a child.

My gaze shifts to the broader sweep of the student body. I feel a combination of envy and pity – capturing that sense of promise would be nice, but boy am I glad to have gotten a few things ahead of them under my belt. I look into the faces and imagine some of them as middle aged. Some, I think, will weather well; in others, I see sagging jaws and wan expressions.

And then there’s Marcus, now a junior, isolated in the crowd, plucking the grass and probably wishing he was anywhere else. High school can’t end fast enough for him. Caught cheating on a Spanish exam in June, the dean decided against disciplinary action – his overbearing single father and evident, self-loathing penitence made anything beyond an F on the test seems like piling on. I’ve actually got some hope for him. His overall grades are pretty good; notwithstanding Dad’s unrealistic expectations (no doubt a factor in the cheating), he’ll probably get into a decent college. His skin will improve, and I can imagine him putting on a few pounds. I picture an appealingly incredulous fiancé trying to imagine him as the ungainly kid he currently is, a momentary flash of pity giving way to instinctive affection.

All right kids, have a good year, the principal is saying. The buoyant chatter returns as the gathering disperses. I’ve got about forty minutes before my first class. One last bout of hurry up and wait. The beginning always takes so long to arrive.