I knew it was time to go when the posters came down. Tipping point on a Thursday morning: the day before, stormy with sunshine, the building to myself, Thank You for Smoking on the projector. The walls are bare. Nothing left but Taoist blocks and boxes.
Six years in this classroom. Nine years in this school. Seventeen years in this career. Another move, and it’s about time. In any move you pass the point of nostalgia, where packing and sifting and trashing puts your fingers on items long forgotten, tucked away for rainy days that didn’t need those umbrellas: half used reams of paper, CD’s of old computer files. And then at some point, the nostalgia begins a slow fade. The best memories have been packed or discarded to make room for the new. The old and familiar becomes colorless white walls, void of meaning, primed for demolition.
If you’ve ever moved, you know the moment I mean. Moving, like grief, has its stages. For years, I’ve been hearing they’re tearing this building down–with its glorious windows and thriving cockroach population–and for years I’ve denied it would ever happen. But the boxes came, and with them a six-month flurry of email instructions contradicting the previous ones. I put off packing for another day.
But the building is up, and the date to abandon these old walls has come. There are only these brief hours to stand–as Thoreau once said–on the brink of these two infinities.
Gone to the waste or recycled are old papers I once felt important. Old student projects. Resources used rarely if at all. Books that went from workshop to shelf, never to be cracked again. Two LCD projectors and fracked, fifty-foot cables that I used to drag my classroom’s 20th century ethos into a 21st century digital technology through one dusty, misplaced internet port.
The future is new, clean, technological. The past is faded bricks, large windows–beautiful light and vistas with horrible energy efficiency. A two-tiered HVAC that roasts or freezes. Tall ceilings. Wood paneled walls. Ceiling tiles where a yearly battle against the mold is waged. Cockroaches and dead mice. Pat’s face. There is no room for these beautiful inefficiencies, in the new and modern world.
As we move into new space, there is an attempt to bring continuity from the old. Perhaps the water is the same, if just in a different container, one with newer pipes that I’m not so leery to drink from. There are still lessons on rhetoric, discussions on dualism, viewings of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There are essays submitted in the old building that will be returned in the new, passed out and cringed over on new and shiny desks, devoid of drawings, ongoing interclass conversations and “Thug Life” etchings. Behold the old become new.
Inevitably the last purge comes, where the wheat and the chaff, the necessary and extraneous are divided. A roll of white bulletin board border. On the surface? Valuable. But as I drag it from the recesses of my wardrobe, four adult cockroaches scurry up my arm and shoulder, angry I have disturbed their ancestral home. I’m fuming. I’ve lost all nostalgia. I want to strike a match and walk away. But I must push through the anger and revulsion. There are more decisions to make. The cardboard guitar–a gentle exchange among friends, changing hands for over fifteen years. It goes down with the ship, standing proud stop the bow until the bitter end.
And then I find the jewels, tucked away in the top left drawer of my desk. My secret stash. A treasure trove of cards and messages from student’s past: Hannah’s philosophy puns, Shelby’s stick figure cartoons, a grad invitation to the Kumars, Anna’s get well soon from my bout with pneumonia, my department’s sympathy card when Dad died, a newspaper article that Nic submitted after our wedding, thanks and thanks for letters of rec. So many moments frozen in time, snapshots of full-fledged adults, many now graduates of college or nearly there. I see them online in their current iterations, but here our interactions, our moments of dynamic learning, sit memorialized. It’s not the lessons you teach, it’s the people you touch, and who touch you.
Monday. Move in day. Everything is a flurry. Old teachers come in to wish one last good buy and marvel at the new ivory tower. We work all day to make a new conducive environment for our current crop. Tuesday comes, we meet once more for twenty minutes to give our students new marching orders. Then the building clears. One more trip to the governor’s mansion. There’s no space for Pat in the bright new future. We say one last glance of good-bye. The building is locked. The east sun now rises through a hermetically sealed window in my room. The dawn of a new day, acceptance of the present day, looking oddly askance at the infinities beyond.