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Closing of Childhood Memories
My mom‘s eyes were shiny with new tears. Under her eyes, her skin was puffy and red. My sister and I anxiously waited for her to tell us what happened. My dad entered the kitchen and sat down. My mom struggled to make her voice sound strong and reassuring when she said, “They’re closing St. A’s.” My heart broke into pieces that sank into my stomach. “What?” I asked completely dumbfounded. An involuntary lump formed in my throat. My eyes stung and unshed tears blurred my vision. “Saint A’s will be closed next year,” said my mom. There was nothing that could be done. My school, my second home, was going to be abandoned. My friends, my teachers, would be scattered and orphaned. I would be a member of the last graduating class of a hundred year old school…
My alarm clock broke into my dream filled sleep. Leaning over, I hit the snooze button. Not wasting any time, I jumped out of bed and crossed the hallway. As I was brushing my teeth, my sister joined me. Being her fabulously bossy self, she pushed me out of the bathroom. With toothbrush in hand, I bounded down the stairs and finished brushing my teeth at the kitchen sink. Back up the stairs, I leapt. I dug in my drawers to find my old soccer jersey and a pair of jean shorts. When my irritating sister was done pampering herself into perfection, we walked down to our alma mater.
I had been preparing myself for this day for a good five months, ever since that day in the kitchen, really. The stone church emerged from behind the trees. The sun shone brightly from behind its tall roof. Its blissful light seemed to mock my sorrow. Luckily, my dark sunglasses shaded my eyes from its harmful rays. I saw my old classmates standing outside the front door of the church. I was obviously running late, because the kids were already walking down the aisle. My friends greeted me with nervous jokes about how sad this was all going to be. I laughed along, keeping a false smile plastered to my face, masking the hurt I was really feeling.
As the mass was ending, Miss Yingling, my former principal, motioned for the kids to start forming a line. As we exited our pews, my friend, Joscie, grabbed my arm. We crossed the parking lot to the school. Bracing myself for what was about to happened; I took a deep breath and crossed over the threshold.
Our principal led my class, my school, my friends, and my teachers on our last tour into Saint A’s. As we explored the first floor, memories of Kindergarten, first, second and third grade swam through my head. I felt my eyes start to sting again. I threw my glasses over my eyes to hide my tears. I heard Joscie choke on a sob next to me. We watched the younger kids pass by us on our way back down the hallway. Some not understanding what exactly what was going on and some very well knowing what was going to happen.
We began climbing the stairs to the second floor. I cringed as memories from fourth and sixth grade came flooding into my mind. We circled the hallway. Children’s sobs echoed off the empty skeleton of the building. Kids as young as six crying, sobbing. My heart broke at the sound. I ran my hand against the wall as I had always done walking through the halls. The grooves were familiar and strangely comforting.
Our journey took us up to the third floor. We passed the seventh, fifth and eighth grade homerooms. My class said good bye to our homeroom for the last time. The library was across from our homeroom. Its previously stocked bookshelves were bare and hollow. Its books tore apart, in boxes, waiting to be recycled. The once colorful hallway was naked and drained of its vibrancy.
Miss Yingling brought our depressed group of grieving kids down stairs and took us outside. We turned to face the school. Teachers passed out bubbles. My previous principal shouted over the crowd of parents, alumni, and ex-students and said, “These bubbles are meant to help us say good bye to Saint A’s.” Then she said with a smirk, “It’s also pretty hard to cry when blowing bubbles.”
With that, we began to blow bubbles. We watched as the shiny globes floated to the school. The younger kids’ tears were drying. Smiles began to return to their faces. All around me, friends were hugging and saying farewell for the last time. I joined them and said good bye to my teachers, promising to see them again.
After the crowd thinned and people began to leave, I walked to the church steps and sat down. I stared at the school thinking of some of the crazy stories that happened and the amazing people I met here. Joscie and Liz came over to sit with me. We sat in introspective silence. Joscie broke the silence with “I can’t believe it’s closed.” We nodded and absorbed that. Sarah, a younger friend, came and sat with us. Her face was speckled from tears. She sniffled beside me. I turned to her and hugged her. I mumbled reassurances to her. I uncoiled my arms from around her, and wrapped them around my knees. We started to share our favorite stories from the past. Grinning and smiling, we began to heal.
Across the parking lot, loud and strong, Saint Athanasius rang the final bell. As it sang its swan song, the small group on the stairs said simultaneously, “The bell!” With that our sadness deepened, our shoulders dropped and we stood and went home, finally ending this day full of emptiness.