I step out of my car, bag thrown lazily over one shoulder, and walk across the blistering pavement to a building humming with energy. As I inch closer to the glass doors, the sound of the school bell pierces the air, informing me that I only have fifteen minutes before my first class. Through the wall of windows that surround the doors, I see that I’m now merely feet from a preponderance of middle schoolers scurrying from the band room to the lobby. Reaching for the door, I hesitate to enter, not wanting to get caught in the mob of kids on the other side. I look at my watch and realize I now have thirteen minutes to be in my first class so I enter discreetly, avoiding as much contact with ‘the mob’ as possible. As I step in the already opened wooden door that separates the lobby from the band room, I close my eyes and take a deep breath in, thinking, here’s to new beginnings.
The overwhelming smell of sunscreen and “band kid” - a rather strange, smelly, but relatable species - singe the hair in my nose but flood my body with feelings of warmth and comfort. I open my eyes to see a room teeming with excited people. The combination of everyone's increasingly loud conversations and the occasional ring of a percussion instrument make it nearly impossible to hear myself, much less someone else, though I manage to hear my name called from the left side.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Nothing much, I’m just taking it all in,” I reply as I look from left to right and then at the ceiling to see the fluorescent tube lights, caged for protection from lofty colorguard tosses and general band shenanigans.
“What’s there to take in? Nothing is different.”
“I know there is nothing physically different, but we all know there’s a difference,” I say as I rapidly blink to readjust my eyes from looking at the lights.
“Oh yeah, that’s for sure. Well, have a good day,” they say, squeezing through the door, attempting to exit as someone else is entering.
“Will do,” I reply, walking further into the band room toward the set of more than fifty grey cubbies that cover the entirety of the left wall. Trophies from band competitions in years past fill every inch of the top, flaunting our previous success, though the peeling paint and broken shelves don’t make as good a statement. I throw my bag onto the dingy grey carpet in a heap of others in front of the cubbies and lean to reach into my small, square portion of the cubbies. My preparation for class is quickly interrupted by someone knocking on the old back doors to my right. I lunge over the pile of book bags and push on the doors, forgetting that they require the equivalent of a body slam to open. I feel the hot, humid air seeping through the quarter-inch gap between the doors as I repeatedly attempt to open them. In frustration, I kick the left door, causing it to swing open with gusto. After receiving a wide-eyed “thank you” from the young girl who knocked, I step back to my cubbie and finish gathering my things, removing my book bag from the pile and throwing it back over my shoulder.
In trying to bypass the clusters of people between me and the main entrance, I walk the perimeter of the band room, going around the four rows of black chairs organized in an arc, stepping over the conductor's podium, and passing the colorguard room (barricaded by their equipment as if the sign on their door stating “Do Not Enter or Touch Equipment If Not In Guard” wasn’t enough). As I get to the director’s office on my left, I stop and look in, and that’s when I see her - our new band director. For the past five years, I’ve had the same director whom I grew to love with all my heart. He was there for me when I needed to talk and he taught me to love my band like a family. Now, in his black wooden desk sits a person I met only two weeks earlier.
Standing in front of the window to her office, I look to the right of the door and see a nameplate, reading “Band Director,” followed by her name. I then think back to the previous director, bringing images of the band room in the past five years to mind. The second school bell rings aloud, reminding me that I have five minutes before school begins. Hearing this, I pop my head in the doorframe of the director’s office to say good morning to her and the assistant director who was sitting across from her on a plaid couch that appeared to be older than him. After a small exchange of kind words, I walk to the band room door, turning around slowly to look back at the room once more. Seeing the same cubbies, the same arc of chairs, the same loft, I realize nothing is different. Even though a family member was replaced, I am still right where I belong - home.