It's now two years since I walked away from the place where I worked for almost forty. I'm there every once in a while and was again just a few nights ago, but I can't return without a certain chill coming over me, something unfamiliarly cold, something discomforting.
I wish it weren't true, but it's never a joy for me to go back there, and I don't know why.
It was easier a couple nights ago. And this week I signed up to march with the other codgers at the college commencement ceremony, even though I had told myself last May I'd never do it again. For me at least, it's as if there's a strange vacuum on that campus, something no one feels but me. Whatever it is is not as deep as it was last year, but it's still there. I can't identify it. Maybe if I could, I'd understand it and it would go away. Maybe time itself will do it. I hope so.
Forty percent of the student body changes every year when a new freshman class finds their ways to empty dorm rooms. A percentage don't return, but a couple hundred stay. What that means is that, in the two years that have passed, a great majority of the students don't know me. By next May, no more than forty kids will have had me as a teacher; some, I'm sure, don't even remember the class.
Really, that's plain old wounded pride speaking. Maybe that's all it is.
I don't miss teaching. I'm not pining away for someone to ask me to return. I spent a lifetime in front of a chalkboard. I like free mornings.
I don't miss the place either. Maybe just being forgotten is at the heart of this annoying discomfort. I've become a stranger at a place I've always considered home. Maybe there's more to it--maybe what I begun to feel is that this world is not my home.
That's age speaking.
So we drove home that night, all the way back to the country place we just built. We came up Hwy 10, and I put on the blinker to turn left down the gravel, then waited for a school bus just then coming towards us off the viaduct. It was ten or so, maybe a little later. High school kids were coming back from a ball game. That's what it had to be.
Just like that, seeing that bus coming at us, I was a kid again fifty years ago, sitting on a leather seat after a win, after a loss, a persistent ring of sweat still there behind the collar of my shirt. I could have been there, I'm sure--I remember those buses, those dark and quiet nights on a team bus.
There we sat in the left hand lane of Hwy 10 waiting for a school bus that somehow drove into my life like a totally unforeseen blessing.
I don't understand any of that; but for some reason just then, after leaving a place that's no more a home, meeting that yellow school bus coming down off the viaduct from somewhere east felt vaguely like greeting the dawn. Honestly.
Don't know why. Don't begin to know why.