Trees stripped of leaves, time changed, the children know no difference, Jasmine waking us at the normal hour for reasons we cannot always remember later in the day. She is always ready for school, displeased with our lack of conviction.
When elementary school ended, they sent us to Cambria, the last class to attend junior high both years in that old brick building with coal chutes in its south wall. I can recall one morning basketball practice, my father driving me in his pickup under the stars to town, and how lack of sleep did not bother me yet. As we age, the awareness of time becomes like the apple from the Garden of Eden, but rotting; as children, we are too accustomed to eternity.
Walking into the front door in Cambria 30 years afterward to interview Jim Murray was surreal. His kiln sits near our locker room. The temperature near freezing, three decades ago, the radiators that kept us warm in winter would have been spraying water. A dead bird spread its wings laying on its back as we walked into the main hallway, above the basketball court, where there is no longer wood because of water damage from some long-forgotten flood. Only one basketball hoop remains above the door leading to the teachers’ lounge. Long ago, we had swung to love songs by Guns N’ Roses at the Christmas dance. Our science teacher, Mr. White, stood above, hands on the guardrails, to make sure we did not get too close.
Upstairs, in the science room, his desk is still standing. The pipes that ran to the sinks remain, though the counter where we studied rocks under microscope is missing. There was this silica or some other mineral that flaked, which Mr. White passed around and described for our class, because we had to know ourselves, and I understood explicitly those millions of years and the pressure the universe had applied to form each substance and spread it across galaxies. Now there are burnt out strands of Christmas lights in the lockers facing the board. Once, Mr. White had accidently scraped the surface wrong, and we cringed, and he smiled and explained the theory of why humans hate the sound of fingernails or chalk screeching. It is instinct. From the west window, it was light enough I could see the sidewalk running diagonally from the building to Street’s Trading Post.
The transom windows above each door dragged in the gloaming of an overcast November sunset, preparing for the season’s second snow. In the English room, where I wrote so many words in my spiral notebook for Diane Olson Schroeder, for my classmates, for myself, part of the ceiling is molded away, the floor buckled. I recalled how after class we filed from room to room, supervised in our transition from English to math, from reading to the downstairs room where Mr. Wetzel taught history, where we ate lunch and pulled Mountain Dew from coolers on Halloween.
Earlier, four deer had watched me wearily as I parked, escaping into the woods near the baseball field. My father used to talk about seeing deer, and how they were the spirits of my brother and his father and mother. Whatever they were, they are scared of me now.