Feeling Empty

空っぽな気分

I step from the quiet concentration of the staff room into the lifeless silence of the hallway. A window spreads itself before me. Snow flurries outside in a futile attempt to delay the spring. These cycles can’t be stopped.

Some squeaks from the distant gymnasium break the quiet and snap me back into reality. I’m in a middle school full of children. I’d nearly forgotten.

Somehow, time had confused me. Was it fifth or sixth period right now? All twenty-two students left in the school had gym during fifth period. I’d wanted to believe it was later than that, but the sounds told another story. I could have asked or simply checked the time. Instead I walked up to the classrooms themselves, stepping up into the silence again, to do some self-investigation.

It has been almost a week since the third year students graduated. Passing the unoccupied first and second year classrooms brought me to the third year classroom for the first time since they graduated. Entering their room felt like trespassing into a sacred space. I looked around to see if someone would stop me, as if the already open door was somehow a trap.

Though my eyes watered, I’d managed to hold back my tears during graduation in spite of a very touching show. Seeing the students off was odd to me. In personal graduations of all sorts—high school, university, leaving a company—I knew that sadness was somewhat unwarranted. I’d keep in touch with those I’d care about most. The people I cared about wouldn’t be going anywhere.

Unlike those times, this graduation felt to me like a funeral. I’d become attached to these kids who I’d seen grow so much in only seven months. Japanese schools often embrace closer relationships than ones found in America: being physical, roughhousing, and invading personal spaces was acceptable. I’d been invited to student’s homes by their parents and eaten lunch with them on weekends.

They were family, and unlike my own graduations, I might never see these kids again.

Yellowed afternoon light bathed the empty room, friends with the wooden desks and tables. All the colorful student-created posters were off the walls, leaving only those objects that were found in every classroom. A cardboard box sat on one former student’s desk, full of new items for the next year. Already the room was being converted. Already the mission of forgetting was underway.

The only things that reminded anyone that this had been a scholastic home for a group of bright young kids were the messages written on the back wall.

“Finally, graduation has come! Finally! Finally!”

“Thank you to all of the upperclassmen on the table tennis team! Your insights were amazing and helped us grow! We will always remember you. Let’s do our best!”

“We did it! Off to high school!”

“The girls table tennis team was awesome! You guys are the greatest!”

“Let’s all do the best in our future.”

Seeing those messages brought a smile to my lips. They were going on to do good things. Their time here was done. Maybe I’d never see them again, but maybe that’s a good thing. I should be focusing on the next group of students, and they should be focusing on whatever lies in their own futures.

I left the room to a hallway of students coming back from gym. It was finally sixth period. Life had returned.

Or rather, it’d been here, but I’d been looking for it in the wrong places.

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