The chalkboard stands at one end of the classroom, a sentinel of times gone by, a reminder of when things were more pure than they have become. Its face is dusty and careworn. Its frame punctured by push pins. Its bin full of chalk dust from the day that has just passed. Our teacher stands in front of it, face to face with the beast, willing it to become smarter than it will ever be. I know that will not happen so I laugh, but I do so inwardly so as not to be caught laughing by the lost teacher or the tattletale students to my left and right. My eyes dance, however, and I lower my head.
Miss Schultz, our learned leader, turns from the board, obviously adrift in the sea of her own thoughts with tears running down her face. We have never seen her like this before and I, for one, am shocked. Miss Schultz is always tucked in, slicked back, tied up, and put together. For the first time this school year utter silence has descended upon the class of room 365, an uncomfortable silence that forces us to examine ourselves. We do not like what we see. She continues to stand in profile, facing the open door. If you were to look in right now I'm sure you would think she was staring through your soul. Luckily, she is not facing us so we can hide behind our books.
I get up and walk to her side, placing my hand gingerly on her shoulder. She lets me lead her to her desk where I pull out the chair and she sits. A eulogy seems warranted but none of us has ever written, much less spoken, one and we are unsure of where to begin. We try, however, getting into our assigned groups and pounding out words on a page. Miss Schultz remains seated with her eyes closed now, humming an old hymn I would recognize if I were into that sort of thing, but I vaguely understand anyway. Her closed lids still leak with salty tears that touch her lips, then disappear. I want to be her right now, to feel what she is feeling. To tell her that she is not alone.
Yet I do nothing more but finish working on words on the page. When the bell rings we leave her like that, placing our sheets in the basket by the door. We walk out silently, single-file, another first, and we do not look back. We look ahead, and we remember.