It’s a movie cliche. The tension is building in a scene. The scary music is getting louder. A door slowly creaks open and you find yourself holding your breath. Oh look, it’s only the cat. You let your breath out and start to relax and that’s when the director hits you full in the face.
It’s like an amusement park ride. There’s a little dip and you’re just turning to the person next to you to say “that wasn’t so bad” when you hit the big hill and you’re unable to speak for the rest of the ride.
That was Maggie’s second day of school.
Kim and I were prepared for the first day. We had thought through how we would feel about not going to Boulevard with Elena to celebrate her first year at the school without Maggie. As we watched Maggie go into Woodbury for the first time other parents walked over and said very nice, supportive things to us that made the day go as well as it could.
On Wednesday, Maggie and I walked to school. Her backpack was full with her lunchbag, her flute, and her trapper notebook with the first day’s assignments zipped safely inside. We talked about her schedule. We talked about the layout of the school. She bounced next to me and suggested we cross the street in the opposite order of what we had done the day before.
Kim and I had stopped to talk to the crossing guard the day before to ask him what he wanted the children to call him. I introduced Maggie to Mr. Evans and watched as they crossed the street together.
I smiled and turned to head back home and that’s when the director hit me full in the face.
There across the street and a block and a half away I could see the side of Boulevard school. I was unprepared for the shock. It took my breath away. I’d gone from the joy of walking my daughter to school to the sadness of not completing the journey.
Maggie and I talked about it Friday morning. She talked about the three of us walking to or from school. Maggie next to me chatting away and Elena lagging behind. “Wait,” Elena would wail. And we’d turn and see her walking as if the weight of the world was on her shoulders. Her shoulders dramatically down, slumping forward, her arms almost dragging on the ground.
“Come on,” I’d say. We’ll wait.
She’d perk right up and smile and tip her head back and run to us. Maggie remembered her big yellow backpack all the way down to the back of her knees. But Elena wouldn’t stop when she got to us. She’d stick her tongue out at Maggie as she ran by.
This would be enough for Maggie to take up the challenge and run with her. Run past her. When they were two or three houses ahead of me I’d shout “that’s far enough” and they’d stop. Each trying to be the one in front.
Maggie would walk in the front while Elena would stop to talk to Mrs. Simmons the crossing guard. We weren’t crossing the street but Mrs. Simmons would always say hello to the girls and talk to them about their day, about the weather, and about the weekend coming up.
Elena would turn back to see me catching up to her. She’d put her hand in mine and we’d walk to catch up to Maggie. We’d stop at the house with the dogs Lilly and Daisy. The three of us would hold hands as we crossed over to Warrington. As we rounded the corner the girls would always ask if they could run home.
“Sure,” I’d say, “be careful.”
They’d race home as if the outcome hadn’t been predetermined by their relative body types.
“What do you want for snack?” I’d ask when I caught up to them.
“Popcorn,” Elena might say. They argued over who would add the oil and who would add the kernels. Maggie usually lost interest long before the kernels popped so Elena would invariably add the salt. We’d sit at the table and fill our little bowls from the big bowls. The girls would note exactly who had taken how much. They knew not to say so out loud – I hated when they compared who got more – but they clearly assessed what the other had taken and would adjust their own bowl accordingly.
That’s the world I thought I’d still be living. As I looked up and saw Boulevard school in the distance I was confronted by that which isn’t. This year I should have walked Maggie and Elena to Maggie’s school. We’d drop off Maggie. Elena would talk to all of the fifth graders. By the end of the first week she’d probably know more of them than Maggie would. She’d talk to Mr. Evans on her way back and tell him that we were going to her school now. We’d cross the street and be at Boulevard way too early to get in line.
“Can’t I play on the playground?” Elena would ask.
“Sure,” I’d say and I’d take that big yellow backpack from her and watch her climb and swing and run.
We won’t be doing any of this.
At the end of last year, Mrs. Simmons retired. I don’t think I’ll ever know who replaced her.