My Name was Supposed to be Elizabeth Ann

— Stories from the Roads (Not) Taken

September 8, I returned to my classroom for only the second time since Covid closed my district mid-March. The first time occurred early June, when my colleagues and I returned to help empty student lockers and reunite their contents with the kids who’d been abruptly forced to abandon them. Administration allowed us a few minutes in our rooms to collect our own things, not knowing then when–or if–we’d return in the fall. 

I didn’t even consider the How. 

Walking into my classroom on the first day of remote instruction was like walking into a haunted house, not scary but sad, and filled with reminders of those who once walked the aisles, those to whom I never really had a chance to say goodbye. 

Along a blue-papered bulletin board,  my last year’s seniors’ handwritten names adorned our editing posters, proudly proclaiming which skills they’d mastered.  Suspended from the closet, my red hanging folders overflowed with graded student work  I’d planned to return and review. My desk pad read March. My chalkboard still held taped mementos from homecoming, Christmas,  Valentine’s Day.

I cried. 

And then I got pissed. 

Someone had destroyed my reading corner.  

Stripped the cozy gathering space of its rug and pillows, throws and cushions, items I’d bought. Items I’d arranged and dragged home to wash.  Items I stitched when wear split their seams. Replaced when they were beyond repair. My kids loved my reading corner, even using it for group work conferences and writing sessions. Instead, bare linoleum gleamed like bones  beside my bookcases still thankfully filled with books scrounged at yard sales or donated, books culled from my own personal collection. 

The thing is, I knew it had to go.

I would have done so the week before during in-service, had my son’s second Covid exposure not required I participate from home. In fact, I had planned to dismantle the nook my first day back, to wash each piece and donate them to Green Drop or Goodwill. Or maybe the Women’s Humane Society, which welcomes used linens for its waiting-to-be-adopted pets.

That someone had already done so felt like a violation. 

They didn’t even ask. They didn’t even tell me where they’d taken my possessions. Another in a long series of losses. 

And I’m sick of it.

I sat at my desk, head in my hands, wavering between fury and grief. 

Not for my things

For what they represent–Lost opportunities. Lost connections. How on earth will I be able to reach my kids this year if we’re reduced to tiles on a screen?

They say there are five stages of grief. Stages, like steps, that we approach one foot at a time, one after another, until finally we are healed. Made whole once again.

Except we don’t and we aren’t.

Grief is like playing Chutes and Ladders. One turn forward, next turn sliding back to Start. The only way to win the game is to keep playing. To keep moving forward time and again, no matter the number of  setbacks. No matter the number of rolls.

I picked my head up and looked around my room. Tossed April through August in the trash, and logged on to my computer. 

Then I invited my new students to join the game with me, but all of us on the same team.

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