In the first, it was a typical day on the blacktop, which means it could have been pretty much any grade, K-5. In those days the school was an actual campus; there was a main building with the office, the cafe, the auditorium, and the gym. Then there were a half-dozen or so satellite buildings, called units, which housed one grade apiece, plus an extra subject area room– art, music, so on. We called those specials. It was a campus, an elementary school campus. You had your classroom and across the hall was the other class in your same grade. In winter you’d load up your gear and trudge over to the other building for your special. It was all surrounded by forest, and on one thin side of the woods, the housing project that abutted my childhood house. In the back, there was a stretch of woods that George Washington was known to have once crossed through, and Mr. Shearer, my grumpy old Republican 5th grade teacher who I loved so dearly, walked us through and told us about it. There was a birch tree and you could pull off a switch and suck the end and taste the birch. I loved it, so much. Awhile after I left they tore it all down and built a one-building version. Efficiency. Anyway.
We were on the blacktop and one of the other boys, I’m thinking Kevin Hickman but I don’t really remember, accidentally kicked a playground ball deep into the woods by the blacktop. So he ran in to get it. It seemed like he was in there for ages, and then there was this shout of glee, and he came barreling out pushing a very different ball, a far larger one, a giant earth ball. It was literally taller than he was, but otherwise looked identical to the dull red playground balls we always had, and as he emerged the look of pure joy on his face was impossible, and every other kid let out this absolutely brilliant scream to see a ball that big, and we all ran to touch it. To this day I don’t know how it could have happened that the ball could have been lost in the woods– how could you just forget about a ball that large? — or how long it might have been out there, or how it stayed perfectly inflated for however long it was. But It doesn’t really matter. To this day, the feeling of communal exultation, that pure, unexpected joy, the look on his face as he tore out from the woods, and the fact that I can remember the look on his face but not whose face it was, these things are indelible, things I will remember forever.
And then the para came over and yelled at us and took the ball away.
The second memory is just a feeling. It was the day of my 5th grade graduation, the last day at Snow School. After that I would be sent to the weird, one-grade quasi-middle school in my hometown, Keigwin, and after that, the fresh hell that was Woodrow Wilson Middle School. The memory is just being at school on that day and suddenly realizing, with Snow over, that time was passing. I mean it in just that sense, not as something deeper or more symbolic. It wasn’t that I suddenly contemplated myself aging or growing up or, even worse, my mortality. Nothing so vulgar. I just suddenly realized that time was passing in a way that I never had before, that you left school eventually, and that things would be different instead of the same. It was profound and moving and frightening.
Now it seems as if the situation is quite the opposite; I feel that I can sense myself aging but not moving, that nothing passes but time, that there is nowhere for anything to go but for my life to pass grudgingly from year to year.