Like any regular school day, I woke up groggy, mechanically brushed my teeth and washed my face. I put on my freshly ironed clothes, tied my dusty shoelaces and threw my bag over my shoulder.
Unlike most other school days, I walked into school with my son in tow as my husband waved from the car.
I was visiting my alma mater almost 15 years after I graduated from there.
Would the teachers remember me? Would the buildings hold any signs of me skidding down halls and leaning against pillars making secret pacts? Would echoes of my excited squeals still resonate along the corridors?
Walking towards the gate, I can feel the noise and energy in my bones. And if any of the students ask me if I’m a parent, they’ll feel the power in my bones, too.
After all, I’m in school and parents are just not cool.
I’m told to get permission from the Principal to go into the main building, so I walk right past his office and into the building.
After all, I’m in school and if you don’t rebel, you fit in.
At first glance, everything is different. A new paint job, new uniforms, new attitudes. And everything is the same. Same rush, same invincibility, same energy.
It’s recess when I walk in and the teenagers, who’ve replaced my friends and me, gather in cliques like we did before them. Some of them spare me a side-glance, too entrenched in their discourse to pay too much heed to the blue-haired mama with a small boy and big smile.
The few teachers who remain, recognise me right away. I can see their minds racing, as if to sort through thousands of files to match my face to a memory. After good-naturedly chastising me for my absurd hair colour, we begin to chat. As we reconnect, I can see it in their eyes – they’re remembering me, one mischief at a time, one laugh at a time, one grade at a time. That’s my sign to keep moving!
With every step forward, I go back in time.
One corridor, a million memories.
Running into school to share a secret (of the “don’t tell anyone” variety) with my best friends. Or the moment of hopeless terror when I remember I left my assignment on my bedside table. Or the silent prayer for a dreaded teacher to be absent. Or the exhilaration at the thought of spending the next six hours with some of my most favourite people.
That feeling when I enter my classroom every morning – either “here we go again” or “here we go again”.
The unconscious ritual of scanning the classroom to see if anyone was panicking over homework that I had forgotten about, too. Then weighing time versus interest to see if it was worth attempting to complete it or using the time to come up with a creative excuse.
Slipping into my seat and instantly filling my desk drawer with the essentials – pen, pencil, books and my lunch in case of an emergency snack attack.
Over the next six hours, teachers would walk in and out of the classroom. We were inspired, bored, entertained, and very often, we were the entertainment. But we learnt life lessons. Like how to stifle a laugh without bursting a vein, how to think of the saddest thoughts to douse the laughter and how to drop a pen and spend the next three minutes looking for it so as to laugh freely under the desk. Essentially, we learnt that we are powerless against an infectious giggle fit.
If only these benches could speak. They’d tell tales of notes and chips and cassettes. Of laughter and nerves and tears.
The time we spent laughing for absolutely no reason makes the time we spend looking for a reason to smile these days, seem sadly disproportionate.
School or university years are always remembered as the best days. We hold on to every detail; how the classroom looked on that rainy, sleepy day when you sat at the back of the class daydreaming, the way you felt rushing out of school on the first day and rushing in on the last, the cold water at the water cooler after PT, the smell of chemicals on your hands after lab, the exhilaration of writing on the chalk board (unless you’ve been asked to solve a problem in front of the class, then it’s fear, pure excruciating fear), the crucial chat with your friends about that boy and the day of raucous laughter about that boy.
What if someday we look back upon today as one of the best days of our life? Even if we’re all happy beyond reason in the future (and I hope we will be!), I hope we lovingly remember the room, office, train or classroom we’re sitting in right now, and relive the conversations we’re having and the people we’re having them with.
Almost 15 years after I left school, I can still hear the weightless laughter and feel the blind hope bouncing off the walls. I want to tell 15-years-back me to remember this moment and know that you’re living it – and you’re responsible for the happiness you’re feeling, don’t ever put it in anyone else’s hands. Never lose the sense of wonder for the world out there. The fun, quirky or shy girls around you will become the strong, beautiful women who make your day by just remembering you, so cherish them. Continue believing that you can make a difference and never stop being different. The song lyrics you say is your motto in life right now, you’ll probably laugh at that in a few years, but somehow, you’ll reconnect with it again, so hold on to that (even the really, really cheesy ones. Especially, the really, really cheesy ones).
And I want 15-years-back-me to tell me the same thing. Run into work and home to smile and talk to the people around me. Create rituals that make every space mine. Never stop laughing at silly things. Not to wait for something big and shiny every time. Let everyday things inspire me, even if just for a second. Never stop making friends. Make conversation with the quiet guy at work. Finish your homework quickly so you can go out and play. You’ll keep finding best friends and soul mates, but your school friends will be your parachute and jetpack and magic door. It’s ok to be sad, mad and bad. Your school memories may have been the best, but better days are in front of you, if you keep moving forward.
I think school-me would’ve been happy seeing today-me, this morning. She would’ve looked at me and passed the verdict to her friends: “Yeah, she’s not too bad for an adult.”
Ya heard that? Not too bad! Ha!
(Haha she thinks I’m an adult. Cute!)