Vivid Recollections

Wednesday, December 22, 2010 / 12:46 AM

As we left Sugar Plum Cafe the other day, I pointed ahead and turned to Cort and Rach: "That's my elementary school." There, at 25th and K, stood the familiar three-story structure. Eight years of my life were spent within those walls and, as we walked past the school, I felt compelled to run inside and take inventory of the classrooms. I wanted to sit in the middle of the gym and race down the stairs to the piano in the social hall where we used to sing. I wanted to visit the third floor library and see if they still used the card catalog system and see if the computers in the lab were as old as I remembered. I wanted to walk through the playground, past the bright plastic play structure, to the church, with its beautiful high ceiling and stained glass windows and dark green carpet. I wanted to remember everything about those days, even if most of my memories there remain tragic.

When I told my mom I walked by the school, she looked surprised. "You mean you didn't know?" she asked. The school had moved--something about failing an earthquake safety inspection. The beautiful 115-year-old building is now vacant.

I was more taken aback than I thought I would be. In truth, I hated that school and the people in it: I hated the stuffy, un-air conditioned/heated classrooms; I hated the gym that doubled as an auditorium; the social hall, where Ms. O'Donnell would force us to watch the same fucking Irish movie every year on St. Patrick's Day, thus forcing a hatred for the "holiday" I've yet to truly overcome; the old, slow computers in the lab and the fact that the library/computer lab was on the third floor of the building; the weekly prayer services and monthly masses; the black and white jumpers and skirts and stupid jewelry and nail polish dress code rules; being stuck with the same 30 classmates for eight years. Despite my "involvement" (student council, choir, theatre, whatever), my memories are dense with negativity. The positive things I remember are, of course, exaggerations of fleeting moments. The only exception that comes to mind is the library (books foreverrr) and the beauty of the church--I always did love the architecture of Catholic churches, despite my feelings toward the religion itself (aside: I was never Catholic to begin with). Is it ironic that I lost my faith in God inside the antique walls of the cross-shaped edifice? Inside, with its candles and altars and marble steps where we sat for choir, I cemented my beliefs against some Higher Power. But that's another blog for some other time...

I went through old yearbooks earlier--from preschool to kindergarten to first through eighth. I remember the transitions well, the friends I gained and lost, who was considered my "best friend" or "best best friend" from year to year. It all seems so trivial now, but at the time it was of utmost importance. "Your my number 2 best freind," someone wrote to me in the back of my yearbook for third grade. It was quite the compliment.

I'm friends with many of my old classmates on Facebook, though being Facebook friends doesn't really mean much, does it? It allows you a window into the lives of people from your past, but you don't really know who they are. If I were to run into any of them in a store, I doubt we'd speak. Which is funny, isn't it? "We were best friends last year and now we barely talk. What happened?" one girl wrote in my eighth grade yearbook as we all said our farewells. And it was true: I was "best friends" and "best best friends" once upon a time with a few of them, though it felt like that changed every year. I used to spend hours on the phone with them and pass notes in class (and then get caught) and gossip in the cafeteria. We told each other we loved one another and that we'd be best friends forever.

Sixth grade: Emily's annual all-girl's
sleepover at her house.
But the days of losing lunch boxes and falling off monkey bars are far past. They were even past as I was living through them. My memories of elementary school were lonelier than I care to admit. All of the social skills the Montessori education taught me faded after I started losing my hair and I retreated quite a bit. Recesses and lunchtimes were spent reading books on the bench because we weren't allowed to spend our outdoor time inside the library; during PE I would pretend to be interested in sports people played to avoid the reality of not having anyone to talk to; theatrical performances were  preluded with my mother hovering over hair and makeup sessions so she could whisper to the volunteering parents to be gentle with the hairstyles they wanted to give me and so she could explain to them why I couldn't wear mascara and had no eyebrows.

I won't depress you with more, but I'm sure my point is clear. There is so little of the person I was in those eight years that remains in me now, aside from what was documented in yearbooks and photos and what I have written in abandoned journals and diaries. When I graduated from eighth grade, I remember feeling sad, but that's natural when any chapter ends. Loretto was a wonderful four years, despite the growing pains we all experienced there, and I was terribly sad to leave that too. Now, I falter at the thought of returning for the reunion this week--not because my love has turned to hate (untrue, I still love Loretto and always will), but because I know I'll encounter memories with people that I'm not sure I'm prepared to face.

Another chapter of my life will be closing soon as well. But when I leave UCI, the difference is now I'll be more prepared to let go. I've grown to accept the concept of impermanence since Cheever first taught us about it and I'm anticipating the rush that'll accompany moving forward and onto the next chapter.

Eighth grade: post-Baccalaureate, pre-graduation.
As for the abandoned building sitting at 2500 K Street, the nostalgia will never really escape me. I can still see every floor of the school in my head. As we got into Cort's car the other day, I caught a glimpse of the school's side door and I can still see Mr.  Clay smoking. I still imagine the combination of sights and smells of every corner of the school, and it all feels as if it was just a minute ago. The school was historic and it felt like it. Though I grew to hate that it was across from Sutter's Fort (first: Jog-a-Thon--UGH; second: learning about the Gold Rush was cool for the first couple of years...then it got old...really, really old) and right next to the church (which allowed us to have all of those services), it feels wrong that future classes be robbed of those same memories (whether they enjoy it or not). After all, I survived eight years of that school, both emotionally and physically--earthquakes, floods, bomb threats, lockdowns and all.

You Might Also Like


  1. Jr high was considered part of elementary school, so the eight years I refer to is first through eighth grade.

    And thank you :)