There’s a place that I visit frequently, for no reason at all. It is full of flowers and trees and good and bad memories. Always fenced in, I am free to wander and look.
Night before last I visited that place…long ago and oh so far away (as the song goes). I found myself at my old school in Guatemala, by the side entrance. And in my dream, I determined that I was going to walk the whole grounds and see and remember every bit of it. So I started by the side entrance, looking up to the steps where I used to sit and eat my lunch, listening to the church bells toll and watching the fruit trees and birds and whatever traffic rumbled down the side road. I could feel the cement under my bare feet, and then some dry leaves crunch as I moved closer to where the old metal swingset was. Looking up up up I could see the detailed canopy of a huge ancient tree that guarded the stone wall of the corner of the school, and also the small stone steps that crept up and around, near the tether ball court. I walked past the swingset to the far corner, the living fence following along beside me. In the corner of the playground I turned around and looked back, over the whole soccer field and playground…and strangely enough, I could see it two ways, with the giant eucalyptus tree and without it. It was as if I knew that it no longer existed and so looked at it through my little girl eyes, when it was solidly there, complete with tire swing, and then saw the scene again with my grown-up eyes, which knew that it was gone.
All of a sudden, I was inside the building, walking through and testing my memory. I stepped on the checkered tiles as I went through the upstairs high school, then down the steps, hearing the sounds, even smelling old scents. I could hear the hum of a machine under fluorescent lights….or maybe it was the hum of the lights themselves. Past the washrooms, past the library and off to one side where there was a kitchen painted a greenish-bluish color. (this part puzzles me a bit…I’m not sure if there really was a kitchen there. I think there was, since the building was originally a large house, but if so, this memory would have been from when I was in early elementary school, I think). I also checked out the curving cement staircase that came down the back way, with the circular cut-out windows in the stone wall and the planter that usually only housed a few scraggly plants, if anything at all besides dirt.
It was like I was testing myself, to see if I could conjure up that old place. I drifted out of the dream and into my cozy bed, and felt satisfied that I had passed the test. I had seen, felt, and heard those old memories: the crackle of the fallen leaves, the sun playing in the leaves of the green green trees, the dustiness of the field, the close-growing trees strung with barbed wire in the “living fence”, the chalkiness of the hallways and hum of the fluorescent lights. Especially that ceiling of leaves, high above….and that is what hurts the most, because as I wake, I know that that beautiful tree does not exist anymore, nor do any of those places I walked…except for in my memory.
At the moment, I have no photos to add to this post, I own very few photos of that place in that time. And the ones I have are buried deep.
An interesting P.S.: later on that same day, out of the blue, a message appeared that said “hey class, how about planning our 20th high school reunion that’s coming up next summer?!” How’s that for a coincidence 😉
(I made the graphic using an old digital kit called The Pickleberry Tree from pickleberrypop.com)