Years and Yearbooks
They took no classes together, and, after that first year, never attended the same school, but somewhere, inside the scattered years of their lives, there were yearbooks.
He drives more slowly than he used to, even more slowly today, through the empty school parking lot for the first time in fifty-eight years. Windows not yet boarded. Walls not yet graffitied.
His cane balances an unsteady walk as he inches toward his youth. His raised left hand shields his eyes from the sun’s reflection, then steadies him against the window as he searches for two adjoining lockers – where she had slammed her locker door; and, when it hit the side of his head, he looked at her for the first time.
Somewhere at the end of another hallway was the lunchroom, where one evening, at the end of the school year, he walked toward her – sitting with legs crossed atop a long table; and, after she said, Yes, handed her his yearbook. He remembered how she cradled it. How her hands smoothed the blank page, and his not wanting her to release it.
She wrote, Well, Mike, we met when I hit your head with my locker door. Hope we get the same lockers next year. His yearbook, now lost. His words written to her now forgotten.
He thought of her all summer. Wished he could be with her, but their district split and sent them to different schools.
That September he called. She accepted. And they grew into a couple – every Friday and Saturday together and three nights a week on the phone – through difficult classes and summer jobs. Their parallels as a couple abounded – she the cheerleader; he captain of football and basketball teams. Both college bound.
Their lives were stride by stride until he discovered the world, and she preferred a classroom. He wanted her to change. She wanted peace and security. He traveled the country. She moved to a farm and taught in a small school. He continued to feel her presence decades after she returned his ring.
He saw her only once after that – from afar and was forced to lean against a wall to quiet himself.
As he does now when he drives to the high school and searches through the window for their lockers – where for a moment he is young and unbroken.
Thomas Elson’s stories appear in numerous venues, including Blink-Ink, Ellipsis, Better Than Starbucks, Bull, Cabinet of Heed, Flash Frontier, Ginosko, Short Édition, North Dakota Quarterly, Litro, Journal of Expressive Writing, Dead Mule School, Selkie, New Ulster, Lampeter, and Adelaide. He divides his time between Northern California and Western Kansas.