As I walk into the doors of my part-time job, I see many recognizable faces. I see my boss, Christine, who’s chatting with a customer. I see Linda, trying to figure out which shoe goes in which box. I see that woman in charge of security who never acknowledges my existence when I pass her. I’ve been at my job for five months now. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it. I just keep on clocking in, doing my work, and going home.
Tomorrow, a brand new school year will start. Everyone will be awake before dawn. Students will be yawning during first period. Teachers will be handing out new textbooks. I used to be the one that was awake before dawn, yawning, and saying I want to go back to bed. Recently, I find myself, diploma in hand, staring at the mirror and wondering, “What will it be like without me?” Will it play out as every year does? The volleyball team will win a few games but never go to the championships, as opposed to the basketball team which will take the gold. There won’t be more than ten students at homecoming or prom. The ones that do go will pick out a table far in the corner and sit down to chat all night. I’ll probably never understand why anybody wants to go to a dance to do the exact opposite. There might be a couple new faces in the halls and there will probably be a few missing. The girl who’s only friend was a senior now walks to class alone.
Do I have it all wrong? Maybe the volleyball team will go to the championships and win like they did five years ago. Maybe more people will go to prom. I just can’t seem to stop myself from wondering what I’m missing. Here I am, the valedictorian of my graduating class, working in retail while the juvenile halls forget the soles of my shoes that strode across them. Here I am, ringing up a floral top and a long black skirt, while the gossip whispered by tenth graders is left unheard by my ears. Here I am, convincing a woman this purse is a great brand for reasons X, Y, and Z, while someone else’s car kicks up the gravel of the student parking lot.
Tomorrow will be the first morning that I don’t find myself tearing into a new pack of pens that will probably be lost in a week. It will be the first morning that I don’t step out of my Buick and see all the high schoolers walking to class. I won’t see that tall kid with the orange hair that always said hello and called me “Miss Emily” which in return I’d scold him and say, “I’m not old enough to be called ‘Miss,'” although I always secretly liked feeling authoritative. Soon enough the school dances will come around and I will not be there to decorate the gymnasium with tacky streamers and dollar store table clothes. I won’t look around to see the middle schoolers hanging plastic stars above the doorway nor the one girl who’d ditch her star-hanging friends to create the cutesy table centerpieces. Instead, I’ll be at my not first but second job, folding t-shirts and trying to sell more handbags.
Soon enough, the soles of younger shoes will meet the halls I once walked through. New students will receive the bone-shaking lectures of our principal a few times throughout the year. Nobody will be taking the headmaster seriously, and they never will. A new teacher will make the yearbook and a new graduating class will be featured in its pages. I might stop by one day to visit my favorite English teacher and the faces I don’t recognize will be trying to piece together who I am and why I am there. The faces I do know will wonder why I ever came back. They all will be trying to remember the answers to their tests or cheating off their neighbor’s paper. I’ll keep on selling handbags.