Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks. And the memories of that day are timeless treasures of my heart.
That morning, the aged yellow bus gradually came to a stop as it approached the school. The tires screeched while I tugged and struggled to put on my sweatshirt. I always did enjoy that sweatshirt because, in a way, it made me feel snug and safe. While stepping onto the bus, a gust of wind blew my sweatshirt back, leaving it crooked and wrinkled. I personally never really enjoyed the cold weather, although I do enjoy the scenery. Leafless trees, rocked by the wind, stood bare and exposed to the elements, shaking their wisps of golden hair. When we got onto the bus, most kids pluged in their headphones to cancel out the noise… and the bus turned quiet.
Sometimes I really do think silence is the loudest thing in the world.
While we went through the smooth and then bumpy roads, I looked out the window most of the time thinking of how the city of Bridgeport was so different from Easton. It really made me appreciate my rural hometown more, with its sleepy streets and quiet woods.
As the bus eventually came to a halting stop, I unplugged my headphones to the sound of a 1976 jazz melody.
¨Are you excited?¨ Kayleigh whispered.
“Ecstatic,” I said with a radiant smile.
I walked off the bus holding the large bag of toys that I was certain would thrill the children. Swinging this over-filled trash bag almost made me fall forwards, and I extended my other arm to balanced myself.
The weight was suddenly lifted off as Aaron picked up the other side of the bag. Before stepping into the school, I looked up at the large brick building before me. As I entered, I felt a warm blast of heating and noticed the large rooms.
When we received our assignments, Kayleigh and I jumped up, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for the task ahead. We marched to the classroom with smiles on our faces, barely able to contain our excitement.
The door read: “Mrs. Goncalves.”
“What a coincidence,” the people around me said while trying to contain their laughter.
“Ready to go Kayleigh?”
“As always,” she said as a sunny smile lit up her face.
We started our way towards Mrs. Goncalves’ class. Slowly opening the creaky door, we stood in awe as we saw the kids’ faces glowing in excitement. I couldn’t help but smile. They had a sparkle in their eyes.
And they made me feel like I could make a difference in the world.
Kayleigh and I introduced ourselves to the teacher and the students, trying to make them as comfortable as possible. Mrs. Goncalves walked over to us and shook our hands with a stern and slightly formal grip- one that flaunted her self-confidence. Then she smiled softly before explaining the lay of the land and our role in the classroom.
Her classroom was large and flashy. And the walls were covered in pictures. And drawings. And rainbows of bright colors. Playful. Joyous. And Mrs. Goncalves was trying to keep up with the pace of the children, running around her in circles. Swirling.
“Do you know our names?” the little girl asked.
She had olive-colored skin with green eyes. It wasn’t the kind of green that most have, but rather a calm green like the ocean, the kind of green that doesn’t make a big deal of itself.
“My name is Ariana,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
At that second I thought to myself…she is so sweet…And that was how it started- our inspiring bond.
The other kids at the table introduced themselves, talking over each other, trying to get my attention. Grins spread across their faces ear to ear, even when detailing the sadness, violence and uncertainty in their lives. Ariana’s mom was in jail, she told me. Not sure why. Didn’t know where her father was. She lived with her grandmother. She had two younger brothers. Other kids told me similar stories. And I think they were searching for a home, just to realize it’s not a place, but a feeling that they had yet to feel. The kids tugged at my shirt wanting me to tell them about Christmas at my house. And I couldn’t be the person who breaks their hearts by showing them how different it would be. I felt as if I were the elephant in the room, trying hard not to be noticed. I felt strangely ashamed. If to be human is to have mercy, so why is it so difficult for us to have mercy on ourselves, especially if we’re not to blame? I didn’t know.
That afternoon, we made crafts, like the glitter-covered stockings that made them feel so special- and picture frames- magnetic ones- that they could hang on their fridges. We handed out their gifts and their faces gleamed. That feeling of making someone happy is just something you can never forget.
And in this flurry of activity, the clock continued to tick at a dizzying speed.
It was 2:10 PM. Time was up.
We had to say our goodbyes. And they cried. And we felt sad. We knew we would miss them and they would miss us.
God, I really dreaded that time because I felt as if I just broke their hearts into a million pieces. We walked away, not saying a word.
And when I think of that day, memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks. And those memories will always be timeless treasures of my heart.