Filing out of the lunch room, hands gliding along the walls as I went. My fingers jumped and bounded across chasms, they hurdled abrupt protrusions from the normally smooth stone walls. The line slowed to a halt near the Computer Lab and my hand greeted the familiar dents and idiosyncrasies. Never breaking contact with the wall, my fingertips skated and skipped playfully back to the classroom.
I had enjoyed lunch as usual, lunch was a special reprieve from the terrors and anxiety of third grade. A frantic episode of eating preceded by the herding of 30 warm bodies, like cattle through a stock yard; we blindly picked food and trusted that the leader wasn’t shepherding us to our demise.
After reluctantly choosing between lunches A, B and sometimes C, we progressed to the charming and helpful Ms. K. Every day she faced the relentless onslaught of children with a smile and helped guide us through the very foreign notion of “paying” for our food. I sauntered confidently over to the 3rd grade boys table and plopped down at the end, a seat that I’d been fond of lately. From this vantage point it was always easy to take in the joys of the lunch experience.
It was this brief 30 minute window that conditioned and standardized our eating speed. We all forced ourselves into this small interval. All at once everyone finished. Eyes shifted side to side as the conversation gradually slowed to a halt. In unison everyone stood with their lunch trays and chaos erupted as we formed a haphazard line to dispose of our trash.
Trickling back to the table was a reconstructive and sometimes uncomfortable process as we reflected on the dialogue of earlier. And the tension always seemed to break and the flow of conversation returned just as our teacher arrived to reclaim us and lead the line back to the classroom. She yelled and disciplined as we grudgingly rose from our delicious respite. The drafting of the line was as frustrating for her as it was for us, not only was the monotonous and repetitive routine of class life about to resume, but it broke the positive social experience provided by lunch.
Walking back from lunch always had a strange quality, but especially on this day. My agile fingers had made the usual route past the Computer Lab and up to the stairs, but after that it seemed unappealing. I flattened my hand and felt the hand rail against my palm; waxy, smooth, worn. As we emerged from the stairwell I looked up and lucidly, desperately observed the last ten yards of hallway before we entered the classroom.
The empty music room on the far left, 2 long cork boards plastered with expertly crafted handturkeys stretched to our classroom. That first basement classroom had the lights off and the door ominously shut. I dreaded entering my 3rd grade prison; we waited as Mrs. Scott fumbled with her keys, unlocked the door, waited for us to enter. I was last in line, slowly moving forward, and then stumbled in.