Today My Daughter Retrieved the Personal Effects of Her Dead Middle School Life
Today I took my 14-year-old daughter back to her middle school for the last time to retrieve her personal items from her locker. I was told to wait in the car while she was told to go directly to her locker, and her items would be inside, already bagged up for her by a staff member.
As I sat waiting in the car at the curb, watching for her in the rearview mirror, I noticed the text printed at the bottom of the mirror: “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”
I couldn’t help thinking that I wish back in March we’d had some kind of warning like that: “Sudden endings are closer than they appear.”
There were so many 8th grade things my daughter was looking forward to this year– the 8th grade formal, middle school graduation, her school play she had a part in, spring field hockey club, the special activities planned for 8th Grade Week, and, of course, time spent with friends and teachers she won’t see again as she moves on to a magnet school for high school next year.
It all ended very suddenly, and it was so weird seeing all the items from her locker– items that have been entombed in a metal box for nearly two months now– spilled out over the kitchen table when we returned home.
A Spanish notebook, a paper from a map project, a hall pass, a gift bag from something a friend had given her, a pencil sharpener filled with pencil shavings, a half-filled water bottle– it was like a glimpse of her everyday life in middle school that was rolling along perfectly normally until…it just stopped.
She went home one day, fully expecting to return the next– but she never got that chance.
And now, just like that, it’s over, with nothing to show for it but a snapshot of a life suddenly interrupted, a time capsule stuffed into a clear plastic trash bag.
My daughter didn’t die, but her life as she knew it did. And today she had to go collect its personal effects from the scene of its death.
We’ve all been forced to move on, encouraged to not look back, but I think it’s okay to pause for a moment, to touch the extra pencils, the decorative magnets, and the pocket-sized pack of tissues, to look in the rearview mirror and mourn everything we’ve left behind.
Because we weren’t ready.
The end was much closer than it appeared.
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