Back to School

Back to school images: pencils (by Kelli Tungay on Unsplash), rosary (by Madeleine Dimond), quetzalcoatl serpent god (by Narayan Mukti from Pixabay), school books (by Clarissa Watson on Unsplash), Asian boy studying in restaurant (hoto by buian_photos on Unsplash)

Will I ever stop dreading the end of August? I passed the bar exam a few years ago, and I still have to talk myself down with reminders that I’m out of school now, and no one can make me go back.

The fear is still real. I was one of the lucky ones. I knew I was going to get good grades. The bullies picked on smaller, weirder kids. My family had enough money to buy me the essentials of cooldom.

I’d show up on the first day of school (West University Elementary, Pershing Middle School, Lamar High School in Houston, Texas, if you’re interested) in uncomfortably crisp new jeans as I lugged tons of supplies (everything on the school’s list with extra for the kids who needed them, because my mother was like that), and I’d look around the room to take a silent roll call.

Each familiar face, even the ones I didn’t like, was a relief. We made it through the summer. Would we all make it through the school year? Was there any point in getting to know or like the new teachers, aides, and kids? If a shooter came blasting through the door, I’d want fewer friends to mourn, assuming I survived.

Once active shooter drills invaded the schedule, the assurances of well-meaning adults that such a thing would never happen in our school fell flat. I wondered what else they were lying to me about.

I asked my partners if they felt the same way about school.

Johnny nodded like a bobble doll and confessed to sheer terror, terror so bad that his parents occasionally pulled him out of school for a while and sent him to his grandparents’ house in Beauchamp, where he’d speed through his schoolwork at his grandfather’s restaurant.

“I’d shake until I couldn’t talk, could barely move,” he whispered, as though it were happening now. “Of course, I felt the same way about going to the grocery store, so I do not think school terrorism was completely responsible for my panic.”

Johnny, I admit, is a special case. So I asked Dianne as she worked on the business taxes due on September 15.

She shut her laptop with a pointed look to let me know what she thought of people who interrupted her. She scoffed, “I went to Catholic schools. They didn’t have shootings. So they said. And Mamí told me Jesus and His Mother would protect us.” She looked down at her laptop. “The priest always blessed the students and their supplies before school started. The prayers got more frantic over the years.”

I watched in silence as she used her forefinger to trace the sticker of Quetzalcoatl, feathered serpent god of her ancestral lands, on her laptop cover.

“I taped a picture of Quetzalcoatl to my Trapper Keeper in middle school,” she remarked in breezy tones. “The same year my great-grandmother sent me a rosary of Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

“The one you keep on your nightstand?”

“Yes. I carried it to school every day through college.” She glanced out the window, apparently preferable to looking me in the eye. “I didn’t want it lost or stolen. Now it stays on my nightstand. Except when I’m going to a concert, a movie, or other crowded place.”

She kept tracing the feathered serpent god, still the guardian of her work device.

Even though today I can talk myself out of school panic, I feel for my sisters (still in college), my friends who became teachers, and you, my loyal readers who might have connections to a school system. Here’s wishing you the best, most boring school year ever, with your deity, angel, saint, or grandparents keeping you safe from all harm.

Long school hallway
Endless school hallway, by kyo azuma on Unsplash
JD Thompson
Attorney at Law, Mediator