Time

I visited my old high school several months ago. As I walked the halls, I could see myself in another time. I was really surprised at how little things had changed. There were, of course, new faces, but the actual place was almost timeless. I think about the friends I had and how, at that time, their futures were mysteries. I always wondered, “What happened to the homecoming queen? The football quarterback? The straight A student? The quiet girl at the back of the room? Where did they go? What happened to all of us?” I began to see the degree in which my past impacted my future, and that for most of us, we did not know the sum of all the parts of our friends’ lives, nor did they know ours.

I remember waking around six-thirty. I could hear my dad talking in the bathroom as he shaved. Every now and then, he would whistle and sing. He would brush on the whipped shaving cream, and then shave his face clean. I could hear cabinet doors open and close, and the morning news was on the TV in the den. My dad would then put on his lightly starched white shirt and a blue paisley tie, hang his coat at the door, and proceed to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Mom would be frying bacon and pouring juice. I would finally roll out of bed and into the shower. I would decide what to wear, dry my hair, and head to the kitchen. My daddy had already retrieved the Charlotte Observer from the driveway, and he had placed the funnies at my seat at the table. I would gulp down breakfast while reading Peanuts, and then go and brush my teeth. I would then race to the door. I would hug my Irish Setter, Sham, and then I would loudly say, “I will see ya’ll this afternoon!” I would run to my little green Capri, and head for the barn. I would look at the time, I had to be in homeroom by 8:05.

All the familiar places whizzed by as Big Ways radio was blaring in the car. I hurriedly pulled my car over in front of the barn and opened the gate. Foxy would put her head out the stall door and nicker at me to hurry. She would shake her beautiful head up and down, so pleased to see me. I would stop at the stall and rub my hands up and down her head, and then land on her soft nose. I would look in her big brown eyes and give her a kiss, and tell her, “One minute!” Quickly, I would unlock the tack room and grab a pad of hay, and toss it in her trough. She would nuzzle it, eat a bit, and toss it in the air in anticipation. Then I would give her a generous scoop of sweet feed. Hurriedly, I would retrace my steps and open the stall door. I would refill her water bucket and muck her stall. Once everything was complete, I would open her stall door and latch it open. My arms would wrap around her neck, and I would whisper to her, “I will see you this afternoon.”

After looking at the time again, I would rush out the gate, lock it, and head for school. Once at school and in the parking lot, I would grab the first space. I would run to the door and enter to the busyness of lockers banging and the murmured chatter of students with intermittent loud laughter. I would hurry down the hall and up the stairs to Mrs. Connor’s room, who later in the day would become my beloved French teacher, but now for just homeroom. I would usually fly in just before the final bell, and pray I wasn’t tardy. Mrs. Connor would smile at me and give me a wink. For the next ten minutes, I would catch my breath and sigh. The rest of the day, I went from class to class, but it was more than just for a subject. It was a time to think and to be with friends. I knew almost everyone by name. High school was the only time in my life where I was surrounded by so many people who mattered to me.

I think as we get older, we underestimate the importance of these early friendships. We were so close and then, without warning, we graduated and went off to find ourselves in a much bigger world. We lost touch, only to eventually reunite. We got married, some divorced. We had children and we watched them grow up. Sometimes, our lives did not turn out the way we wanted, and for others, it all seemed perfect. Looking back, it was all a mirrorball of the unexpected.

As I walked down the halls of my past, they seemed narrower and shorter. I remembered them as almost endless. Time was the same, an endless road towards a nothingness, yet always something in the end. I rushed often to places, only to linger for what seemed a lifetime. My life would stand still. One afternoon, I was sitting alone at the barn. Sham was curled in shavings at my feet. I suddenly saw a familiar car weave on an empty road. There were at that time, no iPhones, no texts, and no emails. Just moments to watch and wait. The world slowed to a halt as the car pulled behind my Capri, and my boyfriend at the time climbed out of his car, straight from his college campus to home and to me. Everything stood still. My heartbeat broke the silence. When I got married in the shadows of candlelight on a cold January night, there were moments that replay often in slow mo. I can still feel it all. My breathless abandon into the unknown. And when my son was placed in my arms, his small hands and feet, the warmth of his tiny body, mesmerized me for what seemed eternity. The immense mystery and joy time brings to motherhood. My life, my journey, the long haul of existence, has now sadly shortened, and time moves much faster. It has no tolerance for wonder.

I once again entered my high school English classroom. I remember exactly where I sat. Mary, now a Duke alum with continued study and degrees from UNC, sat immediately in front of me. We became quick friends in our love for the written word. Our lives, however, took different roads, yet in many ways, our minds might always return to this same place. My seat behind Mary had a perfect view looking out the tall windows lining the outside wall of the room. I gazed out those windows many days, listening intently to my teacher, Judy Norvell, as she opened up a bigger world for me than existed at that time, in that place, my hometown. I noticed upon entering the door, something was different about the classroom. Strangely, they had rearranged the desks. All of the students now had their backs to this long view out the windows. I winced at this discovery. Another race to beat time.

As I traveled past classroom after classroom, the library, and into the gym…time seemed so long ago, and yet, so entwined with my being. I could retrieve it in seconds. As I returned to the front lobby and said my thanks and goodbyes, there was a sadness, a nostalgia, a longing to feel the long halls of my life again, where time seems endless. I wondered if our children have experienced this feeling where time stops so that we can drink it all in, or is it so complicated by technology that these kinds of moments have become elusive?

Just the other day, I was walking Maggy and Atticus on a friend’s farm. The old railroad track borders part of the property. Most tracks in my hometown have been dead for years. At one time, they were busy transporting goods, mostly textiles, to other factories in cities down the line. As I was walking through the pine trees as dusk was just about to take over the sun, I heard the noise. I stopped, the dogs stopped. The loud, but musically inspired clickity-clack of the locomotive as it curved a football field away took hold of my space. In the silence of the small grove of trees, the horn broke the quiet as the train kept making its way. Time stood still. The beautiful sound, once so familiar, returned to me. I realized I had missed this experience, of the train chugging by, the rhythm of the wheels on the tracks, and the whistle blowing and fading into dusk. We continued the walk, but with more energy.

How I miss the unexpected in a world lacking in possibility and hope. As I have gotten older, this magic time has dwindled, and in its rareness, often centers more on loss and a lonely kind of melancholy. I so want to return to the longer halls, where amazement finds me and time stands still. A return to a sense of awe and a contentment in belonging, something we misplaced on our collective long, but almost instant haul to nowhere.

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If life steers you into a dead end road, and you are trying to find your way, skip the GPS, take the road with no traffic. Founder studiO, early morning poet.

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Patty Brown

Patty Brown

If life steers you into a dead end road, and you are trying to find your way, skip the GPS, take the road with no traffic. Founder studiO, early morning poet.

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