Last Day of School Goodbyes

Today was the last day of school-- we departed in a cloud of copper-grey dust and skin-parching heat. The long-suffering principals chummed the waters and had last-day-of-school cake and ice-cream, instantly melting onto the kids' laps, running down their forearms, then printed with dust in the ensuing sugar frenzy.  As the last of the kids cleared out, peeling off one by one with grandparents and moms, sweating workmen bashed the porches off of the portable buildings, dismantling steps from under the kids' feet, throwing 2x4s into banging piles.

The elementary school classrooms have been packing up and clearing out: the portables are being hauled away this afternoon. So the kids, in the growing voggy heat, have been rattling around empty rooms-- smears of kid-high hand grime revealed, posters curled on the floor, kids sitting below empty backpack hooks and sweating, sweating, sweating. Kids disgorged from the school bus without backpacks or lunches, then left sitting on grimy wood floors with uno cards and broken crayons.

My big students mostly disappeared as soon as the final hula performance was done-- only a few showed up today to help lug boxes and lounge in my classroom (I have ceiling fans), avoiding their parents for one more day before summer.

There was a backhoe in the gravel path between the portables, and my old tent and the cafeteria tent were both carted away, leaving wide mudflats, dotted with orange-flagged stakes.

Some fifth graders stuffed the school chickens into my big dog kennel for us to take home and try not to kill over the summer. As the science teacher and I were battening down the kennel in the back of her truck, we noticed that distinct limp curl of mud-crusted chicken foot. We opened the cage and jabbed at the immobile chicken's feathers. She briefly blinked and revived, then flopped out of the kennel and into the bed of the truck, then didn't move again.

I carried her over to a breadfruit tree and patted her back. "I laki maika'i, e moa. E hele i kela alanui anuenue i ka lani!" Good luck chicken. Go to that great rainbow road in the sky!

The year just....ended, hammers hammering, flies buzzing, and simmering mirage heat. Students' tiny siblings milled around, parents and aunties set up lawn-chairs in the shade, and the principals gave in and just tried to survive their school being literally torn down around them.

I hugged my seniors who came today-- one seemed so pleased and ready to go, and she giggled with me and hugged me back. One had put on a "I'm a man now" mask overnight, and hugged me from a thousand miles away-- polite and aloof. Two other seniors didn't bother to come, but I got to make leis for them and sniffle with them at graduation, so it wasn't an unfinished story...

I have two middle schoolers who are not coming back. One, a perfunctory B student, performed an anatomical trick of the eye that only 13 year old boys are capable of-- an ice-cold glare AND an acrobatic eye roll-- when I said goodbye to him. "Yeah. Bye."


The other is the kid that teacher meetings tended to revolve around. His mom's number is on my speed dial. He's got a rap sheet and a list of diagnoses. This is the kid who I had to remove from my class on the very first day he came to school (half-way through the first week). And this is ALSO the kid who waxed poetical, in a brilliant imitation of William Carlos Williams, with a string of apology poems to the Spam Musubi he intended to eat.  He also wrote about the pain of being the overweight class clown, and being in love and overlooked. And he gave me, instead of a lei, a braided strand of delicate blue glass beads for our hula performance.

Today in the dusty hot parking area, by the chainlink fence, I told him that he's wonderful and that I'll miss him and hope he comes back to visit all the time. I told him, "ADHD power!" He gave me a big hug and shook and cried and said, "I'm going to miss you." His face was wet and contorted, and he stood slumped. I felt such a rush of affection for this kid-- for all these kids. They're so big-- practically adults-- but they are so young. Just babies in the world.


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