I couldn’t help but laugh when Terri gave me her description of “The Claw.” Her clawing hand and snarling voice was an almost dead on impression of or advanced English teacher back in our days in junior high school. Our laugh was short lived though, because about a minute or two later my trusty green and black Chevy brought us to our final destination, the future site of what was being referred to as “The School of The Future,” and the current sight of Franklin Roosevelt Junior High. The very building that me and Terri met, fell in love, and where we started to become the people we are today.
A sickening feeling of failure and dissolution always accompanied every thought I had of the old place. I had held an office job within the city government for about 7 years now, and once I heard the plans for a glorious new junior high school, I made it my soul purpose in life to thwart the plan by any means necessary. Soon though it became apparent that I was the only voice that Mr. Roosevelt’s namesake school had, and my hopes of saving my beloved school were smashed into the ground. I don’t understand people’s logic sometimes. People for whatever reason have a bad habit of assuming newer is always better. My home of Altoona Pennsylvania was a bustling rail road city back in the 1920s which made it spring up overnight, but eventually fell to the rise of the automobile. The city really wasn’t a “big” city, but it had a unique school system. There were 2 junior high schools where, depending on where you lived, you would attend. Over the years overcrowding and the toll of time itself did a number on the three buildings.
I guess that nostalgia and preservation of history is no match for technology anymore. There had been a battle within the city whether to overhaul the buildings one by on and build a moderately bigger building for a new junior high, or to completely ditch all three buildings in favor of one super school complete with every imaginable educational advancement. In the end, nothing I did or said was met with any serious thought. Points I made about loosing one of the biggest school rivalries was flat out ignored, and when I explained that the school would be to large for younger students to adapt to, the answers I got all were generic “they will be fine” crap. Even my petition signed by half the population of the city to save the school was ignored and most likely in a “to be shredded” pile on some guy’s desk.
The only other supporter the building seemed to have was my wife Terri. From the day we met at school it seemed like we were made for each other. We met in phys-ed in 7th grade, and the word “inseparable” seemed to be the only appropriate word. We weren’t “popular” by any means, but our relationship seemed to be a model for our friends. We always heard people talk of wanting what “Dave and Terri” have, which made us a bit uncomfortable, but it seemed to reassure what we were feeling.
Terri had this uncanny ability to know what moments she was needed and what moments she was not, and this was one of those times where her hand in mine would be an almost lifesaving comfort. We had received permission to enter Roosevelt Jr. High, the official reason was to “check on demolition progress,” but we were going to do no such thing. Trying to obtain permission to go through the school was actually her idea to begin with. She wanted us to be able to relive some of our old memories and say goodbye to a building that meant so much to the both of us. It took a while, but I finally called in some favors and was able to get the keys to the place. I couldn’t help but suspect that giving us permission to do what we wanted to done in hops that I would shut up and quit pissing off the higher ups.
I recognized that this was going to be one of those days that would change me. This would be the last time I would ever see the old school hall as a destination. I remembered back to a time when I couldn’t wait to be gone from this building forever, to leave it behind and be on to bigger and better things. Now as my eyes sat on the blessed building I could see every memory of my days here passing over me in one sudden rush of nostalgia
Every moment like a movie screen projecting right into my eyes. I say myself talking to my first ever best friend for the first time. Hank was my first real friend, and I met him in the very building I was gazing at. Then I was back in gym class, the very spot where I met my wife Terri for the first time. Oddly enough, I met her when she accidentally hit me in the face with a basketball and broke my nose. All of the sudden I had traveled a few years later and I was in front of the bathroom mirror crying. This was a moment I wished I could forget, but instead it seems that it stays with me as the most vivid of all.
I always feel weak when I think of this memory, almost down right silly, but that is what society does to me sometimes. People often laugh and joke about the problems of 13 year olds. They say things like “that’s nothing” dismiss anything they are feeling as childish. I do no such thing, and feel that what happened to you at that age mold’s you into who you become in adulthood. I don’t wish what I went through on my worst enemy, and still prey to god that I never go through that much pain again. I still remember though. I remember crying to the point of physical pain, I remember thinking why I had to be the one who’s parents don’t love each other anymore, and why God chose now to scare me with doctors who wanted to do test on me, throwing around words like “cancer” and what my “treatment options” were going to be if the tests were positive.
“Dave, don’t do that to yourself”
A stern voice broke me out of my tearful reminiscing. I think Terri knew exactly what was going through my mind and quickly brought be back to reality. I looked at her, and a wordless “thank you” and “you’re welcome” passed between us. . Falling back into her normal, angelic voice she suggested we get out of the car, being that we had been sitting in it in almost complete silence for 20 minutes, eyes fixated on where we were soon to be
“Are you sure you want to do this, Dave?”
She was always emotionally stronger than me. There were many times where I envied her when she was able to keep a straighter head than I could. She could always think things through with a clear head and put them into perspective while I was driving myself crazy trying to do everything at once. I looked over to her beautiful eyes, and with a nod of our heads, we got out of the car and started out melancholy walk to the school building.
Suddenly Terri got a grin on her face and exclaimed, “Damn it, I left it in the trunk,” and she sprinted back to our car. She got to the car and franticly was searching her pockets for the keys. I was a bit confused, but obviously whatever was in the trunk was important, so I quickly walked back to the car and opened it up for her.
“Thanks sweetheart,” she said kissing me on the cheek. Before I could ask her what she was doing, she pulled out a CD boom box from the back of the car. The quizzical look on my face was enough for her to know exactly what I was thinking, and her smile and giggle was her usual way of saying “You’ll see what I have up my sleeve darling!” I didn’t actually ask what she was up to, because usually the giggle also meant if I enquired, I would get a playful sucker punch on the big ugly scar on my arm, the visible reminder of my cancer scare.
“You didn’t forget anything else in here did you Terri?”
One clever answer and one kick in the shin later we were once again walking to our childhood school, feeling slightly lighter because of the car antics that just occurred.
We approached the door for the last time just as my watch chimed in at 3 o’clock. Right away the teenager that was still inside me s was cringing in pain at the thought of walking into, instead of out of, my old school at three in the afternoon. Of course, if I know that same teenager as well as I think I do, he also had an evil mischievous grin on has face as I was about to enter a deserted building where we were not supposed to be with my sweetheart. If anything though, my teenage self was probably calling me an overemotional loser for entering a stupid building for something as stupid as “closure.”
Terri and I decided that we were going to enter the building as we did as kids, through a small door that lead into the basement, just to the right of the main staircase entrance. Luck was on my side for a brief moment it would seem. In my not-so-normal state of mind, I never bothered to but the building’s keys on my key ring and had apparently left them laying somewhere back at the house. Luckily someone had left this particular door unlocked and open to anyone else who felt it was necessary to make their presence felt. The already rusting door hinges creaked in protest as we entered the old brick structure. We had brought flashlights just in case, but since the “basement” was not typical in that it was on ground level, it had a few windows that let in just enough light to let us get around.
Once again a blur of memories came rushing back into my head. I looked to the left and saw a portion of the floor that was a completely different color, much less worn down because of the years this small corner was occupied with an often empty candy machine. Straight ahead of us was the one part of the building I despised, the elevator. Due to my several bouts with broken ankles I was forced to ride up and down this box of death several times a year. Feeling it sway from side to side as I rode is most likely how I was able to get a case or acrophobias and claustrophobia all at the same time. To our right, the steps that lead to the first floor, and to the rest of the building.
With a quick nod of her head, we started in the direction of the stairs. Just one foot on the first step and we both seemed to come down with a case of incapacitating remembrance. I don’t know what memories were flushing through Terri’s head, but my own memory was that of the first day I ever stepped foot onto these stairs. I was different then. Junior high school was the stereotypical “first day of the rest of my life” for me. Until then, I had nobody aside from my parents. I was always the outcast in my early years of schooling. This building gave me new hope when I struck up a random conversation with a random kid named Arthur who I am still good friends with to this very day.
A bittersweet view of the old main hallway greeted us when we reached the top. The hall where I walked more times than I can count was now a shadow of its former self. The trophy case was gone, the doors to the rooms were no more, and the floor was littered with the cutter of a building about to die. I could tell Terri was having a rough time with it too, she had just seen the hall mural she helped paint with large holes punched in it and scratches mercilessly ripped through its painted flesh. She buried her head into my shoulder and quietly sobbed for a moment or two before looking at the mural with a chuckle and saying with the tone of a lie “I never liked that painting anyway!.”
Arm and arm we toured every inch of the building like a fine tooth comb. Every step brought back forgotten memories, as well as the terrible thought that the memories would fade into nothingness along with the poor damned school hall. I must have fought back a lifetimes worth of tears on our walk through the past, and Terri was good enough to pretend she did not notice.
As we walked, we passed by the restroom. Outside was the old fixtures, sinks and mirrors. One mirror in predictor caught my eye. Yes, this was it, the chip out of the bottom left corner and the crack across the top told me this was the mirror I shed many a tear. Picking it up, I looked at myself in it one more time, and threw it into the nearest trash can, where it broke apart instantly. Terri gave me a look that told me she knew exactly what I did what I did, and without a word, we continued.
Our tour took us hours, we talked a lot, laughed a lot, and stood in silent sorrow a lot. We saw our old homerooms, our old class rooms, and even sat in the cafeteria in our regular seats, just talking about the old times we had.
And then, we finally came to what room I feared most, and what Terri seemed to save until last. A dusty brown sign on the windowless door read “Girls Gym.” Of course the term “Girls Gym” was about outdated as the ten cent pay phone, but the school still kept the names on the doors and used them on scheduling sheets. I still remember freaking out when I saw that I was to report to the “Girl’s Gym” for the first time, but my homeroom instructor was good enough to explain it to everyone before anyone went completely nuts. Good old Mr. Davis, he was quite the nice guy.
“So are you going in or what!?”
Terri almost shouted in my ear as I stood suspended in the hallway like one of the old removed statues that lined the walls. I knew that she knew why I was not in a hurry to enter the gym, but for some reason she was strangely adamant about getting me in there.
“Surely you remember…”
“You know damn well I remember” I choked out, resisting the urge to run out the door before Terri could convince me to go in.
Placing a hand on my shoulder she said with amazing sympathy “Okay, go sit down, ill be right back.”
I sat on the floor in the hall while Terri went into the gymnasium for reasons unknown to myself. It didn’t take long for my tears to march back to my eyes. This was probably the most significant room in the building to me. One of my fondest memories took place here, and now when it is a mere 3 yards away, and I was finding it completely hopeless and impossible that I would ever go inside. I swore to God I was ready for this, but suddenly once again it hit me that everything, every moment, ever feeling, every memory, was going to be locked in a pile of rubble within the next month.
She emerged a few moments later, a sympathetic smile on her face as she offered her hand to me. The look on her face was saying “it will be all right,” but as the trip went on, I came to the realization that it would never be all right. The building was doomed, along with my memories of it. I pulled myself up, every step I took felt like an impregnable barrier, each step was sucking the life out of me.
“We don’t have to do this” I choked out.
Terri gave me one of those stares that only a wife can conjure up. It had the look of sympathy, anger, love and deep friendship all in one. No matter how much I wanted to, there was no way I was going to fight a look like that. Then, just as sudden as a heart attack, I saw the door again, and froze.
Terri gazed in my direction. “Listen dear, we promised each other we would do this. We promised we would see each other though this, and I promised myself that I would NOT let you do this to yourself Dave. So don’t you DARE spring all this on me all at once.”
I could tell that her sternness was just a front to what she was truly feeling inside. She was always mentally much stronger that me, but I could tell when her strength was failing her. I was suddenly filled with my duties as a husband, to be strong for the love of my life, to make her feel as little pain as possible. I guess you could call it a metal second wind, but for me, it was an act of love that I continued.
“Damn, and I thought that I got my last lecture in this building YEARS ago!”
That little ice breaker seemed to put us both a little more at ease. In front of us stood a threshold, a door we used many times as kids, a door that seemed to be calling out to us. I she offered her hand, and just as I was about to grab it, I saw she was missing something.
“What happened to the boom box?”
“Why Dave, what ever do you mean?”
I never did like when she used sarcasm. Usually it meant that there was something she new and I didn’t, or she was about to tell me the kind of news that you hate to hear as a husband. I just didn’t understand the logic at the moment, she had the boom box when she walked in the gym before me, and she no longer had it when she reappeared in the hallway. I could not think of any logical reason for her to need a damn boom box, but her urgent search for D batteries last night was slightly more clear.
“OK Terri, what the hell is going on? What are you up to?
“Just come this way dear.”
The loving softness in her voice always seemed to have a hypnotic effect on me. She could make me do anything with that voice, and now she was finally making me do the one thing I wanted to do the most, and least, in the world right now. Beyond this door was where Terri and I attended our first dance. We shared a lot of firsts in this room, and it was, and still is, one of my most favorite places in the entire world. I remember the exact spot where we shared our first dance, where I was able to get the school’s resident egomaniac jock Andy Simpson to back off of her, and most importantly I remember the exact spot she was standing when I feel il love with her.
I hear a lot of people talk about how kinds are to “immature and inexperienced” to know what love is at that age, but their opinions can rot for all I care, because in my heart, even at 12 years old, I was in love. We ended up at the dance as friends who had no one else to go with, but Terri later explained to me that she couldn’t bring herself to reveal what she felt for me. For us, for me at least, the destruction of this sacred ground meant the destruction of my memories of this place.
Slowly, methodically, we pushed open the door. We dared not to speak, not to say I word to each other, but this was another moment where words were useless. This room was housing our past, our memories, and the memories of thousands of other people. Surely we were not the only ones who could not bear to see this building die, but at that moment in time, me an Terri were the only people on this planet.
I heard the door latch behind me, and suddenly I was taking it all in. The damaged gym floor, the basketball hoops lying dismantled on the ground, the stripped walls, it was all so very terrible. My mind overloaded, and my emotions turned on me.
“Why Terri…why do people have to be so damn awful! Why to people worry more about their political gains and their damn wallets than they do people like us! What the point of caring about anything when you know darn well its going to be taken away from you!”
Shouting and swearing and crying and pounding like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum I pounded my fists on the floor. They were talking my memories from me, and they didn’t care. I wanted my children to walk these halls, I wanted the children of my friends to play in this gym, but instead, those ideas, along with hundreds of years of history was going to be a pile of rubble, and all it was going to take was some jackass with a wrecking ball. I wanted so bad for this building to love, I wanted it to survive, and if I could, I wanted to be inside when they tore it down, I just did not care anymore.
In my emotional state, I almost forgot Terri was even there. All I could do was acknowledge her with a head nod. She put her arms around me, and laid her head on my shoulder.
“May I have this dance?”
She pointed to the boom box sitting on the floor, and a cleared away spot on the gym floor. My sudden outburst came to an even more sudden end as I started to comprehend what Terri was trying to do. I really didn’t understand why, but Terri wanted a last dance in this place. Maybe she was going to miss this place as much as me, maybe she thought it would grant each other some kind of closure, or maybe it was her romantic side coming out of her as it often did.
In my mind, I was paralleling everything that was happening now with everything that happened all those years ago. We stood in the same place as our final dance; her peach colored dress was replaced with faded jeans and an old ragged shirt she usually saved for her days off. My cloths were not the basic dress cloths bought only hours before that night, but jean shorts and one of my many auto racing shirts. All these thoughts kept stirring up in my mind, then Terri put her arms around me, pulled out a small remote for the boom box and hit the play button
All at once, my mind transported back to that time. The rubble on the floor was gone, the damage to the walls was covered by the decorations of the evening, and Terri was her twelve year old beautiful self again. My friends and teachers were all dancing with their sweethearts. Andy the jock was standing alone against the wall, the only kid in the room by himself, and once again I say my friend Randy wink at me as we danced with the girls we loved.
It was all there, it was all perfect, the song was the same, the memories were the same, the girl was the same, and for the first time that day, as my mind was frolicking in the past, I was actually happy. Nothing on earth could take this moment away from me, or from us. I could tell from the blissful look on my wife’s face that she was enjoying this moment as much as I was. The next thing I knew, the song ended, and I came to the realization that I think Terri was trying to instill in me
I opened my eyes after the dance, and the ruins of the gym once again filled my view. This time though, I felt no anger, I felt no sense of loss, I felt nothing more than a little dusty. It all made sense to me now, and it was suddenly going to be all right. My memories were not here, my memories were not confined to this pile of stone and mortar, and they would not be gone when the building came down!
There were so many emotions going through my head, and they were all that of self realization and relief. Sure this building housed a lot of history, and sure I had a lot of good memories here, but things inevitably change and evolve with time.
Tears once again were swelling my eyes, but for the first time I can remember, they were tears of joy. I could keep my memories, and not a damn thing could take them away from me. There wasn’t a big enough wrecking ball in the world to demolish my cherished moments. And there wasn’t enough dynamite in the country to blow up my past.
Turning to Terri, the love of my life, and with a sense of closure filling my soul, I took her hand and stared into her beautiful brown eyes.
“Let’s get out of this dump.”