The following piece was originally published on the Neumannic Times blog. We would like to thank the author for permission to post these thought-provoking words.
“This place sucks … I mean, not this place (she’s referring to my classroom), but (insert swirling hand motion as if to indicate this high school as a whole) … thhiissss place.”
Me: Gotcha. Thanks for clarifying.
Senior Girl: The walls are so bland.
Senior Boy: It’s depressing. They’re all beige. Next thing you know, they’ll have us wearing matching uniforms and planning to invade Eurasia.
Insert a collective processing pause.
Emily: I don’t get it.
Senior Boy rolls his eyes and lets out a laconic sigh. “Jesus, Emily! We’re not really going to invade Eurasia … I was trying to—Oh never mind!”
Me: No I get what you’re saying. The hallways around here do have a sort of institutionalized flavor to them.
Senior Boy: Everywhere you turn. It’s just different shades of brown. Is that supposed to be conducive to creativity?
Me: Valid question. I can’t remember when this happened, but were you guys here before the White Out? Like, before all the murals and stuff were erased? When the walls still had color?
Several students chime in, “Yeah! We were freshmen. There were murals everywhere! Then they painted over all of them.”
Me: I know. T’was kind of sad. I painted a lot of those.
Senior: You did?
Intercom: Teachers and Students, please pardon the interruption. Due to the impending inclement weather, we will be dismissing students from school 2 hours early, at 1:30. All classes for the remainder of the day will be 30 minutes long. Teachers, please check your email for the updated bell schedule.”
Wish I would’ve taken a picture of everyone’s reaction after the intercom spoke, because in that moment, everyone won the lottery. Everyone was a winner, and if you’d never yelled, “Yahtzee!” in your life, that was the perfect moment to rejoice. I’ve read about the weight of the world residing on people’s shoulders; even written about it. One thing I’d never seen though, at least until that moment, was the weight of the world actually being lifted off people’s shoulders. Tell students they’re gonna be dismissed from school early, and that it’s because of snow, and they’re floating. Carefree. Giddy. Weightless. The excitement is electric.
Out in the hallway, a boy broke free from his class and ran down the hallways shouting, “THERE ARE NO RULES! THIS IS THE APOCALYPSE!! NO RULES! HIDE YOUR CHILDREN! HIDE YOUR WIVES! THERE ARE NO RULES! …”
Hyperbole perhaps. Foreshadowing of things to come? I’ll let the reader decide. But if you were anywhere in Metro Atlanta around 1:00 PM on January 28th, 2014, the notion of an apocalypse wasn’t too much of a stretch. No need to relive the dysfunctional calamity of what happened next. Atlanta became an episode of The Walking Dead.
I left school at 4:00 PM that afternoon, and returned at 6:45 PM. The plan was to drive home (Downtown Atlanta), but I couldn’t even reach access roads to the interstate. There were just too many wrecks. Having admitted defeat, I made my way back to Pope High School. The revised plan, and only feasible option, was to crash at my parents’ house. They live across the street from Pope, but I needed to retrieve some contact solution from my classroom. So, enter, once again, I did.
Principal: Ryan! What are you doing back here?
Me: Forgot something.
Principal: Forgot something! Where do you live?
Me: Next to the Georgia Dome.
Principal: And you came back because you forgot something?
Me: Yeah. But my folks live around here. So, gonna crash at their place tonight.
Principal: Well be careful!
He begins walking, hurriedly down a nearby hallway; appearing concerned about something.
Me: Will do. What are you still doing here?
Still walking, he replies, “We still have students here! I’m not leaving ‘til their parents are able to come get them!”
His voice trails off.
Walking towards my classroom, I pass many of the walls that once portrayed murals. Some painted by me. Others by peers. They’re all buried by several coats of beige now. And unless you were here before the school was renovated a few years ago, you’d never know there were murals to begin with. It’s kind of a weird feeling. Seeing projects you devoted so many summers to, erased. Like it never happened.
While this isn’t the root cause of my distaste for artistic endeavors, it was one of the final nails in the coffin. Seeing the blank walls every day creates somewhat of an indifferent disposition, like “What’s the point? Why bother with art if it’s just going to be erased?” Guess that’s the jaded idealistic side of me going emo for a second.
The realist side recognizes the murals weren’t going to last forever. At some point, they’d have to go away for one reason or another. So what’s the big deal? No use in crying over spilled guineas, right? Oh wait … that was Jack Nicholson in The Departed. It’s Milk! No use crying over spilled milk.
Anyway, I suppose it’s more ironic than anything else. Student returns to his alma mater a teacher. Hired in part for his creative tendencies in the classroom, he returns to find that the paintings he was once commissioned to paint have become, for lack of a better phrase, collateral damage. Well that, and one of the core beliefs of the Cobb County School District state that “creativity and innovation are encouraged and embraced by all stakeholders.”
Who knows? Maybe I just didn’t get the memo.
Every once and awhile, I’ll pause at a wall that used to contain a mural. For a moment, I’ll glance and see the picture that once was. I try not to stare for long; having already established a reputation for some of my more awkward quirks as a teacher, I’d hate to compound the matter further by earning the additional label of, “that weird teacher who stares at blank walls.”
So I shake it out and move on. Out of the building. Into the snow. Where the paralysis brought on by Winter Storm Leon creates a white out of its own; facilitating a silence that is deafening.