I remember one of the writing prompts we had in one of my classes at the community college. The teacher described a crack in one of the walkways on campus and how it had been there for years. He had grown accustomed to stepping around it so he wouldn’t trip. It was so routine now he didn’t even realize he did it. One day, he noticed the walkway had been repaired. He stood there for a few seconds. It had caught him off guard and he thought about it for the rests of the day. He encouraged us to write about something in our lives that is a regular thing, that we’d miss if it were gone. Even if it was as simple as the crack in the walkway being fixed. I remember writing about the smell and steam from the coffee I purchased almost every day from a coffee cart on campus. It wasn’t the most ‘deep’ or psychological of things I could have picked, but it fit my life at the time and as I recall, the teacher mentioned just how lovely my description of the steam and foam and smells and sensory invigoration had been. I took that class probably 7 years ago but every now and then, when something that is a regular thing in my life goes missing, I think back on it. That writing teacher, class, prompt, walkway crack… have been on my mind lately.
I take a back roads way to get to work so I can avoid having to deal with the traffic headache that is the greater Seattle area on any given morning/afternoon. One particular stretch of the drive takes me right past that community college. right before I drive past the main entrance, there was a pot hole. It was substantial enough of a pot hole for me to stay to the left side of my lane for fear it would pop my tires. That pot hole had been there for as long as I can remember and out of habit, I drove around it without much thought. One day, the pot hole was gone. A road crew had filled it during the night. It wasn’t sad, necessarily, but I did think about it. It was there, had been there, and now it was gone.
Last week it was announced that one of our fellow Monday volunteers down at the foodbank, had passed away. His name was Leslie and he’d been a long time volunteer. He was a crank of an old man and we avoided him for the most part. He was hunched over due to some sort of spine disorder probably, and he insisted on working alone and always in the same spot. He was a hard worker, he was just cranky. Evidently he volunteered 3 other days a week at another one or two places. He filled his time helping others. And very few people knew. And now he’s gone. Yesterday was my first shift where he wasn’t there. He didn’t know my name, I didn’t know his, but he was always there and I appreciated that. And now he’s gone. It won’t feel quite the same anymore.
And then last night as I was perusing my usual news websites, because I’m kind of a news junkie, I saw a blurb about a missing Edmonds woman police were looking for. I clicked on the article and a picture popped up. I think I actually audibly gasped. I was almost sure, 95% sure, that it was my old art teacher from high school. When I got home I took out my yearbook to double check. We always called her Mrs. ____. I don’t think I ever paid attention to her first name so I had to make sure. But it was her. She’s retired now and apparently has a pretty advanced case of both Alzheimer’s and Dimensia and hadn’t returned from a walk. I looked all over last night and then this morning and FINALLY found a follow-up article that she has been found. This woman, who I knew for a couple years, as a student of hers, but hadn’t seen since, had made my heart beat a bit faster and I kept thinking about her. I’m still thinking about her. I’m glad she’s safe and with family now. She was really cold they said, but she was alright. Rationally I know that past teachers age, as we all do, and rationally I know that many have probably passed away. But in my head, they are frozen as they were when I sat in their classes. And while they’re not part of my active life, they are part of the world that made me who I am and when a piece of that changes, a piece you never think about but is a piece nonetheless, it gives you cause to stop.
It’s a bit odd that these things, pretty unrelated things, could conjur up the memory of that writing class. I don’t think it really means anything, but it’s interesting. My awareness of small changes seems to be heightened right now, which I suppose is normal.