I had lunch at school with my son yesterday. In the middle of the school there is an open area that separates the media center, cafeteria and gym from the office and classrooms. In a corner of this open area are two park benches, a potted palm and a cart of books. On the wall are three photos. One photo is of a little boy wearing a green, brown and white striped shirt. His dark blonde hair has straight bangs. He has big, clear green eyes and a goofy grin. Next to his picture is a plaque with his name, birthdate and date of death. His name was Nick, and he was eight years old. There is a quote on the plaque: "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." Theodore Roosevelt.
The other photos are of a little girl who died in late 2007 when she was six and attending kindergarten. I remember when it happened. Her name was Chelsea, and it was a freak accident where a hair dryer fell into a bathtub and killed her. The other photo is of her kindergarten teacher and classmates releasing balloons with messages to her. I can't look at that photo because it makes me cry. Little faces looking skyward and releasing balloons is just too much for me to think about.
This corner is a permanent place for these little ones to be remembered in the school where they used to study and play and eat lunch. And every time I pass by it, I feel their eyes looking at me from the photos. They seem to say, "I'm still here" to me.
And I wondered what had happened to the little boy. He had died in 1998 before I moved to this town. As I walked past the office to sign out, I asked the receptionist. She didn't know, and she asked the principal's assistant, who didn't know either. They glanced at each other and then looked cautiously at me. "Why do you want to know?" one of them asked me. I explained that I have had children here for the last five years, and I had always wondered. Just then, the principal walked in, and they asked her. She didn't know either. The school nurse popped in and said she thought it was an accident, but she wasn't sure either. The only other person nearby who would know was the school guidance counselor who had worked in the school district for the last 26 years, but he was out of his office. I smiled, shrugged, and told them I was "just wondering" and left. But the rest of that afternoon I kept seeing the boy with the big eyes and goofy grin in my mind.
I wonder if these little ones look in on their old school from time to time. Do they see friends or teachers they used to know? Can they see inside the classrooms and remember their life here? I like to think they can. And I wanted to let them know that I was thinking about them, and how I notice their pictures every time I walk past them. They are still here in spirit if not in everyone's memory.
And I was able to find out information about the little boy on the internet. His name was Nick, and he died on a day in September. It was a bike-truck accident, and that is all I know. I hope his final thoughts were about enjoying the fall leaves, or enjoying his day off of school, or how much he loved to ride his bike. I hope he felt no pain. I know he is at peace now.
And the next time I pass by the remembrance corner, I will see his face, and I will smile back.
"Memories" by Louise Bailey
I feel a warmth around me
like your presence is so near,
And I close my eyes to visualize
your face when you were here,
I endure the times we spent together
and they are locked inside my heart,
For as long as I have those memories
we will never be apart,
Even though we cannot speak no more
my voice is always there,
Because every night before I sleep
I have you in my prayer.