On the final day — the very best day, as everyone knows — the last task is a tedious one. Grades have been turned in, yearbooks have been signed, the eighth-graders have already been “promoted.”
And now the hallways of Alice Deal Middle School in Northwest D.C. smelled like cleaning product again, like they did 42 weeks ago, on the first day — the very worst day, some say — of the school year.
That faint smell of chemical clean hovered around the lockers. The task now was to empty them.
It doesn’t happen all at once, for fear of chaos and not enough paper towels, but as Friday afternoon approached, the treasures of the more than 1,200 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders were emptied into duffel bags and Whole Foods totes, trash cans and recycling bins. The students picked through their primary-colored cabinets of almost-privacy, each weighing what was worth taking home and what belonged in the school’s dumpsters. Down the locker-lined hallways, every boy and girl found something different.
She threw away the deodorant, which she learned to use this year.
He kept two black binders to use next year. Ever since his mom announced she was pregnant, it was like his parents were constantly talking about “another mouth to feed” and “making ends meet.” He could do his part.
She crumpled up the locker name tag the teachers made for every student. Her friends tried to make her throw it away months ago, insisting the smiling blue ribbon design “is for babies.”
She saved two mascaras, one eyeliner, one blush, three candy-smelling lotions, one hair gel and 11 lip glosses, stored in her locker for days when she came to school and felt like “ech” and needed an extra little push to feel pretty.
She tossed out her cat notebook. The heart drawn around the hole where the binder hooks go said, “You left a hole in my heart.”
He delivered the thank-you card he made with colored pencils to the librarians. When he was called names on the bus, it was their books that let him escape.
She stowed away her not-a-smart-phone, on which she read the message from her friend that said, “Thanks for ditching me.” Now they’re not so much friends anymore.
She threw out the note from her first boyfriend, because it doesn’t matter now anyway. But it is kind of weird because they are still kind of friends.
He would have saved the piece of sea glass that he used in the game where he pretended to be from another planet and his blood was made of carbon and his friend’s blood was made of gold. But he lost it.
He kept his copy of “The Tempest,” which had taught him words like “procrastinate” and “usurp” that he hoped he would use next year in high school, ideally in papers about Kevin Durant.
She packed away the mirror on which she had written, “I love my puppy Mason,” even though the spaniel was gone now, after it had peed on the cabinet and tore through the dry wall and dug up the back yard. The house was much quieter now that no one was yelling at Mason.
She held onto her yearbook, where on the second page someone wrote, “Stay a #rebel.”
They threw away socks without matches, orange peels, math work sheets, rulers that matched their notebooks that matched their lunchboxes, doctors’ notes and field-trip permission forms.
They kept plastic magnetic chandeliers, winter coats, notes mom was supposed to get last week, birthday party invitations and flash drives shaped like monkeys.
And when it was all over and the bell rang and summer started, then maybe they’d make a slip-and-slide or maybe play four square or maybe go for mint chocolate chip ice cream, and it wouldn’t really matter what was in their lockers. Because by then, one sixth-grader said, everyone would feel the same.
“It’s like, after all of this, we survived.”