Monday, May 02, 2005

The End of the Road

This will be my final blog entry from Tallahassee, Florida. My U-Haul trailer is packed, other than some last-minute items I'll be using over the next 12 hours, and I'm ready to go. My goal is to leave by noon tomorrow morning (technically today). This was my night of "last times," including the last time I'll eat at my favorite local restaurant (La Pitaria), the last time I'll see a movie in Tally (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), and the last time I'll bump into an ex-student.

Yes, that's right: in a truly bizarre twist of fate, I saw a former student of mine at the store as I stopped on the way back from the movie, to get something to eat before bed. Brandie G. was in my class several years ago when she was a freshman, and she has stuck in my mind for years because a) she was a delightful student, b) she had me as a teacher twice for successive English Comp. classes, and c) her final essay in my spring semester class included a bunch of photographs taken of her grandfather and she never came back for them.

Now, these weren't just polariods shot around a barbecue. These were old black-and-whites taken at the start of WWII, when her grandfather was only 19 years old. And these were the originals. Yes, she had affixed the actual original photos to her essay using double-sided tape. It was an extra effort she didn't need to make -- the essay was already "A" quality. But it was nice that she felt the motivation to bring in other media to supplement her essay, and dug into family archives. Most students surf the 'Net for ten minutes and print something out unmodified and call it good.

After the end of the class, I always kept the essays for one semester so students could come back and reclaim them, if they wanted. A few months later I went to toss the essays and there was hers, with the photos of her grandfather in them. So I pulled hers aside and let the rest go to recycling. I e-mailed her to come pick up her photos, if not her essay. She never wrote back and never came for them. So I e-mailed her again a few months later -- same result. Now a year had elapsed since she was my student, and still the essay lingered in my "out" box. So I tossed the bulky folder in favor of the single sheet of taped photos and brought it home. A few months later I found it yet again, and came very close to throwing them away in frustration. But I couldn't just toss these photos out... Like I said, these weren't crappy point-and-clicks. These were originals, antiques, family heirlooms.

So I looked up her family. They lived in central Florida, near Orlando. I wrote up a note explaining the odd situation, placed it and the photos in an envelope, and sent it. It never returned, so I always presumed I got the address right. In time I forgot about it. But tonight, seeing Brandie at the store, I suddenly was hit with this burning need to know if those photos had ever made their way back into the family's possession.

As I approached her and a friend she was with, I was struck with the oddity that I could remember her name clealy and instantly. Anyone who knows me can attest to my poor capacity for name-recognition. Faces, I can do, but names slip my mind unless used constantly. So anyway, she was astonished to see me, and said she would have thought I'd be gone by now. "Funny you say that," I said. "This is literally my last night in Tallahassee." Hers to, it turned out: she just graduated from FSU (I contributed to that!) and was moving to a new job elsewhere. I explained my impending service in the Peace Corps and she seemed excited. Then I told her I just had to know what happened to those photos, and I explained to her how long I held onto them and the agony I faced at throwing them out.

"We got them," she said, smiling. "Thanks so much for that!"

"No problem. They belonged with your family. I couldn't just toss 'em."

A minute later we said our goodbyes and exchanged wishes for a successful and exciting future, and we walked off. And that was that -- the last time I'll bump into an ex-student (most likely), or at least the last time here in town. It had a remarkable tone of closure to it, this encounter. It answered a years-old nagging question of mine. It let me see a former student who, when I last saw her, was fresh-faced and young, just starting out her academic career, and I got to see her successful and beginning the career she entered college to study for. It bookended my years in Tallahassee and as a teacher. If I believed in such things, I might say it was meant to be. But even if it was just a weird coincidence, it was incredibly meaningful to me in a way only perhaps another teacher could understand. It was a perfect last experience.

Now I'll never forget her name!


1 comment:

Me said...

Good luck with the drive. It sounds like your last few moments in town allowed for a clean exit. I think that's a perfect spring board for service, a nice clean slate if you will.