Returning

Returning

Rachel B. Baxter

It is January 6, 2003. Winter break has come to a close and Joel is approaching school for the first time this new year. Snow has fallen on the ground and it is clean, fresh, and new. The glistening clumps of snowflakes dissolve in round pools where rock salt lines the concrete, but the salt can’t keep up with the precipitation, and snow accumulates around the school building untouched. The light reflecting off the ice crystals is blinding and he, too, feels new, fresh.

Joel takes one last breath of cool winter air and steps to the door to his high school, where he feels he just left. With his chin lifted, he opens the door, breathes long and even, reminiscent of soft, summer breezes. He looks around and his body feels light. There’s an unfamiliar feeling in his gut, unfamiliar, at least, in this setting.

Wait, what is that? He thinks to himself. Excitement? He is awake, alert, alive. A new man! He is saying goodbye to the days of staring at the floor, at the laces of his shoes, avoiding eye-contact; it is time to look life in the face. He is tossing away his insecurities, his lack of courage. This time, he will be heard!

He places one foot gently inside the building and steps out into the hallway, his books in hand, ready to take on the day. Stride after stride, he advances, not noticing the floors were fresh and clean, too. Right foot first, then left, and — there he flies!
Shoes in line with his eyes, Joel is airborne for one terrifying second before landing flat on his back.

His head hits the freshly waxed floor and he sees supernovas. Hears them, too. Joel opens his eyes and the sparkling stops as fluorescent lights fade into view. He hears laughter that sounds both near and very far away. He rolls over, crawls forward, picks up his books, and stumbles to his feet.
The laughter does not stop. He brushes the wetness and rock salt off of his pants and he can see his own reflection on the floor as he looks down. I must have forgotten, Joel thinks with a hint of angst and disappointment. I’ve returned to high school.

He steps forward much more carefully now, eyes focused on the glassy surface of the floor. He doesn’t lift his head, he doesn’t close his eyes, just in case he should ever again forget exactly where he is.

Rachel B. Baxter

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