Schooldays: Lost and Found Among Nightmares by Kelli Lage
Eighteen years old, back in my high school hallway; the never-ending cycle spins out. I am ready to pour myself into lakes of freedom. Before I can bust out of the pitch-black doors, my now retired boss stops me to ask if my locker is cleaned out. “Yes,” I replied. I was lying. It had always been a mess in my youth, why wouldn't it be in this curious era? Her back stiffened. “You always say yes.” Her heels snapped as she walked away. I returned to my locker and there was chocolate left in it from Christmas. I wondered if I should eat it. It was June. The girl who gave me a toothache shot me a disgusted look and advised me to toss it in the yellow bin. I held onto it while I walked out. I wasn’t going to eat it, but I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of being right.
I am five years old and my bus driver is missing. I fidget in the leather seat. They say he just stepped out to help a girl through the snow. I’m wearing my blush-colored mittens and brush their fuzz against my cheeks. He was a good man. I wonder if I will see him here. By the growing fog, I can tell it’s unlikely.
I am sixteen years old, standing in the entryway of my porch. I can’t remember if I drove my car home from school. I peek in the garage; the 1999 silver Grand Am is nowhere to be seen. Later the girl made of freckles reports I had a flat tire and she drove me home. We listened to her favorite CD and rocked in motion with one author to the pulsating beat. She’s annoyed that I have lost these days. I could feel it in the chattering of my now brittle teeth.
I am seven years old and my dog, who passed away when I was ten, is loose in the band room. I am too flustered to take in the joy of her lively movements. She is no longer bound by the same restraints as I, even in lands of mist and fluorescent lighting. The boy made of deep belly laughter grabs her by the collar and she lays down at his feet. “I can hold onto her until you are done.” I thank him and he takes his trombone out of its case. I recall the solo performance he did in middle school and tell him he should try the trumpet
I am twelve years old. They say I caused a boy in my class to stub his toe so hard that it bled. My ears begin to ring. We are walking down the sidewalk taking a short-lived field trip. Out of the corner of my left eye, I see a figure come into view. He’s bundled up in a charcoal snow coat.
Through the haze, I can tell it's the boy who mocked me when my curls betrayed my straightener. I wonder if he forgives me and if his toe is still throbbing. He walks in step with me. My bones are chilled, yet sweat runs down my torso. He turns and takes in my face, dead on, “You’re stuck here too?”
Kelli Lage lives in the Midwest countryside. Lage is currently earning her degree in Secondary English Education and works as a substitute teacher. Awards: Special Award for First-time Entrant, Iowa Poetry Association, 2020. Twitter: @KelliLage