Today, while kids were waiting for buses to be called, we milled around the room chatting and drawing on the smartboard. After H. left, I sighed, realizing I had forgotten to show him that I had found an old picture of him this weekend. I had been browsing old pictures on my phone, looking for cardinals. “Why was I looking for cardinals?” you ask. Simple, because one of my fellow slicers had written about how she sometimes feels that a cardinal who lives in her yard might just be her grandfather, traveling back to see his family . My family has had similar suspicions about the little white butterflies that flit around our backyard in June. They feel like visitors from the other side.
Also, a number of years back, we had made the acquaintance of a rather persistent cardinal who would perch on the window box in front of our house and stare through the big window into our living room. We thought he was perhaps a bit crazy, but we also talked about how we imagined he was Pat (Patricia, named for her St. Pat’s birthday), who used to live down the street. She had been like another grandmother to our girls, and we imagined that she might have been peering in to make sure we were okay. I took several pictures of that watchful cardinal, and this weekend, I was sure I would find it on my phone or in Shutterfly, but I never did. Sorry, Jess.
But I did find that picture of H. when he was in second grade. He was in our buddy class. I would never have recognized him except that he had told me who his 5th grade buddy was, so when I saw the picture of R., I looked more closely at his little buddy, and sure enough, I recognized the eyes of H. This year, because of the masks, the eyes and hair are all the features I get to see. I had meant to show the picture to H. but he had been one of the first pick-ups.
When I sighed, though, A. and L. mentioned that they had been in that second grade class, too. I knew about A. because she had told me last week. In fact, she told me that her 5th grade buddy had stayed with them at the Cape one summer. So, we started hunting for some pictures. Now I knew where I would find them. Subconsciously, I may have been looking for that cardinal, too.
We found several pictures. Again, I felt that I probably wouldn’t have known it was A. I wondered if this was because of the mask, or if it was because I didn’t know our buddies that well that year. I wasn’t sure.
Now L. wanted me to find a picture of her. I asked if she remembered who her buddy was, and of course she did. I think I may have underestimated how much a second grader looks up to a fifth grader. We haven’t been able to meet with a buddy class at all this year. It would break our cohorting protocols. A quick scroll brought me right to the fifth grader I remembered so clearly, but what? THAT was L. in the second grade? I would never have guessed. For one thing, she had glasses back then. How could I possibly match her eyes from this masked year to that bespectacled look from bygone days? Maybe a more observant person would have picked that up. I asked L. and A. if they thought their parents might like those photos, and we promptly sent them off. I scrolled through the other pictures of their second grade class, letting them rattle off the names of their old friends. “Oh, that’s J,” one of them said.
“Wait, our J.? I didn’t know she was in that class, too.”
I had taught J’s older brother, so I thought I would have paid a little more attention if I had known his little sister was in our buddy class. Then I realized that when the picture was taken, three years ago, I didn’t yet know her older brother. He was in my class two years ago.
I did not recover the pictures of the peering cardinal, but I did uncover an unremembered past, faces I hadn’t yet known well. Thinking about it now, it’s making me see the present with a bit more depth. Our history isn’t just the months we’re together. Part of our history is the people we’ve shared. We’ve crossed paths before, in a different, unmasked time. Sometimes we pass through each other’s lives, almost unnoticed.
And sometime, we return in a different form.