Wednesday, November 23, 2005

room 219 revisited

Douglass's St. Claude Avenue door was bent from being pried open and the glass was out of it so I went in. I forgot my camera and my flashlight, but remembered the Louisville Slugger I keep by my bed for "protection." These are lawless times. (I remember once Peanut asking me what I'd do if some thugs busted open my door and I said I'd repel them with my baseball bat and he laughed so hard he had to put his head down on the desk. He said Ms. Plesh, you'd be killed. I guess those were lawless times too.) Anyway, that's what I brought with me. Tim's wooden little league Louisville Slugger.
The first thing inside, in the foyer, I saw garbage cans and push brooms and cleaning supplies and for a minute I believed it was the powers that be finally taking care of things, cleaning my school, but then reallized it was from the military men who had stayed there right after the storm, the Oregon National Guard. They'd left it. The glass-enclosed office area seemed unscathed and none of the glass was broken. I thought for sure that if the reports were correct, that the "bad" ones stayed at Douglass like someone who had been there told me, that the first thing they'd have done would have been to bust up the place where those in authority worked. But no.
The green terrazo steps to the second floor (my route every morning after checking in, the staircase that ended in my hall where once some kid caught a poster on fire that the French teacher ripped down and stomped out, the third fire that day) were dusty but not broken, which is what I'd feared. I don't know why I assumed they'd be broken. On the second floor, nothing seemed out of place, except that all the classroom doors were wide open, even the math teacher's. Except, strangely, mine were closed. I had my key so went to the primary door, turned the key, and when I went to open it discovered that the knob was still gone! And I laughed out loud, thinking about how it had gone missing a few weeks before school let out last May, and how I'd written in this blog the continuing saga of the door. So I went to the other door, the secondary door, now the primary door, with the translucent blue paper still on it. The bottom half had holes kicked in it.
But inside, to my wonder and relief, the room was fine. There were about ten desks in the room, in rows (that made me laugh too), and most of them were good new plastic desks taken from another classroom, not the funky wooden ones I loved so much. My teacher desk, such as it was, was not there. (I found it later in the hall, stacked with other teachers' desks. All that was in it was a part of my manuscript about Auschwitz that I'd brought to school, thinking one day I'd share it with the students; half a bag of potato chips I'd left; and a new, still unwrapped roll of the necessary duct tape.) The room was swept. A giant collage of my students' photographs that a girl from Mandeville High School had made for me several years ago was face down on the floor, but I think that was an accident. My Brittanica Encyclopedia set was stacked on the file cabinet. All the books and magazines I'd had on the windowsill were gone, but I found them in the cabinets. The boxes I had on top of the cabinet -- my 16 years of Shakespeare information and paraphenalia, the box of essays I'd been collecting forever, my box of loose poems and cd's of poets reading -- were missing. But given the respectfully kept state of the classroom, I presume the boxes are stashed in a bookroom somewhere. The bookrooms were all wide open.
Here's the thing that blew my mind though. All the chalkboards (three huge walls of chalkboards) were clean except for two things: the Stafford poem I'd left on the board before the end ("For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid"), the one that shows in the Times-Picayune photograph, was still up there, and there was a three line address for the 1/162nd Division of the Oregon National Guard. A funny thing is that the silly "word wall" the program administrator had put up on the chalkboard (she had to put it up because I wouldn't. It was too silly and I refused.) was torn down and crumpled in the corner. In fact, the room seemed sober and somewhat stark, just the way I like it. There was no sign of 9th grade in that room. It felt once again like a studio for writers and a space for intellectual pursuits. I know that was inadvertent on the part of the National Guard, but it felt to me like my room was restored to me.
Elsewhere in the school things were mainly the same. The walls still needed painting and plastering. The doors still needed fixing. One of the stepped lecture rooms had apparently been used for meetings because there was a big map of New Orleans, consisting of six or eight quadrant maps taped together, attached to the back wall. St. Bernard Parish was outlined in black marker. In another room, a science classroom, there were stuffed animals in each of the desks and I thought, God, what kind of macabre prankery is this, and I was a little afraid to go into the room. But on the chalkboard was a note from the Guardsmen. It said they'd brought these stuffed animals for the children, knowing that they'd be staying in a school, but that all the children had already evacuated and so they were leaving them for someone to pass along to the children, wherever they were.
I went back about a week later and the door was boarded up.



Blogger Felicia said...

I've read pieces of your blog and your account of the hurricanes aftermath is heart wrenching. I acn imagine the starts and stops to getting your life back as a humane being and as a teacher. The symbols of the changes - the closed classroom door - and the constants - the missing door knob - tell the story as clearly as the words of how your life has been altered.

1:45 PM  
Blogger TinSoldier said...

I don't know if you will read this or not, but I'm one of the Oregon National Guard soldiers who stayed at Frederick Douglass after Hurricane Katrina.

I was appalled by the condition of the school, much of which could not be attributed to the hurricane. I'm glad I found your blog post. I look forward to reading more.

10:18 PM  

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