It’s quiet when they leave.
When supper was finished, the younger boys washed the dishes and mopped the floor, while the older ones packed and I baked banana cake. Then, an hour later, we piled down the stairs and out to the parking lot, where we waved goodbye, Sound of Music style, to the seniors. In a few hours, a bus will carry them southwest, over the Alps to Italy, for breakfast in Florence at the beginning of their week in Rome. The goodbyes were jovial–farewells that acknowledged only seven or ten days of separation–but still touching. As the seniors pulled away, I heard more than one dorm brother sigh something to the effect of, “It’ll be weird without them here.” This, in the language of eleventh-grade boys, translates to something like love.
We return to the dorm after a while. I pull the cake out of the oven, setting it on the counter to cool while I curl up in a large chair in the living room, to read a book and supervise the computer study area. It’s been a little more than a year of volunteering Thursday nights in the dorms, and with few exceptions the nights usually look like this. Supper with the kids, then baking and some on-call English assistance. Dozens of proofread papers and about a thousand cookies later, I still love these Thursday nights.
It’s typically the seniors–students who I’ve just finished teaching and thus know the best in the fall–that come upstairs to chat while I’m cooking, so it truly is silent now that they’re gone. I think about what I once wrote to a friend, from a summer spent secluded on a farm in Ramsau. “I almost like the feeling of missing people, knowing that they’ve made enough of an impression on me that there’s a hole when they’re gone.” It’s bittersweet, I realize, this reminder that the students who are already gone, along with those who just left for the week, leave tangible emptiness behind. It’s because we love them that we miss them at all.
In the middle of my forlorn reflection in the silent living room, five of my current students trickle upstairs to use the computers. Four of them are working on assignments for American Literature, due tomorrow. They come up to ask questions, to read me passages from their work, checking topic sentences for accuracy and thesis statements for defensibility. We flip through The Crucible, discuss academic language and its tricky balance of beauty and function. One boy starts laughing to himself while writing.
“I can’t wait for you to read this,” he chuckles.
Neither can I. A few hours later, I walk home through the autumn night, thankful again for the seasonal nature of this calling, bringing new students to love with each new year, filling the quiet living room just as it was feeling a bit too empty.