tray

Dull green cafeteria tray. It’s lunch time, and the bell has only just rung. There is a clamor and a clatter of chairs scraping the floor, pushed back, the thud of heavy books sliding off desks, into hands, and into backpacks. Sneaker-toed shoes, rubber-soled shoes, stomping heavy footfalls. Metal lockers squeak open and slam shut. The cacophonous tick-tick-ticking of combinations being entered. I still have stress dreams about forgetting my just-learned locker combination on the first day of school, of being late – dismally late. Chatter raises to a din.

Carnival-type paper food trays holding chicken tenders and french fries or tater tots. Salt and grease is 90% of a teenage diet. There are chips, and soft pretzels, and pre-packaged cookies and brownies. The ladies behind the counter look old and tired, but jovial. Like maybe this is fulfilling for them to be here and feed these kids. And they are crucial, important to the public school ecosystem. It smells like lunch time, generic food smell. Like when someone uses the office microwave and it could be pasta or pork or enchiladas; You can’t be sure, but you know that it’s food and that it smells good and that you’re hungry now and want a bite of something.

After lunch, the trays get put on top of the flat-top garbage can for cleaning and collecting later. The bell rings. The din intensifies, metal locker clatter again, the shuffling of feet before silence. And the overflowing garbage can sags as an empty Cheetos bag floats down from the top. It gets picked up by the janitor as he begins to clean the area. He does so without complaint. Like he is happy to be here and it is his duty. Mops and spray bottles come out. All these little worker bees, working behind the scene, beyond the children’s knowledge. Is all life between the ages of 0 and 18 traumatic? I often wonder that. Like, everything is so new always all the time, and changing and different and intense. Does it matter how you were raised? Doesn’t it all suck? I don’t miss high school, but sometimes it feels like it’s 90% of my memory. And I think back and reflect that it was all so different all those years ago, when I was freshman in 2005 and thought that this building is my world. I could never have imagined where it would take me.