She stands in the warm September sun, unapologetically watching over the land that she once dominated. Now she is passed by, an afterthought. Yet still she surveys her surroundings with earnest interest.
Once, she was everything. Students flocked to her. They walked through her doors in laughing, chattering groups, or alone with hurried steps. They entered in the cool early morning with bleary eyes and coffee in hand, and late at night when the sun had long gone to bed but they could not. They brought their lunches, dinners, snacks, and drinks. They brought their books and bags, sweatshirts and headphones. They came and went and came and went like the constant, comforting ebb and flow of the ocean.
She fondly remembers the footsteps through her now-empty halls. There were pens clicking and pencils scratching. Heavy-lidded students would find secret corners in which to surrender to their exhaustion. Others, driven by hunger or boredom, would wander to her main floor to rummage through snacks, or creep into the basement only to walk in endless circles looking with little motivation or success for the vending machine. There were tears of frustration and relief; shrieks of laughter quickly quenched by angry glares; incessant exchanges of complaints and encouragements.
One day they left. Not in the usual whirl of late-spring excitement, but quietly, and without goodbyes, until only she remained, looking out onto the empty lawns . She alone watched as the leaves returned to the trees, the rose garden bloomed once more, and the bees meandered from flower to flower. She stood in the heat and rain of summer and waited. There were no poster sessions, there was no research, no one coming to her to search through her or to unlock her secrets. Her sole companions were not the young, bright, overexerted beings she had come to love — only a few visitors with aged features and unhurried, unworried steps passed her by.
The students did eventually return, and she watched with delight their comings and goings. The flurry of moving in, the wide eyes of the first-comers and the confident steps of those who knew this was home. Yet something seemed different. She could not see their smiles; they were hidden beneath colorful cloth that covered new and familiar faces alike. There were no welcome back hugs, no tight-knit groups huddled together, whispering or giggling. And still, no one came inside.
She wonders why the students choose to go back to their rooms instead of to her. Why they sit on the grass to study, fighting ants and wind and sun, instead of using her abandoned tables and chairs. She waits as they walk from the dining hall, takeout boxes piled up to their chins, but they turn and settle on the lawn instead, not even glancing her way.
Her dim glow no longer lights the way for those who pass at night. She is dark and shuttered. It saddens her, and she wishes that she could again provide refuge from the cold and the dark. She wants once more to be a destination. She longs for the laughter and off-hand chatter, the deep and insightful conversations, even the quiet clicking of computer keys that used to grow more frantic as the minutes ticked by.
Now, she looks out on the scene before her. The paths that wind to and from classrooms are startlingly bare. But unlike before, students sit and stand and eat on the grass that sprawls out in front of her. Her spirits lift each day as she sees them forming wide circles that dot the campus with laughter and life. They groan as they try to avoid morning dew, and smile and murmur as they take pictures of the pink sky in the evening. She hears them compare classes and complain about work, and she knows they are learning. They are always learning; it gives her hope. She feels that somehow, all is not lost. She believes that one day, her doors will once more be pulled open (slowly, quickly, angrily, resignedly), and that she will again be full of life. But for now, she waits. She can wait. She will be ready with open doors and poorly lit desks whenever her students return to her.
Photograph by Gidon Kaminer for the Phoenix.