In just a few days, the school where I have taught for 20 years will finally be bulldozing the “portable” classrooms that were affixed to the end of the building long before my arrival and had become decidedly less portable than originally intended.
This is a big deal to me because it means that they will be bulldozing Elysha’s old classroom, where we first met and fell in love.
I hate this.
I proposed to Elysha in Grand Central Station because she once told me that it was her “favorite room in the world. ” But I also chose it because I knew it would still be standing decades after my proposal. I wouldn’t have to worry about someday pointing to the site of some former restaurant and saying, “There it is, kids. I know it’s a sex shop today, but 18 years ago, that was the site of a lovely little Italian restaurant where I proposed to your mom.”
Grand Central will be standing for a long, long time, but Elysha’s former classroom, which for me is just as important, has only a few days or weeks left before it will be turned to rubble.
I stopped by the school yesterday to spend a few minutes in the space and take some photographs. The memories came back in waves.
The time - long before we were dating - when Elysha asked me to help her with her taxes. Wanting to date Elysha but never thinking it possible, I remember sitting beside her at a table in the back of the room, taking far longer than necessary to complete her 1040EZ just so I could spent a few extra minutes with her.
The afternoon when she first read to me a series of letters that she had collected from years before from a pair of overly-involved, possibly mentally ill parents who wrote the most hilarious, ridiculous, outrageous letters to her on an almost daily basis. Listening to her read and breathe life to these unbelievable parental requests and ridiculous protestations is something I will never forget.
The 2002 holiday season when I had paid money to a colleague to manipulate our annual Secret Santa so that I could be Elysha’s Secret Santa. I hid presents around her room, each beginning with a letter of the alphabet that eventually spelled my name.
She later said that she knew it was me from the very first gift.
After we were dating, the many times when I would leave her messages to her - on her white board, chart paper, hidden beneath papers on her desk - professing my love for her.
Those beautiful memories and so many more.
But the memory that I will always remember most took place the morning after Elysha had professed her affection for me for the first time in the parking lot of my apartment complex. Because I had just ended a relationship, and because she was ending one, too, I wasn’t sure what to say when she told me she liked me - mostly because I’m stupid - so when the girl who I already loved said those incredible, impossible words to me, I said, “Thank you,” and allowed her to drive away.
Realizing what I had done about five minutes after she was gone, I called her desperately, repeatedly,, but in those days, Elysha was famous for never turning on her phone, so every call went to voicemail. Absent the ability to send a text message or even an email, I left a voice message pleading for forgiveness and professing my affection for her, too.
“I like you! I like you! I’m sorry! I like you, too!”
The next morning, I raced to school and met her in her classroom before the school day began. As I charged into her classroom and approached her desk, she stood and handed me a letter.
“Did you listen to your voicemail?” I asked.
“No,” she said. Then before I could speak, she said, “I’m sorry. I know that was awkward last night. I hope we can still be friends.”
“No!” I said, snatching the letter from her hands. “I was stupid. I like you, too. I reject this letter. I was so stupid. Forget everything that happened last night, except for the part when you said you liked me. That was the only good part. Please forgive me for being so stupid. I like you, too. I like you a lot.”
Happily, Elysha was willing to see past my ridiculous, terrible, unforgivable “Thank you,” from the night before. We began dating.
It was March 31, 2003.
Eight months later, on December 28, 2003, I took a knee at the top steps in Grand Central Station while two dozen friends hid amongst the throngs of travelers below and proposed to the love of my life.
I never read that letter. I threw it into the trashcan as soon as I left her classroom, never wanting to see the words.
Now the room where all those wonderful and amazing things took place will be no more. Someday soon, I’ll find myself pointing to a spot in a parking lot and saying, “Look kids. See where that Toyota is parked. In that spot, a long time ago, your mother forgave me for being so stupid and gave me a second chance.”
It just won’t ever be the same.