The Empty Locker Breakdown

I grabbed the little guy’s sweaty palm and brushed a couple of pop tart crumbs off the Jeff Gordon t-shirt.  We walk through the doors and introduce ourselves to the Pre-school teacher.  She leads him to a little table full of coloring papers and crayons.  I pat the little guy on the head and say, “See you later, bud.  Have fun!”  I practically skip out the door and hop in my car.  I simultaneously roll down the windows and crank up the stereo, singing all the way home.

I was not sad to see my son start pre-school. People expected me to be sad.  They told me I would be sad when he started kindergarten.

I wiped traces of chocolate chip pancake from his chin before helping him strap the backpack on his back.  We walked up the sidewalk and waited for the crossing guard to wave us across the street.  I watched him, wide-eyed and silent, checking out the older kids who he would share his first bus ride with.  He didn’t want to hold my hand, but he  stood close enough to me that I could hear his quick, shallow breathing.  He boarded the bus, looking back nervously at me once.  I waved as the bus pulled away from the curb and headed home to my baby and toddler.

I was not sad to see my son start kindergarten.

He slid into the passenger seat, yawning.  The musky scent of Axe fills the van, so I crack the window.  At least he doesn’t smell like B.O.  We drive to school in silence because we are both too tired to talk at 6:30 am.  He sits in my classroom reading a book until 7:25.  “I’m gonna go, mom.”  He tells me, packing up his stuff.  “Okay, Jay.  Have a great day today!”

I was not sad when my son started middle school.

Neither was I sad when my son started high school.  I wasn’t sad when he started driving or went on his first date.

I was not sad on the first day of his senior year of high school.  I wasn’t sad on the last Opening Day of baseball season.  I was not sad at the Top Ten breakfast, or when my son was named Salutatorian, or when he got his college acceptance letters.  I was not even sad on the day where the Senior baseball players play “final catch” with their dads.  I did get a knot in my throat, though, watching The Doc (who strategically wore his Oakleys, even though it was kind of cloudy) discreetly wipe his cheek.

I was not sad at graduation or on the day of his party.  I couldn’t believe it. Not a tear over high school graduation.  I was just not sad.

On the last day of school, the hallways are empty.  The building is nearly silent.  Lockers have been cleaned out, and to prove that they are clean, they stand with their doors open.  I am walking the short distance between my room and the teacher’s lounge.  It’s a trip I make probably 15-20 times every day, often before and after school and between classes when the hallways are jammed with kids.  For the past four years, my son’s locker has been in that path.  I’d walk past and give him a pat on the shoulder, or I’d stop to ask him if he had any extra gum in his locker, or what time he was going to get done with practice, or what he wanted for dinner.

Today I walk past his empty locker.  I can barely make it into the teacher’s lounge and into the restroom before I lose it.  Hot tears stream down my face as I realize that I’ll never pass by him again in that hallway.  I realize that he won’t be home for dinner every night.  He won’t be stopping in my room for a couple of bucks because he forgot his lunch.  He won’t be driving me crazy by putting his head down in my class anymore.  And he won’t walk up to my desk on a particularly bad day and say, “Come here, Mom, you look like you need a hug.”

I am proud and happy that my son has turned into an intelligent, funny and kind man, but I am a little bit sad every day to walk by his empty locker.







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5 Responses to The Empty Locker Breakdown

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    So beautiful, so heart-tugging. Having a son who’s a junior, I’ll soon share that experience, too. (Not passing his locker, but the absence issue as a whole.)

    • valleygirl96 says:

      It is truly a bittersweet feeling. It’s so weird, too, how different the house is without him. Modern Family did an episode on this a couple of seasons ago, how the family’s balance goes off-kilter when a kid leaves. It’s so true. And I’ve found it to be especially weird how I have a kids who is an adult. What the heck? I still feel like I’m only about 22 on the inside!

  2. Claudia says:

    So beautiful – and so perfectly expressed.

    • valleygirl96 says:

      Thanks. I actually starting crying again as I was writing it. For some reason that darn locker is the one thing about Jake’s growing up that gets me every time!

  3. The Hook says:


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