Last Night Dunkin

I’ve been reflecting on this past school year, Mar tells me. We’re walking side by side, and I’m probably too close to her, leaning in to listen as we sway around corners, between passers-by, but she doesn’t seem to mind, or notice.

I nod, Oh, yea? I ask, turning away from her to glance ahead, to “watch where I’m walking” as the mother would say. Next to me, Mar nods, hums an affirmation, then begins to share what she’s been reflecting on, swirling lessons and memories with wondering and laughing, her crystal-clear blue eyes flashing softly as she recollects.

That was three days ago, Mar’s school reflections. And now the school year is over and she texts me not from two doors down but from an several towns away, and I’ve begun to reflect, as well. Reflect on the past year, and the spring semester that just ended. Reflect on this upcoming summer months and last year’s summer months; what might be the same, what I’ll do differently. What I hope, what I pray.

You’ll hear some of my reflections here, no doubt. Stick around this space, come again to visit, and I’ve a strong suspicion that you’ll find stories of the past months; words and notes looking back on the last eight months, most of which flew by in a steady, busy, contentedly-whirlwind pace. And tonight, my second night at home for the summer, and the first night in which I did not fall asleep on the couch before the little ones had even been tucked in, I’m reflecting upon, remembering, my junior year at Moody Bible Institute, and I return, again and again, to Friday night; my last night at school for the year, and Mar’s last night at school ever.

Packing night, of course. Packing and cleaning, frantically rubbing scuffs off the wall, vacuuming under beds in preparation for our year-end room checks, crossing fingers and daring to hope that we’ll not incur fines for this carpet stain, that chipped wall paint, this dresser drawer set askew.

Up and down the hall, doors are propped open, and those that aren’t open and close frequently, swishing open, then softly banging closed. As the night ticks later, passing first 8pm, then 9pm, rooms empty and the hallway fills; suitcases filled to near-bursting lean against the off-white glossy walls. Garbage bags of bedding, winter jackets, and occasionally, actual garbage, lie wherever they were tossed haphazardly in the race to prepare for our checks.

Then, after our crazed rush to hurry up and wait, Nelle is in the room, checklist in hand. She opens drawers, clicks the closet light on, runs her long, shapely fingers over the top book shelf. With a breath of relief and disbelief, I hear her say I’ve done well, there are no fines, my room checks out. Sighing, smiling, I sit on the sheet-less Tall Bed, the plastic-wrapped mattress under me crinkling when I reach for my phone. As Nelle’s blonde-gold hair disappears through my open doorway, I read the messages that illuminate my phone.

Dunkin? The group thread reads. They want to go to Dunkin.

That’s a Mar thing. America runs on Dunkin Donuts, but Mar absolutely thrives on any kind of donut, and Dunkin is a convenient block away, offering such thrilling services as coffee drinks “happy hour” and 24-hour service for late night snacks and those awkward when-is-this-date-gonna-end-let’s-go-to-dunkin-because-everything-else-is-closed moments. So this same group thread is replete with Dunkin plans: Let’s go. Are you going? Meet in the plaza? Want anything? Come with!

And on Friday night, as the clock in the plaza slowly moves towards midnight, we beep down to the lobby, meet the guys, and then we’re walking through the quieting Chicago streets in our sweats and jackets, crossing the street under the el tracks to finally step into the orange glow of Dunkin. We’re seven, there in the donut air, tired and stressed, oddly disoriented by the sudden up-ending of our year-long routine. We’ve had all year to prepare for the end, to know that one day in mid-May, we would spend our last hours of the year in the school in the city that we love. But it surprised us nonetheless, and we order drinks, bagels, and sit in a line along the rosy pink-orange wall. We eat and laugh, conversation ebbing and flowing as we munch and think, alternately wondering at the year’s apparent end and pretending that it’s not really over.

Then, bagels finished, iced coffee reduced to a cup of milky ice cubes, we stand, push through the door, step through the Chicago streets, back to school. I’ve thought about going upstairs, sleeping, being alone, but something keeps me, and I stay where they stay, curled on the worn-in blue couches in the lounge. And we’re eight people now, and just as many conversations, and we talk across and talk over, but easily, gently, relaxing into the evening as midnight turns to 1am, and our eyes begin to droop.

Minutes after 1am, we part ways. The guys to their dorm, Krista, Mar, Di and I to our respective rooms. And then Saturday morning’s graduation came, four of our Dunkin buddies, really Dunkin’s biggest fans, march down the aisle with caps, gowns, their diplomas awaiting them on the stage, alongside the school’s president. And graduation disperses what the end of school displaced, and we’re none of us in the same place we spent the last year, but memories of that Dunkin night, and so many others, are not easily erased, and nor are their reflections.

~Natalia

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