I'm not sure that I would have answered the door if it hadn't been the first week of school. It was after four o'clock and the office was closed, but since we had been fielding questions from parents for the past several days about dates and times and forms and classes, I figured I should check and see what the mildly persistent rapping at the door was all about. I opened the door with my best customer service, "How can I help you this afternoon?"
"Hey man, I used to go here a long time ago, and I was wondering - are you the principal?"
Somewhat abruptly I made the choice to try and slow this particular interaction down. This gentleman had kind of a wild look in his eyes, and if we hadn't all had a tough week already, this might make it just a little bit longer. "No, I'm not. The principal's already gone for the day. Is there something I can help you with?" At this I stepped into the hallway, letting the door close and lock behind me. Now it was just the two of us.
"Yeah, so I was wondering if you could find my graduation pictures. My sixth grade graduation pictures. I used to go here. A long time ago."
I was guessing it had been twenty some years. "I'm pretty sure we don't have any of those around anymore. I've been here for seventeen years and I pretty much know where things are. I've been in every room in the building at some point, and I've never seen any graduation pictures. Not from sixth grade. We've been a K through five school for as long as I've been here."
This former student wiped the sweat from his brow and closed his eyes. "I used to go here a long time ago," he repeated, "I was just hoping to get that picture back. I live just around the corner. I went to this school, man."
He never got angry, which was a relief, but his agitation went on unabated.
"So, you're saying you don't know where these pictures are kept? I was wearing black pants and I had a gold earring back then. You're not the principal? Maybe you could give me your number and I could call you tomorrow and you could tell me where to look for those pictures."
I explained again that I hadn't seen anything like what he was describing, and since the building had been modernized nine years ago the place had been pretty well cleaned out.
He went on to describe the neighborhood as it had once been, back when he had gone to this very school. "I tried to graduate from junior high, but I couldn't do it. I graduated from here."
It was Friday afternoon after a long, hot opening week of school. I desperately wanted to go home myself. This nervous, twitchy, sweaty sixth-grade-graduate seemed desperate to connect with his last great success. I wished that I could somehow materialize that portrait, the one that would send him on his way. I told him that I wished I could help him. I didn't tell him that I guessed that he would probably feel better once he got some rest and the chemicals that were making it so hard for him to stand still had dissipated. Finally, I had run out of things to tell him.
"Yeah, well maybe I'll come back tomorrow and see if you found those pictures," he seemed just a notch calmer on his way out.
I stood and watched him make his way down the front steps. I wondered if I might see him after the long weekend. This was his old school, after all.