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Empty desks

A reflection on the ones whose lives are cut short, and on the ones who are left behind

It’s the first grade. You’ve just received a bright shiny new White-Out pen. You glance over to whisper to your friend, and you see he has one just the same, and is painting his initials inside his desk. You’ve just mastered your letters, and you cannot wait to paint yours as well, marking your territory, for always.

It’s the third grade. You peer inside this new desk. It’s missing your initials, but you don’t mind. You’re doing an art project in class, with pretty red Sharpie markers. You draw a stick figure inside the desk, identifying the desk as yours, forever more.

It’s the fifth grade. You’re playing kickball inside, since it’s raining that day. You think you’ve mastered this new dribble kick, and want to show your buddies, and maybe show off to a few of the girls. However, you kick too high, and the ball ends up knocking out one of the ceiling panes and getting stuck inside. They fix the ceiling, but the ball’s up there, perpetually.

It’s the seventh grade. You find your sibling’s initials in your desk this time. But it doesn’t matter. Because you’ve got a locker now, and the stickiest double-sided tape. There’s a photo of you and your camp pals glued to its inside now, indefinitely.

It’s the ninth grade. You’re running in the hallways trying to catch the paper airplane your friend just made of your biology notes. You trip and fall into the lockers, slicing your forehead. Blood trickles down your face and onto the floor. In the rush to get you to the hospital, someone forgets to notify the janitors. So the spots stain the floor, eternally.

It’s the eleventh grade. You start a food fight. It’s tuna sandwiches day. Somehow scooping the tuna out of the sandwich is much more fun than actually eating it. A lot of the tuna gets stuck to the low lunchroom ceilings, never be removed, ever.

It’s the twelfth grade. Your friends and you are on the production committee and are stuck at school late. A few of your friends are painting props, when you get the idea to paint some of the auditorium too. You all find a slightly obscured corner, paint your names, and add best friends, for life.

And then it’s your gap year. You’re friends with your high school friend’s camp friend, and you’re both thinking of joining a baseball league. You send an email to the now-mutual friend wanting him to join, hoping he’ll be as emphatic as you both are. And he responds, with a promise to kick your butts at that first game in a week.

And then it ends. And these are the memories left. The imprints left. On empty desks, of deflated balls. Of blood stains, of graffitied walls. Of bumps, of images and bruises. Of future plans. On hearts or otherwise inanimate objects.

One of the hardest things is going back and seeing the emptiness. Is knowing that person is not returning because that person is nothing.

Or it feels as if they are nothing. Because they aren’t going to college with you. Aren’t coming back to class. Aren’t getting bad grades with you, or celebrating success with you, or just simply hanging out with you. Or moving forward with you.

And slowly life begins to go on without them. Their imprints are there, but maybe they never were, or never mattered enough to stop life from ticking on. Suddenly, you’re back from your gap year. And then graduating college. And getting a job. And getting married. And it’s flashed forward 20 years.

And your kid walks home from school one day with a bruise on his forehead. You never moved away from your hometown, and liked your education for the most part. So you’ve decided to send your child to the same school, hoping he’d have one less experience than you had.

And you ask him about the bruise. And he tells you they were playing kickball. And his friend wanted to show off some fancy kick, but it went awry and somehow he knocked down a ceiling pane.

And a deflated ball came toppling out onto his head.

Memories are there. People are always there. It’s painful at times. It makes no sense at others. But everyone starts a domino effect.

Even the ones that get stolen from us all too soon.

In memory of Ezra Schwartz, Rabbi Yaakov Don, Shadi Arafa, Reuven Aviram, Aharon Yesaev, the victims of the Paris attacks, Rabbi Ya’akov & Netanel Litman, Sgt. Benjamin Yakubovich, and every other victim of terror, HY”D.

About the Author
Melanie Goldberg is a current student at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. She also serves as the research assistant for Versa: The Israeli Supreme Court English Language Repository, and founded a chapter of The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights on her campus. Most recently, she was one of the recipients of The Jewish Week's "36 under 36" award.
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