To the Alumni Class of First Semester, 2020:

By Julia Kirkpatrick

To the class that never was

You exist only as ghost children, and I to you 
a ghost teacher.
Do I know you?
What did you look like, behind your black Zoom square? 
What was the sound of your laugh?
When did you sigh in frustration, or look eagerly across the room for your friends? 
Did you ever, ever read? 

Next month
or next year 
or 2023, 

when we bustle through hallways together, 
fear replaced by annoyance: 

Will you look a second longer at me when we pass?
Do I know you? 
Will that be my only clue
that you were the one I spent five months with,
hunkered and surviving? 

In the rush between classes,
Holding my own lingering anxiety, 
whispering “I’m safe, I’m safe” 
When you come too close
Will I know you? 

Remembering the loss
Distrustful of the future
Slogging through until it gets better
Do I know you?

If I miss your double take, 
your awkward stare, 
your stuttered introduction:
Steamroll past you: What then?
Will it all have been for naught?
Will all I said, about 
your writing and your learning and you 
Be struck from the record? 
An intimacy replaced with a cold stare, a trust broken.
Will you fade away, ghost that you are?
Not acknowledge me again
Do I know you? 

Will I walk past you every day 
Holding your childhood memories, 
Like when you stood up to your middle school tormentors? 
Or how much your childhood babysitter meant to you
Your grandfather’s words, the refuge of a home language
Your beliefs on our city’s police, wielded with unshakable conviction 
The compassion you offered to the class
on that day we lost one of our own?
Your allergens and your learning needs
your growth progress on these eleven priority state standards, 
your sister’s name, and that one time in class where you 

in my head
Knowing you

you ghost
You won’t fade
This school year will haunt us forever 
A faceless shadow of what we’ve shared
There will be no braids or brown curls 
No scent of Ivory soap or teenage sweat on a stuffy afternoon 

To the class that never was: 
I remember you.

Julia Kirkpatrick teaches at Grant High School in Portland, Oregon. She wrote “When Showing Up Isn’t Showing Up,” in the Spring 2019 issue of Rethinking Schools.