The teacher’s lounge turned out to be a narrow room in the back of Room 46. Long and narrow, with windows at one short end, it was the size of the coatroom in my fourth-grade class at New Jersey’s Ashland School.
I remembered that coatroom well: one long row of hooks on which we’d hang our coats, our lunch boxes stored neatly on the bench beneath, and winter boots below that. No metal lockers in those days; I remember only wood.
And I remember the collection of grasshoppers that I let loose one afternoon in that coatroom, grasshoppers I’d collected after lunch and stuffed into my newly emptied lunch box. Poor Mrs. Sanford; that had been her first year at Ashland School too.
But this was no New Jersey elementary school coatroom. Instead of hooks along the back paneled wall, there was a row of particleboard bookcases, a few with missing doors. There was a safe too — painted blue like the flag of Kazakhstan — along the left wall; a tiny sink in a corner, but with no plumbing connected to it; and a few tables and chairs scattered along another wall.
It was bleak; it was dreary; and it was empty.
And the eyes I used that first day would never see the room in the same way again. Thankfully, as I came to know the people who filled that Teacher’s Lounge, the women I came to call “my teachers,” the bleakness fell away. I saw only comfort, familiarity, and refuge. It became my lounge too.