For no reason at all I remembered my high school locker, number 819. Or rather the last one, the one I used through more than two and a half years of high school. Although it was never really my locker since it belonged to the school, but it was tucked in a back hallway where no one would have noticed if I’d walked out with it, unless I tried to take it on the bus. At home I really didn’t need a locker, though. It was only at school that I needed one. I didn’t decorate it with pinups or other pictures. I couldn’t think why I would. It was just a temporary space to leave school stuff when I didn’t need it, and I liked the anonymity. That also meant no one was ever tempted to break into it, and even if they did, well, anyone who wanted my science textbook with the chapter “Will We Ever Reach The Moon?” was welcome to it.
My first locker was assigned to me on my first day of junior high, when I’d moved to a new school. From kindergarten through fourth grade the most any of my classrooms had was a wooden shelf with hooks to hang out coats. Everything else we kept in our desks, and aside from our lunches and a box of crayons we didn’t have that much to keep. In fifth grade we each got a plastic bin that I quickly filled up with unfinished assignments, library books, and dumb cartoons I drew, like a picture of a paramecium with the caption, “The most advanced form of life in a drop of pond water,” next to a picture of a guy who looked a lot like Frank Zappa with the caption, “The most advanced form of life in downtown Nashville.” I accidentally handed that in instead of my book report on The Wind In The Willows and got a B-, but that’s another story.
In junior high I was excited to have my own locker, at first, anyway, but it wasn’t a full length locker. It was one of the half-ones, and was on top of another kid’s locker. It was also right next to the stairs so there was no avoiding the traffic when I had to run to it to throw in my social studies book and grab my English book. I wasn’t hiding any contraband in there; I just didn’t like being surrounded by people when I was getting my stuff. And these weren’t lockers with built-in locks. We had to bring our own locks, and my parents decided I should have a lock with a key because they didn’t think I’d remember a combination number. Maybe they were right. Having to use a key wasn’t a bad thing until the day I lost my key. My penultimate class of the day was gym, at the opposite end of the school, and I didn’t realize my key was missing until I’d gotten to my locker. So I made a mad dash back to the gym where, fortunately, the coach had already found my key that must have fallen out of my pocket while I was changing, and, unfortunately, the coach held it up in the air and made me jump for it while he sang “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.” And if that weren’t bad enough my final class of the day was math where I was punished with a load of multiplication problems. I certainly learned my lesson and would never lose my key again.
So anyway I lost my key again. At least it was the next year and on the bright side I never could find it and the school janitor had to cut the lock off. My parents got me a new lock and I got a big keychain so I could always touch my pocket to make sure it was there. This time I really learned my lesson and would never lose my key again.
So anyway the third week into high school I lost my key again. I don’t think it was deliberate but I hated my locker. Again it was one of those half-lockers and mine was on top of one that belonged to a kid named Kevin. If I got to the lockers first I’d almost always still be fumbling with the key while Kevin yelled at me to get out of the way, and if Kevin got to the lockers first he’d be leaning on mine while he talked to his girlfriend. I’d ask him to get out of the way and he’d bob back and forth while singing “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.” Deep down I think I lost my key deliberately, thinking I’d show him by subjecting myself to the inconvenience of having to wait for the janitor to come and cut the lock off my locker. At least this time I learned my lesson and wouldn’t lose my key again.
So anyway I lost my key again. This time I didn’t tell my parents. It was close to the end of the school year anyway and the most valuable thing I kept in my locker was a book about leeches. I just went without a lock, and after that I somehow managed to always get my stuff and get away without ever seeing Kevin, at least until the next year. I assumed that, having put the first year behind me, the school would let me have one of the full-length lockers up on the second floor, where I could at least get my stuff between classes without having to navigate around someone else. I assumed wrongly. Once again I was assigned a half-locker and in some cruel administrative prank I was now below Kevin. At least I had a new lock that I could work quickly, and I’d never lose my key again.
So anyway I lost my key again. And this time I decided that if the school wasn’t going to give me a full-length locker I’d just take one of the empty ones I’d found in a back hallway while wandering the halls during lunch. There was a whole row of them, completely unused, and I took number 819 because it was the one on the end, as far as I could get from prying eyes and Kevin. And I quickly filled it with my books and my backpack and gym bag and jackets and a bunch of loose papers from unfinished assignments and a poem I’d written about a ninety-three year-old cheerleader in civics class, and that I accidentally turned in instead of my book report on Huckleberry Finn. Got a B+. It was pretty disorganized and I really didn’t care until one morning I opened up my locker and everything was neatly organized. The books were stacked on the top shelf, the papers placed in a folder, the gym bag propped up in the bottom corner. There was a note from one my friends that said, “Messy, messy, messy! You should take care of your things! And protect them too.” And taped to the note was a combination lock, nicked and battered, but still usable. I remember the combination to this day.