It threw me for a moment. Maybe longer. It was hard to tell with all the commotion the IT crew was making in the background of that first on-campus, in-person class, what exactly was to blame for my struggle to focus.

I had arrived 20 minutes early to test the tech and prepare to teach. What appeared to be a flat screen power issue we thought one person could fix turned into a three-man job. A projector and movie screen were brought in and set up as I tried to remember key points from the syllabus. Cords were taped down. One guy talked loudly on the phone as I tried to take attendance. I had forgotten to bring the sign-up sheets I used to use. Zoom has been taking attendance for us in these 10 months since we went home for Spring Break and stayed at home because of the C19 pandemic. I had to learn how to interact with a real flesh and blood class all over again, this time with masks muffling voices and making it harder to breath through anxiety. I pulled the field notebook I always carried out of my purse and looked for the next blank page to write their names down.

It had been a while, also, since I used the notebook. I forgot he had written in it. I was the one who always had pen and paper at hand and we sat next to each other for so many days for so many years… he got used to reaching for it when he wanted to record something clever someone had said. I wasn’t prepared to be exposed to the sudden intimacy of his handwriting in front of my students. I lost my breath in a second’s glimpse of his small, restrained mostly uppercase letters sandwiched between my more expansive, creative scrawl.

I found a blank page soon enough and carried on as well as could be expected given the ruckus of technical difficulties. It wasn’t until later, when in privacy I retrieved those names written down, that I turned back to past pages and spent time with his notes, allowing myself to feel the essence he left behind in the ink. The notebook would have to be replaced with a fresh one, despite so many blank pages left. I couldn’t afford to walk around the with the trigger of his presence, once so close and now lost, in my purse.

What a loss we, all of us in society, suffered when so many anonymous electronic words came to replace handwritten letters vibrant with personality. He didn’t write me letters. It was a rare joy whenever I got to see his reluctant script. I am the one who succumbed to the passion of hard copy handwriting that would, in the end, be my downfall …