West Avenue School in Fairport, NY was once a high school. The building resembled a castle – turrets at each corner, stone-faced, ancient. Inefficient to maintain, it would eventually be gentrified to house senior citizens. But in 1979, a ten year-old boy attended fifth grade on the third floor.
High ceilings, heavy wooden doors, stairwells that echoed with ghost voices. Old wooden auditorium seats, balcony, creaking stage and immense, musty-curtained windows. Tiny library, tiny lunch room, two tiny gyms like racquetball courts, death zones for bespectacled ten year-old boys. And somewhere in that basement, between the gyms, a music room. Wondrous, magical cavern.
Mrs. Z played Pink Floyd alongside Mozart, Boston and Brahms. Carole King sang You’ve Got a Friend at the end of every class. Select Choir met before school, before dawn, but the boy trekked a half mile through the dark gladly. He would sing a solo in the Christmas concert. Soprano. 35 years later he would remember every note, every word, long after his voice changed, long after the heartbreak. Because he was in love. And she was pregnant.
The night of the concert, fairy tale snow dusted the turrets. He arrived early, tiptoed down to the cavern between the gyms, and positioned his masterpiece on her desk. A six-page letter bursting with every emotion a ten year-old boy might imagine and heedlessly confess to his muse, elementary school music teacher and mother-to-be. That evening, he sang the greatest solo he would ever sing, secretly dedicating it to her, along with the closing song, of course, You’ve Got a Friend. She cried as he sang, surely touched by the purity of his tone, his love, his devotion.
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running
To see you again
Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there
You’ve got a friend
He lay awake that night, sleepless with anticipation. The next day, a substitute taught the class. No rock music, no Carole King. The sub stayed the rest of the year, and the boy attended a different school after that; nothing like a castle.
Mrs. Z returned once, after the snow, with her baby. He knew she was there, but he didn’t say hello.