As I walked out of the building today,
talking with a colleague of mine
and shrinking in the furnace of afternoon
I walked past you,
briefly breaking out of my conversation long enough to tell you,
“Goodbye, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Your face and your eyes were red (I saw, even though you hid your face),
and at first I told myself it was just the heat;
after all, waiting outside so long on a day like this will do that.
I knew, of course, there was more than this,
and realized it was me who should turn around,
to ask if you were okay,
especially after this morning, what you wrote during class
about spending the weekend at your father’s girlfriend’s house
where he (not you) would probably be moving soon,
and about how he had been working nights lately,
which is why you preferred to stay with your mom and her boyfriend,
even though she takes you to your father’s girlfriend’s,
but I continued on toward my car, checking my phone,
stepping hastily onto the sun-soaked asphalt
and convincing myself there was nothing I could do.
I suppose you got the best of me when I started the engine
and the air-conditioning roared to life;
I thought about how I had nowhere in particular to be
and there was nowhere in particular for you.
I pulled the car up to the bench by the front doors of the school
where you waited, still crying and giving in to helplessness
as the “sun” continued to color your face.
I finally asked if there was anything you needed
or if someone was coming for you.
You gave an uncertain reply,
which told more than you meant,
Even while maintaining better composure than any other freshman girl.
I told you to use my phone and check on your ride,
And stood back as you dialed, waited, got the machine;
I heard you get upset and plead with no one.
I wanted to comfort you,
so I pointed out the other people still hanging around, willingly, after-hours,
informed you that the office was probably still open, if you needed to call again.
I then drove away convincing myself it was all I could do
and that late was better than never.
Michael Hylton, 2011 St. Louis, Missouri