Bars on the window above throw shadows on the letter I’m writing that you may never receive. I cringe recalling you and me in a room like this on that night, the last time I saw you before I ran. But I shake it off, feel sun on my shoulders, remind myself that I’m a grown man in the office where I counsel juvenile offenders. A boy like me at his age is coming for a final session today and he’ll be going home stronger.
Over twenty years in this job I’ve met bad mothers, foolish mothers, drunk mothers and even violent ones, and some I didn’t meet because they never showed up for their kids. You I have cursed and blamed, agonized over, dreamt about, pitied and slowly begun to forgive.
The nurse said she would read this to you since I may not get there in time. I wrote a poem imagining what happened in your life that day, trying to understand why you failed me when I needed you. It is as close to an apology as I can offer:
Maybe your day began surfacing alone in your bed from a bad dream to the shrill of the morning clock, then sweating off any showered freshness from collar to waistband to a worn seat on the commuter train, click-clicking to an office stuffed with ungrateful souls in suits who woke up and would go to bed cruel and impatient, and lunching on tepid egg salad with not enough salt on rye that wasn’t worth the cholesterol and guaranteed to leave a bad taste.
Maybe you risked getting fired for leaving work early to attend the disciplinary hearing when the teacher, tired of rehearsing her litany of my misdemeanors, dawned on the fact that you wouldn’t be coming, and left. And maybe it was hard for you to reign in your fury when you banged on a locked school door and no one answered.
Maybe you barreled back to the station, skittering down perilous steps to the platform, ginning up power for the home stretch and faking a smile for the grocery checker who recognized and sniggered at you and your invariable frozen pizza, then sprinting a final block to the liquor store (not the one you went to last night or the night before)
Maybe after all that you thought you deserved a good stiff drink before dinner.
And maybe you were so exhausted that you didn’t realize I was sick of waiting and hungry and ashamed to have been suspended from school and baffled wondering why I did what I did and needing you to summon up some tenderness and reach out and hug me like you used to so I could surrender to the ache in my throat that tears might have soothed if only you had put down your drink.
If I could do that night over, I wouldn’t give in to the rage that overcame the true and steady boy that I knew I was, and I wouldn’t jerk away the glass and knock you down and smash the heavy bottle in the sink, and neither of us would bleed.
Jill Loomis is a flash fiction writer, FBomb enthusiast and a New Yorker. She writes with abandon following a career raising funds for nonprofits.