Places, Please

Places, Please

Do you remember the day
you decided to teach?
Silly question.
Of course you remember it.
Even then, as young as we were,
we both understood
that it was your personal Rubicon.

What made you do it?
Was it that skirt?
What would you even call that color?
Cerulean? No, it was deeper than that.
Prussian? Nah, not enough green.
Turquoise? Way too bright.
Teal. Maybe we should leave it at that.
OK, so your skirt was teal,
your blouse was white,
and those fabulous chestnut boots
your mom had ordered from Speigel
carried you up to the podium.
I sometimes think that
if I had been wearing that outfit,
I, too, would have done what you did.

So many images from those years
have fled my mind.
Sometimes, with a nudge
from that old journal I still have
—you know, the one he made us keep for class—
a picture begins to crystalize in my mind.
I still remember what I wore to that dance
—diamond-shaped, mirrored earrings;
the fuchsia vest rimmed with green;
the skinny black tie pecked with pink—
and which song was playing
when Aaron kissed me.

Where are you now?
I wish I could find you
and tell you that
Debby and her disciples
—those mindless minions
who cared about little more than
safety and acceptance
and surviving long enough
to get their gold stars and get out—
were the ones who were wrong,
the ones with nothing to live for,
the ones who wouldn’t know meaning
if it rose up in front of them
and knocked them on their backs.

It was always about them,
but, at least once,
it shouldn’t have been.
If I hadn’t been caught in the headlights,
watching from my desk as it
all played out in slow motion,
I swear I would have stood up for you.
If those mirrored earrings could have
shown me the future,
even given me a hint
that the world would never be the same
for you
after that day,
I would have stood up,
I would have advanced to Debby’s desk,
I would have bloodied her nose, and then
I would have clutched your hand
to lead you from that classroom
and into a life
where your worth was recognized.

I would have pulled the trigger
for you, Thelma, but
I could do nothing more than
perceive the rush of air
as it came over the windshield
and wonder if I’d feel anything
when we hit bottom.

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