Saturday, August 01, 2009

At My Student's Visitation

The whole town goes when it’s a kid.
I’d only known him a month. As his teacher,
I was expected. The funeral home,
used to Alzheimer's patients from nursing homes,
was unprepared for us. For two hours we waited
in a bursting hallway. I collapsed against the wall,
imagining myself as a partial ironing board
that can be tucked inside a closet.
With every breath, I felt guilty
for taking air from our diminishing supply. For a moment,
getting out of the hallway was a relief.

But the coffin was in the visitation room, closed
because of the accident. His school picture
had been blown up to poster size.
I locked eyes with it, him, the whole walk down the aisle,
wondering for the first time
if he’d ever been kissed. I hadn’t, at his age.
When I reached his parents, I thought
of how many hands I’d shake at teacher conferences
the next week, and that thought broke me.

Outside the funeral home, the night
was clean and wet. I choked on fresh air.