A Traveler

I will not dance to your war drums. I will not lend my soul nor my bones to your war drums. I will not dance to your beating. I know that beat. It is lifeless. –Suheir Hammad

I met a young boy on the way to the airport last night. He was 19, he said. In an attempt to sound more experienced in this world, I told him I had students his age in my class. He said, “no way,” that I looked like a “kid”. I told him, “I get that a lot” and laughed.

He said that he got stranded in NY because he missed two of his scheduled flights. He was on his way home from his first year in the Army and that everything that could possibly go wrong had gone wrong today. He complained a lot about having to tip the cab drivers. He said that he wanted to see his parents. He told me about his dream of going to college and becoming a history teacher one day. He approved of my being a teacher, but emphasized repeatedly that the Buckeyes were not that big of a deal. He told me all about his 10 siblings and asked me if I wanted a lot of kids one day. Stupidly, I said yes.

He shook a lot when he spoke, hardly able to keep his voice from trembling. An invisible shadow stole his stillness the same way an echo of a drum steals at silence. It made me feel uneasy because I’ve known that feeling, too. He didn’t want to talk about the Army nor Texas. What did he see? I thought to myself but did not ask.

Before he got off the bus, he told me his name was Kelsey and took my hand. His grip was strong and patient–as if he needed to affirm that life and flesh and humanity were, after all, real. After getting off the bus, he looked back at me twice with eyes that reflected desperation and kindness.

I haven’t stopped wondering if he ever made it home.

Written 01/19/2011


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