5:00 means I can start to forget. Every step closer to my car takes me farther away from my everyday: behind a desk, peering around a computer at the 22, 19, 15-year-olds on the other side. One by one, with or without appointments, they come to my office. There’s nowhere else to go.
Everyone who steps through my door is forced, not groomed, into independence. They spend their days making decisions without guidance and taking actions without support. They spend their nights in beds they can’t call their own. As they sit on the leather couch against my office wall, they tell me what they need. Help finding a job, finishing high school, making a budget. Mental health resources–immediately. The only thing they all ask for is the hardest to give.
Somewhere to live.
Typing notes as they talk, I answer every question. Honestly–accurately, even. But my answers are never enough, so of course, are never right. I’m another voice in the chorus saying, “Yeah, we offer help. Eventually.” They languish on our waitlist, and I try not to let myself think of what they’ll do in the meantime. Where they’ll stay. What that will do to them. The memories they’ll wish they didn’t make. The different ways their spirit will break.
Even more than my answers, it’s my questions that echo endlessly. The ones, over and over, I ask. “How old are you? Do you have any kids?” The ones I don’t. “Are you safe? Do you feel scared?
Instead of what they came in for, I hand them my card. “Call me if anything changes.”
And it does. But never for the better.
Kerry Graham lives, teaches, writes, and kayaks in Baltimore, MD. Her most recent essays have appeared in HuffPost, and her vignettes have been published in several literary journals. She is a regular contributor to The Baltimore Banner. Learn more at http://www.mskerrygraham.com.