by Lowell Jaeger
He’d knock and open before I answered
in the locker room where busboys, prep-cooks,
and high school dishwasher jocks hung
their street clothes and readied for another shift.
I’d be unbuttoning my bellbottoms
when he’d settle in for a smoke like clockwork
on the bench too nearby as I stripped,
just the two of us, and we’d pretend
a conversation to cover over things unsaid.
Would I give him a ride on my new bike?
Sure, I said, maybe someday. Did I want him
so I’d have weekends for sw
not enjoy being singled out. And I let him
drape an arm around my shoulders,
buddy-like, down the long basement corridor
to the stairs up into the respectable world
where a small town queer was unimaginable
amidst linen tablecloths, suits and ties,
and fine ladies in their finest frocks.
He was twice my age. He was alone
in his own secret life. I was only beginning
to understand compassion, how much we all need
to be what we are and loved for it.
I’d be off to college that fall. Did I
have a girlfriend? I sure did. And would I
just give him a ride on my bike someday?
Sure, I said. Don’t you remember I said I would?
And I’d roar off into the dark and leave him
standing there watching me go.