Meeting Clare at Financial Aid

You wait in line at Financial Aid,
hungover.
You just want an education:
“Thanks, America. Thanks, Obama.
You give me just enough money to enroll
and bankrupt the whole family.
My two brothers and I, we were
made to squander the family (mis)fortune.”

Tomorrow, my mother will say,
“That’s it, boys. The last dime.
Thank God we invested in your educations
because it’s all up to you now.”

You don’t tell her, you haven’t told her all along,
“Mother, all of my great expectations have been
dedicated
to booze.
I went through a spiced rum phase: Montana Gold
Mr. Boston.
I went through a vodka phase: Crown Russe
$12.20 for a half-gal at Krisco.
There is an ongoing beer phase.
I have tried 370 of them and I have
the credentials to prove it:
the pilsners and the Pabst.
The ambers, the ales, the amber ales.
From India, from Germany, but mostly
from right here in Missoula.
Bayern and Kettlehouse,
Big Sky, Blacksmith,
I
have had
it all.
Now, the whiskey phase: Black Velvet,
always in the freezer.
The air inside compresses the plastic bottle
as the molecules slow and the stuff becomes
syrup.
I twist the cap and pop the little white filter
off with toenail clippers.
I drink it all down with the
classy whiskey glass I stole.
This is the whiskey phase.
This is your son.
This is your family.”
And we will all stare at the ceiling and the floor
because we don’t even want to look at each other.

Anyway.
You wait in line at Financial Aid,
hungover.
A girl starts talking
more to herself than to you.
You kinda listen just to be nice.

Later,
you take a meal alone in the dining hall.
There she is again.
She sits down across from you and
picks up where she left off.
Once or twice
you smile to be nice.

When she goes,
she says,
“I’m so glad I finally made a friend.”
And you realize that perhaps you
didn’t wait in line at Financial Aid,
hungover,
for your brothers or your mother or you.

(From July 2015)

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