I’m buying a 4 dollar coffee in the hotel lobby of the Hyatt fucking Regency
Using money provided by the organization sponsoring this whole excursion,
Carrying no cash,
Attending a conference on working with youth experiencing homelessness.
Once, I knew the uncertainty of my next meal,
I knew the fear of my next steps,
I knew the caution of sleeping out alone.
Today, I hold a position in an organization where once I received services,
For being young, alone, afraid.
And as I am buying this coffee using a piece of plastic at one time I couldn’t comprehend,
A man walks past.
A familiar scent,
A well-known stance,
A furtive glance,
He is walking through this space asking for change.
A little help,
A moment of humanity,
A chance to escape the sweltering humidity of houston early morning.
I know him.
Not in the sense that I know his kind,
That I identify with his shame,
That I grasp his fear.
No, I know him.
As youth, we wandered the limbo of our city,
The then safe space for youth who had no place to call home.
We weren’t close, I preferred mushrooms to methamphetamines,
We existed in different hierarchies,
But we would have had each others’ backs against the “normies”
Those that would see us exterminated.
He slunk past me this morning,
Looking for a break,
Relief from whatever tortures hide behind wild eyes and desperation.
And there I am,
I don’t carry cash anymore,
Save for petty funds to fill my youths’ bellies,
Work I spent the morning doing.
Eyes barely open,
Having had no caffeine.
I came to this space,
To talk about youth experiencing homelessness.
To hold and take space as an expert in that field.
My expertise found in memories that he stokes with a slinking glance.
I can’t give him money,
Not even a cigarette these days.
Yet he holds in him the truth I’ve spent a decade trying to escape,
While I sit in spaces an expert in the agonies and beauties,
The comedies and tragedies.
Capitalizing on what is no longer my pain.
There is a flicker of recognition,
It passes between us, a fissure up my spine.
He can’t place me,
Clean and secure,
Dressed for opinions and panels.
But I couldn’t erase the recall if I tried.