She says she does her best studying sitting on street corners, textbook resting on skinny thighs, back pressed up against a concrete wall. She has a worn cardboard sign asking for donations, any small amount of generosity will help.
The dog nestled against her hip is tired and mostly goes unnoticed. The city is sweltering, then violently cold and some sweet suburban mother offers her a few dollars to go warm up with a cup of hot chocolate.
When she’s reading about astronomy she lies flat on the sidewalk at night pretending streetlights are stars and she can point out the galaxies. She learns about Mexico, Africa, China and other places the smattering of change and dollar bills in her cup will never take her. She’ll finish college one day.
Somewhere in a warm bed there is a friend who is pretty sure she has lost her. A friend who contemplates letting go.
Somewhere in a screaming house there is a mom who doesn’t really think about her. Who has already let go.
She strains her eyes to read by streetlight after the sun has gone down for the day, the dog moves a little closer so they can borrow each other’s warmth and they stay. They hang on.
The soldiers stand at attention, my brother’s ashes are in an urn sitting on the table, and I know that this is the point where I am supposed to cry, where there should be a visible tremor in my shoulders as I try to keep a sob from escaping and breaking the silence. But all I can seem to do is stare at the eyes of the men who move so rigidly, searching for any indication of emotion. I want confusion, sadness, curiosity, anything but this empty plate of solemnity. I want them to understand. I need them to know how sometimes I had to stay up late to guide his wobbling body to a bed. How he drank too much and lost his temper too quickly, but there were people who loved him unconditionally and not necessarily in spite of. He wasn’t a great man, no one is going to stand up and call him a hero, but he is my brother and I think he deserves a flicker, one small misstep.
-- Ellie Renz is a senior in Lewis University’s College of Education. She won the 2011 Delta Epsilon Sigma Gamma Chi Chapter’s Paper Writing Contest in the category of poetry.