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         The morning sun had just topped the nearby treeline as the door to my truck swung open, groaning as though it was not yet ready for the new day.

          I groaned as well, as I rotated my legs and stepped out of the passenger compartment and onto the pavement near the Citgo gas pump. At 7 A.M. it was quiet but cold. I shivered as I reached to my collar and tipped it up to cover my exposed neck.

           $3.85 per gallon! Cripes! Just a month ago, the price had seemed to be reaching more sane levels, but something had happened, and suddenly, fuel prices were spiking, as tho we had become engaged in another Mideast fiasco! God bless the USA!, was what I was musing as I shook my head and wondered if things would ever be better. I glanced behind me as a small car pulled into the empty space, creaking to a halt. Another ‘victim’ I thought, chuckling under my breath. Better to be in this together….

            I reached for the cold filling nozzle and opened the fuel tank door. Everything was frosty cold. I thought about the gloves I never wore, that were sitting in plain sight on the front seat, and sighed. My own fault if I was cold… I was in my usual pensive mood as I strained to see the prompts on the credit card scanner and to press the unresponsive numbers on the pad to enter my zipcode… My zipcode. Why in the heck did they need that? Didn’t they know who was paying the bill? Geezz…

             The nozzle  almost slipped out of its perch as I reached over it to throw my wallet onto the front seat of the truck, so that I didn’t accidentally leave it on my rear mounted job box like I had one time! I grabbed at the cold steel handle and repositioned it deftly, silently chiding myself for the obvious  clumsiness. ‘Calm down Tony’, I thought. ‘The day is just starting!’

               It was going to take a while to put 22 gallons into the dark blue Ford, so I squeezed the lever and leaned back against the bed, glad that my jacket was insulated enough to keep most of the cold at bay… The sound of rushing gasoline slowly faded from my consciousness, as I started my mental gymnastics…. My checklist for the coming day. There were a lot of details to remember, because one job would be coming to a close and another starting. Nothing crazy hard about that, but somehow, I had been managing to forget one or two little things, here or there, so this exercise had now become something more than symbolic. It seemed, more and more, to remind me that my mind was no longer the fine tuned computer I once considered it. It still retained the most critical things,  but maddeningly and most haphazardly, seemed to discard or misplace items on the checklists that left me muttering to myself when I finally realized what I had forgotten.

              I don’t know what really startled me out of that stupor, to be honest, but suddenly I had the feeling that one gets at odd times. The one where you think that someone is watching you. lol I don’t know. Maybe it’s just peculiar to me… I grew up looking over my shoulder, most of my childhood, for obvious reasons.

               Nonetheless, I felt the shock on the back of my neck suddenly and the sound of rushing fuel returned to the forefront of my mind. As did the urge to quickly survey my surroundings, in a way that was inconspicuous. I’m usually very calm on the outside. No need for anyone to see what occasionally rises from the depths!

               So, I casually glanced behind me at the random traffic on the nearby, mostly quiet side street. Nothing there of any significance. Nobody walking on the sidewalk either…

                My eyes scanned the building entrance as the door swung open and a patron tucked her newly purchased cigarettes into her ample overcoat pocket. She walked briskly, and glanced at me briefly, but never made eye contact. I didn’t know her. Even in this little town, I sometimes feel anonymous…

                 A throat- clearing cough from behind my truck interrupted my thoughts. I turned casually to look. It was the young man who had driven up in the little Nissan. A dark colored, sporty looking car of early vintage, with a broken headlight on the passenger’s side. I winced. The car was not street legal like that! Newington cops can be real dicks sometimes. (pardon my french) I looked at the driver to assess his age, but he turned away quickly and with the hoodie that he was wearing, covering his entire head, I only caught a quick glimpse. A very quick glimpse.

                    It was enough. My heart skipped a beat, even tho I wasn’t sure. Could it be??

                    I pretended to be nonplussed but the reality was quite different as the memories flooded my brain and sent my mind into hyperdrive.

                     No! It couldn’t be! And yet…

                       I was suddenly back three years prior, in this same location, only it was nighttime. Probably nine or ten o’clock, as I walked around the back of the building, searching the shadows for the young shirtless and shoeless boy I had stumbled upon earlier. I actually recounted the experience in a post I wrote early on in this blog. October of 2009. ‘Transitions’.

http://wp.me/p1qe2i-2D

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                Where does the time go?

                 I had spent the next few years trying to catch a glimpse of the boy, praying that he had weathered the abusive environment that had scared him enough to run from the house that cold October night, nearly naked, save the meager sweat pants/ pajama bottoms I found him trembling in…

                  I had seen him twice– once at a distance as he scurried along in a pack of teenaged boys, and once as I drove right by him on a neighboring street, as he walked along with some of his friends. We made eye contact that time, and he recognized me. He had smiled, as did I. I think. More likely I was grinning ear to ear, feeling relieved that he seemed to be all right!

                 But now… Could it be him?  My heart knew but my mind was racing, telling me to be calm. If it was him, he had a right to his privacy. My heart sank, to think that I might have to endure an eternal mystery… I glanced his way again, unable to help myself. I had to at least know that it was him! I looked at the car. A typical ‘hoopda’ that a kid from a poor family might be driving… I gave the boy a once over. He would be about 17 years old now…

               It was hard to tell, but the build was the same- slender, but taller than I remembered. Still, the last time I saw him was over a year and a half ago! I felt the handle of the gas nozzle suddenly release as the audible click echoed through the small filling station area.

                  It startled me, but more importantly, it startled the boy as well! He turned to face me and we made immediate eye contact. I was frozen in my tracks. I’m not sure what I did with the filling nozzle, to be honest, as the realization swept over me and I felt a smile break out on my face…

                    I was not alone. Justin smiled shyly and pushed the hood back off his head. Justin. I know him by that name now, because he told me as we shook hands and then embraced. I think his heart was pounding as hard as mine, because I felt it right though his thin sweatshirt- type jacket.

                    It’s mostly a blur after that. I don’t know how long we stood there, catching up, but I did understand that he was off to school after the pit stop for gas, and that his father had found a new job. Not right away, but he had finally found one. His brother had not thrived quite as well. He had been caught burgling a house and was now on probation in a treatment center/ half way house, by the way Justin described it.

                     It was all too brief, but as I talked to the handsome young man, I felt a real warmth inside. I was getting a little emotional as we finally parted, this time with a longer hug. He really put his strength into that one, and then he said something to me with his head resting on my shoulder… “Thank you for helping me that night. I was SO scared and nobody else seemed to care.”

                   I didn’t know what to say. I’m not good with words at times like that, so I hugged him tighter and told him that ‘it was OK… and that if he wanted to make me proud, he would promise to do the same thing for someone else who might need HIS help someday…’

                  We released each other and he made that promise. I swear he had tears in his eyes, but I wasn’t seeing that well myself, at that moment… He turned to head into the building to pay for his fuel as I patted him on the back and got into my work truck.

                   There was nothing more I would have liked better than to just sit there to see him get into his car and drive away, but I started the Ford and slowly turned it onto the road, and drove away. I kept looking in the rear view mirror to catch a glimpse of the young man with the old size 13 leather tennis shoes. The ones that had always been too tight for me, but had served a very important use in the end.

                    After all, a young boy had grown into a man wearing them.

                    I drove to the Falls, parked my truck, and had a good cry to get it out of my system before I headed to work.

                    I haven’t shared that with anyone until now, but I thought I should note it here… Life has a way of completing the circle, no?

love to all, tman

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