Little white flakes were drifting lazily through the air, swirling in the yellow light cast downward by the lamp posts. My breath was like a cloud billowing out from my mouth as I crunched my way through the snow laden yard at the front of the school toward the parking lot. I glanced around, looking for the black suburban my mom drove, but it was no where to be found. She must have been running late.
I lifted my headphones from where they nestled around my neck, and placed them over my ears. Turning my CD player on I skipped ahead to track 6. As the song slowly faded in I settled in to wait. There weren’t many cars in the parking lot, since it was night school, and most of them had left before the song was over.
I made sure to avoid eye contact with everyone, staring at the ground while I shuffled more or less in place, or staring up at the lights in feigned fascination. One of the cars honked as it drove past, but as I lifted my hand to wave, I saw a group of guys headed towards it pushing, and shoving each other as they called out for the driver to hold up. I could feel my face getting hot with embarrassment so I quickly turned away, shoving my hand back into my pocket.
“What do I do to ignore them behind me?” the next track started, as if to emphasize my mistake. I quickly skipped ahead, trying to remember which number held my favorite song, the one with the little piece of paper. I could never remember the name of it, but I was sure it was number thirteen. To my dismay, the CD only had twelve tracks, however, and as I cycled through them, listening a little, then moving onto the next, the parking lot emptied the rest of the way.
My fingers were getting cold, so I slid my CD player back in my cargo pocket and just let it play. The wind bit at me through my hoodie, and I wished I had something warmer to wear. Where was my mom? I tried my best to appear nonchalant, leaning against the building. I’m not sure I pulled it off though since between my humming nerves and the cold my whole body was practically vibrating. None of the classrooms were lit up in my side of the building, and there was no one else around. I watched car after car drive by, scanning the traffic for my mom, but still she didn’t come.
“She must have hit traffic,” I thought to myself. “Maybe there was an accident on the way here and she needed to take a different route.” It seemed unlikely that she had forgotten to come and get me, since I had been going to night school for over a month, and she had picked me up every time. It wasn’t un like her to be late though, so I guessed she was just running on Mormon Standard Time.
“From the top to the bottom,” my CD player bellowed at me, snapping me out of my reverie. I almost pulled it back out to skip to the next track, but my fingers still felt like icicles, so I let it play. Surprisingly, when it got to the second verse I realized that it was the song I had been looking for all along. I fished the CD player out of my pants and put it on repeat.
Deciding it would be easier to keep warm if I walked around I stood up and headed toward the street. Before I made it there, however, a car turned into the parking lot, flipped a U-ie, and pulled up along side me. The driver reached across the passenger seat and cranked the handle to roll down the window. “Do you need a ride somewhere?” he asked, squinting at me through the falling snow.
“No thanks,” I replied, giving him a half smile. “My mom should be here any minute.”
“Are you sure?” he asked. “Do you want to borrow my cell phone to call her?”
I’m suspicious by nature, and my parents had drilled it in to my head that stranger = danger, so I declined the offer, insisting that my mom was probably right around the corner. He offered to stay, and wait with me, which creeped me out, but when I insisted I was fine, he left readily enough. I immediately regretted my decision not to take him up on his offer to call my mom as I watched his tail lights disappear down the road, because it was starting to feel like she really had forgotten about me, but I assured myself that she was probably on her way that very instant, so calling the house would have been pointless.
I stood by the street and peered into the darkness. There were no headlights coming toward me in either direction. The road was completely deserted except for me. I let the song play through from start to finish waiting for a car to drive by, but none did.
I felt far too vulnerable in the dark, so I walked over to the street lamp. I pulled my sleeve down to cover my hand so it wouldn’t get cold, and gripping the post, I swung myself round and round until I was too dizzy to stand upright. Feeling silly, I glanced around to see if anyone had come while I was distracted, but the street, the school, and the parking lot were all just as abandoned as they had been before.
Relieved I walked over to where the triangular gate swung against it’s chain and slid my feet through to sit on it. The bar was really cold though, and wet from the falling snow, so it soon got too much for me and I disentangled myself from it walking around in circles back and forth between the street and the school.
I was starting to feel hurt and angry. I thought briefly about walking home, but I didn’t have a clear picture of how to get there, and the thought of walking the miles of road between the school and my home made me tear up. Even if I managed to find my way in the dark, could I make it home before morning? Would I get lost along the way, and wind up freezing to death in a gutter somewhere?
I mouthed the words to the song that was repeating for what felt like the hundredth time. I didn’t dare sing, in case someone might be lurking in the shadows, but I did allow myself to whisper the lyrics, occasionally broken up by the catch in my throat as I tried to avoid crying openly. Was I going to have to retrace my footsteps all night, until finally a teacher came to open up the school, and maybe let me use the phone? Had my mom really forgotten me so completely that she had over looked the fact that I wasn’t in my bed when she had come in to turn the lights out?
I have no idea how long this went on, but I do know that when my mom finally did arrive, my mouth was dry and my throat was sore. Dinner had been late, she told me apologetically, and when she had asked my brother to call me to the table, and he couldn’t find me, she had realized her mistake. I want to say I laughed and teased her for forgetting her oldest daughter, but her apologies, however sincere they were, did little to soften the blow. She really had forgotten me, and that fact stuck with me for a long, long time.
Dedicated to Chester Bennington, may he rest in peace.