I don’t know the Sam Houston campus well at all. In the fall and spring, my graduate classes are online (although I’m not taking a class this spring; I plan to be busy with the admin training program). And when I do come up for graduate classes in the summer, I park outside the education building, go to my classroom, and straight back to my car an hour or two later. I had to look at a map of the campus just to come up with an easy-to-find place to meet.

So we explore together.

The campus is largely vacant. We see perhaps two or three people as we make our way from one end to the other. The SHSU campus is not unlike others that I’ve been on—old buildings, new buildings, a memorial garden here and there, a student center, multistory dorms. The hills are perhaps its most distinguishing feature, and the muscles in my thighs are burning by the time we circle back to the fountain in the heart of the campus.

There’s a north breeze, and we have to stand upwind to avoid getting showered. The tile bottom glitters with coins.

Robert fishes in his pocket for some pennies and hands me one. He shrugs and grins at me. “Make a wish.”

“Okay.” I squeeze my eyes shut and make a wish, then toss the coin in. He smiles and does the same.

“So what did you wish?” I ask.

“Can’t tell you or it won’t come true.”

I laugh and start to turn away.

“I wished that my dad would be dead when I get home.”

That stops me. I search his eyes in the bright sunlight.

“What the L-M-N-O-P, huh?” he says, and smiles, but it’s a pained look.

“Yeah. What the L-M-N-O-P? You don’t mean that,” I say, but I suspect he does.

He shrugs. “I cannot tell a lie.” He kicks lightly at the bricks around the fountain with the toe of his athletic shoe, then grimaces, and I see his eyes are glistening. “I just want it all to be over, you know. The people always in our house, the smell, the resentment. Yesterday a priest came and gave my dad last rites.”

We sit down on a bench a few feet away from the fountain. One thing I’ve learned working with kids is this: When they want to talk, you shut up. I twist on the bench to face him and prop my head on my fist. He watches a mockingbird land in the mist from the fountain, flutter its wings some, and then fly away.

“I know he’s my dad and all,” he says finally, “but I feel like he’s just this thing that sucks all the oxygen out of the room. Like the world has stopped spinning and it can’t start again until he’s gone.” He folds his arm across his chest like he’s cold and tells me about the chicken soup. “I just wanted to rip that oxygen tube away from his face and replace it with a pillow and just hold it down, you know. You would think he’d want to make sure that I was going to be okay, that his affairs were in order so we wouldn’t have to untangle everything after he died. But all he can think about is himself. It’s as if I don’t even matter. And they talk about him like he’s such a hero. I don’t understand any of it. And I can’t stand the way everyone acts like my mom is some bad person. She’s not.”

I rest my hand on the back of his neck. He slips into silence, as if he can’t handle any more naked honesty today.

“You hungry?” I ask after a while. “I know a little place. Great Mexican food. I’m buying.”

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