breathe and steady and stay

He smirks at me and I feel fire blaze through my veins, and it leaves me shaking cold.

An hour later, I am still shaking, sitting in my office and sobbing like a child, trying to soothe my fight or flight instinct. Because I am fully and completely human, and all I want to do right now is get the hell out of here. Walk away from education without even considering a backward glance and find myself a job that is a whole lot less like sandpaper on my bloody, battered soul than this one is today. Maybe it will pay less. Truth be told, I don’t care. I just don’t care in this moment.

He smirks at me and I feel the full weight of it. I flash back to phone calls and funerals and blood-chilling sobs from a mother who has seen the bullet wounds on her dead teenage baby, inflicted simply because no one ever gave him reason to believe that life is not a war. That he doesn’t have to win, that sometimes winning is just knowing when to close your eyes against offense, close your mouth against all the angry responses lashing out at the flesh inside your mouth, and turn the other cheek.

He smirks at me, and I feel myself recoil. Because I know this pattern. I’ve worked with inner city kids for five years now, so I’ve seen a lot of it. I know that unless something changes, unless someone refuses to give up on him, unless someone teaches him not to give up on himself, he will be one of three places by the age of 21: on the streets, in prison, or in the ground.

And eyeliner-laced tears drip down a clenched jawline in my office because today, I do not want to be the person who refuses to give up on him. I don’t want to be. I am tired, and raw, and wounded, and sometimes people can make you feel so very foolish for bothering to give a shit. I don’t want to be a fool, because I’m human. I want to give up, walk away, wash my hands of it and do something that doesn’t cost this much.

And I can’t. Because even when he smirks and it sets my eyes seeing red, my heart has an irrevocable love for all the dirty, gritty, messy, raw, broken. I shake my head at that love sometimes, and in my weaker moments I shake my fists at the God who wove it into me.

But I breathe, and I steady myself, and I stay. And my heart bleeds sometimes, and anyone who ever uses the phrase “bleeding heart” as a flippant insult doesn’t know how much a truly bleeding heart can cost you, how it’s almost never the easy route.

But I breathe. And steady. And stay.

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