He towered above me in the Kroger parking lot, a smile sweeping across his face.
“Mrs. Swartz!” he said. “I wasn’t sure you’d still be with us.”
And then, having heard his words, began sputtering around as his brain searched for a way out.
“I mean,” he finally managed. “I thought you might have moved out of town.”
Jerome had been a wistful sort of student, never quite sure he’d make it onto the basketball team or through the midterm exam or into a group of friends. But he had also been dogged, trying against the odds.
Now he stood beside what looked to be a luxury pickup truck, as well-kept as his scuff-free boots and chino pants and fleece-lined cargo jacket.
Jerome worked in construction, he told me. And on the side, he bought houses and flipped them. He was working on his third house. The money from these houses went into the bank as a foundation for starting his own construction business.
He shook his head in disbelief, and a look of wonder came across his face.
“I’m doing it,” he said to me. “I’m making a good life.”
It’s something to get a strong hug from a hulking young man who used to sit so timorously in the back of my class.
I wish he could have had a glimpse back then of the assured adult he was at this moment in the Kroger parking lot. But probably it was the struggle against the unknown that made him this strong.
Just as he left, Jerome again showed his true colors.
“Goodbye, Mrs. Swartz,” he said. “Glad you’re still here!”
Knowing that kid, he’ll probably keep checking for my obituary.