It was mid September when the high school guidance counselor called asking if I knew of Matt’s whereabouts. It seems he never showed up when school began two weeks ago. Efforts to find him, or even to get his step-dad to respond to calls from the school, wasn’t happening either.
In July Matt texted me saying he found work helping a local lobsterman doing day trips. I had the boat’s name still on my cell, but not its location. Matt’s doesn’t have much family, and I also knew that his stepfather couldn’t care less whether or not Matt ever returned to school, so I focused my efforts on finding the lobster boat instead. A week later I finally spotted Matt off-loading traps from his boss’s truck onto the back deck of the boat. He seemed glad to see me and oblivious to why I might be stopping by.
“So here you are!” I said, trying to appear more casual than concerned. “You’re still lobstering?”
“Yeah, how ‘bout that?” Matt said. “I’m fishing and stashing cash in my pocket, too!”
“You like it, then?” I asked.
It’s pretty good. My boss is cool and pays mad good, too.
Sweet… so Matt, what about school?
Oh yeah….that., he says, as if it were a brand new thought.
Yeah that….you’d be a junior this year. Don’t you want to get at least a high school education?
Oh…I planned to go back…just not yet…been out everyday…the catch is good right now.
Doesn’t your boss know you’re still in school?
He sorta thinks I finished high school.
You mean you told him you graduated, right?
Yeah. You gonna tell him?
No. You’re nineteen, damit…you’re making life choices right now.
Matt continued off-loading traps as we spoke. After heaving eight or nine more traps, Matt said,
“I’m not sure about school, Kev. Look, I’m 19 and still in high school for Christ’s sake. If I go back I know how it goes. It’s all good for three weeks. Then I start mouthing off, get pissed, get suspended, loose more time and just keep falling further and further behind. Fuck, why bother? It’s not like I’m going to Harvard, yah know?”
But you need a basic education, Matt, unless you plan to flip burgers for a career.
I’ll fish… I’ll do what I’m doing now… just stay here and keep working.
Where you staying? You stepfather doesn’t seem to know where you are
He doesn’t give a damn where I stay or what I do, Kevin. You know that.
I know…but your mother did? If she were here, would you be dropping out of school?
But she ain’t here, is she? So what’s it matter now?
Sensing that the tenor was going south fast, I tried another angle. “How about night school then?’ I asked.
Thought about it. Maybe.
I was about to follow up on night school when Matt’s boss walked up. “You friends with Matt”, He asked?
“Sure am. He’s a great kid,” I said.
He’s the best damn worker I’ve ever had,” he said. “Always on time, quick learner, easy to get along with. Matt, we set to go?
All set boss.
In a flash the lines were dropped and the lobster boat backed up and out of the slip. Matt waved in my direction and yelled something I couldn’t make out.
As the boat went out of sight I thought, best damn worker, always on time and easy to get along with? Maybe Matt was going back to school after all?