West Street, Brooklyn

Photo: John St John

You were having a terrible time when I saw you — stumbling down the street wailing and sobbing uncontrollably, and it was in this state that you came upon a line of your peers. They were all wearing emerald green tabards that reached their knees, and clutching each other’s hands on the corner of West and Java. You didn’t notice them at first, what with the bawling, but they noticed you. In Britain it’s called a “crocodile,” a line of pairs like this, but as they shuffled to a stop and formed a close crowd, it was more tortoise than anything. They became, in their little huddle, quite stupefied by you, small mouths open as they witnessed one of their own. There were so many of them, none crying, and there was just one of you, deranged and inconsolable. But I wondered, in fact, if they might envy you. Because you had the luxury of being with your mother, just you and her and all her attention, while here they were, a muted crowd corralled by two not-nice seeming teachers. One of whom snapped, “Are you the teacher?” at a boy who’d made a suggestion and then, catching me looking at her, made a craven sort of grin, seeking complicity, or forgiveness.

The worst thing, I think, about being your age, is that no one takes your anguish seriously. That they assume the size of your feelings corresponds to the size of you, when in fact, your grief was at least six feet tall. Quite an ignominy, then, to have your mom smile ruefully at two other two fractious women shepherding the crocodile across the road, as if there was something ridiculous about you and your distress. There wasn’t, but I also knew, as I watched your mother drag you away, that in an hour or less you’d have forgotten it.