It wasn’t anything that didn’t happen to Charles Dickens, or to kids in Afghanistan, any day of the week, or any kid at Children’s Mercy down the street-– I mean as far as level of sadness and unfairness and the forcing of a child to know how sad and unfair things really are. Reading about it in my student’s essay made me choke up, sit up, blink. I feel like children shouldn’t have to know everything. For example, they should only go to the funerals of people who are very old, and look peaceful under their dead white eyebrows, to tell children that only old people die, and dying is so far away that there isn’t much to worry about.
When my student came in to ask me if I had read the essay, I hadn’t had time to write anything down in response. So I said, “I did read it. It made me cry,” which really seemed to please the kid, and I was relieved because I thought it was a weird thing for me to say. The kid seemed pleased like a free throw had been sunk, like, “Good,” not like we were bonding or anything, so I guess it wasn’t weird.
It wasn’t like the writing was so maudlin or weepy. It was sad because the kid just wrote what happened, mostly sap-free. There were several occasions when people had to go to lock themselves in a bathroom stalls in a public place so they could cry in peace. Which happens with unremarkable regularity among the grieving, I think.
As I read it, I also wanted to cry because I knew that this kid would be okay. There was no hardness in the language, rough as it was. If you can tell your story, it makes you feel feverish and sick while you’re going, but really, you’re showing your health. You’re showing that you’re not going to dry up or lie to yourself. Telling your story is as unpleasant as flossing. If you’re me, anyway. I have high-maintenance gums.
The students were trading papers that afternoon, and somehow the wounded kid traded papers with another kid who had the exact same scar. Well, not exactly the same, but while I didn’t know shit about their particular grief, the pair of them were practically in the same foxhole. I guess they had overhead each other’s stories somehow. They were both pretty private characters, except when one or the other of them was telling me to leave them alone and what was my problem. I hadn’t tried to matchmake them. They devoured those essays like they had exchanged love letters. Kids hardly ever concentrate like that in school, let me tell you.
Every other time I’ve broken up with someone, I felt self-righteous. And I also felt like God or fate would forthwith hand me my true fortune for my real cookie, like there would be some karmic reward for sticking it out. Ideally, meeting someone far better for me compared to the ill-fitting situation I had just shed. I didn’t feel that during this last breakup. I had finally given up on a chess master kind of God. It finally struck me as juvenile, against my experience of the random, careless world and my nagging suspicion that God– for good or for ill– was not yanking my chain all the time like a schoolyard bully. When I wanted to dissolve completely, I tried to hold my openness and softness. So the other reason I was wanting to cry at the sad essay was that my softness reminded me I had succeeded.