When I locked eyes with him and saw the chalky line of the tear stain down his brown cheek, I felt the pain in his soul. Handing him the five dollar toll,  I only had a few seconds to communicate that my heart hurt for him.  Driving away, I kept asking myself, “Do I exit and drive back over the bridge and exit again so I can drive back and ask if he is okay? But I already knew that he wasn’t.  I already knew that even if I had done more than lock eyes with him longer than I should have, long enough for him to know that I saw and felt his pain, that driving through the toll booth once more wouldn’t make a difference.

The rest of that drive home I was haunted by the feeling of shared pain.

Yesterday I woke up at 6am to get bagels for the girls volleyball team.  Flying down Fulton Avenue to Jackson Sports Academy as the sun rose I drank my latte enjoying the Sunday morning possibilities.  I watched Charlie warm up, and then play her heart out.  Her break on the bench was noticeably different than in the past years; you see, Charlie always stands up and cheers for her team when she isn’t playing and I noticed she wasn’t even paying attention. I yelled across the court “CHARLIE!!” I was mad. I took my fingers and pointed to my eyes and pointed to her team. She knew what that meant.

After the hours of the tournament wound down, and we were driving home, she said, “Mom. Do you know why I wasn’t watching the game?”  I didn’t want excuses but she continued to tell me that an unnamed teammate was telling her that she had a brother who was murdered horrifically years and  years ago. Tears and shock flooded my body and I stopped the car. We cried together. I will never forget the moment I yelled at her across the court unknowingly assuming she was goofing around, and yet she was learning of something any young girl should not have to know.

I’ve been thinking about the why’s and how’s of all this and then today as I dropped Charlie’s lunch and ran back out to my car late for school (my school) I was parked behind another mother whose daughter was talking to her and holding her lunch and she kept talking. Instead of acting annoyed I waited. I inched my car up a little. Okay finally I rolled my window down and waited, hearing the girl say, “I love you mom.” Pause. Pause. Pause. ” I said, “Excuse me sweetie, can I get through?” Pause. “I love you mom.”

Her mom drove on. She pulled over. What made me look over at her I will never know. She was crumpled in pain with her fingers to her eyes.  My heart fell. Should I turn around??

We have no idea what other people are going through. It is an understatement to say that the neighbor, friend, acquaintance or stranger you are talking to might be one breath away from a breakdown, might be one moment away from losing faith, and/or might have already lost it. We need each other people. I am so sorry I didn’t go back over that bridge. I am pissed I didn’t pull over for that mother. Maybe they would have felt embarrassed or intruded upon, I will never know. But I wish I would have let them know that they are not alone.  Somebody wants me to share this pain, somebody wants me to tell their story.  Next time I will turn around.  I promise I will.

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