When I was in grade school, the mother of one of my friends died. She must have been a very young woman. Rachel was a serious girl who lived in a wood-frame Victorian in the older section of our village. I and most of my other friends lived in the new developments that sprouted to accommodate the families that left NYC during the post-war years. Whenever I visited Rachel to play, it was an adventure. My parents had to drive me over because her home was too far to walk to on my own. I was accustomed to either new split-level homes or the Bronx apartment of my grandparents; Rachel's old Victorian with its banister staircase seemed shabby and I know that I thought that because my home was new, my family was somehow superior to hers.
During one visit, Rachel’s mother hovered at the top of the stairs. A tall thin woman in a plaid dress. That’s all I remember of her.
Rachel returned to school maybe a week after her mother died. We tried to behave as if nothing had changed but mostly grew silent when she was around. One day during class I looked over at Rachel’s desktop, which was pushed against mine because our classroom was crowded. There, on the cover of her composition notebook, in the faintest pencil, I read, “I want my mommy,” in Rachel’s lopsided handwriting.
I wish I could say that I had an epiphany about grief and what Rachel was experiencing and that I had made some attempt to comfort her. Instead what I remember is that I caught Rachel's eye and quickly looked away. I assumed she was ashamed wanted her privacy.