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. 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 and wanted her privacy.