By CHRIS ROSTENBERG
One day in Social Studies class many years ago when I attended Mamaroneck High School, an announcement was made that a certain school counselor had died. I didn’t know him, a bald man in his sixties who had a nice smile. The girl sitting next to me, Melissa, broke down and wept. As we left the class, she went on crying and my heart was really torn. I wanted to go up to her and put my arm around her shoulder or hold her hand or something, but I was too much of a coward. Finally, a young black woman, who I didn’t think Melissa even knew, went and comforted my friend.
My failure made me sad and angry with myself. It should have been me to take care of Melissa. We had been friends for years. We were originally both in the class of 1986, but had both been held back a year and were now in the class of ’87. We were the only ones in that Social Studies class who were white (it was a Black Studies class) and we tended to sit together. I decided that if ever a woman broke down in front of me, I would summon the courage to look after her. I got my chance the next year, unfortunately.
A boy who had been very popular in high school, Doug, went on to college and got killed while walking across the street at his university. His little brother, Matt, and I had been in a play together. At the funeral, Matt delivered the eulogy, and he recited his brother’s senior quote, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, the sinners are much more fun.” Matt explained that the line comes from a Billy Joel song called, “Only the Good Die Young.” When Matt said that, he cried, along with many other people, including me.
A few days later in gym class, a young girl named Susie freaked out and ran out of the room. I somehow knew she was distressed over Doug’s death. The gym teacher thought that after a crisis, you should stick to your normal routine and he tried to stop me from following Susie, but I got out. I found her in the hall, and we made our way back to the gym after everyone had left. Susie, I think, had a little bit of a crush on me. I was a senior and had a lot of friends, and she was a freshman or sophomore and was cute. Her older brother had been friends with Doug and I suspected she had had a crush on him, who was confident and good-looking and liked by lots of girls.
I put my arms around Susie and put my hand on her back. She was crying into my shirt and she had a runny nose. In a joking, reprimanding tone I said, “That’s right, get snot all over my shirt.” Susie burst out laughing. So did I.
Chris Rostenberg is a freelance writer. Correspondence may be directed to ChrisRosty@gmail.com.