3.23.2012

Tears in Target

We had just split a hot pretzel with butter and salt, and only had a couple items on our list: pull-ups and a bathroom scale.

(Okay, it is perhaps a bit ironic to be licking grease from your fingers as you compare prices for the thing that will tell you how much you weigh.)

While I was tooling around aimlessly looking for the scales, I'd noticed a boy checking prices at the self-scanner. He was thirteen or so, and African American.

We were on our way to the checkstand when I heard a small child get hurt nearby. I heard a clunk, and a wail, and a mother offering comfort. The child was frantic. I stood in the aisle for a moment, fretting. I turned our cart around and approached the source of the screams.

The mother was kneeling on the floor of the children's clothing section, holding her son.

I offered to get some ice for her. I wanted them to have ice if they needed it, but even more importantly I wanted them to have some kindness. She told me what happened, showed me where he'd bumped his head against the cart, where he landed on one of the metal edges of a clothing rack when he tumbled; I got the sense that it was the kind of thing that can only happen when a kid is roughhousing, though she was too concerned to be angry.

She seemed to need someone to tell what had happened. She didn't want ice. She thought he was going to be okay.

The problem was this: I opened my mouth to ask her about the ice, and water fell out of my eyes. These tears just came out of nowhere. I blinked them away so she wouldn't have to worry about finding a tissue for the crazy stranger who was offering her ice.

I checked myself. I did feel awfully bad for the injured child. He was obviously in pain, his white face crimson. And his mother, sitting on the floor with her son, tending to his agony.

But I was also crying for Trayvon Martin and, Lord have mercy, Trayvon Martin's mother.

And I was crying for all black boys and, Lord have mercy, the mothers that love them. (Read this article by Josie Pickens on Ebony.)

At the checkout, I saw the thirteen-year-old again. He was with his mother this time. He stood next to her in line, smiling as he played that trick on her, the classic one where you reach around and tap the opposite shoulder, trying to get them to turn and look at someone who isn't there.


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