By Harrison Abbott
I’d just finished work for the evening and I walked to the bus stop in an elated mood. I got to the stop and checked the screen for the bus times and my one was due in five minutes.
Three other people were waiting in the shelter. Among them was a girl – a teenager by my guessing – and I noticed that her face was red and I kept watching her. She was crying. And holding her phone. She stood there crying quietly, not sobbing, but her cheeks were damp and the tears rolled fluidly.
Next to her was a woman in her forties or so, who I guessed was her mother because they looked similar, and on the shelter’s bench was a girl of about six who I reckoned was the sister/daughter.
The teenage girl kept looking at her phone in dismay and I couldn’t overhear what she was saying. But I heard snippets of her mother, going,
“I think he’s just taking a new path in life.”
And what was odd was that neither the mother or kid touched the teen girl. The mother didn’t hug her. And the child sat on the bench and swung her legs.
“I’m upset …” the teen girl said, a few times, “If I’m upset then …” but I didn’t catch more of her dialogue than that. It was as if she were abandoned, or lost, in her own realm of grief.
“It’s like when people get a new job,” the mother said, practically. It seemed that the mother was distracted or even disinterested or maybe she had no clue how to deal with her teary daughter and found it embarrassing that it was happening in public. At one point she yelled at the younger child because she was doing something annoying.
I heard the girl use the word “he” a lot and so I sussed that she was sad about her boyfriend who had just left her.
Many of us know how that feels, to lose a lover. That acute brutality of loss. Especially when you get that message, from the other person, freshly: when you read it for the first time. It’s worse than being punched or laughed at … it is blinding, dazing. And in my experience there comes this void in the chest, this plunging feeling of despair, dejection. And you find that everyday things which usually get on your nerves, or moments in the past where you’ve gotten angry with somebody: none of those things matter anymore.
Sadness overwhelms all the other things. Renders them trivial. Weakens you more finely than any physical illness.
I felt so sorry for that girl. She just kept weeping uselessly and I wished that the mother would cuddle her but all she did was say a jumble of flat sentences. And her little sister was too young to understand any of it; she hadn’t reached puberty yet and wasn’t able to comprehend ideas like romantic love.
It would have been weird for a random man to go up to this girl and ask if she was okay. Even weirder to offer her a hug. So all I could do was wait for my bus to come.
I was actually mourning my old lover myself, at the same time, that evening. A woman who now lived in another country; had been thinking about her all day. She and I had disbanded four and a half years earlier – and I was still grieving for her after such a long time. And so I wanted to go and tell this teenage girl that grief is important and timeless and it’s there for a reason and that you have to plough on through it and that this journey doesn’t make you a loser or a coward and that it’s different for every individual and yet always a hard trail.
But I didn’t.
It was a warm summer evening just on the cusp of twilight. Then my bus came. The family in the bus shelter weren’t getting on my bus and so I had to leave them there. I got on the bus and they stayed in the street and my bus drove onwards and I never saw them again.
And I’d never know what the exact story with the sad girl was. For the whole five minutes I was there she didn’t stop crying and I was angry that the mother was that insensitive about it and I remembered how heartbreak at such a young age is sublime and changes you forever.
I hope that girl is coping well.