His name was Jerome, and I was in love with him.
I was in love with him in the way that only 4th graders can be in love with each other. The love of “he pulled my hair during recess, so does he like me? Does he? Does he?” The kind of love that feels innocently tragic, because you haven’t learned yet that you will fall in love with many people in your lifetime, and many people will fall in love with you, and very rarely will it match up perfectly, so not every love is the end-all be-all. In 4th grade, you think every love is the end-all be-all. I remember taking care not to talk about him too much to my mom when I got home after school, lest everyone see through me and know. Know I loved him. I knew, intuitively, that when you are in love with someone, you keep it a secret.
(Why do we do that again–keep it a secret? I’m not sure I’ve figured that out yet. Just tell him you love him, damn it. Damn our broken society.)
Jerome’s parents were divorced and he only saw his dad every few weeks. His dad was a cop in D.C., and the last time Jerome had seen him, he had given Jerome a pair of real handcuffs. Not the plastic kind that come in spy kits (a la Harriet the Spy, anyone?), but real, metal handcuffs. With a lock and key.
We were 4th graders. We didn’t get why it wasn’t okay to play with these at school. So when my teacher took them away from Jerome, and I glimpsed Jerome tearing up and cradling his forehead on top of his arms, I felt a kind of holy injustice that only an unmarred-by-the-cruel-world 4th grader can feel.
I remember talking to my teacher in private and asking if she would give Jerome his handcuffs back. “They’re from his dad,” I explained. “He only gets to see his dad every once in a while.”
I recognize now that my teacher hadn’t stolen Jerome’s handcuffs forever–she probably gave them back to his mom at the end of the day and explained the situation. I also recognize that when I went home in tears myself, when I felt that churning pit deep in my gut all night as I told my mom what had happened that day, it was because my number one strength is Empathy, and I was feeling deep compassion for what Jerome was feeling.
However, I remember very clearly that when I was on my way to school the following morning, I was acutely aware that I didn’t feel quite as sad anymore. Just one night of good sleep and I didn’t feel like crying anymore. I could face my teacher. I could face my classmates. I could face Jerome.
I wondered at how, after less than 24 hours, I wasn’t overwhelmingly upset. I observed, very distinctly, that my emotions were alive, shifting, evolving. I felt panicky; I wanted to hold my emotions in place. But I couldn’t. I can’t.
I was reminded of this last weekend, this lesson I learned in 4th grade. It hurts today. Heartbreaking moments always feel like eternity. But one night of deep sleep can soften even the harshest of blows.
It may not be solved yet. You may still be sad (and that’s okay). But just take it one night of rest at a time. You’ll be able to face it in the morning.