Short Story: The Crying Girl
by Richard R. Barron
“A kitchen light at midnight, all her flatmates are asleep
Before she makes me go, it’s about to go deep
You’re going to miss us when we grow up
I miss your sweetness and your grief
I may be a mystery but you were beyond belief…” ~Third Eye Blind
The gym was crowded, noisy, and hot. The game on the court had engrossed the crowd. Tie score after tie score in the first quarter, and every time another three pointer rolled around the rim and fell in, one side of the crowd would burst into cheers.
I photographed it. That’s what I do. I photograph everything I can and put it in our newspaper. Much of that can be intimate, like a family standing on their curb watching their house burn to the ground. I wondered as my ears rang in that small high school gym if what I was witnessing… the shouts, the clasped hands, the raised arms, the noise… was a form of intimacy, or a chance to escape the intimacies we face every day, intimacies that can both liberate us or burden us.
At the end of the first quarter, I was finished with this game. I travel from venue to venue when we are busy, covering three or four games in a night. I made my way to the doors, through an opening between the plywood stands and the cinder block front wall of the gym, probably built by a shop class in the 1950s, and almost certainly a bottleneck in case of fire. They don’t make them like they used to.
I stepped out into the December evening. Though it wasn’t cold, compared to the tightly packed human throng I just left, it felt suddenly nicely cool.
On the sidewalk in front of me I saw a girl, about high school age, dressed in all black. She sat on the pavement with her knees drawn up to her face, which was hidden in her hands. Her long, deep red pony tail hung spread out on her back. She was quiet and motionless.
Then, a miracle. Just as I walked past, she started crying. It was that crying we’ve all heard and recognize: the break-up cry. It was so beautiful, maybe the most beautiful form of human sorrow, so tender and innocent and heartbreaking. Her tears made me thirsty for youth.
That kind of sorrow disappears as we become grown-ups, replaced by uglier, less worthy sorrows like late mortgage payments, asshole bosses, disappointing politics, indifferent children.
But her sorrow, this simple, sweet crying on the sidewalk at the high school in a town of 500 people was the opposite of all that.
Or was it? Was this crying a show? A manipulation? I remember in tenth grade, one of my sisters fringe friends locked herself in my bathroom at a birthday party one night, and cried and cried. It wasn’t the sweet, simple crying like the girl on the sidewalk, but a “pay attention to me and my drama” crying. In some ways, it was like the squall of a hungry week-old baby, completely helpless and demanding so much.
Is this really the intimate moment I want it to be?
When I was 16, a girl I knew wrote to me, “the tears are beginning to sting my face.” When I read that, it seemed like all the honesty in the world, that her tears were real, they were important, they mattered.
I was so tempted to go to her and put my arm around the crying girl, look into her tearful eyes and tell her it’s okay. But I don’t even know her. I’m a grandfather now, old enough to be her grandfather, and the last thing she needs or wants is me. What she really wants in that moment is to cry.
I hope she writes it down. I hope she remembers that moment as vividly as I do right now. It’s a terrible, wonderful, perfect, moment. She mattered. She was alive.