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Pennies

Sunday 6/16/19

Emma did something quite kind for me the other day in a time when kindness is very hard for me to locate; even conceive of as something that might be received. Extended. Be touched by. I will explore that later when I go into something else--a reality of my current health situation.


Last week she had to go to her new school--Boston Arts Academy--in South Boston to take a placement exam for next year's classes. Her parents were at work and she did not go to her normal school for the day because of this test. She was going to take the T across town by herself. I was working at the Starbucks, so when her anxiety flared up--new school, on her own, plus the test--she came by and I talked to her through that. She didn't have any money for the train, so I provided her with fare and told her to leave earlier than she had planned, which was good, as there were delays and she just made it. All went well, save when Emma received her summer reading assignments after the exam, and texted me, "Fucking social justice shit again."


But we have found a loophole, which will allow her to read Van Gogh's letters for the nonfiction part of the assignment, and Kafka's The Metamorphosis for the fiction part. They want the students to focus on "change-makers." On a side note: I had an extra copy of Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise, and I left it outside her door. The back cover had fallen off, so I went back up there and got the book and repaired it with clear tape so that the back pages won't fall out. This is as close to crafty as I manage to get. She took that book with her to the exam, and one teacher was well impressed. "That's a really good book. How do you know about that?" She could have known about this on her own. For instance, Emma has a copy of Frank Norris's McTeague, which she came by without my help.


On Friday she graduated from her middle school. The ceremony was at Old North Church ("one if by land, two if by sea"). I had wanted to attend, but I was too busy doing things that are debasing and soul-abnegating. I did hear her plea for help, though, outside my door, when she was rushing off late to the ceremony. She had on her dress--which was her mother's wedding dress, actually--and couldn't get on her bracelet. I was no help with the clasp, I'm afraid. You must need much smaller hands. At the ceremony, she received the history award--termed thus because the school has existed since the early eighteenth century--as the best student and was called up on stage while a lot of nice things were said about her and she felt super awkward, as she confided later.


I was going to the post office to mail a story to somebody when I saw her and her mom coming back to the building. I am not a hugger. If you are thinking about hugging me, think again. The only person I can conceive of wishing to hug would be the person I'm with--as in, the person I'm always going to be with. Everyone else, I would prefer a handshake, a fist bump, or a friendly wave from across the room. A nod also works. What I tend to do when people hug me is do a one-handed hug. Trust me, you won't enjoy it, better to just let it drop. This means I have my forearm basically around my midsection--buffer--and I will give you two token pats on the back. Pat pat/disengage. But Emma was pretty pumped, and she gave me a giant hug--which she has never done before--so I gave her, of course, a proper hug, but only because it is Emma. (As her mom said, "Oh, look who decided to iron his shirt for us," a slam on my highly crinkled look--my shirt did look like the wearable-version of a stack of broken Doritos, but at least I had a collar.) That night she had a date--big day, right?--which involved a movie by the Common with her little boyfriend, who is also going to her arts school next year. She said she didn't like walking through this sketchy area--meaning Downtown Crossing--so I walked her to her date and showed her a better way to go.


But this is something that will always stay with me, and a view of something that has always stayed with her, I guess you might say; different points in time, at the same physical place, with different viewpoints in time, all coming together in a moment.The other day we were returning from Starbucks and one of our end-of-the-day talks. I was taking off my shoes outside my door, and she had continued on up the steps. Emma remembers some things with exact specificity, other basic things she doesn't remember at all (like if she saw you the day before, where her cousin goes to college, if her father works for the USPS or UPS); sometimes she remembers in patches, sometimes things come back to her. This was one of those latter times, because while she's standing a flight above me, looking down, she says, "Oh, I know who you were. You were that man who always smiled at me when I was playing pennies."


"Was I?" I asked.


"Yes. I remember now. Years ago. I would be locked out, and sitting on the floor, right here, and I'd organize my pennies into shapes on the floor. And you would come and stand down there, taking off your shoes. You always looked like something bad had just happened to you, or something was on your mind. But each time, when you saw me--or heard me--you'd look up and smile at me. Why?"


"Because I liked you," I said.


"But why did you like me?"


"Because I thought you were smart, but a little shy and a little scared. And sometimes, when we give a smart person a friendly little sign, it can help them become less shy and scared."


She thought about this for a few beats, and then said, "Yes. I think you're right. See you tomorrow, Colin."


"See you tomorrow, Emma."


When she came by to pay me back for the train, I only had change such that she was a dollar short still, and she said she would get it later from her parents, but I said that I think we can call it even.


"Your presence is worth a buck. The dog is only good for like a quarter."


She called me a pussy and we did a fist bump.