A bank commercial shows a young couple growing up together, going from grade school to college and into the bank for financial advice. I often have emotional responses to the feel-good stories of advertisers, and in the commercial, a young girl comes down the steps of her home to a waiting boy, slips her hand into his, and they walk off, presumably to grade school. And this moment, the hand-in-hand stroll of that young pair, makes me remember Linda.
I’ve often thought of Linda over the years; when I was a grade-school-aged boy in Pittsburgh, Pa., my family lived next door to hers. We were both students at the Bennett School and at some point, we became comfortable enough with each other to walk to our school and our first-grade classes, together. Though many of the details of our association are lost to me, I know that we walked to school together; I’m not sure if I ever saw her in the building. I don’t remember walking home with her, but the back yard of the house that my family lived in was separated from hers by a wooden fence, and I would peer through the slats and see her at play in her yard. My younger brother and sister would play in the backyard with me, but I do not believe that Linda had anyone other than herself in her yard. A friend once gave me a detailed accounting of memories that she carried from the age of five. I told her that I cannot recall any experience from that age, but it is possible that I have suppressed those memories. Time and life have a way of altering our access to the moments of our past, but I remember when I stopped walking to school with Linda.
I was waiting on the sidewalk in front of her house, and Linda had not come out. We went to school at a specific hour, the distance to be traveled measured in a way that ensured we would arrive on time. When she did not come out of the house this day, I called out to her, and she opened the door, pressed her face into the slit, and told me, “My mom said I can’t walk to school with you anymore.”
I never again walked to the Bennett School with Linda. I walked alone, and one day, after listening to some bad language from the older boys in the school yard, I came home, went into the back yard, and walked to the fence that separated me from Linda. I clawed to the top, peeked over the edge and repeated a string of memorized profanities, none of which I understood until I was much older. I dropped to the ground, satisfied and unhappy. In the bank commercial that started this reminiscence, a young black girl meets a young white boy on the sidewalk, and they walk away into a future together and in the world of the writers of the scenario, no one said to the other, “I can’t with you, anymore.” Read the poem “INCIDENT” by Countee Cullen and you will partly understand my conflicted memory, based on the last two lines: “Of all the things that happened there / That’s all that I remember.”
Because, I still remember Linda’s blonde hair as she danced toward me, blue eyes incurious, her hand outstretched for mine, and the pleasure and comfort of that contact, and the walk to school. I don’t know why those moments ended, but I examine the memory without rancor, and present it here, to you.