A brief encounter

The other day I leaving the grocery store, and an older man was coming in. He was holding the hand of a young person, kind of grandchild age, maybe 13-14, and it was clear by the young person’s gait that there were some developmental issues there.

I say “young person,” because in the brief glimpse I had, I truly was unable to determine gender. Perhaps that was unimportant.

The child—and to avoid ungainly linguistic contortions, I am going to assign the pronoun “he”—was dressed all in black, black hair, eyeliner, and to top it all off, a black cape. He was committed.

It was not a particularly nice cape, just that almost-sheer velour material one gets in a plastic bag out at Party City. The child didn’t seem to have the attitude sported by most of our emo cadre, that sullen haughtiness that just dares you to stare or roll your eyes. This kid seemed a little wary, as if his outfit were camouflage that he was afraid was not quite enough to allow him to escape notice.

You can’t help but construct narrative, can you? Is this a look he’s seen and for some reason has taken on in order to “become” someone? Is it someone he admires? A musician perhaps? A movie character? Someone at school?

Does the (presumed) grandfather love this kid so that he willingly takes him to the grocery store in his freaky getup? Or does he cringe, knowing that most of the people in the store are going to be judgmental one way or the other?

All kinds of stories pop into and out of existence.

I will say that I am proud that my first reaction was to think that I should stop and say, “Hey, cool cape! Did you make it?” (knowing full well that he had not), just to validate his choices.

But of course I didn’t—I was on my way out, they were on their way in, and there are always too many variables to consider in such a split second. Would my approaching him give him a positive validation, or would it send him into an emotional tailspin? Would the grandfather appreciate the sentiment, or would I trigger some defensive response? What if I read the situation completely wrong and made it worse?

If I had seen them up and down the aisles of Publix and had time to figure it all out, I’d like to think I could have done a good deed by giving the kid a thumbs up. I’d like to think so.

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