A public tragedy

So I was at dinner the other day, and I saw this girl, this young girl, sitting across from us at the hibachi grill. She seemed to be upset, a single tear rolling down her cheek, as if she had been reprimanded by her parents who were seated on either side of her. I could feel the heavy energy of their situation as soon as I walked up to the table and began getting my son situated in his seat.

So after analyzing their interactions for the duration of our meal, trying to discover some reason for the energy I was feeling from her — from them — the waiters came out singing the Japanese birthday song. Those in the restaurant joined in on the singing. Often a strangely beautiful and rare moment where we break from our modern nuclear nexuses in broader, collective interaction.

As the piece of cake was set before this young girl, she burst out in tears, turning and sobbing into her mother’s chest. “It’s been a rough day,” her mother said to the waiters as they awkwardly faded out, cutting their birthday singing off short.

I had to get up to take my son for a walk, he was getting restless in his seat. I walked him down the strip mall’s sidewalk, towards the Starbucks at the eastern corner. I saw two middle aged men walking out with coffees, pompous in their step. One of the two hocked a loogie onto the curb.

I turned and walked back towards the restaurant. I saw her and her Dad exiting. She was far too old to want to be held by her daddy. Yet as the restaurant door closed behind them, she turned as he bent, she wrapped her arms around his neck as he lifted her from the ground. A familiar affection, an indication of their shared being-togetherness.

They came back into the restaurant as I was returning to my seat. Her mother ordered another glass of white wine, throwing her head back as she sucked at the last few drops of the first glass. The dad turned to the young girl’s older sister. (My wife said she had nice hair.) He whispered energetically to her, energetic in a way that felt like overcompensation. The teenage sister resigned to the fact that she had to listen, but it was clear she didn’t want to be. From what was overheard, he was going away for treatment of some kind. The young girl still whimpering as he whispered on.

We paid and left while their family awkwardly sat on. We walked down to Starbucks to get a dessert. On our way back out to the car, we saw them all again. She was crying again, so was her sister. Her father was leaving with the two men from Starbucks. He got in the car and drove off while the mother stoically waved good-bye and then got into her mini-van.

I realized this was a birthday the young girl would always remember.

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