sorry, man

I am sitting at a table in the math lab doing an absolutely mind-bending differential equations project. A young man carelessly drops his bookbag onto the table, and it immediately flops over onto my work. I push it away.

“Sorry, man,” says the young man, not looking at me but continuing about his business. I look up and smile, and he meets my eye.

His jaw drops and he freezes, picking up his bookbag and clutching it to his chest. “Oh, I’m sorry, ma’am!”

Such a gulf yawns between us in an instant!

I always forget that with some of these young people, I am offered all the natural embrace of fellow-student camaraderie afforded to visiting royalty.

Why the gulf, one that exists from him to me but not from me to him? Because I remember being a young person, but he knows nothing of my world, so strange and distant to him. I was his age once, but he has yet to walk around in 37. I was giggly and loud and undisciplined and I wore a lot of eyeliner and my hair fell into my eyes and I liked it like that. I can access that world with my mind. It’s part of who I am today. Not knowing to check the oil in my car, and driving it into ruin. Blowing off work to sleep in. It’s all a thought away.

But the guy with the bookbag has no memories of a 401 K. Of realizing you can’t make the 12-hour haul to South Florida by car in one day anymore. Of having a friendship that lasted two decades. Of observing that if you were your mom, you’d have a fifteen-year-old and a thirteen-year-old.

His world has been mine, but mine has never yet been his.

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