Bridge of Love

Perhaps I should have been more interested in the pending Geography lesson, but the kid who slipped into the seat next to mine tugged at my curiosity more than the teacher could.

Opening my notebook to a blank page-and on the third day of school, I did not have to dig very far to find it-I instinctively retrieved a pencil from desk as the freckled, curly-haired boy next to me did the same.

“I didn’t see you the first two days,” I said, laying the first girder of the invisible bridge that began to arch from my desk to his.

Shaking his head, he laid the second with his own words. “No,” he said, as he sharpened his pencil, “we just moved here last night, so I had to miss ’em.”

Watching him write his name on his notebook, I attempted to silently form the words with my lips, but the sounds somehow escaped through them.

“Jason Crough,” I said. “Rhymes with ‘cough.’ I had one of those at the end of the summer.”

“No,” he corrected. “It’s a little weird. Everyone thinks it sounds like ‘cough,’ but it’s really pronounced ‘crow,’ like ‘go.'”

Raising my eyebrows at the oddity, I tried to ask him where he had previously attended school, but was flooded by an audible “Shhh” from the teacher.

“All right, class,” she pronounced, as she began her sermon, “we should all be on page six of our Geography books.”

Drowned by the running water as I sat at the kitchen table in my friend’s house that evening, I once again said, “We only did part of this geography chapter today.”

Yet the release of his staccato cough forced me to repeat it.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” I asked him at length.

“Yes,” answered his mother, as she massaged a still-wet dish, tuning into the conversation as if she received it on some wavelength I had not been aware of. “He’s getting better, and I appreciate you’re helping him with what he missed today.”

Nodding, I scribbled the name of the new student on the paper. “This is what you missed,” I said, after his mother had retreated to the sink.

Coughing yet again, he said, “Jason Crough. Who’s this?”

“Just a new kid who just moved here and just started school today,” I answered. “But it’s not pronounced ‘Crough,’ like ‘off.’ It’s pronounced ‘crow,’ like ‘so.'”

Disagreeing, he spat, “No, it isn’t! It’s ‘Crough,’ like ‘cough.'” Looking toward the sink, he yelled, “Mama, look at this name,” and then lifted the paper as she approached him, forging that invisible, yet almost euphoric link with her.

“How do you pronounce this?” he asked.

Contemplating it for a few seconds, she responded, “Why ‘Crough,’ like ‘cough.'”

Craning his neck toward me and beaming triumphantly, he said, “You see!”

What I “saw” was that this was his mother-a person who had raised, nurtured, and loved him from inception and whom he therefore viewed as someone equal to God Himself-and that that was far stronger and more important than the pronunciation of any name.