FIRST YOU'D have to see her. She is 15 years old, somewhere between girl and woman, although more woman than girl. She is wearing jeans and thick-soled shoes autographed in ink by her friends. Her hair is sandy-colored, her face just breaking some summer freckles, and in her hand she is holding a writing tablet with big red lips decorating the top of the page.

A fat tear hits the page with a soft splash. The girl is crying. More tears hit the page. She is crying for a boy named Adam. You have to understand. She says he's gorgeous.

The girl is sitting in a window seat of an airplane. Over her shoulder is a sky of intense blue and down below, shimmering in the ocean, are the coastal islands - Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard. The girl is heading to camp. I am heading to visit my mother in the hospital in Boston. We are both thinking of people we love. The girl is better at expressing it than I am.

Her name is Tracy. She picks up the writing tablet and starts to write: "Dear Adam, I miss you so much already. I am crying." She writes some more and then puts down the pad and stares out the window. A huge teardrop hangs from her nose like an icicle in winter. She seems not to notice it. Everyone else does.

The tear hangs and hangs. Her sister, Jamie, 12 years old and temporarily wiser, sits next to her. Next to Jamie is me. We are both watching the tear. Finally, it drops, hitting the page and running down the paper in a little stream. It is a relief for both Jamie and me.

All around us are children on the way to camp, businessmen on their way to business, and people like me - on the way to somewhere for something personal. The plane is noisy, but it was not hard to spot Tracy right off. She was the one who kept bouncing up in her seat, scanning the exit door, wondering out loud if there was a way off the plane for yet another moment with the gorgeous Adam. Earlier, she had jumped up and looked down at Jamie.

"I'tell them I left something behind," Tracy said.

Jamie shook head no. "It'll be all right," she said. "You know you'll have a good time in camp. You always have a good time." Tracy sat down in her seat.

It was then that she reached into a plastic shopping bag and took out the writing pad. The same bag also held adam's leather belt, the one with the Coors beer belt buckle. He wore it always, but no more. He gave it to Tracy. Also in the bag are pictures of Adam. They show him in his junior prom suit, a red carnation in his lapel. He is smiliing.

"Isn't he gorgeous," Tracy said. It was not a question.

She starts to write and the tears begin to flow.She writes and writes and cries and cries. She writes and she is crying as if to confirm it for herself. Prove how much she cares. She looks over at me. We have been talking on and off since boarding the plane. "You think this is silly, don't you?" she says. I shake my head no, and try to say something about how I felt. But what came out was adult talk, spoken through a smile of superiority. What I wanted to say was different. I wanted to say that in a way I envied her tears.

It's not that I would want to be a teen-ager again. Teen-agers spend their days obsessed with love or sex or both. You and I cannot live our lives this way. You cannot have a business and be totally moony all the time, and you would not want your heart surgeon to be mushy over some lady when he has you on a table. This is why adults shudder when they remember how they felt as teen-agers.

But adults go too far in the opposite direction. They call the lack of emotion wisdom, but it's not that at all. It's simply being half-dead. In every city shrinks do a land-office business just putting people in touch with their own feelings. And if there's a male American sickness it's not bad back or tennis elbow, but ossification of the emotions. Most American men can't even tell you if they're happy in their work, and it's been years since some of them were anything more than observers in sex and love. They're just going through the motions.

This is not something you need to tell a 15-year-old crying girl, but some of it came out anyway. Most of the time though she did the talking. She talked about the night of the junior prom when when she and Adam went out to dinner and then to a dance, and finally, to a party, and how on the day of the flight Adam came over and helped her pack. They had all gone to the airport together - Tracy, Jamie, their parents and Adam. At the moment, Adam and her parents were probably having lunch together.

Soon the plane landed and I got up to go. But Tracy stayed in her seat, remaining on board for the short hop to Maine. She stared out the window, her face starting to puff again, her eyes welling, seeing, I know, a boy named Adam and missing him terribly.

If you can't remember, the least you can do is understand.

He's gorgeous.