I was sitting on the sidewalk cement, leaning against a brick wall waiting for my bus to show. He walked toward me, calling out "Nathan," arms outstretched in victory. He told me I probably wouldn't remember or recognize him, and I looked on in pleasant bewilderment. But the first echoes of recognition were starting to pulse though:
“Your hair is different,” I said.
“Yeah, I was way different back then,” he said. “I'm sober now, I got a job working down at the market.”
I pointed at his guitar. “Still playing music, creating, that's great!”
“What it took was the job. Someone told me if you don't change what's going on, who's around you–”
“Your environment exactly, then it's never going to happen. I was relapsing and relapsing again but then the job got me out of it. Someone giving me a chance, that's all it took.”
You’ve heard such words before, I imagine, but hear the spirited verve in which he spoke them! Sure, everything we experience has been felt by someone else, and there’s a book someone’s written about everything we find and feel… but that doesn’t mean it isn’t new for you and I. We are, each of us, living life for the very first time.
And for him, this new ascension to a healthier life was massive. I agreed. How could it not be? He was a man on 2nd Avenue with the hopeful resilience of youth that’s been scarred but not broken. Picture River Phoenix from My Own Private Idaho, reborn.
He said, “I used to wake up play music go to bed with nothing. Wake up with nothing, play music, spend it all, go to bed and get my phone stolen like once a week and have to go through all the trouble on top of everything else. And now if I get my stuff stolen or something happens I've got a base. I live on Queen Anne.”
“I work down at the Market. I make $125 a day.”
I congratulated him on conquering addiction, and that he's still playing music. “Still creating, that's important.”
“Yeah I'm never gonna run out of material. People say you can only make art when you're going through awful stuff and that creativity fizzles out when you get your life together but man, I can always go back to that place in my head and get creative. It's not like I'm going to run out of things to tell. And you too, I remember you let me sleep on the bus a bunch of times and the conversations we would have... you have no idea how that type of thing can help.”
I remembered now. “Thanks man. It was good to have you there. It's crazy actually, because I remember us talking about how years from now one day we're gonna laugh about all this.”
I could recall the exact moment: on a southbound 4 on 5th Avenue crossing Mercer, and the sun was setting behind him. That would have been over six years ago. The discussion had brought him up at the time, without being entirely convincing; you hope, but you don’t know. Now we knew. That was the last time I saw him. Until now.
“Ha,” he laughed. “I remember that too and I remember being kind of pissed in the moment because it's like years from now!?”
“Yeah it sucks in the moment, but here we are, it happened!”
“Dude, this makes my week.”
“I don’t know if you remember but my name’s CJ.”
“CJ, Nathan.” We shook hands. “You're the man.”
“If you ever want to come by, stop by the market if you ever want to see me. I'm down there. Selling fruit!”
He gave a self-aware smile. I gave an unadulterated one, and he grinned wider, walking off into the sunlight.
That was six years ago, I thought. watching his form grow smaller in the busy distance.
He remembered my name.