I used to be shyer than I am now. We drove in silence for a while, he and I. It's this young man and myself, as we deadhead back to Atlantic Base. He was along Rainier and knew I'd be passing through Chinatown. So here we are. His 'fro is tied back in a thick ponytail, with a sweater cap on top; dressed in a collection of grays and heavy blues, thick fabric. I'm guessing late high school.
He's the first to speak. After several minutes of us cruising up the boulevard, whizzing under I-90, he says in a friendly tone, "this bus don't sound too good."
I was just thinking that. "Yeah, it sound like it's 'bout to blow up! I just need it to, if it can hold together about ten more minutes, then it's all good. Takin' it home. How's your day been?"
"Good. I was talkin' wit' my bro. He's about to ship out, goin' to Afghanistan."
"Oh wow. That's intense. You see him often?"
"Is he older or younger,"
"Okay. Man, Afghanistan. How's he feel?"
You can sense this boy warming up, opening himself, the space shifting from neutral to actively welcome. "He's excited. He wants to go out there. Always wanted to join the army."
Silence. Then I just blurt out what's on my mind: "I don't know if I could do that, dude. Goin' out there."
"Yeeeah, man. He's a little messed up in the head, man. He' just… angry."
"Oh man, that ain't no good."
He was looking at the floor when he said, "yeah, he just really wants to kill people."
I'm reminded of a military wedding I once attended, eavesdropping on the groom, who was bragging to his friends about the men he'd murdered abroad. "Dude, ugh."
"I couldn't do that man, I care about people too much! I'd be thinkin' about their moms, their kids…."
"Yeah, that's me too! I couldn't do it!"
"Dude, that's a good thing, man. We need folks like yourself."
You felt a gentle wave of relief wash over you, listening to the timbre of his voice, halfway between a child and the future. After all the posturing, the hard stares and high guards, the uncool and deep-seated urge toward human goodness lives on. To find spaces where we can share the truer sides of ourselves is one of life's more noteworthy pleasures.