There It Is
He seems quiet, perhaps even surly, but I feel compelled by curiosity to will myself out of silence. "How's it goin'?"
"Okay." He seems prematurely middle-aged, most likely from hard labor; there's a layer of dust on his hands and clothes, casting his being in a uniform sandy color. Stubble and wireframe glasses catch the evening light.
"Time to go home?"
"I wish. Comin' from. Just finished work, hadta come out here."
We're at 198th, nearly 200 blocks north of the city. "That's a drag, comin' all this way up from town."
"Yeah, I do roofing."
"Now I'm goin' to my girlfriend's house."
He sounds depressed about it. Even the working class have champaigne problems. Must be human nature. I say, "Oh, that's not so bad!"
"Yeah, she wanted me to come out."
"Well, a ladyfriend is a good thing to have."
He acknowledges me with present silence, and adds, "her brother just died last week."
"He was drinking, I mean he was a drunk. He fell in the bathtub and cracked his face open."
"Shoot," I said, processing. "Oh." Worlds can exist in that one syllable. Images and memories fly through my head as I say, "Oh, I'm so sorry."
"When was this?"
"Two days ago. So she asked me to come up here, her mom's up here..."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"Well, something was gonna happen, eventually. The way he carried on."
"Yeah, tha' type a lifestyle,"
"Always something, hurting himself, hurting the people around him, drivin' all us crazy... I don't go there anymore. I'm sober now. Seven years. Drove my car straight into a ditch, that was it for me."
"That's a good little warning sign."
Finally, there it is- a rich, wide, real smile on his sandy face. Malcolm Gladwell wrote that fake smiles and real smiles use nearly all the same muscles, but we can intuit the subtle difference so easily. Here he is now, the twenty-first century working man, raised up by one of his fellows, still grinning as he walks away. I sit in traffic and watch him stride quickly into the distance ahead. There's an undeniable bounce in his step, entirely at odds with the dilapidated landscape around him. He's walking into the American sunset, buoyant, learning it all into a new perspective. Never too late to begin again.
12/23/2013 06:39:01 am
"Never too late to begin again"- this resonates with me so much these days. On a few hard to get through days with my kids in recent months, my bedtime prayer of thankfulness (with my 3 year old) has been "that today is over and i can try again tomorrow" To be more patient, more joyful- in spite of and because of the circumstances :)
12/24/2013 04:50:57 am
I'm so glad it resonates! One of my favorite things to encounter in stories is that of an older individual energized by the idea of continuing to explore life, explore oneself- "starting out in the evening," to borrow a phrase. Although I think the idea holds true for people of any age- there is no reason not to try to have this day, in it's own quiet way, be as good or better than all the days preceding it. Sometimes this can be less of a goal than an aim; often I set unrealistic goals for myself, not because I think I can achieve them, but because in trying to do so I'll get more done. Thanks for sharing. I hope patience and joy finds you over these holidays!
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