Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Who Knew

I don’t really like to run. In fact, you can say absolutely abhor it. In fact, there is nothing more I abhor at 11:00pm than to up and go for a jog that unfortunately adheres to my “every day” plan all in good intention to shave off the pounds I have gained since being back in the states from Rome. Pretty much one of the only parts of my “grand plan” that I am determined to have come true. The air was still and the night grew dark, distant sounds of Houston traffic were subtly muddled by late-night dog walkers and drunken layabouts traipsing their way to Whataburger’s doorstep.

“Hola,” comes out of the darkness, of from my left.
“hey, buddy,”
“Oh, you speak English,”

”yeah, pretty well, I’m from Pennsylvania,”
“oh good.”

He proceeds to explain to me that he was ditched here at this location by a driver who had claimed to go to the bathroom and get something to eat from the distinguished burger joint, but who then subsequently snuck back into his vehicle and peeled off.

And then the true merits of our meeting began to unfold with a question he had the strange audacity to ask, “do you have a girlfriend?”

With my hesitant, cautious negative response, he slowly reaches into his lightly packed knapsack to reveal a newly wrinkled napkin, clean pristine and bright. And as he tells this story, he begins to fold, bend, twist and press it into familiar forms. He tells of his wife, who died of cancer three months ago. He tells of their unforgettable years they had together before she passed and his inevitable feelings of having taken their time for granted. He tells me of his journey from Arizona to Florida in order to attend his father’s funeral. He tells of his mother, financially and emotionally destroyed to the point that she cannot fund his journey or help him through his tough times and not to mention her own who is completely destroyed by the death of her husband. As he slowly concluded his story, his hands began moving slower, adding subtle touches to the final form of a beautiful paper rose he constructed from that napkin. He offered it to me, gently and calmly and confidently, knowing full well that I may just be another stranger who blows him off…or perhaps someone who will actually take the time to listen to the sorrows of another person. Someone who will let him know that true hurting and suffering is not a singular experience, that it is universal in all of its incarnations and variations. But the fight is not. Moving on is not. Acknowledging one’s shortcomings and in spite of it all, moving forward is not. His offer came with a request, “give this to someone you care about, anyone. Tell them you care about them, tell them how you feel because life is short.” My immediate internalized reaction consisted of a look back on my time here, of my long journey, and the host of earth-shattering disappointments and accomplishments I have experienced thus far. “I will, when I find someone to give it to,” was my hesitant response. I offered my bottled water in exchange, but was refused. He claimed he did not seek shelter nor a ride nor money, but simply expressed gratitude for stopping and listening. “My name is David,” he said to me, to which I responded with my own name. “Well Don, there is a reason we met tonight. And I just hope that I helped YOU.” And with that, and a direction towards the major highways, he continued on to find his way home. “I will pray for you, David,” was all I said as he waved goodbye and sent me on the rest of my run.

A forced smile indicated a coda in his story, a reflection of the time of night, his long journey ahead and his need to regain his bearings before he was to continue on. The tragedy of circumstance has struck this man. Endless stories of age and time and regret and memory and sadness were written in the wrinkles and flaws on David’s face. His demeanor spoke sorrowfully of the way he has approached the ghosts and strangers of his past, and the low calm but confident murmur in his voice as he spoke indicated a deep understanding of human experience. I trusted him.

Paul and Christine have broken up; my brother and Karen have broken up. Tragedies of circumstance. When the unfortunate allure of the illusion of the new or better (or in some cases old and familiar) come along, the seduction of the situation grossly outweighs our expectations of the people we held them to so strongly. Inherent to expectations are its tragic flaw: the stronger we adhere to them, the more broken we become when they are not met or are ignored. Especially by those we hold so dear and so close and whose relationships we have with were kept carefully guarded. When the caring starts, and you do exactly what you’re supposed and give your all, and expect what is expected and know full well that the consequences can be disastrous or glorious or destructive or ultimately blissful, still that's when the hurt really comes. Some people will never understand it. And some people will never want to.

I’m sorry friends. But I wish the world would pull through for you. For all of us, really. But, “life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning to dance in the rain.” Kate & Brendan have gotten married, and so have Kristen & Rob. Joe and Hailee are not far behind. My friends from near and far, from old and new are all experiencing the trials and tribulations of heartbreak and finding their other halves. It is a fight I am too tired for at the moment. Don’t know when I’ll be able to pick up and enter into battle again. I found a note in my wallet, a relic, an epic reminder. “Don, I'll miss you. You’ll do great in H-Town.” It was a throwback to the past. It was reassurance of my decisions. It was from Bernadette. And it made me happy and it made me confident again.

And I look back at the last couple of months to pick up broken pieces and shed some light on the path I’ve taken to get where I am: Cautious. Progressive. Productive. Colder. More independent. More faithful. Less expectant of those around me. I miss the stronger Don. The one who knew where things were going and how to act in front of people. I’m not enjoying the Don that can’t sleep. Can’t eat. Feels alone.

Going back to the beginning, when things were right.

I guess perspective comes easier when you get cuffed and put in the back of a police cruiser on a fateful, answer-filled Saturday night at Sammy’s.

Current Songs: Azure Ray's Displaced Lyrics, Alicia Key's No One, Pink's Who Knew

Earth-Shattering Revelation #22: Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning to dance in the rain.