I chuckled to myself almost silently, as I sat on the old oak bench confused, angry; blaming the world for my mistakes. Ignoring the vulturous question marks circling over head, ready to devour my dying consciousness at any moment wasn't much of a problem...Outta sight outta mind right? Now if only they'd stop screaming...
It's interesting the way humans can find the humor in any situation, at anytime, regardless of the heartbreak or massive level of loss involved...I suppose we really create the humor...sort of an aid to help us deal with it...lord knows in times like these there's nothing *really* funny...but alas, they say laughter IS the best medicine.
"Cute aren't they?"
Mostly stunned, half annoyed, I turned to the man to my right. The wrinkles on his face proof positive that he smiled way too much...
"What's that?", I asked...half hoping I was hearing things.
Silently and slowly his fragile arm rose, extending his long white finger outward, pointing across the park to a small creek. The sound of mild rapids overcome only by the (ironic and, in my eyes, unfair) laughter of the children jumping across the rocks.
"Yeah. Cute kids." I spouted off, expecting him to pick up on the inflection of annoyance.
"Remember hearing "What goes up must come down"?" he continued.
*Jesus CHRIST* I thought to myself.
"The opposite is true too, ya know." At this point he had annoyed me to such an extent that I had temporarily forgotten whatever it was that was bothering me, thus I pressed on.
"I sure hope not. I'm afraid of heights". Being a smartass never really got me anywhere in life, but it sure as hell made me feel better.
The old man smiled and nodded, in that cocky, "I know so much more than you" way that old people live for. The standard few moments of uncomfortable silence ensued, then he crossed his legs, sat back, and turned to me.
"I was talking about your heart".
How dare he? Assume that the solemn look on my face and the tears in my eyes had anything to do with a crack in my heart...a weakness in my soul...a tear in the fabric of my being. Typical...so typical.
"You know much about my heart?" I asked, ready for this war to start.
"Only what you've shown me", he said, his black, glazed over eyes looking far off into the distance...I assumed he was still watching the children...wishing he was nimble enough to hop the stones.
I guess the look of confusion on my face spoke for me, as he went on:
"You slammed your car door. You've been kicking rocks in the dirt, you've been talking to people who aren't there, and your eyes sure do look watery...and you think *I'M* the crazy one?"
Dumbfounded. Yeah I guess you could say that. The monsoon of annoyance quickly turned to a wave of relaxation...and for the first time in what felt like an eternity, I felt myself breathe. The brisk autumn air was cold in my lungs, refreshing, invigorating.
"Yeah, well, my life isn't as easy as yours. My parents think I'm a failure, I don't know what I want to do with my life, I'm 300 miles away from my girlfriend, and even my closest of friends have stabbed me in the back. Not all of us can play at the park all day."...Perhaps I was a bit crass...but I had earned it. My life had come crashing down around me and this ancient of days was trying to be my shrink...
"You sure seem to know so much about me. Have you met my wife? I suppose you haven't had the time, what with all your problems. We've been married for over 45 years."
Embarrassed about my assumptious outburst, I avoided eye contact at all cost.
"No, is she here?" I asked sheepishly, trying to sound as if I didn't care.
"Son...I met my wife when I was a shade younger than you. From the time we met we fought more obstacles than I care to tell you about....we were separated for more than 2 years during the war, her parents disowned her at a time when my parents were long since dead, and we don't talk much anymore...but I love her with all my heart and I'd lay down my life for her if I could." The tone of his voice changed, as did the speed of his words...slower now...talking more to himself than to me.
"What's her name?"
"Jeannette...You mentioned your girlfriend, what's her name?"
"Her name's Melissa".
"Do you love her?"
Intrigue and respect washed over my heart.
"More than I could ever tell you"
"And your parents...do you love them?"
"Of course, they're my parents."
"Do you suppose your parents love you?"
"You guess?? You Guess??? Either they do or they don't. Do you live in their home? Have they ever helped you out of a bad situation? Do you sit down at the dinner table with them?"
"Well, yeah...I mean they're my parents".
"Do you ever fight with your parents?"
Laughing softly, "Yeah. It seems like every day."
"About what?" He asked me, now making eye contact.
"Ya know, the usual...school, money, my friends."
"Have you ever made your parents cry?"
This is ridiculous. This man is obviously some kind of pervert........................
"Son, let me tell you a little something about parents. Do you know why you fight? Because they love you. Because they are afraid. Because they are terrified. Every night they go to bed, they pray to a God they have never seen that you will be okay...and when they get up in the morning, guess what the first thing on their mind is?"
"What about this girl, Melissa? Tell me about her".
"She's amazing. I'm so proud of her. She is truly the most intelligent person I've ever met....She was the top student in all of her classes..she graduated high school when she was 13..she had 2 college degrees at 18....she sees the world in a way that I never even thought of....She....."
Interrupted by the old man, "Have you told her you love her?"
Since a real man doesn't cry, I turned my head to the side. Choking back the lump in my throat and refusing to let my eyes tear up...I took a deep breath.
"Every chance I get".
"What does she look like?"
"She's so beautiful. She has thick black hair, smooth, soft skin....and her eyes....my god...her eyes....She has the deepest blue eyes...sometimes she'll look at me...."
What the hell am I doing?
Am I really going to sit on this bench and cry? Am I going to tell this old man, who's name I don't even know....am I going to tell him...no...am I going to SHOW him the truth? Am I going to show him that I am lost, confused, scared and lonely?
"Sometimes she'll look at you and all you can do is cry", he said, tearing the words from the cold shaking hands of my honest soul.
I nodded, tears now streaming down my face.
A few moments of silence went by....me thinking about her....about my parents..............
I'm a man...I don't cry...
"What about your wife...where's she?"
Apparently men do cry, because with tears in his eyes this beautiful creature turned to me and said:
"Jeanette has been dead for 4 years. She died in my arms...on our 41st anniversary."
Had I any less respect for him I would've stood up and ran. In a matter of moments this man had made me feel like the smallest, most worthless person alive.
"I'm so sorry", I said, truly meaning it...apologizing also for my behavior.
"No son, I'm sorry. I'm sorry that you can't see."
"Son...just because you're lonely....doesn't mean you're alone. Love is the best friend anyone could ever ask for."
The children now long gone, dumbfounded and staring in awe...I watched as the old man stood up....grabbed his cane....and walked away from me.
Sitting on that bench watching the sunset I was by myself....but for the first time in my life I knew...I wasn't alone.