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And I Left

I couldn't bring myself to ask.

I came across this picture one night and it hit me deep in my core. I thought, 'If I was there, I would give him a much-needed hug.' Then I laughed at myself. Would I?

The bar was too noisy and people stood shoulder to shoulder. They were all vying for a place at the bar. Music filled the air and it mingled with the laughter and drunken ramblings of its patrons. 

I first spotted him as he entered the bar. His black hair was ruffled and his shoulders were hunkered in. The collar of his shabby, oversized peacoat was pulled up so high his face was barely visible.

His frame was small, which made it easy to weave his way in and out of the crowd. He slipped onto the barstool that had just been made empty by a woman that walked as if she had been there since opening. We’ve all seen or done that walk, heel-toe, back perfectly straight, eyes locked on the door. 

He motioned for a drink and the bartender returned with a large glass of black beer. There was a glorious foam on top and I had to smile in appreciation of the bartender’s skill at pouring the perfect Guinness. Not just this time, but every time and that was one of the reasons they were always busy. 

I was fascinated by this man and no longer interested in what was going on at my table. Another friend was discussing how her husband works too much or how wonderful her kids are. I’ve heard it all before. 

He laid his collar down and I had a clear view of his face. I was shocked at how young he was; barely twenty-one. The weight in his eyes was far older than his actual age. They carried the burden of a man late in his prime. A man with a mortgage, a wife, too many kids, and too much debt. 

Could someone so young carry so much? 

The man sipped his beer and glanced around the bar. For a moment our eyes met and I had the urge to run to him. To hug him and tell him it will be alright, but I couldn’t move.

He lowered his eyes and turned away from me. He’d dismissed me and my insane, irrational need to comfort him. 

His hand trembled as he pulled out a piece of paper and took a deep breath. Even from a few tables away, I could tell the paper had been folded and unfolded many times. He set it on the bar and rubbed his face with his hands. After another moment, he took a large gulp of beer and read the letter, folded it and placed it back into his coat pocket. 

How many times has he read it? 

My friend shook my arm to tell me they were leaving and by the look on their faces they had tried to get my attention more than once. I wasn’t ready to leave. I wanted to stay and ask him what was wrong, what’d happened to make him look as if his life was over? Was it? Is that what the note said? Was it his parents, his partner or even his child? I couldn’t answer any of that.

I was going to leave and never know all because I couldn’t bring myself to walk up to him. Even as his eyes met mine again. Even as I saw his need of the comfort I so desperately wanted to give. I couldn’t. 

We as a society never comfort the individual stranger. Most of us are taught to look the other way. We pass them by and ignore our urge to comfort. Our fear of looking crazy or our fear of rejection prevents us from giving this kindness. 

He looked down and turned his back to me. 

And I left.

I look for him whenever I go to that bar because his face haunts me. The need to know what had caused that look haunted me. I have sworn to myself that if I ever see him again, I will not be afraid to ask him what was wrong that day. 

If I’m being honest, I know I wouldn’t. We never do.

 

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