Part 5 of another series by Alan Schumacher
The evening was winding down as we approached St. Bernards. Fifth stop. Awaiting us was a single digit crowd. I spotted this slouched man off to the side when everyone seemed to be taken care of with a story. Joe was reserved as he spooned out the warm soup. Not social, but he wasn't in a rush. Sunken in the face, his eyes holding back a lot of emotions. They spoke out and told me of a tough life, regret unfortunately slipping into the back of the mind, terrorizing himself. The seemingly forced conversation, on my part, consisted of awkward intervals between each question I delivered. Vague, or not, he answered politely to aid a collected background. No confidence in his voice, Joe was thirty. I was caught off guard by the number because he looked older. Must be the built up stress, must have been through a lot. He was born in San Diego, with no memory of the place because Akron would be where he was raised. Said his mother brought him here as an infant, due to work. No father mentioned in the dialogue. Joe didn't describe interest in any sports, said he had blown out his knee sophomore year playing football, but the passion given up on. Figured out that he went to three schools in high school. Joe attended Norton freshman year, Green sophomore year, and finished his educational career at Ellet. Supposedly, Norton was his favorite because that was when he received the least suspensions. Joe got caught up in a lot of drama and engaged in fights, as defense to broken loyalty. "One thing led to another." Joe said this with a smirk his lips would cover, he produced no smiles. The advice to look after yourself because you can only control you, not trusting anyone, the mistake of worrying about others opinion, brought about brief emotion. Water was beginning to form in his eyes, but Joe quickly found a detour in fighting the feeling back. He didn't want to show that side, to open up, he was following his advice not to trust me. Though, continued to show signs of opening up. Joe didn't attend college, but said he took a random, three month, trip to Alaska after high school. "Just to get away." No specifications on what he was running from or the events he experienced on the trip. Then at twenty-two, Joe hit me without the contact. No details involved, but told me he had witnessed his friend commit suicide by walking in front of a train. I said nothing as shock seeped in. How could you recover from that? The helpless thought that you could have prevented the incident, it's awful. For seven years he apparently didn't speak about what happened, it was too hard for his chest, and bottled up the despair. I was touched because that would mean recently is when he has been able to murmur of the time. He was trying to cope with something unforgettable. Joe would proceed to say, with a threatening smile, he has a six year old daughter. A blessing, he had something to live for. He was unsure of his living situation, or didn't want to let me gain such information. I imagined, by our conversation, things weren't easy for Joe. Things were definitely left out in his responses, but you got the picture. Joe had handled scenarios poorly in his life and was struggling. He had made mistakes and endured bad experiences, seen terrible sights. The last thing he had to say was that nothing comes easy and to work for what you want. Well, I learned a great deal and knew I didn't want to be giving that advice down the road from Joe's shoes. Couldn't help but feel appreciation for what I had, either. Oh, how spoiled I am compared to the hard time of men like Joe. I was blessed to meet him. I won't forget the encounter.