Tuesday, August 30, 2005

ANGEL - A True Story

It had been another rotten day in a rotten week in a rotten relationship that was once good. In all my 23 years I’d never met a person more infuriating than he. My frayed nerves nagged for the numbing effects of a drink or two, and I left the apartment we shared to check out the new bar at the corner. Hopefully the bartender wasn’t chincy with his pouring hand.

The music suggested a fantastic experience was going on inside, but the place was virtually empty. A man with a face like a horse sat at the other end, seemingly sizing up what he considered to be the end of the road. Two men played darts on the far wall, conversing much more loudly than necessary.

I sat down and ordered a drink. Something with whiskey. I nursed it as I sucked down a few cigarettes and turned the conundrums of my relationship around in my head like peculiarly shaped stones.

I hadn’t noticed, but someone had appeared next to me at the bar, a respectable distance from my personal space. He ordered a Coke, and after receiving it mentioned that I looked like I could use a friend to talk to.

Snapping out of my own thoughts, I looked up and gave him the nanosecond size-up.

I don’t think I’m particularly beautiful, so either I look easy or men just take a shot at anything they can, hoping eventually they’ll strike oil – because I can’t even go out and sulk without some macho Cro-Magnon hitting on me. And I’m pretty critical about anyone that approaches me in a bar when I’m obviously brooding. But he didn’t fit the profile.

Dressed in a dull moss maintenance shirt washed several hundred times before sat a fifty-something black man. His eyes were deep and wide set in high freckled cheeks. His skin appeared weathered, creased with the footprints of many smiles and worries and deep, deep love for someone. Receipts and business cards hung in casually contained disarray in his breast pocket, and a pack of cigarettes with one or two missing. Above the pocket was a patch that said, “Terry”. His words were relaxed and tasted of somewhere southern … Southern Georgia? Southern Ohio? I couldn’t tell for sure.

Against my immediate instincts, I decided he was harmless and managed a thin smile in response. We began chatting easily there at the bar – I don’t recall the beginnings, but eventually we were talking about me and my stewings on that particular night. Not directly, though. Rather, he had this way of making idle comments, which applied to my thoughts in uncanny ways. After a few hours and an ashtray full of cigarette butts, Terry politely wrapped things up. He had to go, having a previous engagement that evening, but gave me his card. It simply said “Terry’s Janitorial”, and had a phone number. He told me to be happy, and he’d see me next time.

As my relationship spiraled downward, I frequented this certain bar more and more. On particularly sour days, I seemed to usually find myself there with Terry again. He’d ask me how things were going with my “gentleman friend” (as he would put it), but not in any fashion coming across as presumptuous. It was as if he were designed to ask these things, and you’d accept them the same as accepting a cup of coffee. He had a way of appearing at just the right times, and I came to enjoy the talks we had, as they helped me think more rationally about the chaos in my life in those days.

One day was especially bad. Things were beginning to dance on the edge of violence. I was thinking of leaving but had no place viable to go, really. I dug out Terry’s card and called the number. There was no answer. I went to the bar, hoping I’d catch him. He was there. “How are you doing, honey?”, he asked. “Okay,” I canned, unsure if I really wanted to get into it. He placed his hand on mine, gave me a don’t-bullshit-me smile, and said, “No you’re not, but we’ll get to that later.” We talked a while about nothing in particular, and then he told me a story about a lady friend of his who found herself in need of a place to stay. He let her stay with him for a spell (completely honorably) until she was able to continue her life on her own two feet. He said he got a lot of reward helping his friends who needed it. I offered no indicative response to that, but I remember Terry ending our talks that evening with, “Call me if I can help you with anything.”

We were an oddly matched duo, having little in common at first glance. A twenty-something white girl, heavy on eyeliner and hair dye and rocker swag, and a middle-aged black man in work duds. But we mixed well. We connected on some level unrecognized to a passerby. Our friendship continued for several months. I called his number several times and never got an answer, or even a machine. But infallibly he would appear in my life within a few hours. Sometimes at the bar, sometimes on the street as I walked to or from work. But somewhere.

As it were, my deceptively deep series of talks with Terry had helped me correct my path, and bring back into focus the long-clouded visions of my worth and life. I eventually took charge of my situation and straightened out my own mess by cutting my ties with said “gentleman friend”. I felt empowered and couldn’t wait to tell Terry. I went to the bar several evenings in a row, but he wasn’t there.

I called the phone number on the card. It was disconnected.

I never saw Terry again.


Bougie Black Boy said...

That is absolutely amazing. This story is high-quality and on the level of Joyce Carol Oates (minus the grotesque) :)

You're good.

Bougie Black Boy said...

AND. . . I always try to find a reason why people come into my life and leave, instantaneously. Some things are better left unsaid. And, you conquered that.

a spoon said...

hmmmm - its interesting how some people seem to appear only when we need them, while others disappear

sidetrack said...

How can we say we understand how life works after reading this? Call it magic, mystery, angelic help, whatever, but this man Terry reminds me to drop the ubiquitous, compulsive self-preoccupation that I was raised to think is healthy.

This reads with such evident ease--you could write for a living, girl.

Emit-Flesti said...

And about the rain:
What else can be a more convincing proof of a common heart?

Lori said...

Terry was sent to you for a reason.

I've always known there were "angels among us". You've experienced that first hand.

Cheryl said...

I couldn't stand it- came over and read this even though I should be sleeping! Great story, I do believe there are angels among us. I'll be writing my angel story on Sunday, probably.

Ruth Dynamite said...

I really enjoyed your story and writing. Thank God for people like Terry, who breeze into our lives at the very right moment - and we listen.

Thanks to Rhonda for the link!

Anonymous said...

WOW! I felt like I was there with you. Reminds me of an old saying (not sure who said it, but it circulates via email) "People come into your life for a Reason, a Season, or a Lifetime"