“I was supposed to be great.”
I looked at the weathered man who spoke those words. He looked beaten tough by a difficult life but now contrite with aging of regret. “I was supposed to be great.” He said again.
“You are great, Michael.” I encouraged him, well, more reminded him. He was great after all. A loved author, an amazing painter, a strong athlete, who had that rare combination of art and business savvy, he managed to build a more than comfortable portfolio, though he always says it was all luck.
“It wasn’t me, David.” He always said. “It wasn’t me. I was lucky in those areas.”
“No, David.” He said solemnly. “I am not great.” He gently and slowly patted his chest with a clenched fist. “I was supposed to be great. But I am not.”
I listened to him and wondered what he meant. How could such an accomplished man feel so broken as a failure?
“Look at that mountain” Michael said, pointing to the solitary peak in the distance, now a dark violet against the setting the sun behind it. “Do you see it?” He asked.
“It’s the only mountain there. Of course I see it.”
“Don’t get smart with me, boy.”
“I see it.”
“Is that mountain great?” He asked.
“I guess. I answered. It’s pretty big.”
“So bigger makes greater?” He followed up.
“I guess for mountains.”
“Franco!” Michael called out to his visibly overweight valet, who was waxing the car bellow the balcony.
“Yes, Sir Michael.” He responded dutifully.
“You, Franco, are the greatest of us.” then he looked at me and winked.
“Um… Thank you sir.” Franco said, not knowing what that was about.
“He’s not a mountain.” I told Michael.
“Franco!” Michael called to him once more. “Are you a mountain?”
“A mountain, sir?”
“Yes, a mountain. Are you a mountain?”
“I do not understand you sir. But no, I am not a mountain.”
“Then you are not great.” Michael said plainly.
Franco looked at him, then at me. I simply drew circles in the air beside my temple. Franco shrugged and went back to waxing the car.
“I saw that.” Michael said grumpily.
“Saw what?” I asked.
“The crazy sign. I saw you make he crazy sign. Doesn’t matter now I supposed. Who cares if I’m crazy? I am not great. But I was supposed to be you know. I was supposed to be great. Mountains are great. I could have been a mountain. But they gutted me. Like a gold mine they took everything I had inside. Now I’m a shell. I am nothing.”
“You’re not nothing” I reassured him, wondering who ‘they’ were. Who gutted him so bitterly? And how could he be thinking of this now. “You’re about to receive an award tonight, Michael. A lifetime achievement award. You’re obviously norm nothing.”
“It’s a nothing award given by nobodies to nobodies” he said gruffly. “I don’t even why I agreed to show up.”
“You agreed because you were invited. You’re being invited because you’re being awarded. You’re being awarded because you’re great! Can’t you see the logic?” I said getting exasperated by his self pity.
“I am not great. I am a shell. If you let them empty you. They will. Listen to me. If you let them empty you. They will. Franco! Let’s get ready to leave. You’re not coming with us are you, David?”
“No sir. The awarding is for you. I’m needed elsewhere.” I replied.
“I envy you young boys in young love with young girls. I envy you. Too stupid to ruin love.”
“What do you mean?” I asked him.
“You understand. When your heart is smarter, you’ll understand. I have no time to explain this to you. I have an award to receive remember? An award!”
“Congratulations Michael. See you tomorrow.” I shook his hand.
“Send my condolences to your unlucky date. Tell her she’s better off dead than with you.” He said looking at me straight.
“You’re an ass” I told him.
“No. I’m a shell.”
The little rock broke off from the face of the mountain, and down it fell landing so hard on a large slab of marble painfully breaking into two. One piece bounced off towards a tree hitting an acorn clean off its branch, starting it on its own journey rolling towards its final resting place buried under layers of dirt. The other piece of rock would skip its way down, roll across a leaf, and launch into the air, soaring terrifyingly high (for a tiny rock at least), and drop into a lake, sinking to the very bottom of the murky water, someday to be worn away little by little by the flow. At the same time of the rock’s immersion, a little girl tugged on her dad’s finger while pointing to the lake, “The lake is making circles!” she said excitedly. The dad got on one knee, bringing himself closer to her size. “That’s a ripple. Isn’t it pretty?” “What’s a ripple?” she asked. “A ripple is the water’s way of saying welcome. When something touches the water, he welcomes them with floating circles.” “Do you think the water will welcome me?” The little girl asked. “Of course.” the dad said “Touch the water with your foot.” The little girl slipped off her sandal and touched the surface lightly, causing circles to form. “Hee hee.” The little girl laughed. “I’m making circles!” The dad watched smiled as he watched this simple joy. The stone under the lake never knew how he triggered the day’s joy for Diane, and how she would go to the pond to pray while watching ripples when her son would die of cancer 40 years later. He would never see the roots sprouting from the acorn, nor the oak tree it would become, nor the tree house it would host. And many times, neither will we ever see, see the impact of the ripples of our lives.
Chapter 2 of She Listened with Her eyes
“Do you ever get lonely?’ William asked me while I pushed his wheelchair down a brick path.
“No. Not really. I actually feel like I’m always surrounded.”
“You never get lonely?” He asked me again disbelievingly. “Never wish you had someone or miss anyone?”
“Why do you have to ask these questions? Ask me about work. Ask me about math or history or why the moon looks gold sometimes. Don’t ask me things I don’t have answers to.”
“So you do you miss someone!”
“I never said that.”
“Yes, you did. In so many words.”
“I did not.”
“What’s her name?”
“What’s who’s name?”
“The person you miss. What’s her name?”
“Her name is Ms. Don’t Ask Stupid Questions Anymore.”
“Don’t be a spoiled sport. I’m just asking what her name is.”
“You can’t just change topics David.”
“Yes, I can. Change topic.”
“She hurt you, didn’t she?”
The look on my face must have scared him because he stopped prying.
After a few minutes of no talking, William started, “You do know that you’re going to have to learn to open up sometime? You’re going to have to let someone in.”
“That’s what she said.” I muttered to myself and said no more.
We had just attended fundraiser, one of those dinners that costs more than the amount raised. It was a cool December evening so we decided to take a stroll through the clubhouse’s garden, a place called the Garden of Whispers. Music continued to flow from the orchestra in the main hall serenading couples on the dance floor and garden benches. The path inclined a little, and at the end was a deck, also accessible by stairs on the side, overlooking the sloping hills of the property.
William sat in his chair with his eyes closed, enjoying the cool breeze. I sat on the ledge to rest my legs.
“You might fall.” he warned me.
“I won’t. And if I did, I’d go straight to heaven.”
“Up to you. I didn’t realize you’re so stubborn. You’re…”
“Hi William.” a woman’s voice interrupted us. We turned to see a beautiful fare lady standing in front of us. Her hair was cut neatly to her shoulders. Her face was kind with a hint of sadness. It was the face of someone who had fought and lost.
I didn’t know who she was but William looked at her in some sort of shock. She was smiling at him and his face would melt into a smile as well. It’s as if they were talking without words, like those irritating new boyfriends and girlfriends who think they’ll love each other for the rest of their lives but obviously won’t get past the year, except this one looked more convincing.
He looked like he’d fallen – and went straight to heaven.
“Um…” I tried to insert myself, “How come I didn’t get a hi?”
Her smile disappeared into embarrassment. “I’m sorry. I didn’t…”
“It’s ok. It’s ok Mary.” it was William’s turn to interrupt her gently. “David, it’s my privilege to introduce you to Mary. Mary, this is my friend, David.”
“It’s his privilege to introduce me to you too.” I told her.
William gave me a stern look. Then he turned to Mary, “What are you doing here?”
“I’m attending a party. I really can’t stand these things anymore. So I went out here to get some fresh air.”
I looked at William. “You knew she was going to be here, didn’t you?”
“Of course not!” He said defensively. “I told you the story. I had no idea where she was, well until now, and standing right in front of us.”
“You told him about me?” Mary asked confused.
“I was telling him about my childhood. That’s why I mentioned you. I wasn’t…”
“My friend had a crush on you.” I said cutting him. “I mean, has a crush on you.” I corrected myself.
Mary blushed. William blushed even more. “I…” he couldn’t finish his sentence.
“Can you excuse us, David?” William asked me. “I have some catching up to do.”
“Of course.” I said, smiling at them. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Mary.” She bowed her head slightly in acknowledgement.
“William, keep the car and driver. Stay as long as you like. I’ll catch a taxi.”
“Thank you David.” he replied without taking his eyes off her.
I started down the stairs of that grand garden and as I was on the last step I turned for one last look. There were William and Mary in one silhouette, even for just that moment, together at last.
I had no idea what they were talking about though I would have liked to hear. How serendipitous this evening that we should on our stroll encounter her. How many prayers had my friend lifted to cause their stars to align so well. I smiled to myself and walked away, accompanied only by the shadows of my own memories.
“You’re going to have to open up someday. You’re an amazing guy, I don’t know anyone like you, but you’re impossible. It’s not all about just making things happen or about fixing things. Women want to feel needed, and you won’t let yourself need anyone. Women want to be adored and all you see is what needs correcting.” I heard her voice telling me.
“Oh shut up.” I told the voice in my head