“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.”