July 28, 2003

Gaining Nothing (3/2003: Rhet 144)

I sat at the huge oak desk in my dark paneled office, tapping the butt end of my pen without rhythm against the blank legal pad sitting in front of me, staring blankly into space. My brain was taxed, trying to come up with words to explain a message beyond my understanding. I opened the top left drawer of my desk and took out the weathered leather-bound Bible my parents had given me twenty years earlier for my Confirmation. Maybe reading the week’s Scripture readings for the fourth time would spark some insight or inspiration I could offer to my congregation from the lectern that Sunday.
On the wall directly in front of me hung a painting of the Sacred Heart, an image of a longhaired, bearded Christ with his heart superimposed over his chest, flaming and encircled in a crown of thorns. That was the kind of feeling that came to my mind when I thought about love, a painful burning and laceration of the heart. What could I possibly tell these people about love? How could a celibate “man of God” stand in front of a group of husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, boyfriends and girlfriends, and tell them what love is and what it should be? “They probably know more about love than I ever will,” I told myself.
I sat there and read the words over again, First Corinthians, Chapter 13, Verses one through eight, “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
“Love never fails.” It wasn’t even the gospel; it was only the second reading, but for some reason it was preventing me from being able to think of anything worthwhile to say in my homily. I knew that this would be the reading that would appeal to the congregation. I couldn’t just ignore a passage that would obviously resonate with them so much.
“What do I know about love?” I asked myself again. The only love I could really say that I knew was that of my parents and my brothers and my other family. I guess I knew the love of my friends too, although I heard from them less and less with each passing year. A priest isn’t exactly the life of the party; I’d be the first to admit it. They all probably thought that because I’d become a “man of the cloth” I’d judge all their mistakes and misfortunes. Who was I to judge others? My life had been full of just as many mistakes and sins as anyone else’s. My non-Catholic friends were always a little uneasy about my faith, even when I was young and not all that faithful.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon I got off the bus in front of the big three-story house about a mile from campus that my friends shared. It was time for our weekly game of basketball. I walked into the house in my gym shorts and the t- shirt that was given to everyone at the beginning of freshmen year. It was the last Saturday before finals of our senior year. I shocked them all that afternoon, as we were getting ready for the game. I announced to them that I was no longer pursuing the post-graduation path I’d been planning on. I’d turned down my acceptance to the Graduate Creative Writing program at Illinois and to the Graduate Journalism program at Northwestern. Ever since junior year of high school I’d wanted to be a writer. It came as a surprise to all of them when I told them I’d decided to enter a seminary in the fall. I was going to become a priest. Maybe they all resented all the time they spent reading my stories and poems. They were always complimentary and never as critical as I would have really liked them to be. I was never completely satisfied with anything I wrote anyway. But that’s not what prompted my decision to leave that path.

I looked at the books on the shelves that lined my office walls. Maybe some bishop or cardinal had written something insightful that I could relay to my parishioners. My pastor from when I was a teenager came to mind and I thought of using his sermon formula: a quick, somewhat lame joke, a few sentences summarizing the Gospel and it’s message, and proceeding immediately to the profession of faith. It was tempting, but I thought the congregation would probably notice the abrupt change in my style.
There was a knock on the door and Theresa, the parish secretary entered. She was a kind woman in her sixties. Her face showed her years of smiles and laughter. “Pat Sullivan is on the phone,” she announced, “Her daughter got engaged last night and they want to meet with you to start preparing for the wedding. When are you free this week?”
“I don’t have any appointments or anything tomorrow afternoon. Tell them to come by the rectory at about 1. It should take about an hour or so.”
“Thank you, Father.” She pulled the door shut behind her as she left the room.
Father. I still cringed a little every time someone addressed me that way. Growing up that’s all I really ever wanted to be. I wanted children of my own, a son I could play catch with and teach about football and girls, a daughter who I could protect too much and wait up late on Saturday nights for her to return from dates. I always pictured myself with graying hair and a timeworn face, wire rimmed glasses and a sweater with patches on the elbows. I’d be sitting in my den, a quite little room lined with bookshelves, at my computer typing away, working on a chapter of my fifth novel. One of my children would come in the door and ask me to proofread their essay about what they did last summer.
Every once and awhile I still found myself fantasizing about those things: a wife, children, a house in the suburbs, and a car in the garage. Any hope of that becoming a reality had long faded. My house was this rectory across the parking lot from the church, my wife the Church, my children the parishioners. No one would ever come to me for help with their homework. The closest I’d ever come was second graders coming to me to make their first confessions. That always depressed me; listening to these little innocent children confess what they perceived as terrible transgression against God. “Give yourself ten years,” I always thought, “then you’ll realize how much sin is really out there in the world waiting for you.”
I glanced down at the legal pad that still separated my erratically tapping pen from the desk and sighed at the realization that it was still blank. I wrote the words “Love never fails” boldly on the top of the blank sheet of paper. It was Thursday and by then I usually was on my second revision of the week’s homily. I wondered how many people would notice if I pulled out an old one from a few weeks ago. I bet myself that at least half the people wouldn’t realize that what I was saying had absolutely nothing to do with the week’s readings. Every time I stood before them speaking I saw their eyelids grow heavy and their faces become expressionless. It wouldn’t have to come to any surprise to me if not one of them ever listened to a word I said.
“Maybe there’s another theme in the gospel I can focus on,” I thought to myself hopefully. “I might be able to completely avoid talking about love altogether.” I leaned forward with my furrowed brow leaning against my hand in front of me. I placed both of my hands on the desk and pushed myself off my chair onto my feet with a sigh of frustration. I walked over to the table underneath the window on the sidewall of the office and poured myself a cup of coffee. “Why do I obsess about things like this?” I asked myself. It was a question I often asked myself and I always came to the same conclusion. This worrying and obsession was a characteristic that I’d inherited from my mother. I stirred cream and sugar into the coffee, because I hadn’t inherited her taste for black coffee.
The door creaked open again and I heard Theresa’s voice. “Father, there is someone here to see you. Can you take a visitor?”
“Absolutely. I’ve got nothing but time. Send them in.”
I heard Theresa leave the room and I heard another pair of feet walk in. I turned and looked over my shoulder. I almost dropped the scalding cup of coffee on myself. I hadn’t seen her in fourteen years. Not since the day before my college graduation. She stood there, beautiful dark hair that was once cropped up to her ear now grown down past her shoulder blades.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, in shock and not realizing how rude this question sounded.
“Hello to you too,” she replied with a tinge of sarcasm in her voice. Her brown eyes studied me as if she was trying to determine whether I was still the same person under those black clothes and white collar. With all my effort I kept my eyes from meeting hers.
“I’m sorry. I’m just really surprised to see you here,” I explained. “I was just having a cup of coffee, would you like some?” I spoke rapidly.
“Sure, I’ll have a cup,” she replied. “Am I supposed to call you “Father” or something? Because I’m not going to.”
“I’d never expect you to; even more, I’d never want to. It’d be too bizarre.” I wondered what she was doing here. Why had she just showed up here out of the blue after ten years of silence?

On a cold night in November eighteen years earlier, I fell in love with this girl. I was sixteen years old and I was over at her house for the first time. Her mom was out of town and some of our friends had decided to take advantage of the situation. I wasn’t eager to go because I didn’t drink and I was going to head home after the movie we’d all gone to see. I told her that I wasn’t going to come and she said, “Come on, it’ll be fun. There’s other stuff to do at my house than drink. I really want you to come.” I was a sixteen-year-old boy and there was no way I was going to deny a request like this from a girl. I ended up going and I ended up sitting on her couch with my arm around, watching TV while some friends sat at the table drinking shots of vodka. I wondered how she felt about it, but I knew I enjoyed it. It turned out she did too and after a few weeks of deliberation I walked up to her locker after school and muttered something resembling “Will you go out with me?” or “Will you be with my girlfriend?” I don’t remember words actually coming out of my mouth, but somehow the message was understood. She never seemed to think I stumbled over my words as much as it seemed to me like I did.

“So,” I began, not really knowing what to say. “What brings you here? How’d you find me? How are things? How’s Alex? What are you doing now?” It was as if all the questions that had popped into my mind about her over the last ten years were trying to fly out of my mouth simultaneously.
“I broke down and called your mom. I’ve been wanting to talk to you for awhile now,” she explained. “But I was afraid to talk to anyone who knew where you were. I thought about calling Tom, but I decided it’d be easier just to get in contact with your mom.”
“How’d you know they’d still live there?” I asked.
“Come, it’s your parents. We both know they’ll never move out of that house.”
“True,” I admitted, giving a small laugh. I let my eyes meet hers. It was the first time I’d looked her in the eyes in ten years and it filled me with confusion. “Have a seat,” I said, showing her to a chair on the other side of my desk. I walked around and sat at my chair across the desk from her. She wore a faded t-shirt from college and a pair of jeans. She was thirty-three years old and she’d barely changed, in my eyes, since she was fifteen.
“That thing creeps me out. How can you look at it every day?” she asked, looking over my shoulder at the large crucifix that hung on the wall behind me.
“It doesn’t bother me. It never has. I think it’s an important reminder of the sacrifice that was made for us. You know that, we’ve had this conversation before.”
“I know we have. And you know that I think it’s morbid.”
“So did you come here to criticize my decorating?” I asked, somewhat resentful and still wondering what she was really doing here.
“Your mom and dad sound good. They’re still really healthy and everything. You’re mom’s really proud of your chosen profession, I can tell.”
“Yeah, I guess it makes a Catholic mother feel like she’s done something really right when one of her sons becomes a priest.”
“She was beaming on the phone when she told me where I could find you. I think she’s prouder than she would have ever been if you had the New York Times number one bestseller.”
I laughed. “Maybe. That might be a little extreme though.”
“So what are your brothers doing these days?”
“Well, Joe is still teaching band, but he teaches high school now. And he’s married and has three kids. Dave just moved out to New York a couple years ago. He’s the technical director for an off Broadway theatre company. He’s really happy out there. I went to visit him on my vacation last summer. He’s been dating this photographer for a few years now.”
“Sounds good,” she commented distantly, as if she was trying to picture Joe’s kids and Dave’s East Village apartment looked like and what ten years time had done to my brothers’ appearances.
“I hate to sound short, and I am interested in how your family is and stuff…your little cousin must be twenty now…But I really can’t stop wondering why you’ve come here. Is it just to catch up? Or is there something you want from me?”
An odd expression came to her face; it seemed to be a mixture of pain, disappointment, and anger. “I don’t really know why I came. I just needed to see you. To make sure that you’re ok and that you’re doing well. Alex and I are getting a divorce. I found out he’s been having an affair for a year now.” I could tell that she was holding back an ocean of tears. I got up from my chair and walked around my desk to her, she stood and I hugged her, something I hadn’t done in what felt like a lifetime. We stood there and she leaned her against my shoulder and wept. I held her in my arms and tried to comfort her. I could feel her convulse as she cried. I felt like I was seventeen again and she’d come to me for comfort and solace after having a fight with her parents. For a split second I was back in that place, I was a teenager and she meant the world to me. I almost kissed her before I realized where I really was.

I’d never been in more pain in my life than beginning of the spring semester of my freshmen year of college. She’d cheated on me and despite how betrayed and heartbroken I was determined to keep us together. I was hurt, but I was willing to forgive her because I still loved her. I said I’d love her forever and I meant it. After weeks of fighting over the phone we decided to go “on a break.” It only lasted a few days before she found another guy, Alex. They started dating a few weeks later and dated all through college. Every time I saw them together I brought the bile up in the back of my throat. You’d think at such a huge university I would have been able to avoid them more easily, but I ran into them everywhere. I tried to stay friends with her as long as I could but whenever he came up in conversation or whenever I saw them together it killed me. They invited me to the wedding out of politeness, but there was no way I could have possibly gone.

She pulled out of my arms and stood back from me, the tears still in the corners of her eyes. She looked ashamed and slightly embarrassed. I stood there, just looking at her as she brushed her hair back behind her ears and tried to regain her composure. “I’m sorry. I didn’t meant do this to you. I don’t want to put you in a bad position. I just didn’t know where else to go.”
“It’s ok. I’m glad you came to me and I hope I can be some help to you. Have you been going to church at all? How is your spiritual life?”
“Don’t give me that,” she snapped. “I knew you’d guilt me about not going to church. I didn’t come to you because you’re a goddamn priest. I came to you because…because of what we had. And I know it was a long time ago but I just hoped that maybe there was some tiny little ember of it left in you. I don’t know what I’m looking for from you. I just needed to see you.”
“Look, I don’t know what to tell you. What did you expect to happen when you came here? Did you expect me to say, ‘You’re right. I still love you, I’ve always loved you. I’ve never stopped loving you. I became a priest because I knew I could never have you.’?”
“No, I…I don’t know, ok? I just thought you might be able to help me. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life. I’m a family counselor for Christ’s sake, how can I tell other people how to solve their problems if I can’t even solve my own?” Her face fell into her hands and stepped forward and enveloped her in my arms again. The funny thing was what happened between us really was a big part of the reason I became a priest. I tried dating other people throughout college but I never felt like I could trust anyone. Every time I felt myself getting close to someone I got out of the relationship because I was afraid of getting hurt like that again.
“Look,” she said finally, breaking the silence that had lasted for what seemed like hours. “I’m leaving for Finland tonight. You know I’ve always wanted to go. Well, I’ve never gotten the chance, so I decided to go now. I don’t know how long I’m going to stay or anything. I’m just going. And, well, I have an extra ticket. I didn’t really come here to ask you if you’d come, but will you?”
I looked back at my desk and hesitated to answer. I thought about the sermon I had to write for Sunday that I hadn’t started on. I thought about all the problems that other people came to me for help with because I’m supposed to be a spiritual guide. How could I tell them that sometimes I was just as lost and confused as they were?
“No, I’m sorry. I can’t. You don’t know how much I’d really like to but I have obligations here. This is my life now.”
“Ok. Well, thank you for listening to me. I’ll send you a postcard or something,” she chuckled, wiping the remaining tears from her eyes.
“Write me whenever you need to. And if and when you come back, stop by and see me again. Let me know if you need anything.”
“Thank you,” she said softly. She hugged me again and softly kissed me cheek. “Goodbye,” she said.
“Goodbye,” I replied. “Fly safely. You’ll be in my prayers.” She turned and walked out of my office. Followed her to the door and closed it behind her. I held my head in my right hand and returned to my desk. I leaned my head on the heels of my hands and looked down at my desk. I looked down at the words I had written earlier that afternoon. “Love never fails.” I ripped the top sheet off the pad and through it into the wastebasket beside my desk.

Posted by dpetrella at 8:14 PM | Comments (6)

Homecomings (2/2003: Rhet 144))

I can’t think of many better feelings than coming home. The only situation I can think of when coming home isn’t a good feeling is when you know you’re going to be in trouble the minute you walk in the door. Like in high school when your parents told you to be home at midnight and you decided to stroll in at 12:30 or 1. But that’s an exception. Most of the time coming home is about as good a feeling as I can imagine. It always makes me feel content to walk in, take off my coat, kick off my shoes, and drop whatever baggage I’m carrying at the backdoor.

I was looking forward to going home that weekend. As nice as it was to be away from my parents sometimes, it was always nice to come home to my own bed and food that I didn’t have to stand in line with a tray to get. I had to be home by 7 that night to make it to Anna’s band concert. The new principle at the high school made them change the start times of everything from 7:30 to 7 so the students would be able to be home by curfew. It figured. She messed everything up since she got there and of course she had to go and make it harder than it already was for me to make it back home in time for this stuff. Some people just can’t leave well enough alone.
I stood on the corner with my arms folded across my chest, my backpack on the ground leaning against my leg, waiting for the bus. I glanced down at the watch I’d gotten for my last birthday. 2:45. The bus should be there in 5 minutes. I stood on the corner of Lincoln and Pennsylvania tapping my foot and singing an Alkaline Trio song under my breath, mostly in my head. I dug the bus schedule out of my backpack, just to double check. I wanted the 2 Red North. I stuffed the schedule back into my bag and repeated the line of the song that had been stuck in my head all day: “And I was drinking you goodbye/ A heart floats in the bay/ From sour home Chicago/ I hear it beating far away/ There's no telling what I'll do/ If I don't return to you.”
It was a cool, damp October afternoon. The leaves were just beginning to change and they looked like fire against the dull grey sky. The ground was damp from the light rain that had fallen that morning. It always seemed to rain on the days that I was going home. I always tried to decipher some meaning in this, but as usual I think I was looking for too much meaning in things. Rain is a natural occurrence, the product of over saturated clouds, not something to add symbolism to my life.
The bus slowed to a stop and the doors swung open. I picked up my backpack off the ground, slung it on to my shoulder, and stepped on. I asked the driver, a woman in her late thirties or early forties, “Do you go to the transportation center?”
“Yeah,” she said, “but not for a long time. I’m headed down to Vet Med. You want to go down Pennsylvania a few blocks to Race and catch the bus headed in the other direction.”
“Ok, thanks.” I hopped off the bus and the doors closed behind me. It pulled away from the curb and sped off. I sighed in irritation and headed down Pennsylvania away from campus. I’d never gone this far east of campus and I had no idea how far Race was. I kept walking for five blocks and began to think that I’d missed the bus somehow. Now I’d probably never make it to the bus station in time to catch the other bus I needed to take over to ISU to hitch a ride home with my brother and I’d miss the concert.
Just as I was beginning to see a disaster arising before me, I saw the bus turn on to the street. It passed the stop I was supposed to get on at and I began to wave my arms like I was hailing a taxi. Luckily the bus driver saw me and pulled the bus over so I could get on. I hopped from the curb onto the bus and started to head toward the back to get a seat.
“Can I see your ID please,” grumbled the driver, a man in his fifties from my best guess. I stopped, turned back, pulled my wallet out of my back right pants pocket, and slid my ID out of its slot. “Sorry,” I said. The driver nodded in recognition and I squeezed through the aisle into a seat near the back door.
I stared out the window and watched the buildings of campus go by. All red brick. I wondered if there was some sort of policy that all the buildings on campus have to be constructed of red brick. My attention then shifted to the other passengers on the bus. It was a pretty even mixture of college kids and locals from the looks of things. I wondered where everyone was headed. Some were probably headed to houses or apartments at the end of the day’s classes. They’d go home to syndicated reruns and some macaroni and cheese for dinner. Maybe that girl on the cell phone really knows how to cook and she’s got a lasagna planned for this evening, much to the delight of her roommates. Others were probably headed home to their families after a tough day at work. I looked toward the back of the bus and saw someone I recognized. It was Whitney, a tall redhead that I went to high school with. She also happened to be in my history class that semester. “Hey, Whitney,” I said loud enough for her to hear me.
“Oh, Hi Frank.”
“Did you go to the history lecture today? I copied the notes off the internet, but I was wondering if she handed anything out or anything.”
“No, there wasn’t anything. I fell asleep. It’s so boring.”
“Yeah, I hardly ever go anymore. I just read the book and take the notes off the website.”
“Yeah. I don’t ever do the reading so I try to make it to the lectures.”
We didn’t have much else to say, so the conversation stopped there. Even though we went to high school together for four years, had a lot of mutual friends, were in a lot of the same class, both played in orchestra, and Anna dated her brother before we started going out, I didn’t really know Whitney all that well. I wondered where she was going too. It wouldn’t have been that out of the ordinary to bump into her on a campus route, but the fact that she was headed off campus made me curious. I thought at first that she might be headed to the bus station too, but then she got off at the next stop. Maybe she was going house hunting for next year or maybe she was going downtown to do some shopping.
The bus made the tight turn and drove under the railroad tracks that came up along side the transportation center, entering the area designated “Busses Only.” It slowed to a stop at the end of a line of busses stopped outside the bus station. I picked up my backpack off the seat next to me, slung it over my shoulder, and exited out the backdoor. There was a line of people filing in the front, dropping in their tokens or showing their passes or IDs. I saw a guy who lived in my dorm leaning against a wall smoking a cigarette. He was wearing a red polo shirt, khaki pants, and a nametag. He must have worked at Target. I never knew that, but then again, I’d never really talked to him. All I really knew about him to be honest was that he lived in my building and that we were in the same history discussion, with the socialist Eastern European TA. Actually I also knew that he had a really cool trench coat that he bought at a thrift store for $5, but only because it became the topic of conversation in section one week.
The automatic doors opened for me and I walked up to the ticket counter. “I need a ticket for the 4:10 bus to Bloomington please.”
“One way or Roundtrip,” enquired the older woman sitting at the ticket counter.
“One way.”
“That’ll be twelve-fifty.”
“Ok,” I replied. I pulled my debit card out of my wallet and held it out to her.
“We only take cash.”
“Oh, sorry,” I said, slightly embarrassed at not having noticed the sign. I walked over to the ATM machine. I swiped my card, entered my PIN and tried to tell the machine I wanted $15. I always forget that those things only distribute in multiples of ten. I withdrew $20, took my money and my receipt, returned to the counter. I purchased my ticket, thanked the teller, and took a seat, setting my backpack at my feet. My stomach grumbled and reminded me that I hadn’t eaten anything all day. Since I had to withdraw extra money, I had enough to get myself something to eat.
I got up and walked away from my backpack, wondering whether I should be a trusting enough person to leave it sitting there unwatched. It didn’t really matter; there wasn’t anything in there that anyone else would possibly want.
I returned to my seat from the “gift shop” that reminded my more of a gas station in some small town along the highway between here and home. Rather than doing homework like I probably should have, I sat there with an open book in my lap, surveying the people waiting for their busses and trains. There were a couple black women, probably in their thirties, whose conversation didn’t interest me much. Something about the their kids’ school, typical mom kind of stuff. There were a few other college students lugging huge duffle bags, probably bringing home all their laundry to do for free. The person that interested me most was a man sitting maybe ten feet away, facing the opposite direction. He was an older man, maybe in his late fifties, but probably at least sixty. He wore a grey sports coat, black pants, a red and blue plaid shirt, and a bolo tie and cowboy hat. At his feet sat a black briefcase and in his left hand he held a Bible. I overheard him saying something about heading to Chicago. I wondered where he was coming from and why he was going to the city. I always ask myself these questions when I look at people, especially ones I see the bus or the train or in the train station or on the highway. I never ask people though. Despite my curiosity, I can never picture myself walking up to some complete stranger and asking them what their story is. If that happened to me it’d probably freak me out. “I need to read this now,” I told myself, “I don’t want to have to do it all this weekend while I’m at home.” I sat reading until I heard a voice come over the PA, “First Call for Trailways west – Bloomington, Peoria, Davenport.” That was mine. I grabbed my bag and headed out the door.
It was a huge red bus, the charter kind with storage compartments for luggage underneath. I noticed a few people getting off a Greyhound parked a few feet away. There was a pair of old women who seemed to be traveling together. It made me kind of sad for some reason. I can’t really explain it, but it did. Something about a couple old ladies taking busses across the state seemed sad and lonely to me. At least they had each other to talk to though. It would have been sadder if I saw one of them alone. A cleanly dressed Hispanic guy, probably in his twenties also caught my attention. He had on a white shirt with a collar, black pants, and white tennis shoes and was carrying a grocery bag. He didn’t seem to have any other luggage.
I bypassed the luggage line and walked up the steps into the bus. It was pretty nice on the inside. The seats looked comfortable enough, although they were a little close together for me to be completely comfortable, but bus seats always were. I found a seat about five rows back and took the one next to the window. I tossed my backpack up on the aisle seat so no one would take it. The old women I saw outside came on and took the seats right behind the driver. The next person who came on looked like he could have been a football player. He was a big black guy, probably 6’5” or taller and at least three hundred pounds. He took the seat behind me. After him came the young guy I’d seen outside with the grocery bag who found a seat two rows behind me.
After the bus had filled, the driver came on looking like an old-time train conductor. All he was missing was a shiny gold pocket watch on a chain. He stood facing the passengers and announced, “This is the Trailways west. Our stops are Bloomington, Peoria, and Davenport. Please enjoy your ride and thank you for traveling with Burlington Trailways.” He turned, took his seat at the wheel, and pulled the bus away from the station. I pulled my book out of my backpack and tried to get down to the reading I needed to have finished for Monday.
I got a few pages into my reading before I was distracted by the voices behind me. I realized it was the young guy talking to the guy sitting right behind me. “You were on the Greyhound with me before right?” asked the young one.
“Yeah, I think so,” answered the big guy behind me, in the deep, smooth kind of voice you’d expect from someone of his stature. “What’s with the clothes? I saw a bunch of guys all dressed the same.”
“We just go out of prison today.”
“Oh, man,” chuckled the big one, “I thought you were a singing group or something. Some kind of boy band trying to make it big.”
The thought of this made the young guy laugh. “No, man. We just got out of jail. I’m heading home to Galesburg. Where are you going?”
“Well, I’m a truck driver. My truck broke down in Effingham, so I’m taking the bus out to Davenport.”
“You from around here?” asked the newly freed man.
“No, man, I’m from Florida. I was just driving through and I blew out my engine.”
“Aw, that sucks. Who do you drive for?” questioned the young one, sounding sincerely interested.
“I work for myself. I own a couple trucks and my own small company,” answered the big guy, sounding pretty proud of himself.
“So, you going home to anyone? Anybody waiting for you?”
“Yeah, my mom’s picking me up in Peoria. I’m going home to be with my family. And my little girl and my baby-momma.”
I started getting a little annoyed with these guys. Here I was trying to get some work done and they were sitting back their blabbing about themselves. “I should have brought my headphones and some music,” I thought. I kept trying to force myself to read, but honestly their conversation was much more interesting than the crap I was supposed to read for class. Even though I wasn’t reading anymore, I left the book open on my lap and stared at the pages. I didn’t want to completely give away the fact that I was eavesdropping on their conversation.
“So you’ve got a daughter, huh?” asked the guy behind me.
“Yeah. She’s two years old. We had here right before I went in.”
“What were you in for if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Oh, I was just in for a parole violation. 18 months.”
“So you did time before?”
“Yeah, four years.”
“So I bet it feels pretty good to be going home.”
“Yeah, man. I can’t wait to see everybody. And to be with my girl and our little baby again. I can’t wait to get home, man,” said the young guy, with excitement and a slight touch of longing in his voice.
“What are you gonna do now? Any plans or anything?”
“I don’t know man, I got a lotta options. I got some college credit while I was in the joint. They had teachers come in and stuff. I might go and finish school. I have 20 credits. I don’t know though, man, school was never really my thing. I got a cousin out in Colorado. He has a construction company and stuff. He says I can come out there and work for him if I want to.”
“Yeah, man, it sounds like you’ve got a lot of options. Just go with something.”
“Yeah, I’m done with that man. I’m not going back. I’ve done my time. I gotta do something with my life now. I got a little girl.”
“Just find something you like and stick with it. When I got out of the Marines I started driving trucks. I drove for a while until I saved up enough to get my own truck,” said the big one, dispensing his life-learned wisdom.
“I was thinking of maybe opening up a tattoo shop. I’ve got my own equipment and stuff. I think it might be cool to do tattoos and stuff. I just need to figure out how to get a little money and how to get licensed and everything.”
“See, that’s what I’m talking about. You’ve got to find something that you enjoy and do it, man.”
“I don’t know if I can get a license or not, ‘cause I got a record. I need to find out though. I’m gonna do something with my life though, man. I’m not going back. I’m going home, to my family, and I’m gonna make something of myself.”
The conversation drifted from there. The two men went on to talk about their views of what was going on in the world at the time. As interesting as it was to hear an ex con talk about his opinion of President Bush, that wasn’t really what stuck in my mind. It was something about how Bush just wanted war with Iraq to finish what his dad started, and something about revenge because the Iraqis tried to kill his father. I sat there thinking about what it would feel like for that guy to walk into his house today.
The bus pulled up to my stop and I looked down at my watch. 5:40. The bus was half an hour late, I’d probably never make it home in time for the concert. I looked out the window only to see things getting worse. My brother was standing in front of his car with the hood open. Great, just what I needed. Something to make me later getting home.

Posted by dpetrella at 8:10 PM | Comments (0)