Interview with a stranger

He kept his eyes averted and fidgeted when he talked but something I said touched something in him because he came alive with words that tumbled out in a halting, insistent rush to tell me a story he had held on to like a talisman for more than thirty years.

“I used to be the head technician for when the cable company first got big in _____

and I, uh, made good money in those days”

Here he paused and looked away, his sad old eyes seeing far beyond our sight. I waited for him to get to whatever point he was trying to make and he apologized for not being able to talk so good, because of botched anesthesia, and another story he needed to tell after this one.

“So I was going home one morning and I was in the right turn lane and this cement truck, this truck turned left and he took the corner too fast and he turned over and all I saw was green, because that was the color of the truck, and he stopped about three feet from a gas pump and all the cement came out and it stopped about an inch in front of my truck, and all I saw was green.”

He stopped and looked away from his feet directly into my eyes. His voice shifted in tone, gained strength.

“So I jumped out and ran around the cement truck and the driver climbed out and stood on top of his truck yelling and beating his chest, ‘Yeah! That was awesome'”

“There was a grandmother, a baby, and uh, the mother underneath that cement truck and you couldn’t even see the car.”

He never looked away from me and I felt the hurt and the guilt hitting me in waves. He had to tell this story, job be damned, stuttering be damned.

He climbed under the truck and a cop pulled him out as he tried to get to the people underneath.

“The cop, he yelled at me and said nobody was underneath that truck but I pointed to the headlight that popped out on the ground and the taillight that was laying there. And the cop said it was done and over with, and they put a big tarp over that cement truck all day.”

“That boy, that 19 year old boy, got eleven years in prison for uh, manslaughter, and I testified and everything.”

His sad old face looked broken, fault lines of grief opening up from hairline to jaw. I said nothing at all, just stayed with him in that place. He refocused on me and touched me on my shoulder. I suppose he was making sure I was real and wouldn’t disappear after the telling.

“I used to skydive, scuba dive, you know, uh, climbed Yellowstone eleven times, and, uh, . . .” He looked outside and squinted, relocating himself again. I felt his confusion. I felt his despair at no longer being the vibrant young man he remembered. And I didn’t move. Not a muscle.

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