The Man You Barely Knew

The Man You Barely Knew
Photo by Marco Chilese on Unsplash

It's 10:30 at night.

You're standing alone in the dark in another man's living room, a man you barely know.

You're dog-tired, physically and emotionally drained, and you just want to go into the bedroom, lay your head down, and get some sleep.

But you can't.

You can't because you're standing in the middle of this man's living room, this vain, stubborn man you barely know, and you're staring down at the iPhone in your hand, watching the cursor blink on an empty page.

You just need a story.

For nearly ten years, you've written a few lines each night before bed describing some important, or random, or seemingly insignificant event about the day that made that day different from any other day.

So, you ask yourself again, "What was today's story?"

"What happened today? What changed?"

"How did I change? What did I notice today that I've never noticed before?"

Those are your prompts, and they always work, but somehow today, they're not working.

And now you just don't know.

Your head, aching, so full and heavy, just bobbles side to side.

"I just don't know," you shrug.

You've been standing there for what seems like an eternity, and you still can't think of a single thing, so you do the unthinkable:

You give up and go to bed.

But as tired and drained as you are, lying there in someone else's bed, your brain won't stop, so sleep won't come.

Your clouded, confused, and busy brain just keeps talking.

"You watched a man die today," it says.

"No, you helped a man die today."

Then your bastard brain plays out the day's events over and over, again and again, in a neverending loop, so you can't look away from the violence and brutality.

The trauma team pounding on that man's chest, nurses shoving tubes down his throat and jabbing long needles into his tired, old, frail, and lifeless body.

Jumping to your defense, your brain cries out."You made the decision because no one else could!"

"It was the right thing to do. It's what he wanted. He told you so."

"Is that not worth a story?" your brain demands.

But tonight...

Tonight you don't know.

Tonight you don't know.

Tonight you don't know the few things you do know about this vain and stubborn man are just that:

The few things you know.

Tonight you don't know that in the coming days, this vain and stubborn man will teach you what it is to be prepared, what it means to take care of your family after you pass, even on a pension, even with very humble and simple means.

Tonight you don't know about the small life insurance policy you'll find in this man's top desk drawer.

How he scrimped, saved, and sacrificed, scraping together just enough money each month to make payments to the local funeral home on that policy; a policy that would cover all his funeral expenses–saving his daughter the grief, anguish, and heartache when that time came.

And tonight, you've yet to learn the terms of that policy and how hard he fought to stay alive just long enough to make the very last of those monthly payments only weeks before he died–ensuring the policy's full effect.  

You don't know about any of that.

You did know this man was a truck driver.

You did know that.

But you didn't realize he was a Teamster, a young Italian union truck driver from the city of Detroit during the rise and reign of James Riddle Hoffa, the notorious Jimmy Hoffa, the hard-nosed, violent, controversial Teamster and labor organizer who disappeared under mysterious circumstances from a suburban Detroit restaurant in 1975.

This man would've been 31 years old at the time.

And as a Teamster, this man probably would have met Jimmy Hoffa or seen him speak, maybe at a union rally. Hell, he might've walked the picket line with the notorious Jimmy Hoffa, shoulder to shoulder, side by side, the way the Union brothers do.

You wish you would've known about that.

Tonight you don't know what you're about to find as you sort through this man's belongings in the coming days.

You don't yet know about the loaded weapons in every room.

The World War II-era German Luger in his desk drawer, the .45 Colt revolver in his nightstand, the sawed-off shotgun, the long rifle, or the snub-nosed .38 tucked into the kitchen drawer.

You don't yet know about the safe you'll discover behind a false panel in the closet wall.

Or how you'll find an oddly detailed collection of straight razors, straight razors with pearl handles neatly stored away in their original oil paper boxes, each blade etched with a familiar street name or busy street corner from the dark, back-alley neighborhoods in and around Detroit.

You don't yet know about the other things you'll find in that safe.

The things you find and immediately destroy because they would immediately destroy anyone else who found them.  

Tonight you don't know any of that.

And tonight, you don't yet know the guilt and regret you'll soon feel for not making an effort to know this man better while you still had the chance.

You could have made an effort; you could have tried, asked a few questions, listened to his stories, tolerated his quirks.

“Pull the plug,” he wheezed. “Just pull the goddamn plug!”

The rage in his eyes.

“But Joe,” you said.

“Joe, there's no plug to pull. You made it. You're getting stronger. You can get better, get out of that bed, and we can take you home. Don't you want to go home, Joe?”

But that wasn't the home where Joe wanted to go.

So now, here you are.

And all you need are a few sentences, a phrase, a few words to help you remember a small moment in time today, some...thing ...when everything seemed different or when something changed.

But instead, you lie here, in a little girl's bed, next to that little girl, the little girl who cried herself to sleep this long and lonely night after losing her daddy just hours ago.

And you're staring at the blinking cursor in your brain, swimming with violent imagery, disconnected thoughts, and heavy emotions, emotions so heavy they can't be carried alone—should never be carried alone.

You just need a story, a phrase, a few words to put this day to rest.

So you ask yourself again, "What was today's story?"

"What happened today?"

"What changed?"

But tonight...

Tonight you just don't know.