Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Don't You Fall

I fall in love easily. It’s a flaw and a feature. Sometimes this works out very well for me and sometimes it does not. Such is the nature of love, and where avoidance might reduce the amount of sorrow it would also remove the joy of experience.

This year, I’ve fallen in love at least three times. At least two of those times ended in an experience shaped like heartbreak, but there was a sweetness there that made both worth it. The frailty of human entanglement is as engaging as it is chilling. A constant series of never beginnings and never endings that should grow old. Instead each interaction is new and deja vu, if it exists, is fleeting.

When I was half the age I am now, I worked under the table in a bookstore down the street from the school. Three days a week I would walk down to the shop, open door, arrange books, create strange promotional to encourage people to come in. There was always hot coffee in the shop, a quarter a cup for a styrofoam cup full of brew. As with any bookstore, eventually you end up with regulars, coming to sit on the couches picked up off street corners, and curl into a corner with strong coffee and a book.

Only occasionally did anyone but the books. Sometimes people would come in with requests, sometimes people would come in and ask for recommendations. Sometimes I wouldn’t see another soul in the store. I’d sit on a couch, listening to the Cranes sit reading whatever philosophical text was the assignment of the day. It was a good way to pass the time and make a small amount of money on the side to make life more bearable.

It was February when the homeless boy first entered my little corner of the world. It was cold and snowing. He smelled like unwashed body that had gone too long, his hair matted, his green military issue coat pulled tight and a dirty bag.

“How much is the coffee?”

“It’s free, but we take quarter donations if you have it.”

He poured a cup and filled it with cream and sugar.

“What are you reading?”

At the time it was some obscure text by some obscure author so I just provided the easiest answer possible.

“Something for class. What are you looking for?”

“I just want to get a book. Something to read.”

“And what do you want to read about?”

“I like Kuerac. I like things that make me think, you know. Do you have something that will make me think?”

Since my undergraduate study was philosophy I had a lot of things that I could present that would make one think. A copy of Flatland may have end up being the choice, I don’t really recall. I remember I handed him a book, and we talked and he told me barely nothing about his life. I knew he’d be in town for around a month or more. I knew he liked to read.

Before I closed that night I’d given him a pile of five books and told him I’d be back again on Saturday.

“Can’t do Saturday’s. That’s when I go to the methadone clinic in Evanston. You are here on Wednesday’s though?”

“Every one.”

And so it was that he came in every Wednesday and I sat on the couch talking to him about what it was like for him to live on the streets, about what it was like for me to study and be dirt poor. He drank free coffee and kept me company. At lunchtime I’d order us greasy three dollar meals from the Chinese place down the street and we’d eat and laugh.

He asked me what was the favorite philosophy I read, and so we sat in the store one afternoon and I put on Richard Strauss and we sat back on separate couches and listened to Also Sprach Zarathustra while snow was falling in the late spring. Never touching each other, but somehow deeply connected.

“I don’t understand, you know, how people win. It’s like a constant game of manipulation. Even on the streets, when we should all just help each other, you know. I just want to love my fellow man. But we are always at odds. Sometimes I wish I knew how to push people towards good.”

“That assumes good.”

“What do you mean?”

“Have you read The Prince?”

“No.”

I found a tattered copy and put it in his hands. He finished the pot of coffee and drifted out into the night as I cleaned up our lunch from that day and made a fresh pot of coffee. I stayed at the shop til almost 8 studying eventually working my way back to may campus apartment.

I’d decided that day if he came back again, I’d take ask him to stay, take him home and get him a shower. Let him sleep on my couch. Give him a break for the night from the streets. Or take him into one of the buildings I had access too at the time, so he could take a bath. I didn’t really have a plan, aside from kindness and emotion. The me that I was then at twenty-two still didn’t understand the specific feelings I had, but somewhere over the four Wednesdays I’d fallen in love. With him or with the fantasy of helping him, I cannot tell you even now. But I’d like to think it was with him.

I never saw him again.

I never forgot him either.

The feelings remained long after.

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