The next school day wasn’t a good one for me. It wasn’t necessarily a bad one either, but it wasn’t the usual day where I would excitedly hop off the school bus and run to my locker in anticipation of seeing all my friends. I remember it being much more somber.
Not a lot had happened the night before regarding the A&P. It seemed as though my parents hadn’t really cared after I told them what I had done. It hadn’t been them who had pushed me into applying for the job after all. It was me. I pushed myself in an effort to make something of myself in this world. A small world, but a world nonetheless. I think the anticipation of having my parents scold me was much more terrifying than the reality of the whole thing. I was probably basing it on the many previous experiences I had had with my parents.
Jim did call the house though. He called around seven in the evening and after he realized he was talking to me, he asked me one simple question:
“What are your intentions?”
The question that I’ll remember for a lifetime and the answer he surely forgot as soon as he hung up the phone.
“My intentions are I quit.”
I thought he knew that. I thought he had figured that out after I left the store that day, that I had quit. Quit that lousy job dealing with lousy people. What I had seen those three days I did manage to show up had been somewhat damaging to my psyche. My mundane co-workers, the rude customers – none of them were going to help my life any. Witnessing that stream of people couldn’t be good for anyone.
To get back to my school day for just a moment – like I said above, the day wasn’t anything to write home about, but it did give me a sort of perspective I hadn’t had before. And I don’t know if it was because I was exhausted from not sleeping the night before or what, but it did make me look at things differently.
I walked through those halls that day and sat through my classes. And as I did, I looked around and watched people. People I hadn’t really paid much attention to before. After all, these were people I had known for pretty much my whole life, so it would be rather strange for me to start analyzing them out of the blue, for no reason at all. But I had a reason this particular day to start looking at them more closely. I started wondering what they had done the night before, what they had been thinking of right before the moment they fell asleep. Moments after they had wished their parents a good night.
Because I knew what I was doing. I was sitting in some woods with an old man I had known for years, but hadn’t really ever known at all. I was sitting right next to him on that small bench. So close to him that I was touching him. A bench so small, so small – that it really gave me no other option.
I also know what I had been thinking of the moment before I had fallen asleep the night before. I was thinking of the old man and what he asked me. I was thinking about what the old man had been muttering under his breath the previous afternoon.
“Nothing ever changes unless there’s some pain.”
As if his mind was sifting through the events of his life that had brought him to the place he currently sat.
I was thinking about the old man, and nothing else, from the moment I left that pond the evening before and walked all the way through those woods, along that dirt road and through all the windy pathways and hills that brought me back to my house later on. Much later on. I thought of him through dinner and throughout the night, right up until the point my eyes closed one last time and until I awoke the next morning.
And I was still thinking of him as I stood looking across the sea of people crowding the hallway of my school, each one lunging past the next in an attempt to get to their locker. Each one trying to get to their destination in the easiest way possible.
I thought of him as I plodded through my day, again and again, wondering what other people’s worlds were like. I wondered what mattered to these people, what mattered in their lives because I knew down deep that something was happening in mine. Something was happening that was drawing me in, like a moth to a flame. And I was pretty sure the whole next day that not one person in my school – not one of my friends or classmates was feeling the same thing. It seemed to me that they were more concerned with each other and themselves. They were more concerned with what they were doing at the very moment I was watching them and what they were going to do a few moments after. I wasn’t able to find one person I would have been able to talk to about what I had yet to find out. Find out from that old man.