“Yeah. Most people probably see a dirty druggie under that bridge, you know? A problem to society. But I saw someone who was willing to give his all to help a stranger stand.”
“I just… That’s so beautiful.”
“He’s a beautiful man. It turned out he fought in a war and when he came back, he suffered from PTSD, and his loved ones couldn’t understand why he changed so much. He got a job, but lost it due to his panic attacks. He lost everything because he volunteered to fight for all of us. It’s bullshit, you know? You’re a hero until you take off your uniform. After that, you’re just damaged goods to society.”
My heart was breaking.
I’d walked by the man under the bridge millions of times, and never stopped to find out his story. I’d thought the things Tristan mentioned about the man—how he was a drug addict, how he was something I preferred to look away from.
It was amazing how our minds crafted stories for strangers who probably needed love more than our close-minded judgments.
It was so easy to judge from the outside looking in, and I couldn’t help but think that Emma was learning from me. I needed to be careful of how I treated others in passing, because my daughter was always studying my every move.
I bit my lip. “Can I ask you another question?”
“I don’t know. Is this going to become a regular thing? Because I hate questions.”
“This will be the last one for tonight, I swear. What is it you listen to? With those headphones?”
“Nothing,” he replied.
“The batteries died months ago and I haven’t found the nerve to change them yet.”
“But what were you listening to?”
His thumb landed between his teeth and he bit it gently. “Jamie and Charlie. A few years ago, they recorded themselves singing, and I just held onto the tape.”
“Why haven’t you changed the batteries yet?”
His voice lowered. “I think hearing them again will kill me. And I’m already pretty much dead.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Not your fault.”
“I know, but still, I am sorry. But I can’t help but think…if I had a chance to hear Steven’s voice one more time, I would take it.”
“Tell me about him,” he whispered, which surprised me. He didn’t seem the type to care, but any opportunity I could find to talk about Steven, I took. I didn’t want to forget him any time soon.
That night we stayed on that porch remembering. He told me all about Jamie and her silly humor, and I invited him into my heart to meet my Steven. There were stretches that passed where we didn’t speak, and that seemed perfect too. Tristan was broken in all the same places I was shattered, yet even more so because he lost his wife and son. No parent should ever have to lose their child; it seemed like such a hideous kind of hell.
“So, I have to ask. The wand on your pointer finger…what book is that?”
“Harry Potter,” he answered matter-of-factly.
“Oh. I’ve never read those books.”
“You’ve never read Harry Potter?” Tristan asked me, his eyes wide with concern.
I chuckled. “I’m sorry, is that some kind of issue?”
He looked at me as bewildered as possible, and he was definitely silently judging me. “No, it’s just, you always have a book in your hand, and it’s insane that you’ve never read Harry Potter. It was Charlie’s favorite. I believe there are two things that exist in the world that everyone should read because they teach you pretty much everything you need to know about life: the Bible and Harry Potter.”
“Really? Those are the only two things?”
“Yup. That’s it. That’s all you need. And well, I haven’t read the Bible, but it’s on my to-do list.” He snickered. “That’s probably part of the reason I’m currently failing at life.”
Every time he laughed, a part of me came back to life.
“I’ve read the Bible, but not Harry Potter, so maybe we can give each other the Cliffs Notes versions.”
“You’ve read the Bible?”
“The whole way through?”
“Yes.” Holding my hair up in a ponytail, I turned so he could see the three cross tattoos behind my left ear. “When I was younger, my mom used to date and ditch a lot of guys. At one point, I really thought she was going to settle down with this one guy named Jason. I loved him—he always brought me candy and stuff. He was a really religious guy, and Mama told me that if she and I read the Bible, then maybe he would love us and would be my new dad. He even moved in with us for a little while. So for weeks I sat in my bedroom reading the Bible and one day I came running into the living room shouting, ‘Jason! Jason! I did it, I read the Bible!’
“I was shaking with excitement because I wanted that, you know? I wanted a chance to have another dad, even though mine was the best. In my mind, if I had a new dad, then maybe my mama would be my mama again instead of someone I hardly knew anymore.”
“What happened with Jason?”
I frowned. “When I got to the living room, I saw him loading his suitcases into the back of his Honda. Mama said he wasn’t the one and had to leave. I remember getting so mad at her—screaming, crying, wondering why she would do that. Why she would mess it up. But that’s what Mama does. She screws things up.”
Tristan shrugged. “It seems like she did a decent job with you.”