I couldn’t see my mistake at first. Harry’s talent was to deflect from his flaws by exploiting his strengths. He was the type of guy who flashed a lawyer’s smile, even if his teeth were smoke-stained and his lips were cracked. Big picture over details. His tastes included mock Italian suits from Walmart and cheap colognes from the local drug store. To his credit, he had a way of selling them as if they were top of the line. He’d remind me, and anyone he’d meet, that it was better to look cheap today and have money tomorrow than to dress for success today and fall naked tomorrow. And I fell for it. If he were anyone else, I never would’ve considered him striking. But he had that gentle touch that caressed my skin with excitement. And that was enough to enrapture me. Looking back, I can see I was desperate for attention—the sad face marking the fool. But when that slick phony found me crying by a park bench that fateful day, he discovered the right buttons to push. That was his talent.
Just to clarify things, I cried in public where families walking their dogs could openly witness. My heart was that beaten. I forget what triggered the drama, but I remember it had to do with the ongoing emptiness I’d felt since college.
When I was a freshman, I flunked out of my classes for partying too hard, too often. I either attended class inebriated or flat out failed to attend at all. Even though my friends supported my lifestyle, my instructors were less than understanding. After a spell, my math teacher advised the dean to kick me out because I was “wasting the campus’s resources.” When the dean summoned me to his office to make it clear I either shaped up or shipped out, I laughed at him, puked on his chair, and flashed him my headlights. I thought I was trying to reveal my attributes to appease his disappointment in me, but in my heart I was just trying to salvage what little future I had left. Either way, it was a poor decision. When the dust cleared, my reaction stunned him for a minute; then he closed his eyes and pointed to the door.
I cleaned out my dormitory the following day.
The disparaging loneliness set in a few months later when I realized my friends weren’t coming to rescue me. They had their own lives to live—far away, I might add—and the fun we used to share died away. I continued to go to bars and clubs, because that’s what I knew, but the thrill weakened when I realized going anywhere by myself sucked. Then one night, as I sat under a strobe light with a bottle of Zima in hand, I stared at all the animated dancers pulsating with their eyes glazed over, wondering what their lives were like before dark. Somehow I concluded they had spent their sunlit hours thinking about coming to the club, which was exactly what I did each day while I waited on the diner’s lunch crowd to leave. At that point, my heart broke, and I questioned where my life was going. When I realized I had no idea, I set the Zima on the floor and walked out of the club forever.
Needless to say, I was ready to change my life from head to toe and actually pursue some honest ambition. But doing that meant changing everything about me.
So I returned to college—a campus a little closer to home—and made another attempt at my future, this time without the parties, or the drinking, or anything that didn’t revolve around studying. In fact, anything that sounded close to fun had to get the big red “X” because I wasn’t about to get kicked out of school again.
But as irony had it, my lack of a job led me to financial disaster, and I had to drop out anyway. And though I was sober, I left without making friends.
And that’s what ultimately brought me to the park bench that introduced me to Harry.