I was an aspiring nihilist when I met an old man in a rundown diner.
The place served food I could cook at home for half the cost; the draw was the pretty faces of the wait staff and not the glares I received from the older generations that considered themselves regulars. What had I done to those people, other than going out of my way to try something new, to earn their scorn?
The old man — his name was Robert Wooten, a retired Air Force colonel — sat alone in a booth, waiting for his order to be delivered when I walked in. I was strangely intimidated by the crowd and taking a chance, I asked if I could sit with him. He politely nodded.
“I’m Robert, nice to meet you.”
“Hello, I hope I’m not bothering you-”
“No, no. It’s always a pleasure for some company.”
The waitress was a treat, eye candy for those who found nostalgia in tight skin and youth. I ordered water, and a cheeseburger for lunch.
“I think it’s my turn to bother you, lad.”
The waitress had a gorgeous waist, proportions that met equal to the warmth she radiated in her smile. Beautiful green eyes and straight brown hair that met the lower part of her back. In an instant, I saw us together in the dark, nude and wholesome.
“Have you ever seen the ocean?” The old man gripped his coffee and meant his words honestly.
“I haven’t, yet. I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry? It was seventy years before I saw ocean waves. I knew the love of my life at the ocean. She was very fair and very young.”
I sipped at my water, listening patiently for the point.
“All of us were young like yourself, everyone here. Do you not think these men haven’t imagined themselves with that waitress you’ve stared at? Heh, we’re not dead yet son. Anyways, I had a lady with me for just a while, and we raised two sons. We named one John and the other David, very wholesome names for boys back then.”
“I thought it was fifty years before you saw the ocean?”
“Wait for the rest of the story and maybe you’ll learn something. We raised two sons John and David. John was older and anxious but David was more bold. We moved a lot, being in the military, and the change took its toll on our children. John was afraid of the world, while David learned to manipulate it.”
I noticed the waitress had dropped her ticket pad, the curves of her back were lines that pagans built temples along; her form a testament to imaginary gods, and I prayed.
“My wife and I, she was a beautiful woman, we tried everything in our power to make things work. We signed the boys up for scouts; John wanted to quit while David was kicked out. Polar opposites really, and it was a shock for us to deal with.”
I kept silent as I listened, and gave occasional glances across the room. I saw her look at me and I wondered what she saw.
“John had a wife—no children as she could not conceive—and David had a son by a girl he treated poorly. Over time, they became involved in their own lives, with John moving to the east coast to manage a technology firm while David stayed in our home town to work on a production line at a factory. They hadn’t spoke in years, and attempts to rekindle the family spirit failed in deadlines and obligations.
“John loved his wife to every extent he could; poor Melissa couldn’t handle herself. Long hours of working a stressful job, coupled with his frustrations in having children with her gave him an excuse. He ended up in a suicide attempt, trying to run his car off a bridge but only ended up smashing himself against it.”
I noticed him getting heavy when he spoke.
“He was in a hospital for a long time, he ended up a vegetable. David took his anger out on his family, his wife and son accepting the abuse for years. When they pulled the plug, David snapped and went crazy. He killed them both, and turned himself in. David was executed about fifteen years ago, and his ashes remain on a shelf next to his wedding picture in my den. I’ve had a long time to think about all of this.”
I was chewing on my cheeseburger slowly, it was a lot to take in from a man who was essentially a stranger, but it was fascinating.
“John was a man of patience, but let himself be consumed by his own thoughts. David was a man of passion, but had no control over himself. Together, their strengths balanced their weaknesses, but separated they were unequal. They seemed to be the extremes of one individual.
“I learned from all of this a single truth. We must balance our lives or be a victim to ourselves. I want you to walk out of here, and make up for the imbalance that you have caused somewhere. I also want you to talk to my granddaughter, I know that look in your eye son.”
The waitress walked over with my ticket, and kissed the old man’s cheek.
“So Papa, I hope you’re ready for North Beach tomorrow. My Momma would have loved it.”
“I think you would like to meet this wonderful young man here, sweety.”
Returning home, I decided to give my brother a call. We talked for hours about what we were doing, who we had met and just about our lives that we missed out on. I told him about this girl that would make him blush instantly, and he told me about his son on the way. We agreed that Robert would be a wonderful name.