Did I ever tell you about how I met God? Or at least pretty sure how I met God? Its not something I talk about a lot, being someone who firmly believes He Who is God probably has about a billion better things he could be doing. I think he said his name was Dave.
In 2019, as Covid was steadily getting worse at the end of the year, winter was its cold miserable self in Seattle. Gray overcast and dark, with the occasional crying fit of rain. About two or three years now, I had been playing pseudo security guard, temporary facilities manager, and actual IT professional for a non-profit there. One office is safely hidden in or near the Cherry Hill area. And I say safely hidden because the nature of this office was unfortunately a domestic violence unit.
As a victim of domestic violence and spousal abuse, I like to think I jived well with the ladies that ran the office. And anyone who knows me, if I like you, I become very protective of you. Admittedly, selfishly so at times. But they were all sweet, and a bit smitten on me being a young man in his prime at the time, and I respected the hell out of them for the hard work they had to deal with every day. On more than one occasion I sat down with one and would just listened, playing confessor and friend to something terrible they had just heard or had to witness. Never dropping names, but needing to cry it out. A few preferred never to talk, but just simply cry, and I would do my best to at least get them a blanket, and make sure tea was available if they needed it, at the couch reserved in the back for just such hard times. My God they were strong women, for those I know who are still there, they have to be, and undoubtedly still are.
For the occasion I had to dissuade an ungentlemanly gentleman that no, he did not just see his wife, girlfriend, or children enter the building, it was the temperament of these fine women that gave me the steel to remain calm, even in the face of threat. And there were threats. At that point I had already been kicked, shoved, verbally assaulted, spat on, and a knife pulled. But life up to that point had inverted an old child rhyme I’d heard plenty of times. “Sticks and stones may break my bones...” Following the abuse from my former spouse, and the lost love of someone I never thought I would have to say goodbye to, what’s a knife, kick, or other physical threat? How could they hurt more than the scars engraved in my own heart? By that point in my life, I would have already biked down a volcano, swam nearly naked in shallow water above a bed of sea urchins in open ocean, been enveloped in a large gasoline explosion, hit with a car, had a gun pointed at my face, and even tracked down a pair of thieves over a cell phone in a US state I’d never been in. Most of which felt pretty low on my scales anyway, so threat of violence from a man in emotional turmoil meant nothing.
The area where the office is located, is considered unsafe by the staff after sundown. So during winter hours, it tends to empty quickly, and the staff move in sets to their vehicles in the garage. Unfortunately for me, the best time to do maintenance related IT work is after hours. I was verbally accosted on more than one occasion in the evening. But as my father and grandfather taught me, sometimes a smile and a handshake is all you need to disarm someone. And I can disarm the worst of them. Though I get along better with more thugs than I do lawyers. Eventually it was a simple “sup fellas,” learning a few names of who I was looking at along with a willful smile and consideration for their time, that made it so I felt I could safely traverse the area unmolested. With great success, I found myself at least to be considered a common, inconspicuous occurrence for the neighborhood, to both common criminal, hoodlum, transient and law-abiding citizen alike. Not that fear of being otherwise would have slowed me down, considering.
In about a month from the time I’m thinking of, I had volunteered to give a close colleague and friend a piece of me. That’s not a colorful metaphor. I mean literally a piece of me. Her kidneys were failing, quickly. She who was so instrumental in saving my life from depression and likely to follow suicide, to do anything less for her was not a consideration I had, and a very simple decision. I mean how can you validate someone saving all of you, and not offer a pound of flesh to save them? Knowing my mental stability, I got the easier part of that deal, hands down.
But still, it was major surgery. One of the last few adventures on my list that I had never experienced. I understood the procedure, the risks, how close to death a scalpel might bring me if the surgeon sneezed at the wrong moment, or just twitched. I did weigh the risk against the gains to be well worth it naturally. Win or lose, if the surgery got that far along, my friend would have her kidney.
The truth is though, that many don’t know about… I had a mild hope that during surgery that I may not survive and die on the table. Sure, I met with a hospital shrink to put a light in my face and make sure I wasn’t going to sabotage the procedure, endanger myself or the kidney, and I passed with flying colors. But I am recovered expert liar. And the last woman I was in love with can tell you, that even when I am completely off my rocker, out of gourd, or a few planks short of a house, I don’t back down from a decision once its made, and will do anything to see it through. So I did. Surgery would proceed, and I would either come up with a way, or give to hope that my surgeon was not as competent as he seemed to be.
As was my tradition when closing out at the DV office, I proceeded to a local convenience store for a soda, snack or something small for dinner that evening, ever thinking about the looming surgery. As often was a few unfortunate souls hover around the door asking for help in one form or another. While I would deny anyone money as I went about my business, I would never deny another person a meal, something I picked up from a brief stint living in Arizona about laws regarding water access. So if they didn’t ask for food, I would always offer, and didn’t make it my motus operandi to be stingy either. They weren’t always people in the best health or mental condition, but that didn’t make them any less human. Occasionally I would be the lucky one! It wasn’t someone who just wanted a handout, and even after providing a small meal and/or a drink, they would sit and talk with me! If what I had would allow it, I would break bread with them there on the spot. I would do my best to make them laugh, and hopefully get them to smile at least once. I would get their first name, add it to a book I kept in my pocket at the time, and be on my way.
One night though, a few weeks before surgery, a man stepped in my way as I headed toward the entrance to the convenience store. I put on my same old copy and pasted smile, and readied my quickest answer about not carrying cash, and he walked up to me and looked me dead in the eye, and said, “Hey, man. You’re gonna be alright. You know that?”
I had never seen this man before. Not wanting to be impolite, I decided to humor him and said, “I think you’re alright too, man,” and made to go around him.
He stepped in front of me again, and put two fingers to my chest to gesture that I hold, and said, “Nah man, you ain’t getting me. You’re gonna be alright.” I brought his face into greater focus, as I looked down at him. He was nearly a head shorter than me, very thin, dark skin, yellowing teeth, with a few missing. He was rather pungent. His clothes looked unwashed for what may have been months. He wore a long sleeved button up shirt, dark red if I recall, no jacket against the cold, and blue jeans. Shoes looked like they weren’t well worn, and a beanie on his head, with small lines of thin gray curls arching out beneath it. But his eyes, I’ll never forget his eyes. Against his dark skin, the pure healthy white color of them when they were wide, seemed almost blue, but made his pupils seem like fathomless voids into a starless sky. They were strong eyes, accented by deep brows that told you this was someone of conscience, of thought and deep feeling. So I stopped to lend him my ear further.
“You look like a man burdened by his brain.”
I smiled, “aren’t we all sir?” He ignored me.
“You’ve got a weight on you, a sin you put on yourself.”
I said nothing.
“Your trial is just beginning brother. But you’re gonna be alright.” And then he smiled, and tapped me on the chest. “You ain’t got nothin you’ve encountered yet that’s stopped you, and nothin doin anything gonna stop you thats comin atcha. So ease up, brother. You’re a good man, with a good heart. And I know, love burns you still from the inside out. But you’re gonna be alright, and you’re doing everything you can, the right way. Love yourself, brother.” And then he put one hand on my shoulder, and kept smiling, as his eyes grew wide, like he was staring right through me.
I was dumbstruck. Like I said, I had never met this man in my life, and yet somehow everything he said seemed to resonate with little facets of my life, like raindrops falling on an instrument building into a song with the coming rain. I had what I could only call an emotional cascade. I didn’t know what to make of any of this. All I could say was, “Hey man, are you hungry? Uh, thirsty at all?” He narrowed his eyes and shook his hand away, “Nah nah. Don’t worry bout me man. Worry about yourself, you’re gonna be fine,” and turned to leave me.
“No sir, I insist. Let me buy you something to eat. I just need to go in and get a few things. Can I get you something while I’m in there? Coke? Water? Coffee? Anything at all? And please, tell me your name.”
He cocked his head to one side, and rubbed the thin hairs at his chin, “Name’s Dave. Well you know, I haven’t had a Fanta, or an orange soda in a long while. Maybe…?” and gave me a long stare out of the corner of his eye.
“Done!” I waved at him and told him to wait until I got back as I rushed inside. I collected my few groceries as quickly as the checkout line would allow, along with the biggest Fanta I could find. I thought of a neighboring restaurant I could take him where the food was easy on a what might be a weak stomach, and what was the closest shelter I could get him to afterward. But when I came out, and looked around, he was gone. He didn’t look healthy enough to be fast, but he was simply gone. The few other people out there looked at me strangely as I walked around brick pillars, checking behind every bush or garbage can, between cars, bags of groceries under each arm. He was just gone. Like he’d never been there.
I walked to my Jeep, secured my food, and got in the front seat, Fanta in hand. I sat there a long time, just staring at it. Even longer just in the parking lot looking around, wondering if I might see him again before it was too dark to make out faces in the poor light. But I never saw him. Eventually SPD showed up and spared me a few long glances, and knew my time for loitering at expired, same as most folks there, so I left. I drank that Fanta in one go. I barely even like orange soda.
I never saw Dave again. Not in the weeks prior to surgery, and none after to this day. Bewildering as it all may sound, I promise you that everything you read is true, and encountered by me, the author. As you can tell by reading this, I also did not sabotage the surgery either, and my surgeon was as successful as his record claimed. I would add after surgery to my list of, shall we say, worrisome encounters, that I also now know what it feels like to be without an organ fresh out of surgery and no order for pain killers for several hours. I don’t recommend it.
The one person I had hoped would visit me in recovery did not, and yeah, it hurt, no pun intended. But life goes on. My friend had her organ, and was recovering beautifully. She was at my bedside the following morning when I woke up much to the chagrin of her own surgical team. While eternally grateful, she wasn’t pleased to find out after surgery what recovery for a donor can sometimes look like compared to the recipient, and she gave me a warm kiss on the cheek, filled with tears and a quiet sob. There is little I find in the world more invigorating than a thank you filled with love, except perhaps when its from someone you love in turn.
Even for all its success and good it did, I still combat with my own inner turmoil to this day. Over love lost, gained, and perhaps lost again. But I think about Dave often. Whether the ramblings of a lost soul on the streets of Seattle, or a messenger from God, or maybe God himself, he told me one thing that sometimes is the only thing that keeps me going: I’m going be alright. Because in a measure of what I can only perceive as humor, he never put a time stamp on that. So if I’m alright today, but not alright tomorrow, there is always the possibility that I’ll be more alright than I could have expected thereafter.
If you’re like me, and relate in some way, you’re not Sisyphus. So exchange your boulder of negativity for a pebble of good will, most importantly starting with one for yourself. You’ll probably drop it at some point. But you’ll pick it up, take another step up to catch up with where you were, and move on.
Because you’re going to be alright.
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