He turned to look back at the table. He didn’t remember resolving to leave the note there; he supposed instinct had taken over. The note remained on the table, face up, its small blue script unreadable from several feet away. The tone was etched in his heart. The specific words written there could have been redacted to contain a single word: pitiless.
He resignedly shrugged, turned, pulled up his mask, and exited the restaurant. He’d been callously reminded that life seldom follows one’s expectations and that the cliché regarding risk sometimes had real fangs with which to pierce us. Even when guided by our best and most noble intentions, life sometimes holds no discernible reward. “Intentions don’t change consequences,” he whispered to himself. It had become a mantra for him, as his resolve and confidence dissolved into confusion and hurt.
As he departed, a weight lifted from his body, one he hadn’t realized he still carried. Words hold no power without our minds to empower them. Some words are talismans and should be kept carefully. Or released, along with the power they may hold. The letter was the latter. It might as well have been blood-stained.
He looked up into the light rain as it fell past the awning overhanging the facade of the eatery. The skies were grey, but he didn’t notice. His pace quickened as he crossed the brilliant white crosswalk.
He hadn’t learned any lessons, other than that of his own naiveté. There would be no moral of the story, no exhumed realizations, no voiceover takeaway in his head. Just a series of lurches as things unraveled and as entropy exerted its morbid control over things. Even when a person realizes he’s on the wrong path, he can’t always turn and walk the path back to safety. The road is often invisible, unpassable, or closed. And sometimes lined by savages with rocks aimed at your head, seeking revenge for a crime you’ve already paid for. Sometimes, we throw rocks at ourselves.
“Me,” the note was signed.
It was a fitting last word of communication between them.
For all the reasons.
Somewhere, perhaps in a day, week, or month, he knew he’d look up and find himself again. The autopsy of moments would conclude. From time to time he might wonder what it all had meant. As time’s fog rolled in, the question would lose focus and recede into history.
Time is the kindest revisionist, giving us space to maneuver our heads around our stumbles, fumbles, and falls.
We learn our lessons in reverse. And sometimes, there is no new lesson, other than accepting that life is going to throw inside curveballs with surprising frequency, no matter who you are or the choices you’ve made.
He laughed as he neared his car. It wasn’t exactly true, that part of learning no lesson. He pulled out the notes shoved in his jacket pocket. There they were: “Don’t be a dumbass,” and “Choose your hard.” He hadn’t worked out the formula for which might take predominance in his life but he knew that both would mold his choices as he moved forward.
It occurred to him that he should tattoo the ‘dumbass’ one on his arm as a constant reminder – and then he wondered if the temptation to do just that was an affirmation that it wouldn’t stop him from continuing to be one.
He would do nothing, and that would be perfect.
Time would have to wash over him and hopefully remove the detritus of dumbassery from his shoulders.
And if not, life always moves forward, carrying us into unseen corridors.
He could work with that.
And if not, life didn’t ask for his opinion.