Why the disheveled man approached me rather than someone else I couldn’t say. It was a recent chilly Wednesday evening and I had pulled my beret down over my ears.
The man wanted to know if the 54 would stop at our corner, something I easily confirmed with a glance at the bus departures board. He lingered after I answered; it seemed he wanted something more.
“Name’s Kevin,” he said, offering his hand, which I took.
“Nice to meet you.”
I pulled my bike bag a little closer.
“Know who you remind me of?”
I shook my head.
“Mary Tyler Moore.”
I smiled. “Never heard that before.”
“You look smart,” he said. “Are you a doctor or something?”
I smiled and shook my head. “No, nothing like that.”
He nodded, pulled something from his pocket. He worked a slightly bent cigarette out of the pack.
“Gotta tell you, I’m not doing so great.” I looked at the corners of his eyes as he mended the cigarette, unsure where this was going.
“I’m feeling pretty bad because I killed some people.”
What does that mean, ‘I killed some people’? I scanned the departures list again, willing my bus to appear 5 minutes ahead of schedule.
“I was a Green Beret,” he went on. “I saw some pretty bad stuff.”
Oh. My grip on my bag loosened. This man just wanted to talk.
“I drink to forget,” he said, his voice trailing off. “I lost my wife, my kid won’t speak to me. I’m living at a motel…” and he looked down 6th Street where the bus would eventually take him. I saw a tear drip from his eyelid to his cheek.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, and he swiveled back to look at me.
“You know – what did you say your name was?”
I hadn’t, but it seemed there was no harm in telling him.
“You know, Jill, there’s a lot of bad in this world. It’s mean out there. Mean…” and now more tears were joining the first, and soon he was wiping his nose with his sleeve.
I dug in my bag for tissues.
Here, I said, and he took one and shook it open and wiped his eyes. I made myself look away.
I haven’t seen many men cry. I thought about how men’s tear duct wells are deeper than women’s, how it takes longer for them to fill and overflow. Yet how quickly his spilled out.
“I did some really bad things, Jill,” he almost whispered.
I looked at his face, not much older than mine, then let my eyes take in the frayed collar, the scuffed, lined shoes.
“I’m sure you were just doing your job,” I said.
His tears kept coming.
“Have you ever talked to anyone about this? You know, a professional?”
He shook his head. I knew that might or might not be true.
“You have to forgive yourself,” I said.
He shook his head and a low moan escaped.
“The hardest thing to do,” he croaked.
He wiped his eyes again. I saw my bus barreling toward us.
“I have to go,” I said.
He took my hand again.
“You sure you’re not a doctor?”
I smiled and shook my head once more and waved.
“Sorry I’m so drunk!” he called as I boarded the bus.
We lurched away from the corner toward warmth, food, family, home.
Though not for Kevin.