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Lonely New York MAG
y M. D., Overland Park, KS
"As long as you live under my roof, you'll do as I say!""Fine, I'll leave then!" Dean boomed.
In a huff, he climbed the steep, carpeted staircase to his cluttered room. He looked left and right, searching, tearing through the scattered clothing and loose papers. Throwing any item that stood in his way to the side, he rummaged through his closet.
"Where is it?" he muttered.
Out of breath, he paused and looked around his room. His face lit up as he rushed to the double bed, tore off the fitted bed skirt and reached underneath. He pulled out a large, overstuffed, army-green duffel bag with a sigh of relief. It had the initials DSM embroidered on the side. The bag was bursting with carelessly piled clothing, beer cans and money. Dean struggled to get the bag zipped and after a few moments, succeeded. His luggage now resembled his life, chaotically crammed with unnecessary clutter and stress, ready to explode, needing room for air - a chance to breathe. Grabbing the bag, he stuffed a wad of wrinkly cash into one pocket and a pack of cigarettes into the other. With force, he slicked back his stringy, honey-blond hair and threw on a Yankees hat. He stared in his mirror and noticed a reflection he didn't recognize. His chest pushed in and out, his heart thundered. His face was flushed with fury. Raising his sweaty hand, he rubbed his temple to cure the pain. He reached for a tissue to mop the mixture of sweat and tears from his cheeks and neck, but the wetness penetrated the cloth and continued seeping through his pores. Dean took one last glance and turned off the light.
He stormed down the stairs and ran out the front door, slamming it behind him. His parents' voices shouting after him rang in his head, but he didn't turn. He kept going, running for no other reason than to get somewhere else, anywhere but there. He ran for some time without stopping. Adrenaline, anger, excitement and fear fueled him. He rushed past the suburbs he knew too well and into the unfamiliar city. The lights of Broadway shimmered while the blare of traffic and horns clamored in his ears. His headache grew worse. Many times Dean wanted to hail a cab, but he resisted the urge because of his lack of cash. Instead, he took the bus, getting off when he reached 42nd Street. He walked for a while to calm his racing pulse, pacing back and forth for an hour as the pedestrians moved past.
Dean thought about what had happened that night. He thought about the yelling. He couldn't make out the words; he just heard a loud roar of three rapidly moving mouths. It was just a couple cigarettes and a little alcohol this time, but the arguing had been going on for years. He saw his mother's hand flying toward his cheek and the expression on her cold face. The sharp contact shook Dean from his thoughts and he broke into a cold sweat. His heart was pounding as quickly as when he was running. Another hour passed as Dean walked the street. It was two o'clock in the morning and Dean had nowhere to go. He spotted a coffee shop. He needed something to fill the angry void. Food would have to do. He sauntered to the coffee shop and peered at the sign that read: Open 24 Hours. He opened the door and warmth blanketed him. The smell of baking apple pie comforted him as much as he could be comforted. He took a seat at the counter between a Hispanic couple and two old men who appeared homeless.
"Getcha anything?" An orange-haired woman with "Bonnie" on her name tag asked as she smacked her gum and tapped her foot.
"Uh, yeah. A cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie, please," he said as he pulled a cigarette from his pocket. "Can I borrow a light?" He directed the comment to the gray-haired man sitting next to him.
"Oh, yeah," the old man cleared his throat. He pulled a lighter out of his ratty pocket. "Awful young to be starting such a bad habit, ain't ya?" he chortled.
"Oh, heh, yeah, I guess so," chuckled Dean. He lit his cigarette and inhaled deeply, blowing the smoke out through the side of his mouth.
"You got a name, son?" the old man asked.
"Yeah, I'm Dean McCallister."
"Nice to meet ya, son, I'm Charlie Saider. Whatcha doin' out at this hour?" the old man said gruffly.
"I, uh, had sort of a fight with my parents," Dean said taking another puff.
"Well, that's too bad," Charlie smiled.
"Yeah, I guess so."
"You wanna tell me about it?"
"It's just that my mom found cigarettes and beer in my room. It wasn't that big a deal, but they blew it way out of proportion. They freaked out and wouldn't leave me alone. They kept telling me to stop hanging around with my friends and that they were gonna send me to drug counseling. For a little bit of beer and cigarettes? I mean, come on! I told them, 'It's my life, and my money,' you know. And they were like, 'As long as you live here, you'll do as we say.' And so I left. I'm not going to put up with that! I'm too busy to deal with that. Besides, I'm better off on my own."
"That reminds me of my son and me," Charlie said looking at his empty coffee cup. He signaled to the orange-haired waitress. She filled his cup, gave him a wink and walked back to the cash register. Charlie lifted the cup to his dry lips, took a gulp and continued his story. "His name is Peter. He was about your age when we had the big fight. We had been arguing on and off about little things since his mom died two years before. He had gotten into drugs and started dating a girl named April. I never really trusted her and I wasn't afraid to tell Peter. He and I would get into little tiffs every once in a while, but everything would always end up okay. This particular night, however, it got really bad. He told me he had gotten her pregnant. Well, I just about exploded. I started screaming, telling him how irresponsible he was and how he was too young to take care of a child." Charlie's face turned cold. He took another swig of coffee, rubbed his face and went on. "Son, the next thing I did was the biggest and worst mistake of my life. I kicked him out. I told him to get out and never come back. I'll never forget the look on his face when I said that. He looked at me just like he did when he found out that Santa Claus wasn't real," he chuckled reminiscently.
Dean was listening closely. His eyes were wide and he asked, "Did he go?"
"Did he go? Of course. He left in a hurry and I didn't speak to him after that. Well, things got pretty bad for me after that. I didn't eat or sleep. I just waited for him to come home, thinking and wondering why I had said something so terrible. Then, one day when I got up enough strength to go for a walk, I ran into him. He and April were walking in Central Park with their little girl, my grandchild. We looked at each other for a few moments and then he just walked away. He didn't even speak to me; it was as if we were complete strangers. I never forgot that day, but I knew that our relationship would never be repaired," his eyes began to water and he wiped them with a napkin.
Dean placed a comforting hand on his shoulder and took a drag off his cigarette with the other. "Please go on," he said.
Charlie cleared his throat and began again. "Then a couple years ago, I had a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. Peter was the only person I knew for the doctors to call, so I gave them his name. Well, the doctors tried for three days to reach him and when they did, he said he didn't know me. The doctors placed me in a nursing home. There, they treated me like I couldn't do anything for myself, so I left. I ran away and I've been living on the street ever since. I still haven't spoken to Peter."
Dean's eyes glazed over, and he began to cry; softly at first, but gradually harder until bitter tears blocked his vision. "That's pretty heavy stuff, Charlie," he sniffed. "I think I'll go home and talk to my parents before it's too late."
"That's a good idea, Dean," Charlie said gruffly. He cleared his throat and said, "Life's way too short to be wasted on trivial things, son. Peter taught me that. No matter what troubles you encounter in life, never let go of the people you love because they're the only ones who matter in the long run. Be sure you come back and tell me how things turned out."
"I will," said Dean, as he put out his cigarette. He picked up his duffel bag that no longer seemed cluttered. He turned toward the door and saw a reflection he recognized. He turned back and flashed a smile at Charlie who waved as he sipped his coffee. He said, "See ya around, Charlie," as he stepped out into the cold and hailed a cab.
Charlie grinned and nudged the man sitting next to him who had been listening the whole time. "Didn't happen," Charlie laughed.
"What?" said the man.
"That story, I made it up!" he chortled again.
"Why would you make up a story like that?" the man asked.
Charlie finished his cup of coffee, stood and placed a gray hat on his gray head. "That boy didn't belong here," Charlie smiled. "He needed to go home."