I Have Seen the Defeated Man

December 20, 2009
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I have seen the defeated man. You would know him the moment you saw him too, but not in the way I do. For I had met the man only once, several years ago, and though I can barely remember his face, I remember his smile. A Smile with slightly yellowed teeth and a laugh so jovial, you couldn’t help but smile along with him. Pink, burned, cheeks, wrinkles folding around his skin around his mouth, though he was not quite old, and bright blue eyes that seemed to dance in the two round puddles which he looked out of. His slowly graying, curly. strawberry blond hair grew atop his head, sticking out in all directions. He had faced many hardships, and watched helplessly as his wife struggled with disease. But he put on a happy face and smiled, assuring his two girls, one twelve and one six that everything was going to be all right and that mommy was going to be okay.

Last summer I returned to his home, expecting the worst. It was a year, a month, and 9 days since his wife’s death’s anniversary. I found the eldest daughter smiling and waving, wearing her big, square sunglasses, like those that were reminiscent to those of my father. Her short, blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail on this summers day. She would be 18 in a week. When I got off the bus we ran to each other and hugged. It had been just over a year since we had last seen each other, but it was too long for us. We spent every summer together for 5 years at camp. For two of those summers, we stayed in the same cabin for two weeks, and the last three, for four weeks, coming up with a grand total of living together for four months. She is one of my oldest friends, and one of the only who I’m still in touch with.

We got in the car, and her sister was now twelve, which I found ironic: for I hadn’t seen her since I was twelve. She smiled but couldn’t quite remember me: it had been six years. My old friend and I began to talk, and her father looked stonily ahead, driving. This, I found was peculiar. I remembered one time when her father came to pick my friend up, after my father’s 50th birthday party, when he rented a boat on the lake we used to live on. He was laughing and talking avidly, asking all sorts of questions. In this car ride, he was almost silent. He asked what camp I had been a camp counselor at, and where it was. Then he asked us if we wanted some ice cream. He said nothing else.

My friend, her sister, and I, leaped from the car to go pick up the ice cream from Dairy Queen, but her father insisted on staying in the car. I asked his daughters about how he was faring, even a year after his wife’s death. They said laughing, “He’s become a party pooper! He never lets us do anything anymore… He’s MEAN now…” I was silent, unsure of what to think. We got our ice creams and returned to the car. He drove us back to their house, where I would stay for a few hours before being picked up by my grandparents.

My friend and I stayed in her room talking for two hours. We tried our best to relive our old camp memories, and talk about how all of our friends have changed and spit out everything that had been happening to us recently. I found myself disturbed by our conversation. She was perfectly happy and seemed to have gotten over her mother’s death easily. I suppose that she was ready for it, but she hadn’t been too close to her mother, I remembered. We both complained on the phone about our mothers for hours, and raved how funny and amazing our fathers were. It was something we had in common. Now, she was sick and tired of her father, and ready to move out of the house. Her father had already taken her to look at apartments nearby, so that she could still live in the city and finish high school at her same school, while her father and little sister moved south to Florida to live with her aunt.

I couldn’t quite comprehend that either. She wanted to move out of the house, as a senior in high school and live on her own. She’s a full five months younger than me, and although I have often fantasized of leaving and going to find my own place to live, away from my parents, going to visit open houses is something completely different. She was confident that she could do better, and her father didn’t seem to mind. “He doesn’t care anymore,” she said, “He’s just a mean old man now… Doesn’t have any money, doesn’t want anything to do with me…”

I told her that it wasn’t true. I told her that her father loved her and wanted what was best for her. I told her that her father was devastated by her mother’s death, and that he simply couldn’t take it anymore, and that he would do anything to please his two daughters. I didn’t mention to her what I thought of her sister and her picking on him, and refusing to listen to him. It was too soon. Not yet. I told her that he just seemed to be alone, and is probably lost. Then I stopped myself, and told her that this was just what I thought, and that I don’t know better than anybody else. But it seemed clear to me. It seemed obvious.

She stopped, and thought about it. Her face wore an expression of curiosity and possibly of understanding. She mumbled, “maybe” and didn’t say any more. We both fell silent. Her father called us from downstairs to announce my grandparents arrival. Our trance broke. I picked up my things and said goodbye. We rushed down the stairs to find my grandmother already having an avid conversation with the twelve year old girl, who kept her mouth shut.

Finally, I saw her fathers face. His cheeks were pale, especially for the middle of the summer. His hair had been cut recently, and his hairline receded back several more inches than when I had last seen him. His hair had turned white, and his moustache, although it still had an inkling of orange just below the nose, was just as white as the top of his head. There was no smile: he grimaced, not in a mean way, but sadly. The lines in the top of his forehead had transformed from lines of laughter to those of anger and sadness. The bright blue of his eyes was gone. The blue spots were dark blue puddles of sorrow. I thanked him for having me, repetitively, and thanked him for the ice cream and for everything. He nodded and said your welcome. I said goodbye to my friend and her sister, and to their black lab too. He looked sadly at me and said that it was nice to see me again.

I had never seen a sadder man in my life, and I know that I will encounter more, but hopefully I never will ever again. His happiness and hope for the future had died along with his wife, just a year beforehand. I didn’t know what to say other than to thank him. I didn’t know what to do about his daughters, who rejected him, mistaking his sadness for irritation at them. I didn’t know what to do about myself. I had never seen such a defeated person. As my grandparents and I drove past the endless farmland and the large forests and the occasional lake, I sat in silence (when they weren’t asking me endless questions) and pondered how such a jolly man could have lost his happiness, and maybe even his will to live, in the blink of an eye.

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