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Last Time I Walked through Ernest Hemingway Park
It looked like something out of a crime scene. Fog everywhere obscuring my path ahead. The city established Ernest Hemingway park to save the squirrels and all that jazz, but I would much rather be on a crowded street protected by light. Never mind though, it was just a short nip through the park and then I’d be safe at dinner, making thousands of dollars. I kept my head level and walked swiftly without running, a trick that was supposed to help one calm down. I tried not to think about how attractive I must be to any predators, with my $200 business suit, complete with a stunning pencil skirt, if I may say so myself, $3000 smile and these da** high heels. The high heels could be a plus and a minus. No doubt they would impede my flight, but there was this nifty trick that could tear a man’s scrotum. Of course, that probably wouldn’t come in handy against a gun, but I was hoping to avoid trouble tonight. I had enough already.
I had barely accomplished one third of my itinerary for the day, and I was late to the dinner upon wish the rest of my life depended. I could have killed myself. The failure sunk in like a rock, making me want to rip off my own flesh with my newly manicured, $95 nails. Sky blue, with lavender on the ring fingers, in case you were wondering.
And as if I didn’t have enough stress already, there were four voicemails, blinking on my machine back home. Three from my mother, telling me that if I didn’t call her back immediately she was going to report me to the police as missing, growing more indignant each time. The last was from my best friend. Or sort of best friend. I hadn’t talked to her in eight months, because I’ve been so busy at work, so I don’t know if she still counts as a best friend. Her voicemail was three months old, but I left it on the machine as a reminder.
I swallowed hard, repressing the sadness and frustration that threatened to bubble up. I was not going to ruin my makeup. Not tonight. Not when I was about to seal the biggest deal my firm had received in years. Not when I was so close to becoming a partner, my cherished dream and sole mission since turning 23. I brushed my $100 curls out of my face and walked forward. I was a woman with purpose, and nothing would shake me from my dreams.
Click the sound of a gun being clicked cracked through the night.
“Gah!” I crouched down defensively and looked around for my potential murderer/rapist/mugger. There! on a bench, about five feet across from a lamppost, lurked my assailant. Slowly I moved into better light so I could see his face, that way I would know what to look for when I identified him.
As I came closer, I saw that he was… a kid. Oh. I straightened up, accepting that there was really no way to recover from this mistake, and I should probably just make my exit, but then I saw the glint of metal.
“Gah!” back into defense mode. I sized the kid up. He looked about fourteen. That’s when they’re the most impulsive, men. Oh well, maybe if he made it quick I could still get to dinner.
“I’m not going to hurt you” he said, his voice devoid of expression.
“That explains the gun,” I said coolly, surprising even myself with my calm demeanor.
“This is for me,” He said quietly, uncocking and then cocking it again.
Well, sounds like a personal problem. I turned and continued walking, but it was long before I reluctantly sighed and turned around. I had to at least try to stop him. I decided that if I hadn’t persuaded him in five minutes, it wasn’t my problem. I really didn’t want to call the police because I would have to stay there until they arrived, and the entire affair would be a fiasco for my PR.
“Come on now. You don’t want to do that,” I tried to convince him, but the gun made it quite clear that yes, he did want to do that.
“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t,” He answered. I can’t stand indecisive people. They always slow me down.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, putting on a mock sympathetic face, “did you stub your toe?” Taunting probably wasn’t the best way to handle this situation, but I had places to be.
To my surprise, he smiled. “No, sorry, it’s not that simple. Some of us have more complicated problems. You wouldn’t understand,” Pointedly, he looked up and down my wardrobe.
“Excuse me. That is not how you talk to someone trying to save your life.” What did he know about complicated problems?
“Well that’s not how you talk to someone trying to end his.”
His five minutes were up. I turned the opposite way, but just couldn’t bring myself to keep walking. He had a point.
“Pray, have a seat,” He gestured to the space on the bench next to him.
“No thanks, I have places to be. I think I’ll just call the cops and peace out,” I pulled out my phone, and I was about to dial 911, when he spoke again.
“Wait! Please don’t.”
Did I detect a bit of a waver in his voice?
“They’ll call in a swat team and everything,” he explained with pale, blatant fear on his face, “If you don’t call the police, I’ll call my dad and he’ll come pick me up.” I put my phone away and watched as he pulled out an even more expensive phone than mine. I was having trouble feeling sorry for this guy.
“Hey, Dad? Yeah it’s me… No, I’m fine... Yes. I’m sorry… I’m at Hemingway Park… No some lady is here waiting with me... I love you too” He sighed and hung up.
Some lady is here waiting with me? Now I had to stay, just to make sure he didn’t off himself. I tensed my muscles, willing them to move, begging my feet to take me away, but some part of me held back. After a short, but intense, internal struggle, I gave up and sat on the bench beside him. Maybe if they didn’t think I was lying, my dinner guests would appreciate what a kind person I am. But until then, I was going to make sure that I wasn’t the only one miserable. Mission: Make the kid feel as guilty as possible, so he never pulls this stunt again, and more importantly, so I don’t get stuck in the middle of it.
“Your mom must be worried sick,” I told him, watching his face, waiting for the pain to sink in.
“Nope, she’s dead,” he answered in a matter of fact way, that threw me off. “It’s just my dad, and me against the world. We’re kind of all each other have. He’s pretty upset about this whole thing. He took my mom’s death pretty bad.”
“You’re such a brat.”
“It’s slowly sinking in.”
“So what, pray tell, brought about such a stupid impulse?”
“You know. Just that overwhelming sense of failure.” His words chilled me. I did know. I knew exactly. But a businesswoman must always keep her poker face.
“What do you mean, ‘that overwhelming sense of failure?’?” I asked, as if it wasn’t the same thing I felt every minute of every day.
He paused, and I thought that he wasn’t going to answer, but finally he responded, speaking in a husky voice, which revealed his pain, yet still trying in vain to sound jaded.
“Oh, you know that feeling that you haven’t done enough. That notion that if you were to die no one would care. When you realize that you’ve made absolutely no substantial impact on this earth whatsoever. When you never reach your goals and this pit of… failure just builds in your stomach.” Tears began pouring from those eyes, “When it just sits there for days, nagging and gnawing. Reminding you of its presence. When you have 30 things to do and you don’t do any of them, and it gets heavier and heavier until you just want to tear you skin off strip by strip.”
Any excuse for a poker face had vanished long ago, as he described perfectly how I had felt for so long, that I couldn’t remember when it had begun. It slowly sunk in how long I had been hurting.
We both sat there for a long time, crying like Niagara Falls, as somewhere across the city my guests had no doubt given up on me, and were getting up to go home, and his dad was searching frantically for the only family he had left.
When I could open my eyes again, and had done my best to clean my nose, I knew that I should say something. Slowly, I began to offer him the only advice I could think of.
“You know there have been billions of people who have walked this earth, and you might not know them by name, but they have all left an impact. Like this bench, no one knows who made it, but if it weren’t here, you and I wouldn’t be here, and I would probably be at dinner right now, sealing the biggest transaction of my life. But it’s not about who knows your name, or what you did in life, it’s about who you were and whether you helped people. And it’s about that kid you sat on a bench with to make sure he didn’t blow his brains out, and it’s about calling your mom back, and catching up with your best friend, “It was one of those statements that I didn’t realize was true until it was out of my mouth.
“What was so important about tonight?”
“I was about to make the biggest sell of my life, probably double my annual income, and buy a house in Tahiti. But it’s whatever. No big deal.”
“That wouldn’t change someone’s life.”
“Are you married?”
“Too busy working.” Both of us saw the hypocrisy, but this time he was polite enough not to point it out. As I reflected, I realized I should have spent more time getting to know people and less time trying to one up them.
The cool wind blew in our faces, and the silence echoed through the park, until the sound of footsteps reached us.
“Peter?” A frantic voice called, its worry echoing through the trees.
“I’m here,” Peter called out into the park. The footsteps grew louder, until a man came into view, running as fast as he could to his son. Peter stood up to receive his embrace, the force of which nearly knocked him over.
“Oh my gosh” was all he could say, over and over, his body trembling with would be grief. The man had a muscular tone to him, and he wore a shirt and tie, which accentuated his curves. If men have curves. It’s been a while since I dated.
I let them have their moment. Until that moment became five minutes, and I was beginning to feel a little bit uncomfortable.
“I think this is yours,” I interrupted, holding out the gun. The man took it and sobbed harder. Luckily, as a business woman, I was quite used to watching men cry, although I didn’t enjoy it this time. As much.
After his tear ducts went dry, the man looked at me and said, “Thank you so much. I can never repay you.”
“No,” I confirmed, just to make sure that there wasn’t any doubt, “No you really can’t.” He looked as if he wanted to say more. I batted my eyelashes encouragingly, before I remembered that my face was streamed with mascara.
“Well, if there’s anything I can ever do for you, here’s my number,” He said pulling out a business card that announced his name was Frederick Gotts and he was a lawyer.
“Likewise,” I said, giving him my business card, which was the closest I would ever come to flirting.
Peter faked throwing up behind his dad’s back.
“Oh shut up. I saved your life,” I reminded him, smiling, as I turned to walk away.
“Bye, have a nice dinner,” he yelled after me, but it was too late for that. I had to go home and call my mom, and then my best friend and then I had to sleep and the list went on. I knew from experience that I probably wouldn’t get all of it done, maybe not even one third of it, but I was bound to change someone along the way.