The Old Man and the Pizzeria

May 27, 2008
By
A life changing experience. Something as great as that should be pondered about for days, looked back upon throughout your life, and questioned. It is not everyday something so grand happens that it changes the cycle of your living and shakes your earth off of its perpetual path. When this occurs you would think trumpets would blast and a luminescent bulb would go off in your head chanting “This is it I can feel it all changing right now.” For me, however, this is not the case and the one single event that rocked my very foundation was just an image. An image that lasted all of maybe 10 seconds, including blinks.

I’m the type of person that keeps to herself. I soak up everything around me and then some. Show me the painting Van Gogh's Room at Arles and I’ll show you things you’ve never seen before from tiny flawed scribbles to giant “center of the piece popping right out at you ” details that the naked eye would never dare take up. Show me a tree and I’ll show you the rings. Show me bare skin and I’ll show you the freckles. Show me a logarithm and I’ll find my own way to figure it out, usually concluding with embarrassment and animosity but that’s a different story. It’s a love hate relationship. Away from all the narcissism and self evaluation, these are the reasons why I was home on this one Friday night. Even though a tumultuous week of labor and studies had just come to an abrupt but long awaited end, I felt no need to celebrate and decided it would be best to unwind with an accustomed night of fleece pajamas and Alfred Hithcock’s Vertigo. I was pulling the soft, warm, flannel covered sheets over my head and life seemed wonderful again. I took a long look at the comforter and recognized the familiar faces of happy children ice skating and of snow men being built on my pillow case. It was one of the endowments of the cold winter months, the sticky thin sheets of summer were removed and my snowmen and ice skaters were tucked into place. Anyhow, right when my body finally released it’s chills and soaked up the heat under my blankets and as I heard Kim Novak suavely recite “Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere” I heard an abrupt and unpleasant rapping on my door. My parents peeked in and explained that they were going to the local pizza place for some late night dinner and that I was invited to join. Being the hard working adolescent that I am or mooch, for lack of a better term, I half heartedly accepted. A free meal is a free meal and there’s always the pause button.

All three of us and our hungry growling bellies hopped into our mid-nineties Jeep Cherokee and were on our way. The 15 minute drive was uneventful as anticipated and the only sounds spoken were booming out of the speakers, and not very pleasant sounds to add to that. My mother is a funny character. One moment she’ll be listening to the up and coming rap and hip hop artists of our day and the next she’ll be tuning into Simon and Garfunkel or some old James Taylor. Every track is a mystery to say the least. We arrived at our greasy destination at about quarter past six and even finding a table was a challenge. We finally got seated underneath the shaky air conditioner and fabricated sketch of the glowing Mona Lisa and the only thing I longed for more than a steaming slice of pizza were my snowmen and ice skaters. Even just seeing their smiles would take my mind off of the cold and hunger. As we sat their anxiously I noticed a strange figure in the distance. If you looked closely every booth was filled with at least two people. Two teens in love, two parents and their children, generations of families sharing the evening together over half par Italian cuisine, yet this shadowy mystique was all alone. Never in my 15 years attending the establishment had I seen such a sight like this. I squinted my eyes until water poured out and my eyelids screamed to be released from the arid climate yet I couldn’t make out this gloomy shape. As my father excused himself to go to the men’s room I got a perfect glance at the shadowy figure, however, it wasn’t shadowy at all. It was an old man. An old lonesome man past his prime and heydey. In his hands he didn’t hold the gentle touch of a wife’s fingertips but the coarse pages of a tattered book. You would think that nothing is that unusual about a single man going to dinner by himself but in this instance something was peculiar. This excuse for a soul was just as tattered as his book. The wrinkles and creases in his face extended to all lengths and widths and the indents where a smile used to surface was now scarred with the droopiness of a frown that I had never depicted before. The only life left in this man was the occasional drawn out blink of his eyelids. He held no menu in his hands and had not planned on ordering anything as I assumed. “Why would such a lonesome man come to a restaurant not to eat, but to read?” I thought. My father returned and my thoughts were sent racing into my head, withdrawn from what I had just seen.

It hit me just then that the man lusted for family. His children had abandoned him along with his wife through death or turmoil, I will never know, but just for those few seconds when I got a good look at him my stomach must have sunk six feet. Sadness had rushed in and the picture of the man is still remembered as the saddest image I have ever seen. I have witnessed a car explosion. I saw the victims crying bloody by the road whilst one mother was stuck underneath a tractor trailer engulfed in flames. I witnessed my baby kitten break his neck in the prime of his youth and personally dug his grave yet the most scarring moment of my life has been the encounter with that mystery man. My biggest regret was not being able to speak to him, ask him about his previous adventures. This man could have been a grade A family man or even a diplomat and I will never know. Through all of this I learned that love and family is key yet I learned the gruesome fact that at one point in my life I could be that lonesome man and there’s nothing I fear more than being alone in a large world and having no one to love. Those few seconds that I saw that man has taught me more than anything I could ever learn in grade school and will certainly haunt me for the rest of my life.

I go on living as normal, or at least as normal as can be, yet whenever I see an elder it just reminds me, that will be me someday. I could be alone, left to fight the war of life by myself. I have always wanted to be independent but it’s always helpful to know that someone will come to your side during your darkest days. If you were to ask me what my personal motto was I would recite confidently, “Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere.” Who knows when father time, or the old man at Country Pizza, will be knocking at your door, or worse, staring through your mirror.





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