Nothing warms on a freezing February day like an ice-cold glass of Jack Daniels down at Vinny’s. That’s why I was there, Lord knows they heat the bar better than I could heat my house. I found myself a stool and ordered one on the rocks. I didn’t have any troubles to wash away, no sorrows to drown.
I look to my left and I see a usual trying to pick up a girl as usual and I could tell by the look on her face that he wasn’t getting laid that night. As usual. To my right I notice an older guy. I wasn’t sure how old he was. He was one of those types that looked so aged that he could be anywhere from forty to sixty. He wore a hat so I couldn’t see the hair, but his unkempt beard had it’s share of grays.
It was clear to me that the man had had quite a few before I even sat down, he had that look on his face that screams, “I’ve had more than enough but I can convince the barkeeper that I can take more, so I will,” and indeed he had finished off another couple shots before I had finished nursing my glass. I was surprised that the barkeeper kept feeding him the booze in the state he was in, but the man had the money and so the bar had the drinks.
I was about ready to leave and head back out into the frigid air when the man grabbed my shoulder. I looked at him and his reciprocation was little more than an awkward gaze.
“Hey buddy,” he said to me.
“Uh, I think you’ve had a few too many, friend,” I respond hastily. I was about to get up, but my last word seemed to have struck quite a cord with the man. His eyes welled with tears and though none found their way down his cheek they glistened in the dim light. He smiled slightly and in a distant tone he repeated,
“Friend…” I sat back down. I really didn’t have anything to do and the teary eyes between the wrinkles of his face were too pathetic for me to just leave without showing him some common courtesy. “I have to tell you the truth buddy,” his voice came out cracked and deep, the history of packs a day came flowing out on the words from his lips. “I never told you the truth so I’ve gotta tell you now.”
“Alright, shoot.” I said.
“I did want her,” he said, “I loved her.”
“that’s nice,” I said to him. “I don’t know who ‘her’ is.” He looked angrily at me.
“‘Course you do, you son of a bitch! At least you ought to! She was the prettiest woman in the world.”
“That’s a commonplace claim.”
“Bah! It’s true, and you and I knew it! I just didn’t say it! I remember the day! It was December 15th, 1978. I had gone a couple dates with her and it was the Christmas Party at the firm. It was our first year there, all three of us, you, me, and her.”
“Alright, yeah,” I said, playing along.
“I wanted to make a good impression with the boss so I was talking to him all evening, and I remember when you came up to me, I remember your exact words! ‘Do you want her?’ you asked, ‘Do you want her?’ and I said ‘not right now'”
“so what happened?” I asked, beginning to get interested.
“I got to talk to the boss, you went off and danced with her. In a few months time I was advancing in the firm. In a few weeks time you were going steady with her. By the end of the year I netted a number of promotions and you got married.”
“When did you realize that you loved her?”
“It took me a couple years. I was so busy with my work that I barely had time to think. Somewhere along the line I got it into my head that I was missing something. I couldn’t figure out what it was! I spent 10 hours a day solving other peoples’ problems and my biggest problem was that I couldn’t figure out what my problem was! It wasn’t until I heard that she had gotten pregnant that I realized it all!”
I watched as tears began to run from his eyes, down the wrinkles on his face and he looked up, off into nothing.
“I realized it was supposed to be me! I should have danced with her that night, I should have taken her home! I should have proposed and been married to her! She should have been my wife and we could have had a family! At the time I was thinking about success, not about love! I thought of everything I needed to do to get to the top but I overlooked what was most important!”
“Did you ever meet someone?” I asked.
“There was never anyone but her. Every day, every night it was work! I buried myself in what I did. Years passed faster than any of us would have liked and I lived through it all with the knowledge that I just missed the love of my life! I heard about her getting a divorce through the office once, this was in 1983, I thought maybe I would have a chance again!”
“What happened?” I asked. Now the tears were flowing freely down his face and he shook a bit in his voice.
“She died… in a car crash shortly after I heard about the divorce.” I understood his pain, my own mother died in a car crash when I was just five.
“I had seen her in the office the day before and I had convinced myself that the next day I would ask her on a date again. When I heard the news it was as if my humanity left me. For the past 30 years I have been like a machine at work. There is no heart in here” he touched his chest, “I gave away the only woman I was ever supposed to love, I gave away the life I was supposed to have. In the end, in the business world, it is all about what you’ve done lately. I didn’t deliver enough at work and after 30 years, I got the boot. Now what have I got? I have no job, no family, and no heart.”
We sat in silence for a while, I had a lump in my throat and was afraid to speak. The air seemed thick with the sadness of the story I had heard, he just kept looking at me with those sad eyes. I knew I had to go, my vision was going blurry with my own tears. I got up to leave.
“Goodbye Simmons,” he said to my back.
I whirled around, “How do you know my name?”
“How could I forget you Michael? You married the love of my life.”
Without another word I rushed out of the bar. I opened the door and was hit by a burst of freezing air and whirling snowflakes. I stumbled down the snowy street in a daze and tears streaming down my face. Michael Simmons was my father.