Years ago I was 24 years old. I was riding this commuter train and I saw this guy I recognized. I saw him from pretty far away as the car was pretty empty.
He was maybe 5 years older than me and he was sitting there by himself and he looked really sad. He was just sort of staring into empty space.
I knew him, sort of, because he tended bar at this English-style pub in Philadelphia I used to go to every now and then. About two weeks earlier he helped me out of a jam. You see, I’d had at least a couple of pints and there was this middle-aged husband and wife couple sitting at a table on the way to the rest room. They seemed friendly and they struck up a conversation with me and I told them I was all broken up over a girlfriend who just dumped me.
And then the weirdest thing happened. Slowly but surely, they started needling me about how much I was a loser . . . like they were trying to convince me I was a worthless piece of shit.
They were pretty good at it, too. I remember one of the things the man said: “Maybe she realized she made a mistake in the first place.”
They were working like a tag team and it soon seemed to me like they’d picked me to be the victim in some sort of a cruel psychological game they played for their own amusement. So I went back to the bar. They left me alone at first but then they started up again. They tried to coax me back to their table but I said no.
And then they got really nasty. Especially the woman. She ended up yelling insults at me from across the room!
I wish it weren’t true but I let it get under my skin . . . big time.
Anyway, they laid off after a bit. This guy was tending bar and he could see I was sad and he talked to me. His name was Tom and he said the married couple were friends of the owner so he couldn’t bounce them but they were freaks who were into mind games. At that point, I was about as depressed as I could get and I said, “Some of the stuff they said is true. Maybe I am a loser.”
And he was very, very nice to me and he said that’s all bullshit and that everybody gets broken up over a girl, every now and then, so I should never forget that. He was sort of like a big brother when I needed one, and I really appreciated his kindness, and I figured I’d had too much to drink so I left after a few minutes.
Well, that was the guy I saw on the train about two weeks later. I probably wouldn’t have recognized him, out of place like that, except he was wearing a “Guinness” sweater. It was tan with the logo on the front in black. And as I said before, he looked really sad. And I thought to myself, “You know, I should go over there and see if maybe he wants a little cheering up because it would be the right thing to do.”
But I never did. I made all the typical excuses to myself like he probably wants to be alone and maybe it’s not really him and maybe he gets off at the next stop or he probably won’t remember me or he’ll think I’m a weirdo . . . you know, all that stuff that gets in the way all the time.
So I just sat there trying to hide behind a newspaper like a coward and eventually it was my stop so I got off.
And now it's two weeks later. I’m at that same pub and one of the bartenders is washing beer mugs behind the bar and I say to him, “Hey, is Tom working tonight?”
He never looks up.
“No. Tom’s dead. He killed himself.”
He keeps washing beer mugs and I sit there in stunned silence. He finishes up and goes back to serving drinks. I get up off my bar stool and leave.
That’s a true story.