Knowing the StoriesPosted: February 23, 2014
We hear all the time about knowing the whole story, or not knowing it. I read a book once in which a couple of the characters made a game of making up background stories while they people-watched. It’s something I think about sometimes while I’m cooling my heels at my kiosk.
I find that I’m not willing to make up a backstory for the people I see walking by. It was one thing for me and my coworkers to diagnose the patients walking into the ER when I was a registration clerk; it’s easy to deduce ‘cut herself washing dishes when a glass broke’ from a woman in her mid-thirties walking through the doors with a towel wrapped around her hand at 830pm. It’s something else when it’s just people, no clues, just shopping or mall-walking.
But there is someone in particular who catches my attention. The manager (I assume, from his demeanor) of one of the shoe stores I’m surrounded by. Because I’ll never forget him. I know him, but I don’t know him at all.
When I was seventeen, I went to the mall a lot. Duh, right? One night stands out in my mind, especially when I look through the shop window and see this guy working in his store.
My boyfriend and I went to the mall, and as we were walking to the entrance, a friend of mine was walking out. He was close by the doors, and we were still out in the parking lot, when I saw three guys running toward my friend. I didn’t know them, and they didn’t look like the type of people this friend would have known, although they did look like people I’d know. They ran up and two of them grabbed him so the third could get a good punch in, right to the face. My friend dropped, and they ran off, leaving my friend bleeding on the ground. I started running, and by the time I got there, he was seizing. Someone called 911, and before I knew it there were cops and paramedics pushing the crowd away so they could take care of him. What luck the mall is next door to the fire and police stations, eh?
The cops took a few statements from some people, and my boyfriend led me back to the car. It was hours before I could talk and unclench my fists.
The next day I called the hospital and got my friend’s room. He was asleep, but his mom told me about his broken cheekbone and jaw. She thanked me for trying to help him. I hadn’t done anything but keep any misled Samaritans from trying to shove a stick in his mouth while he was seizing, but she thanked me for that.
It was a few more days before we could visit him. I went with another friend who’d dated him a few times, and he told us he knew who it was, because they’d been bothering him for a couple of days. They thought he was someone else. It turns out the guy had a roll of quarters in his fist. My friend said the guy had been arrested.
A broken face for a mistaken identity. I don’t understand how someone can justify that. It was only a few weeks later that I started seeing the attacker at the mall again. I might have seen him a million times before and never paid attention, but now he was somebody. He was one of the bad guys, and I couldn’t help but recognize him. From seeing him so soon, I could only gather that he didn’t do much, if any, jail time for what he’d done.
My friend didn’t want to talk about it, and I can’t blame him for that. He moved away, and I lost touch with him. I moved away. The blood is long gone from the pavement. The hospital room is even gone now.
But some days, I am again staring at a man who severely injured a friend of mine. When he’s behind his register, it’s almost the same distance that we were apart that night.
When I stand there at work and think about knowing people’s stories, I can’t help but wonder if anyone he works with knows that one. Or if anyone in his life knows that one. I wonder what happened to him. I wonder if he ever even admitted to himself that he hurt the wrong person.
No one can guess a story like this from a casual encounter while buying a new pair of Jordans. No one.
But in the same way, no one can guess our story, mine and Ian’s and Abby’s, by seeing our debate over strawberries versus tomatoes in the produce department.
I’m left with an unwelcome feeling of connection with a person I wish had never entered my life in such a way. I wish he’d made a different decision. I wish his was a familiar face only because I’m in front of his store a few hours a week. I wish the story I know was a story that someone had made up, knowing nothing of the person they’d just caught a glimpse of.
I do appreciate that it’s me that has to look at him, and not my friend. It is hard to have to face the person who unapologetically knows they’ve caused you so much pain, and on a regular schedule.