“Hey”, she said, gently leaning on the railing. He looked up surprised. It was freezing cold and his hands were blue. “Hey,” he responded.
“How are you?” she asked, consciously looking out to sea instead of meeting his gaze.
“Oh, I’ve seen better days,” he responded with a smile, taking a step back so he could see her face more clearly.
She smiled. “Well, you see,” she said, looking down to examine the pattern on her gloves, “it’s my first time here in California.”
“Oh?” He raised an eyebrow and a sly grin began to spread on his face. She watched his grip tighten and released a breath that had been stuck since she had initially noticed him.
“Yea,” she continued, reaching out to grab his shoulder “and not to kill your buzz,” her grip tightened, “but it would really ruin it for me if you jumped.”
No, I don’t really know how I came to be in San Francisco. I mean, like most people, I had a plan for the next couple of years- uni, settling down, beginning a career- but I guess a spanner got thrown in the works. I mean, when the person you were making those plans with drops out, it makes a lot of sense to pack your bags and fly to America.
Before you ask, I don’t know what made me go to the bridge either. I had heard that the Golden Gate Bridge was so big that every time they finish painting it, they have to start again, and I couldn’t comprehend something of that size. A work of art constantly being attended to and never being finished. That night, I was just sitting in bed eating from the mini fridge in my room, and watching a movie. I paused it half way and left.
When I was eight, I told my English teacher what was happening at home. He looked at me, smiled and said I should be grateful because at least I’d be able to stick up for myself when I was older. After that, every time I’d walk into English, I would look up at my teacher and remember that there is no use telling anyone anything. I ended up failing English, funnily enough.
When I was eleven, I got into my first fight. It wasn’t over much- an action figurine or a playing card or something, but a voice in my head said “I can win this one”. And I did. And when a cop came over and asked what was going on, I told him to walk away, and he did. And that was when I learned that the world was fair. If no one was going to look out for me, no one was going to look out for the kid in the alleyway who had something I wanted. If I wanted it, I had to take it. And so, fair was fair.
When I was seventeen, my mom died. When we were sitting at her funeral, the priest started talking about how God offers rest, how he is just and merciful. Mom didn’t get rest through justice or mercy though- she didn’t deserve to die, and the man who did was living and breathing right next to me. I guess that’s why the idea of “God the Father” didn’t really appeal either. That priest was wrong. That God was wrong.
When I was twenty two, I met her.
When he climbed back over the fence, I didn’t know what to do. He had felt so far away until he was right in front of me, and I hugged him. Completely without thinking about it, I just grabbed him and hugged him- he was really here in front of me. I could feel him laughing and when I let go, he had this huge smile on his face. Something in me realised he probably hadn’t been hugged in a long time. After that, I invited him to dinner. I had some money on me, but hadn’t seen any of the city apart from the route to my hotel and the view outside my window, so I asked him where we should go and he just began to walk as if it were any ordinary day.
As we walked, I asked him about himself and he answered each question concisely- accurate but short sentences, like he wasn’t used to talking about himself but he was glad to. Or maybe he just thought I deserved the answers. Perhaps he just didn’t care any more. I guess neither of us thought we would get this far. So we continued to walk until we reached a small and nearly empty Chinese take away with a few tables and chairs scattered inside. A small old lady was seated at a table, a cigarette in her mouth, peeling string beans. She glanced up when when we entered, tapped her ash into the bucket of scraps, and returned to her work. A young man materialised out of nowhere and handed us menus, pointing to a booth next to the window. I placed my coat on the back of a fraying vinyl chair and sat down, putting my gloves in the pockets. He pulled up his sleeves to reveal arms that were milky white with scars. He noticed me staring, but didn’t say anything and I quickly turned to my menu as I felt a blush creep up my neck. I took off my scarf. He called over the young man who had been waiting for us eagerly, and quickly rattled off his order, as if by heart. I stammered out a foreign sounding dish and hoped for the best. He gave the waiter his menu and turned to me.
When we sat down to dinner, I was starving. I hadn’t eaten in a few days, like in preparation. I didn’t see the point of fuelling a vehicle that was going to the junk yard. I didn’t have my wallet on me, or anything, so I had no cash- I just sort of assumed she’d pay, and I hated myself for it. I don’t like accepting gifts, but I didn’t see a way out. She wanted a meal, and I needed one. So I took her to this crappy place on the outskirts of town- I’d been there a few times before to do pick ups and deliveries, and it was a real dump. Dan pretended not to know me when I walked in, which I was grateful for, but what was the point? He wasn’t surprised when I walked in, but I had figured for a long time that if I never walked in that door again, no one would notice. She ordered cows tongue but I’ve heard Australians eat funny things, so I didn’t question it. You know, it might not even have been her culture- it might just have been her. It took a while to climb over the ledge, and I was standing on the edge for a few minutes before she came along, looking down. No one stopped me or even honked from their car. Just like every other day, no one noticed. Except her.
I wanted to get rid of Dan as quickly as possible so I ordered the first thing that came to mind and started to ask her about herself. I had already told her all the basics about me, but I wanted to know what had led her to be where she is. She sort of looked all embarrassed and awkward, like she didn’t know what to say. You’d think answering a question about yourself would be the easiest thing, but I reckon she was one of those people who like to listen more, and for that, I liked her.
I guess his transparency made it easier to talk to him. He’d been so open about his life- his mum dying when he was young, getting involved in gangs and drugs- everything that had led up to a point in his life when he felt worthless. I began to think that maybe a part of me identified. Sometimes, I think a part of everyone does. The sense that you’re not worth someone’s time, or energy, or love. The feeling that it might make things easier if you weren’t around. We all just live around the line of letting it overcome us. Today, he had crossed that line. So I told him about the past few months. Falling in love with the man of my dreams, and making plans about forever. The moment when it all fell apart and he left to live a different life. A better one, without me. And he listened. Even when my voice broke and my eyes watered and I struggled to explain how it feels to wake up on a Saturday morning and realise you have nothing planned, or how it feels to talk to everyone you were so excited to tell. He didn’t move except to pass me a napkin. Once I was done, he asked, so quietly that I barely caught it, “so why are you still here?”
My earliest memory is of my mom holding me and telling me it was going to be alright. We were on the floor, and she was cradling me and rocking back and forth, and I had no idea what, exactly, was going to be alright. I didn’t realise that it wasn’t.
When Dad came home drunk that night, and was ranting about the football scores, I didn’t even look up from my phone. I keep thinking that I should have. Mom was already busy preparing dinner, and scrambling to get him a beer while I was blindly scrolling through images, purposely not facing him. What a disgrace he was, how ashamed I was, he couldn’t even stand up straight. Recently, though, I’d been coming home more and more often exactly the same way. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He told me, plenty of times, to look at him and greet him like a good son, but I didn’t listen. I didn’t want to. I didn’t care. The stupid thing was, I didn’t believe him.
My dad beat me for the first time when I was seven. Up until then, it was mom, but that night, I got in the way, and he realised it wasn’t any different, so he kept doing it. By the time I was seventeen, I figured I could take it. I’d learned to take it. He beat me, I beat others. Fairness. But that night, he didn’t beat me, he pulled out a gun. And I didn’t see it because I didn’t want to face him. Mom saw it. He gave me a last chance, and I ignored him, and she was next to me and then-
And then she wasn’t.
That night I lost the one person in this world who cared. The one person who kept telling me I was worth something, and the one person I believed. And it was my fault. And I went through four years of convincing myself it was okay, that I could keep living with a hole in my heart that I could cram full of things to keep me from remembering I was garbage.
I couldn’t stop talking. After months of not telling anyone where I was going or why, I couldn’t stop telling him what had happened to me. But when he asked why I was still around, I stopped. I think everyone feels, deep down, that they are worthless at some point. But there also sometimes comes a point when we realise we are not.
When I was twelve, I was invited to a camp, and I’d never gone to one before outside of school. It was very different. The food was better, the people were nicer, and I had the most fun I’d ever had in my life in that one week. I struggled to figure out what was different about this than other camps or hang outs. On the last day, a man got up and told me what exactly was different- these people knew what they were worth. They were worth loving, they were worth protecting, and they were worth dying for, and someone had done exactly that. A perfect man had died for the wrongs of imperfect people, and there was hope. Because even in a world that likes to tell us we are worthless, there is a voice above the rest screaming we are worth sacrificing everything for. And that’s someone worth listening to.
As I told him, I watched his eyes light up. His shoulders straightened, and his goofy smile faded to something much more beautiful. As I told him about Jesus, I said that I couldn’t imagine what it must feel like to be worth dying for.
“I can,” he said.
My dad still lives in the house I grew up in. Many times, I’ve thought about going to that house and burning it to the ground. When I think of all he did to me, and what he did to mom, I sometimes think to myself he is not worth the ground he walks on. But the biggest fear for me growing up was that I was becoming him, and in that, I was also becoming worthless. Why should he love me when I was a reflection of him and he hated himself? But, as much as I’d done wrong, she told me about someone who didn’t care. As worthless as I felt, here was someone who, like my mom, had stood in the way of death for me and given me a second chance. A love to fill the hole is what I had needed. And as I sat there and listened, I slowly felt what I had resisted for so long- I felt rest.