I sat in the corner, in my usual booth. It’s one of the only ones that doesn’t have duct-tape somewhere on the vinyl. And I can watch everyone coming and going from my perch there in the corner. So I saw him when he first walked in, but I didn’t really believe my eyes. I actually thought it was a vision of him. You know? It was him, but not really him. Not like I remembered. He was looking like where he had been … looking kind of fragile, almost broken.
I waved at him. He shuffled nervously over and slid unceremoniously into the booth. No hug or anything. His eyes darted around the room, taking it all in. Then he shifted his gaze to the neon sign outside. I wasn’t sure really what to say, so I just told him stuff. Random stuff. Hoping something would connect. I told him that my dog wouldn’t run. I told him that I loved someone. He pointed to the Caddy that I’ve driven for way too long and grinned back at me. “Yeah, that’s my old car out in the parking lot,” I said. Anything to keep the silence from getting too thick.
Nothing much made any sense. Not to me, anyway. Maybe it all added up to something in his mind.
He lowered his head, stared into his coffee, then apropos of nothing, he said, “I read the Bible every day. It’s all I can do. Trying to keep the demons at bay, you know? They haunt me. And I thank God every day when the sun goes down, I don’t blow away. Because sometimes I feel like I might. Just blow away.” He looked up at me, like maybe I knew the feeling. Or like maybe I could save him. But I didn’t. And I couldn’t.
When he went to the bathroom, the waitress came over. She said, “Was he always like that?” I said, “Yeah, but he was never this bad.”
My memory of him, it’s… like I remember us playing for nickels and dimes out on the corner. And I remember building a fort out in the woods behind his Uncle Larry’s place. We spent so many hours in those woods, climbing trees and dreaming dreams. I don’t think I ever had another friendship like that. Everything was so simple and true with him. I thought it would be forever. It was supposed to be forever. I even asked him to marry me once. He told me he couldn’t because this would be all that there was. This … this nothingness. This black hole of a man that my long-lost friend has become.
He kept going on about something or nothing. Maybe to him it was everything. I don’t know. He was laughing, but I didn’t get the joke. He was dying to light up a smoke, and I just wanted to cry in the fluorescent light of the restaurant.
When everything seemed said. I smiled and I got up to go. I was hoping he would at least give me a goodbye to hold on to. That would be something I could take with me, something that might last. But it wasn’t there. Hugging him … it was kind of like touching a ghost, so I ran when I walked out. I held back my tears as long as I could. I got in my car and I drove over the bridge to the coast wondering where does old love go …

Based on the song “I Told Him That My Dog Wouldn’t Run,” written by Patty Larkin. Photo credit: silent shot / Foter / CC BY.