Collect call

The cool night air carries with it promises of warmer nights. I walk across the crowded parking lot of barnes and noble, sidestepping the broken glass and wads of discarded chewing gum. I pull on the heavy wooden door and walk inside. The florescent lights assualt my eyes and I take a second to adjust. Scanning the the cafe area I zero in a couple people I would like to observe. Not in a creepy way, I just like people watching. I like observing the way people interact with each other, either as strangers or friends something more.

I can tell a lot about people by the way they interact with strangers. For example someone that tells their whole life’s story to the barista without being asked is insecure and is looking for the assurance that their life has meaning and that someone will know their story.

I sit down a few tables away from a man that is quickly heading out of middle age and into elderly status. He is talking on a phone that is comically too big for his head. His other hand covers his mouth and nose the way teachers do when they don’t want anyone to read their lips. The man’s cheeks above his hand are red and his eyes are watery and brimming with tears. At first I can’t hear what he is saying on the phone but then he begins to speak clearer.
“When are you coming home? [Pause] can you at least tell me where you are? [Pause] can I send a care package? Wheres the nearest base? Maybe they can find a way to get it to you? [Long Pause] oh you can’t tell me that either?”
The tears spill onto stubbly cheeks and he does not make an effort to wipe them away.

“Well honey, I love you. Mom sends her love too. Write or call when you can. Till next time.”

He hangs up the phone and dissolves into a heartbreaking silent sob. The kind where the lump in your throat blocks out all the noise.

He stays like this for a very long time before he stands up and begins to walk away. He is stopped by an elderly man wearing a World War II hat. The old man says “hey son, I couldn’t help but over hear your conversation. May I enquire about your daughter? Shes in the military right?

The middle aged man looks as if he is going to break down again, but manages to nod yes.

The old man smiles and asks “how many times have you gone through this?”

The middle aged man says- his voice breaking- “shes been in the military for 5 years. Shes been somewhere in the middle east for the last 18 months. But its classified and she can only call once in a while. It messes me up pretty bad everytime I hang up the phone.”

The old man nods sympathetically, and says after a while “you should know that it will always be difficult. But if you react like this everytime you will die of heartbreak. Sometimes it is enough to know it is difficult.”

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