I knew I had zoned out again, but honestly I didn't even really give a shit. I was standing on the railing of the south side bridge. A cigarette slowly burned its way down to my lip and a bottle of scotch sat nuzzled between two of my fingers. I couldn't see much, a deep fog had covered most of the city scape and the night sky made the horizon impenetrable. The cool breeze brushed the back of my neck and brought me back here. I released the pole I had been grasping and took one last pull of the cigarette before holding it out in front, barely balancing with one eye open and the other closed watching the embers before dropping it into the water below. I lost sight of it well before it hit the small cresting waves I could hear below. I looked down for a moment longer before taking a swig and jumping back onto the sidewalk to make my way home. Home, a shoe box of a place with a floor mattress and small fridge with a hot stove. A true bachelor pad of a 30 year old addict. I say addict loosely. I am functional, and can mostly keep a job. Definitely can't keep a romance going for longer than a few months. Especially not since Cecile and I split. Damn she had been the best fucking thing to ever happen to me, a true dame in my opinion. Sweet, great body, smart…. way smarter than I was. Laughed at my jokes and made me laugh. God I miss her, but I couldn't get my shit together enough to ever get her to stay. I think I saw her once, while I was working a moving job out in the Trinity area. She was with a guy. He looked clean, wore some sort of fancy pants suit and got into one of those expensive self-driving cars. She got in, I was frozen and think she glanced my way but I don't think she saw me. They drove off blasting some song I had never heard of. Lost in my train of thought I don't even realize I had almost made home and had to pause to recalibrate where I was exactly. While taking everything in I notice the silhouette of a homeless man curled up on the brisk fall night. I stop and take another swig of the scotch and placing it haphazardly on the ground before trying to stand back up without tipping over from the effects of the alcohol. I take off my jacket and stumble over to the man shouting “HERE” as loudly as possible until I see his wide eyed horrified face pushing himself as far back into the crook of the corner as he can. “For fucksake just take the jacket, I am not going to fucking hurt you” I hear myself say. Why the fuck did I say that I thought… He clearly can't understand me, yelling at him isnt working, I need to calm the fuck down our this fella might shank me. I took a deep breath and released, the white fog of my breathe hung in the air for a moment. “Look I am just trying to give you this, it’s only going to get colder out.” I laid the jacket on the ground at his feet. Straightened up and stumbled back knocking over the rest of my scotch “god damn it, that was the last of it. FUCK.” I billowed into the night. “Thank you…” I hear behind me and I spin on my heels “Thank you for the jacket” I turn and find the man tear eyed, jacket wrapped around him and trying to hand me a small trinket that I can’t make out. I shake my head and push his hand back to him. “No need sir, we are good, stay warm” and before he could say more I shoved my hands in my pockets and walked off towards home.
The next morning I woke to a pounding headache. Fucking scotch always manages to be a pain in my ass, only temporarily numbs the pain then comes back in threefold. Popping some meds for the headache and a quick rinse in the shower always helped. I checked the time and realized I had only 30 minutes to get to the other side of town for a gig. I checked the fridge only to be met with a half spoiled carton of milk, slice of bread and an empty jar of jelly. “Fuck” I scream before slamming the door and walking to the front door where my shoes layed feet apart from my drunkened attempt to take them off. Quickly yanking them on and turning to grab my coat only to remember the poor blouck I gave it to last night. I shake my head at the stupidity and head out anyway. Walking swiftly towards the bus stop, when a hand grabs my arm out of the blue. My flight or fight kicks in and I spin to get ready to swing. It's the homeless man from last night. He is beaming, grinning ear to ear and it takes me off guard and a moment to recover. He gives a light chuckle, before wrapping me in a hug. I feel eyes on us as we stand there embraced and he gives a soft laugh. “Thank you so much for your kindness last night, I didn't know if I was going to make it or if I wanted to” he said as he let go and kissed me on the cheek. Before I could say anything there was the piercing sound of tires skidding across the asphalt. A car veered around the corner and out of the passenger side door came a man with a ski mask. But that wasn't the thing I saw that turned my blood cold. In his hands was an AR-15 and he was aiming directly as the bus crowd. Directly at us. Before any of us could move they opened fire. The homeless man threw me to where I had seen him lying just the night before and used himself as a shield on top of me.
Seconds seemed like hours, but it couldn't have lasted more than a minute. Silence, followed by ringing, followed by screams as people began to realize what had just happened. The old man is still on top of me. I ask if he is all right and hear nothing. I shove him on to his back and reveal a soft grin and he places something in my pocket without me knowing. Where my hand had touched him is covered in blood, “Hold on” I say and press down on the wound “someone call 911 this man needs help”. But by the time I had looked down again, he was gone. I sat back on my heels too stunned by what had happened. I heard sirens coming and was quickly brought back to reality. I attempted to wipe my hands on what used to be my jacket and pulled my prepaid phone out of my pocket and tried to dial work. They picked up in one ring but before I could say a word the boss responded “What now Jason? Hungover again and calling out? Jessus Fucking Christ I cant do this any more I have given you so many chances and Im fucking done you are fired.” Click.
I didn't care. Nothing seemed like it mattered. I walked to the park and sat on the bench for hours. Not really watching or thinking of anything. Eventually the same questions came to mind over and over again, How was he dead? How did I survive? Why did I survive? I can’t shake them and decide to walk it off. Not paying any attention to where I am going until I get shouldered by a man followed by a gruff “Watch it Buddy you have a fucking problem?” as they walk off towards their car with a brown paper bag in their hand. I looked at it before slowly turning to realize I had made my way absentmindedly to the liquor store. I stared. Debated going in shoving my hand in my pocket and feeling a cool round object.Heard the bell chim as another customer came out. I stepped closer as I pulled the object out and read what it said and then stepped back. The old man’s face flashing into view. I froze, I don't know how long and then I turned. I walked to the place I had only been once before and never came back. To the same place Cecile had always begged me to go when we were in college. Though, I never finished college or made it through a full meeting. Didn’t feel like I really had a problem… Until now. I had watched life leave someone and felt like I needed it to drown out the feeling of his life leaving from beneath my hands. It didn't take me long to get here, I stood at the base of the building looking up just like I had moments ago.
The Irony really, same looming feeling as the liquor store but instead to overcome the same addiction that brought me to that place. I hesitate, and go to reach for the door. My hand is shaky from the day’s events and I freeze, my hand just above the door handle. Seconds pass, quickly turning to minutes. I step back and walk away before I freeze again. There he is, the old man, just there on the corner. Tears swell and I run to him. But as I get closer I blink and he is gone. I turn back and now see him standing by the door. He waves and walks inside. I run back, fling the door open just in time to see him enter a room to the right. I look around before quickly making my way after him. Enter the room without a knock and everyone swivels. All eyes are on me and I whisper “sorry” through quiet gasps of air. I know this room and take a seat in the back row where no one else has decided to sit. I look around trying to find the old man again. But my thought is quickly interrupted as the woman in front of me taps on my leg and points to the front of the room. I look up and the person speaking stares at me waiting before sighing “Would you like to come introduce yourself? You are the only new person this week to the meeting and we usually start each meeting with new member introductions.” I hesitate but nod yes as I slowly rise from my seat and make my way to the center aisle tripping on the last chair sending it clunking into the other row. The disruption is followed by a soft choir of chuckles and encouragement. I feel the beads of sweat gliding down my head and my palms begin to feel it the most. I try to wipe in on my pants as I round the podium but it doesn't seem to help. I go to speak and realize how dry my mouth is. Some gentleman in the front row hands me his unopened water bottle and I nod in appreciation and shakely take a sip. When I look up to speak a figure in the back of the room, in the same row I was sitting in, catches my eye, it's him. I stare before remembering where I am. “I saw a man die today.” I wince, those weren't the first words I intended to say but I can’t stop myself. “Moments before he had embraced me in a hug and all I could think about is how weird this fucker is and I dont even know him. Well, I did know him, or I guess I had met him. The night before I had drunkenly given him my jacket. I was walking home after standing on the edge of the world as I like to call it. But really it's just that crappy old south side bridge. I had zoned out and had to stop to reassess where the fuck I was. Saw this old dude curled up against the stone wall. Shivering from the cold. I spilled the last of my scotch trying to stand back up after scaring this man half to death trying to give him my jacket.” I looked down at my hands holding the water bottle and chuckled. “I didnt know him, I barely remembered him. But today, walking to a bus stop some kid in some gang initiation took out a shit ton of people '' I feel the tears welling in my eyes. “He was one of them…. and I should have been too, but he saved my life. He saved my life and gave up his.” I pulled out the trinket I had previously denied the night before and held it up. It was blood stained on the corner but you could still make out the 1 year sitting right in the middle of the coin. At this point I can feel the tears streaming down my face and I look up “This is what he was trying to give me last night and this was the last thing he gave me before he died. I don't even know his name, if he has any family, or how he ended up in the place he did. But that man saved my life and I don't know if I deserved it…." I paused and I looked down, not making eye contact "uh anyways, I am Jason and I'm an alcoholic" I almost whispered before I made my way back to the back row. The old man had disappeared again but in his place came someone else. Someone who I would recognize anywhere. Cecil.