The Saddest Part of the Story Was What He Didn’t Say

Last Saturday night, I found myself at a fast food place fairly late. We had just returned from working out of town all day, and we hadn’t eaten dinner. Since the line of cars at the drive-through stretched to Montana, I parked and went inside.

After ordering, I stepped beside a man who was also waiting. He, too, had worked all day. He still had on his uniform.

After only a couple of minutes, we had figured out at least a half dozen ways we would speed up the place if we were in charge. But, naturally, no one asked us for our input.

The man shrugged his shoulders. The food he was waiting on wasn’t even for him. It was for his daughter and grandchild who were living with him. I’m no Freud, but I could tell the arrangement wasn’t by his choosing.

And, then he started gushing the story.

His daughter had suffered a history of substance abuse problems. Over the years she had been through several bad romantic relationships. And, she had experienced a few brushes with the law.

He said he had endured long periods of time when he didn’t know where his daughter was or what she was doing. He said those times were the worst. Any parent can relate to that. Hearing that phone not ringing is the worst feeling, regardless of the circumstances. I cannot even imagine how it must feel to know your child is unreachable while he or she is in one of those God-only-knows situations.

He went into great detail as he told the sordid tale. Normally, by now I would be looking for a fire alarm to pull. But, for some reason, I was drawn by his story. It was like I was watching a movie I knew was not going to end well but  felt compelled to finish anyway.

About a year ago, she got clean, he said. She got a job and began to support herself and her child. His voice lifted when he told how excited he was for her. He thought she was out of the woods.

Then, his voice quickly fell. Six weeks ago a new boyfriend had dragged his girl down again. She lost her job, her car and her apartment. He snapped his fingers to punctuate how her promising new life was ruined by one bad decision.

Sometimes, life doesn’t give us a do-over. The only problem is, we never know it until it’s too late.

In the last 6 weeks, she had lost 40 pounds due to her relapse back into drug use. She had moved back in with him and pawned hundreds of dollars of his tools and equipment behind his back.

“She won’t hold a job,” he said. “I told her I can’t keep them up forever.”

He said she would ask him for gas money, then go straight to another relative to ask her for the exact same thing.

“Why does she even need gas money?” he asked me — though we both knew the answer.

“These things have a way of working themselves out,” was the best I could do.

The saddest part of the story, however, was what he didn’t say.

When he stepped to the counter to get his order, he paused for a couple of seconds at a stack of job applications under a “Now Hiring” sign.

He picked one up and held it momentarily before putting it back on the stack.

“Have a good night,” he said as he walked past me toward the door.

I told him good luck, but we both knew he’s going to need more than that.

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