Yesterday, Friday, I intended to go to the Jubilee in town to hear two old-time music bands play. Old-time is fiddle and banjo music as it is played in this region of the mountains. My two favorite bands were playing, Whitetop Mountain Band and The Crooked Road Ramblers. All day I was looking forward to the music. I finished the day's writing just before it was time to leave the house, but when it came time to go, I did not want to drive to town, mingle in a crowd of people and drive home. Thought I'd stay home. An hour later someone appeared at the door. It was a guy in his early thirties, son of a friend of mine who died a few years ago. He stops by to see me about once a year, values me because I was his dad's friend. His dad was one of three brothers who showed me the way around in these mountains in my first year, riding the roads on weekends drinking beer, talking and laughing, my dog with us in the car. It was one of the most valuable years of my life, though there was nothing extraordinary about the year except it was my first in these hills, a flatlander without a clue. I've known his boy since he was a baby. When he stops by, we talk for awhile and he leaves, never an agenda, just to say hi. He misses his daddy so he drops in on me and we talk about him some. This time, he was out of sorts.
It seemed like a regular visit until. He said over and over that he wished he had a talent for painting like I have. The next subject he exhausted repeating over and over, he had no use for Jesus, God, religion, all of it. I had a feeling he was leading up to something, but I couldn't find any clues. He told it kind of apologetically, and I said, "Good, you've found your starting place." He said he was born with everything against him and never had a chance. I affirmed him. I said, "You really were born with everything against you and truly never had a chance. It was the same with your daddy, and with his daddy too. You've had a rough life and I know it." He talked about his dog, how much he loves it. Things got lively when he said if he died, nobody would miss him. All my alarms went off. I could see where he was headed. He said his daddy wasn't much of a daddy. I said I knew it, but I also knew his daddy died when he was a little boy around eight, and he didn't have nothing to go by.
He said something about his dad not being a good man. I stopped him and told him his daddy was a good man, had a good heart, meant well, just didn't know how to live in this world, born without a chance. He grew up in a gang of four brothers, he the youngest, the baby, having the lowest status name in the county, so low the word status is meaningless. The four brothers stuck together and backed each other up such that if you have a problem with one, you have a problem with all of them. It's how they survived. He started crying, telling how doing wrong is so easy and doing right is so hard. He stressed we only hurt the ones close to us and he has hurt everybody close to him, was eaten up with guilt. I told him I'm not asking him to confess anything, though if he's feeling the need, everything said here stays here and no judgment. Then came the big one. He had such a hard time saying it he barely whispered it. I had to ask what he said. He said, "I hate myself," eyes red, tears running. I realized I cannot give him answers, but I didn't think he was looking for answers. I went into full loyalty mode. His dad was my friend who had my back. Now I will have his boy's back. I gave myself over to whatever I could do to help him. He needed to talk. I needed to listen.
When he said he hated himself, I said, "Welcome to humanity. You're not the first and there are many going about thinking the same of themselves. You are not alone." I told him there is nothing about him to hate. He said there was. He couldn't pull his life together, he's a loser, has no willpower, stressing nobody will miss him if he died right now. Again I stopped him and said, "I know your mama will care. I know your woman will care. I know your dog will care. I know your cousin will care." I said, "Think of the people you care about. They are the ones that care about you. You have a steady job, you have a good woman, you have a good dog, a car, a place to live, and you have friends. You have everything you need. You don't need anybody in your life but the people that you care about, so maybe take a look at the ones you care about and let the rest go." We talked about his problem with the wrong thing being so easy and hurting the ones he's closest to. I had no answers, but suggested he give it a moment's thought before he starts to do something hurtful. Go ahead and do it if you have to, but give it a moment's thought first. A time came the tears went away, the subject over, we talked a little bit more and he left in a pensive spirit. I realized after he went out the door that he was going under and came to me like the hand of someone drowning coming up the third time. All day today I've been feeling gratitude that I had what it took to know this suffering soul needed to be heard, needed to say what he had to say, and not be thought a fool for speaking his truth. I was grateful for the trust. I was grateful he came to me. My feeling all day today is that something very important happened here last night.
photos by tj worthington