The subway door couldn’t open fast enough. Had I really seen him?
I bolted down the hall. Sure enough, there he was, ambling my way. We had not seen each other in years.
“Jon!” I shouted. His head snapped my way. “Hey, man!”
Jon stopped and let me catch up to him. “Chet? Is it really you?” He dropped his suitcase and grabbed me in a big bear hug. “Wow! It’s been too long. I was worried I’d never see you again!”
I nodded in agreement. “What have you been up to?”
Jon blushed. “It’s a little embarrassing to admit, buddy.” He stared at me, wondering how judgmental I’d be.
“Come on. It’s me. You know you can tell me anything.”
He looked around at the busy station. People were passing by on all sides, not staying long enough to hear a full conversation. Having sensed the passers-by were no threat to his confession, he pressed on. “Chet, I’ve been up to nothing.”
I stared at him, hoping for some elaboration. He provided none, so I prodded. “What do you mean?”
“I mean exactly that. I’ve done absolutely nothing. I’ve sat in a room watching the walls around me turn dimly grey, shade by miniscule shade. I’ve eaten the same burnt porridge-goo for every meal, every day since I’ve been gone. I slid every dollar I ever saved through that mystical slot in the wall until I had nothing left. Do you know what silence sounds like, Chet?”
I shook my head.
“It’s deafening. You can’t hear yourself think over how quiet it is.”
I had no idea what to say. My friend was making no sense.
“That is my embarrassing confession. I have been gone for so long, and I have nothing to show for it.”
I glanced down at his suitcase. “What’s in there?”
His eyes lit up. “You know, it’s crazy. Locked away in that room for years, there was nothing. But the train ride over here, there was everything! There was hope and fear, there was laughter and sadness, there were smells… Smells, Chet! Do you know that I had forgotten how to smell?”
“No, Jon. I sure didn’t.” I paused, waiting for more.
“So I captured it all.” He picked up his suitcase and patted the side. “Emotion, striving, yearning… The deepest reaches of what it means to be human. That’s what’s in here.”
Jon had always been a little eccentric, but this seemed different. Then again, it had been a while since I’d seen him. Maybe absence makes the heart grow odder.
“I’d love to share it with you.”
I glanced up at him, shocked. “Are you serious?”
He beamed. “If, of course, you’ll allow me to.”
I slowly smiled. “That would be amazing, Jon.” I then thought to the last time we spoke. “But you know, it can’t be like it was before.”
Jon nodded solemnly. “I know that, Chet. It’ll have to be better than before. Disciplined. Focused.”
I nodded in agreement.
We both let our words sink in as the crowd flowed around us. They seemed electric. Excited. They knew something special was happening.
Jon cleared his throat. “Could you promise me one thing?”
“What is it?”
“Don’t let me leave again. There is nothing where I went, and if I leave, that’s just where I’ll go again.”
I let the weight of his words rest on me for a while. I was equally at fault for his absence. There was no way around it. And wherever my friend went, it wasn’t a good place. Now if he left again, it would be as if I were sending him myself to this dreary existence.
I looked him in the eyes. “Alright, Jon.”
His face lit up. “Thank you, Chet. You always were a good friend.”
I smiled in return as we started walking down the hall toward the station exit. I had no way of knowing for sure, but this felt like the start of something better.
“So, what have you been up to?”
I shrugged. “Well, the same sort of stuff I’ve always been doing. Wake up, go to work, eat, sleep. That’s about it.”
He looked disappointed. “But you seem different.”
I looked up at him. “Really?”
He nodded. “I think you’re hiding something.”
“Well, not exactly hiding. It’s just that I don’t know if it’s worth bringing up. It’s just a feeling, you know? Nothing tangible.”
Jon lifted his suitcase. “Do you think I care?”
“Fair enough.” I looked around. We walked up the stairs among a throng of people. I had no way of knowing if they were listening, but I felt so foolish I didn’t really care. I wanted to share this new development in life with my friend. “I guess I don’t know how to describe it. I feel like I’m always searching for something, for someone. There’s a pull toward… something. But that doesn’t really make much sense. All I do is wake up, go to work, eat, sleep. That’s who I am.”
Jon lifted his suitcase again, agitated. He pointed at it with a menacing look. “Longing doesn’t make sense. Yet, it makes perfect sense. It’s one of these emotions.”
“Hm. Is that so?”
“Yes, it is. And all that stuff you do is not who you are. It’s what you do. So now I know what we will do.”
We stopped as we reached the city sidewalk in the radiant sunshine. “You do?”
“Yes, my friend. We’ll do what makes us human.” He paused, dramatically, before continuing. “We will chase that feeling!”
For the first time in a long time, I felt something real. I felt excited. I was ready to chase that feeling.
And that’s exactly what we did.