He stood elbow to elbow amid multitudes of day fishermen on the end of the mile long pier. His back stung as the heat beat down upon his sun - virgin skin. Any other day he would have marveled at bottlenose dolphins leap - frogging at play. Another time he would have laughed as gulls dove headlong into the salty sapphire abyss, springing abruptly with shiny trophies of scaly, silvery prey held tight within their bills. Perhaps, another time.
Smoldering wood smoke and fresh lighter fluid stung his nose. Plump hot dogs and half pound burgers, scorched and browned by want-to-be, part-time, day chefs made hungry fishermen leave bobbing lines and bolt for crowded beach front stands. Any other day, he might have been first in line. Not this day.
Today, his stomach ached; though he could not say if it ached more from emptiness or from the task that loomed before him. This day, hot liquid frothed endlessly into his parched throat and mouth. He swallowed again and again trying unsuccessfully to wash it down, gagging into his calloused, cupped hands.
Today, his knees buckled under the weight of his unusually small frame and knocked together like jack hammers on fresh pavement as he wobbled and pitched, overlooked by the strangers surrounding him. Today, he felt alone, as though he’d been transported to a foreign planet by a frenzied mob of aliens. His life flashed before him in slow motion, like scenes from an evil underground movie. For as long as he could remember there had been turmoil.
School mates joyfully recalled fun filled summer vacations, shiny new swing sets put together by loving family members, and bedtime stories that whisked them off to faraway lands; read by kindly mothers that caressed their foreheads and kissed them tenderly, welcoming them into flowery, perfumed fields of cotton candy dreams.
His earliest memories were of cursing and humiliation lavished upon him by a man to whom he looked for love and guidance. He recalled well, fists from the angry, drunken father that beat him mercilessly, and often until he lost consciousness. His visions were of a mother, watching it all from sinister shadows behind cracked doors, shaded windows, and darkened glasses.
He married young and fathered three, and though he fought hard to overcome the young boy’s example of a man, he could not. He found himself begging for handouts in a local homeless shelter and often shamelessly, crying himself to sleep in isolated corners of crowded rooms.
Deep crevices mapped his face making it difficult for anyone meeting him for the first time to believe he was a young man, barely thirty. His hair, streaked with grey, hung long around his unkempt beard and it appeared that soap and water were supreme on his long list of enemies.
His sins were many; too many to number and the horribleness of
them made it impossible for him to ever forgive himself. His memories tormented and vexed him from morning till night, and he grew bitter and resentful of anyone who dared wear the hint of a smile.
Surely the papers would report a rapid ending to a long and troubled life and he was confident the world’s water bucket would never miss the one tiny drop of his meaningless, insignificant existence.
His white knuckles clenched the wooden pier one final time. One last time he breathed in the salty air of remorse and the encumbering smog of guilt. He lifted one leg, resting it momentarily, high upon the rail. One final surge would catapult him into the chasm below ending a life he was certain not worth living. He closed his eyes readying his nerves for the leap.
“Young man?” a voice behind him called.
Warm hands steadied his trembling shoulders. He sighed, lowered his leg, and released his grip on the rail.
“Can I talk to you a minute?” the man continued.
He hung his head, turning to face the stranger.
“I want you to meet someone. Someone who loves you in spite of what you’ve done and where you’ve been. Would you sit with me a moment?”
He closed his eyes and began to weep. Slowly, unfamiliar sprinkles from the rains of acceptance dripped from his tough exterior. As time raced by unnoticed, wave after wave of cleansing floods knocked him to his knees again and again, and for the first time, the boy came face to face with a man called peace.
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