Life is a sine wave. When it goes up, it goes way up. When it goes down, it goes way down. And from one extreme to another.
Take yesterday. I stopped at the post office before work. I walked across the parking lot, and as I stepped into the lane of traffic along the post office a car stopped as I crossed. Then, as I stepped onto the curb the car stopped behind me, and the driver inside, a woman to judge by her voice, yelled “Asshole!” I couldn’t see where that was coming from.
Busy day at work, and we’d taken in a lot of trade-ins. Toward the end of the day a regular came in with his son, and they wanted trade-in values on a bag of PC games. Checking the trade-in values on PC games isn’t easy–usually people don’t keep their boxes, so instead of simply scanning the bar code there’s a fair bit of text searching to perform. As I went through the bag the customer asked me how long I’d been at my store. Four, five years? he said. Actually, only three–I moved down to Raleigh from Philadelphia three years ago last week. He wanted to know how the move had worked out for me, and we talked vaguely of the laid-back, relaxed nature of the area. In the end, his son decided not to trade the games–I could take only half of the ones he’d brought in, and for those ten games he was averaging a quarter of store credit each. He and his son left, I locked up the store, and a wave of depression rolled across me.
I’m great with faces. I’m terrible with names. I see this customer in my store at least twice a month. I have no idea what his name is. Or the name of his son.
But that wasn’t what depressed me.
The conversation we had turned my thoughts back to the store I managed in the Philadelphia suburbs, to the employees I had on my team, to the regular customers I had then. I wondered what became of some of them. And that made me sad.
One of my regulars in Pennsylvania–we’ll take him as an example. Mid-fifties. Had a son, eleven or twelve. Custody of his son every other weekend. Didn’t work, couldn’t work. He had Hepatitus, if memory serves. Sickly, frail. We didn’t get along at first for reasons that escape memory, but I earned his trust and respect one day when I said, flatly, that I wouldn’t sell him a game because it sucked and his son would be disappointed in it. At that point he realized that it wasn’t about the money for me–I wanted his son to be happy with his games. After that he’d call me most every afternoon and talk for at least half an hour about how rotten his life was, how badly his ex-wife treated his son, how important his son was to him, about the things he wanted to do for his son and couldn’t because of his situation. I didn’t have the time for these phone calls, I don’t know if he ever understand the demands of time and empathy the calls made upon me, and I realized in time that he had reached out to me because I listened when no one else did. A sense of community, of belonging, the phone calls had that effect.
My last day in Pennsylvania, we had a party at the store. My regulars knew I was leaving, moving to Raleigh, so on the last day most all of them came by. This customer came over, with his son, and I got his address. I promised I’d mail him once I’d gotten settled in Raleigh. I sent him a Christmas card that year and never heard anything back.
I hadn’t really thought about him at any serious length until, well, last night. And just thinking about the things I didn’t know, that made me feel sad inside. I thought of that last day in Pennsylvania and the happy moments, and then came the sadness from not knowing how the people I knew there turned out and the realization that I’ll probably never know.
Great things happen in life. Bad things happen, too. Life brings euphoria and sadness. It’s the up-and-down, the sine wave of life washing across the consciousness.