For reasons beyond my control, I’ve been back in Amarillo for almost six months now. I drove back exactly a year after I moved , June 18, and have been stuck doing exactly what everyone else can do in Amarillo — nothing. It’s one thing to leave and visit, with friends still around somewhere, but it’s another thing to leave and visit, and have maybe three or four of your friends still here. In those six months, I’ve drank a lot – a lot – climbed around some abandoned buildings I’ve been eyeing for a long time, and I’ve drank some more.
And I also met a meth addict.
I caught up with an old high school friend the other night, and we went to a relatively nice sports bar in town. It’s not the type of sports bar with ten televisions blasting three different sports. Instead, it’s the type of sports bar with three televisions, with one game, and about 150 different drinks. For a Wednesday night, it was actually considerably more crowded than I was expecting, but it was like walking into a melting pot. And I love melting pots.
Sitting at the bar stools were a mix of friends and lonely older men, all either looking straight ahead or thriving in the words swirling all around them. Others, sitting in groups spread randomly about, were smiling, probably at least a quarter of their way to being drunk, and hardly paying attention to any screen screaming in their face.
And then there was a lone piano man, with a faded purple light hovering above his face, playing “Piano Man” to the audience of no one except some shadows and a locked door that graciously donated new kegs to the bars.
My friend and I were sat only a few table from the pianist I couldn’t help but feel bad for, coupled between a date soon to turn frisky, and someone our age, drinking with a telephone book and sprawled out napkins.
Over the course of about three hours, we went from talking about shit things in our lives, great things in our lives, how fucked up ISIS/ISIL is, to the problem with stubborn people. You know, the usual bar talk. I was positioned in a direction where I could see either direction with my peripheral vision, and I noticed something sort of weird.
Anytime either of us would say something the stranger to the left would agree with, he’d turn his head halfway to us, nod in a very sporadic motion, and then look back down. I suppose it wasn’t weird in hindsight, but I’m not used to having random strangers agree with everything I talk about.
Two tall beers later, my friend goes to use the restroom, and almost immediately, the guy turns to me. He’s twitching in both his eyes and shaking his head in a way that was just too much for any type of alcohol. “Can I use your Google?” he asked me, and I lied to him saying my internet wasn’t working. He said, “Oh, alright.” and proceeded to twitch a bit more.
My friend comes back, we discuss more of the world’s problems, and now I have to pee. I do my business, and to my surprise, come back out to both my friend and stranger to the left talking. “Great,” I thought, “No escaping talking to him now.” Secretly, I really hoped he’d just talk about something small, and then my friend and I could get back to talking and drinking, but of course, that wasn’t going to happen.
He talks to us from everything about how much he doesn’t care about sports, to telling us amazingly bizarre facts about his life (or how he perceived them), to how he and his ex-husband ended their relationship in an awful manner. It seemed like everything coming out of his mouth was almost like he was talking in a sort of fantasy; what he may have overheard someone else talk became his own, or something of that manner.
And for some reason I’ve still yet to understand, he kept asking me how much I enjoyed College Station. He even told me about some drug dealers to talk to there! But, with all his words coming out so fast, I never corrected him, and did nothing but nod anytime he talked about College Station.
“It’s my twenty-first birthday, actually.” he told us, with a laugh of overwhelming sadness. We all three raised our glasses, and wished this stranger a happy birthday.
Sort of like my experience with the homeless Neo-Nazi last summer, I initially wanted nothing more than to get out of the situation during the encounter. I was drinking my Angry Orchard faster than before, laughing and talking back if I understood what he was saying. But much like his waiter who was sort of keeping distance, so did we. I could honestly only hear about 1/4 of what he was saying (due to the NBA game probably three feet in front of my face), but I was happy about that. It seemed like he was either an out-of-towner, or from Amarillo his whole life, or living out of his car, or something else.
But despite all my uneasiness with someone shaking so much anytime he moved, I only agreed with one feeling over everything else: sadness. Whether or not he was actually twenty-one that night, he was a young man, completely by his own, tweaking by his lonesome self, telling stories to us no one else would pay attention to.
I can’t even pretend like I know a thing about drug addiction, but there’s something to be said about having a personal conversation with one. It’s not like when you first started watching Breaking Bad and thought, “Well shit. Meth is bad. I can’t believe people actually smoke that, but now I know what to look out for!” No, it’s much like talking with someone speaking about all their regrets in life, mutually knowing nothing can change the past.
Now, it was still entertaining enough. Despite his addiction to something, he seemed friendly enough to both us and the waiter. There’s something absolutely beautiful about studying people. Even if I might have not been necessarily comfortable at times, seeing someone living a completely different lifestyle from my own is astounding. Here I am, with my own worries, my own struggles, my own emotions, and then here’s this person, with their own set of everything. If I were paid to, I would love nothing more than to just sit and study how people operate and how their way of thinking goes. Nothing is more uncanny or unexpected than seeing the complexities of life in every person, hourly, daily and weekly.
It was probably midnight by this point, and the manager of the bar (who I kept seeing stand behind the guy all night long, but thought he was just someone trying to get a better view of the game) comes to talk to him. The six debit cards he gave the waiter just minutes before were all declined. The guy didn’t look surprised, almost half-smiling from past experience. As my friend and I told him goodbye, I remember hearing the manager ask, “Do you know what day it is?” to him, which he couldn’t seem to answer correctly after two guesses.
My friend and I, too, half-smile as we walk out the door, happy to have been free. But, “I forgot my jacket, shit.” goes my friend, and I pull my phone out to stand awkwardly before he comes back out. Suddenly, the guy is now talking to me, and he talks about the cold weather while my head is doing absolutely nothing but spinning a million directions. It felt like forever until my friend came out, but he did, with his jacket. Our newly made drug addict friend compliments his coat multiple times, and before he heads back down the road to downtown, he asks me, “Where is the newspaper?” I sigh internally, thinking that he somehow managed to top the sadness he was unintentionally bringing to both of us, and point to the right. I wish him well, and he heads down to God knows where.
Immediately in the car, we both talk about who we just talked to for much longer than either of us thought. My friend worked in a hospital for over two years, and he quickly confirmed to me that we was either some sort of meth or heroine addict. (Working in a hospital lets you meet pretty much all types, and his type was anything but foreign to my friend.) It made me even more sad to talk about it, but my friend soon carried the same sadness I felt in his voice. He and I both knew there was nothing either of us could do, or really anyone besides himself, to at least assist in some form to getting on a better path.
In no way am I knocking who we met. You have to understand my uncomfortableness stems from hating crowds, so until I manage to get alcohol in me, I’m pretty set back subconsciously. Despite everything he told us, true or not, I could see in his eyes how miserable he felt. I don’t know if he has family here, I don’t know if he has friends here, I don’t know if he has anything here except for what he wears. That’s none of my business, and that’s perfectly alright. I just sincerely hope he’s able to meet more people like us sometime; those willing to listen to what’s on his mind, rational or not, regardless of atypical behavior or socially unacceptable ways of living. Because, despite everything in this world, listening love is what makes or breaks a person.