Thirty dollars is nothing. It’s a decent haul of adequate groceries. It’s taking a girl on a date to the movies. But it was truly all I had when you stopped me on the street and asked for my help. I’m so sorry. After you had left, I spent hours contemplating emptying my bank account, hunting you down, and giving you everything I had. I’m still doing that. I really am.
I’m sorry that I left my hands straight out when you grabbed me on the street and starting crying into the cloth of my jacket without warning. It surprised me, you have to understand. It isn’t often that Lithuanian women approach me, begin to explain why they happen to be short on rent this month, break into tears, and hug me. I had heard stories from a friend about a homeless woman who would hug people on the subways to distract them from the fact that she was stealing their wallet. A thousand situations flew through my head, as my brain tried to run all potential scam situations. I wasn’t sure what it was you wanted from me. It’s how I’m conditioned. The city keeps me on edge. Always playing out how I’ll defend myself from a mugger or react like a trained ninja to every approach to my person. I had no reason to believe that all you wanted was just to tell someone everything. I had no way to be prepared for you to embrace me and weep. I’m an awful ninja.
I’m sorry your father died fighting the Soviets. I have barely a frame of reference to console you on something such as that. I’ve never even heard a anyone in my life call them Soviets. I’m too young for it to make sense. I’m too young to know what words will put perspective on the misery it caused. I’m just old enough to listen and nod and touch your shoulder to know I’m not standing here simply waiting for a pause to take advantage of and run, but because I want more than anything to say something to make things better. But I don’t really know what better is.
I would love to hear your cousin play the violin. I’m sure she’s masterful, just like you said. Even though she wastes her natural beauty hiding in books. I’m sure she’s brilliant too. I bet you I would be stunned to see her.
Yes, the world is unbalanced. This I am old enough to understand. There’s only so much damage a soul can take. You’re right about everything. This is because you’ve figured things out years ago, but don’t know how to make it work for you. I don’t know if anyone does. I don’t know if it’s just luck that gets people tumbling onto the right track. It really is so god dammed unfair that you made it through totalitarian Lithuania and its various revolutions just to live in a crummy apartment and can’t find work. It’s not fair at all that your landlord makes you sometimes pay rent twice because he know you won’t do anything about it. He does sound like a bully. He is the kind of person that just leeches off of others. And, yes, I’m sure his mustache is as ugly as you said. I have a feeling it smells too.
As you told me about how you used to be an assistant to a dentist in Vilnius, which I didn’t know was the capital of Lithuania, and about how your boss was a gambling man who accrued too many debts, so his debtors broke his hands, and now he’s no longer a dentist; I am trying to figure out how to capture this. I sense a profoundness in all of it and I want others to understand, but I don’t know how. I want you to recognize that this isn’t a nation of blank faces and passer-byers. Some listen. Some want to know. Some want to comprehend what a life like yours, so chaotic and interesting and full of pain, could be like to live. Some so badly want to pay your debts and make everything alright again. Some want see your life become a book or a graphic novel or even just an article. But you can’t stop for coffee and tell it all to me. You have to go to church because, as you say, Jesus would whoop your ass if he saw you enjoying a cappuccino instead of attending mass. I’m not sure about this, but you’re smart not to risk it.
So I’ll see if I can find you next Sunday and we can get coffee and I can see about getting that rent together and you can tell me what it was the Venus de Milo really lost her arms, which I admit I know nothing about. This is because I’m too young to know. I’m too young. But I’m old enough to know that more people need to grasp strangers in the street and weep against them like weary soldiers, so exhausted to their very core, who simply need to know that there are others, comrades, who can appreciate their pain.