I’m backstage. A small theater. There is a band playing. I am about to go onstage next.
There’s a man in headphones, running a large soundboard which is roughly the size of a ‘62 Buick Skylark. Randy is his name. He will broadcast this on local radio.
I’ll be telling stories to an audience. My goal here is to avoid excessive amounts of audience booing and flying vegetable debris.
I have no idea what the hell I’m doing here.
Six years ago, I was laying a floor for an elderly couple in a single-story house. I was covered in thin-set mortar.
That day, I was cutting tile when my hand slipped. I sliced my index finger to the bone. Blood everywhere. I saw stars.
They drove me to the ER. I sat in a waiting room, holding a blood-soaked towel on my finger.
The doctor was young. He brandished a needle the size of a toothpick.
He said, “You might wanna hum a few bars of your favorite song, pal.”
“Singing,” he said. “Takes the mind off pain, and this is really gonna hurt.”
The nurse gave me a washrag to bite down on. I explained that it wasn’t really necessary, I didn’t need any—
“ALL MY EXES LIVE IN TEXAS…”
Twenty-five stitches. I was out of commission. I was miserable. I was going to have to get someone to finish my work, losing money I didn’t have.
The next morning, my wife woke me.
She was wearing work clothes and boots. “C’mon,” she said. “I’m going to work with you.”
I taught her how to use a wet saw. She cut tile; I laid it. Between us, we had three good hands. You’ve never seen a woman like mine.
After work, we ate supper at KFC. And I’ll be honest with you, I was miserable with my own life.
I hated tile-laying, cleaning gutters, and wiring ceiling fans. And I hated my after-hours job, playing guitar at all-you-can-eat crab joint for two-dollar tips.
After supper, I sped through traffic to the aforementioned all-you-can-eat seafood shack. I held a guitar and wished I could make myself disappear.
My tip bucket had a dollar in it.
There were two customers in the joint. The bartender and waitress were playing tic-tac-toe on cocktail napkins, yawning.
I almost cried. Life was supposed to be happier than this. I stopped playing, since my hand was a purple mess. People looked at me odd.
I set the guitar down and I told a story over the microphone.
It was a story about my deceased father, my hardworking mother, and a woman who had helped me lay tile all day. I closed my eyes. I don’t know who I was talking to.
Nobody listened except the bartender. He clapped. When I finished, he wrapped his arms around me. He dropped two fifties into my tip bucket and said, “Love you, dude.”
That was six years ago. I’m about to walk onto a stage and tell the story of what you just read.
There are friends in the audience. My wife is here. She’s been with me fifteen years. I look at her and still remember a day she wore dusty work clothes.
God. If you can hear me. Thank you. I’m sorry for the times I haven’t loved this life enough. I truly am.
The soundman is giving me a thumbs-up.
I’d better go now.