I see him by the steps as I pull up. Standing there, staring at the door. He’s still there when I park, still there as I climb out of my truck with shopping list in hand. Still there when I sidle up beside him.
“Hey Charlie,” I say.
He turns and looks at me. “Hey.”
“Oh,” he says, “just waitin’.”
“Uh-huh,” I answer.
I decide not to say anything else. I know what might happen if I do, and I know what might happen after that. Because Charlie is one of those people who can start a conversation in the real world and finish it somewhere in the Twilight Zone.
But then I figure what the heck, I have some time to kill.
“You know,” I say, “they’re not gonna bring your groceries out to you. You gotta go in and get them yourself.”
Charlie nods. “Yep,” he says. “I’ll be going in directly. Just gotta wait for it to leave.”
“Gotta wait for what to leave?”
Charlie points to the flying speck of something in front of the door and says, “That.”
I squint my eyes and stare ahead, trying to figure out what I’m looking at. After careful consideration, I decide it’s a bumblebee.
“You’re not going in because there’s a bee in your way?” I ask.
“Yep.” Then he says, “Nope,” just in case he got his words mixed up.
The door swooshes open then as an older woman rolls her grocery cart out, oblivious to the certain death that hovered over her. Charlie winces as she walks past, exhaling only after she was clear of the danger zone.
“You allergic to bees, Charlie?”
I nod, trying to find the right words to ask him what I need to ask him next. “You, um…you ain’t, you know…afraid of them, are you?”
I nod again. “Okay, well want me to go get your beer?”
I don’t know for sure that Charlie is here for his beer. He might be low on something else, maybe hamburger or peanut butter or ice cream, because Charlie loves his ice cream. But he loves his beer even more, and I have a feeling that his shaky right hand isn’t completely due to the bee.
“Nah,” he says. “I’ll go. I got the time to wait. Just don’t wanna get stung.”
It’s then that I realized Charlie really is afraid. I’m not convinced that is a bad thing, though. No one likes getting stung by a bee. It hurts. Everyone knows that.
More than that, I realize people do this sort of thing all the time. Myself included. We all eventually realize not just where we were, but also where we want to be. And we realize there is usually some sort of Bad blocking the way. It could be a rejection slip or an unreturned phone call. Could be nerves or insecurity. Could even be the prospect of success after years of failure.
Regardless of what it is, that’s what’s floating between you and it. Between where you are and where you want to go.
The size of what’s blocking your way doesn’t matter either, because the fact of the matter is this—there is risk involved in proceeding further. You could fall. You could fail. You could be disappointed.
You could get stung.
And that hurts. Everyone knows that.
The alternative, of course, is to stay where you are. With practice and dedication you may convince yourself that you’ve gotten this far, which is further than some and maybe even most. That might be good enough. And you might even begin to believe that holding onto the prospect of what you could have done will be good enough.
I could have been a writer. Or a teacher. Or a nurse. I could have gone to school. I could have had that job or that career. But there was this Bad between me and it and, well, things just didn’t work out.
But you know what? That never works.
I know from experience that Could Have is just the same as Never Did.
“I’m gonna go in, Charlie,” I say. Then I look at him. “You know that bee’s gonna fly right out of my way, right? Because I’m bigger than the bee.”
I leave him there at the door and pick up the few things on my list. Charlie’s still standing there when I head back to my truck.
“Don’t want to get stung,” he says again.
“I know,” I answer.