As much as we are able, we should be there for others when their world comes crashing down around them. Be there with a kind word or a steady hand. It’s a task we are given as Christians. We are God’s representatives.
That’s why after all these years Alex still bothers me. Because I wasn’t there for him. Not with a kind word or a steady hand. Not even as God’s representative. And though I’m sure he’s fine now, that doesn’t make my failure easier to bear.
Since Valentine’s Day is still fresh in our memories, I thought I’d share Alex’s story. And since that story requires a little more telling than usual, I’ll give half now and half Wednesday.
Deal? Great. So here goes…
I was standing on the boardwalk at Virginia Beach, watching the sun rise over a mini rush hour of pedestrians. Joggers and walkers and rollerbladers paraded past me in varying degrees of speed and strain, all in search of the elusive prize of thinner thighs and flatter stomachs.
My gaze settled upon a couple near the pier. Handsome man and striking woman, early twenties, strolling hand in hand. Their eyes remained low and just a few feet forward, as if that point marked the boundary of their own private world. I smiled. They were a J Crew ad lost in a Nike commercial.
I politely turned away as they neared and stared out at the ocean. The two love birds maneuvered through the crowd to right beside me.
The three of us exchanged hellos. As I didn’t like the feeling of being a passerby into their magical kingdom of love, I was ready to leave. But just when I began to back away, something unexpected happened. The lady sighed, then looked to her lover and uttered the four words that invariably spelled the death of romance and the end of all that is good and true.
“Alex, we have to talk.”
How many times had I heard that? Said that? Enough to know that it rarely involves we at all. And very little talk.
We have to talk. Translation: I have to talk. You have to listen. And this won’t be good.
From the look on his face, Alex was familiar with the standard interpretation. He looked like he had just taken a punch to the kidneys.
I eased back to my position beside them. The public breakup is a classic. Breaking someone’s heart is easier when done amidst people. There’s less chance of things getting messy. And since I was pretty sure things would get messy, I figured maybe I should stick around.
“So let’s talk,” he snorted, then cut me a glance. “But let’s talk back at my place.”
“Alex, I care about you,” she began, taking a small step away from him.
This poor guy’s definitely getting the boot, I thought.
“And you know I would never do anything to hurt you.”
Except rip your heart out and spike it like a football in front of this total stranger.
“But I really think it would be best–”
If we spent some time alone
“–if we spent some time alone.”
She looked up at him, waiting for his response. So did I.
“Lauren,” he said. “Did I do something wrong?”
“No, baby,” Lauren answered, rubbing his arm. “It’s me. All me.”
It’s me. Translation: It’s you.
Alex looked to me again. The three feet or so of space between us might as well have been three inches. I feigned interest in a ship far on the horizon, pretending I couldn’t hear.
“But we’re great together,” he said.
“We just need a break,” she said. “I need some space, that’s all.”
I need some space. Translation: I can’t stand being within a mile of you.
“But I love you,” Alex said. “I love you with all my heart. I tell you every day.”
“I know you do, Sweetheart,” Lauren said. “I love you, too.”
I was as confused as Alex at that one, and I almost said something. But he said it for me.
“Well if I love you and you love me, why are we having this conversation?”
“I can’t get bogged down in a relationship right now. If you really love me, you’ll understand. If you really love me, you’ll let me go.”
She snatched her hand from his arm and turned to leave in one fluid motion. Alex remained still, paralyzed by the suddenness of her rejection. Five minutes before, they were inseparable. Now they would likely never be together again.
Our eyes remained on Lauren as she faded into the crowd. Shoulders slouched, he turned to face the world without her.
We both stared out to sea. No words passed between us. Twenty minutes later, I was again ready to leave. The moment of shock was over, and though I knew that for Alex the worst was yet to come, I also knew I couldn’t do much about it.
As I turned to leave, I heard “Dude?”
I turned back around to make sure I was the one he was speaking to. I was.
“This is love?” he asked. “This?! If love’s supposed to be this great big wonderful thing, why does it make absolutely no sense at all?”
I slowly exhaled. My mouth opened to answer him, but Alex wasn’t finished.
“Does love have to feel this bad? If it does, is it really worth it? I don’t even know what just happened to me.” He turned back to the guardrail, punched it with a fist, and winced.
I didn’t know what my responsibilities were in such a situation, so I just reclaimed my position beside him.
“I love her, man. I swear I love her more than anything. Did you see how beautiful she was? So perfect? Did you see that? She was a ten, dude. Oh man, she was so hot. And she was mine.”
I tried to speak again, but he cut me off. His words were coming faster, and I could barely understand some of them.
“Ohman, I can’t believe this is happening to me. What we had was loveatfirstsight. That’s like a miracle, right? I mean we’re meant to be. I know that. HowcanI find another woman like her? Huh? How?”
He paused and stared at me. This was my chance to say something wise and profound. I considered everything he had said, everything I had seen, and tumbled it around in my mind. He waited. Finally, I opened my mouth. Then I closed it. And shrugged.
“Dude, you got nothin’ for me?”
I didn’t. But I couldn’t say that. So we stood there staring at each other for a long moment. Then Alex started mocking me and most of my immediate family in colorful terms and stormed out of sight.