In life, like in art, there are good people, and there are bad people. Good people like Atticus Finch. Bad people like Raskolnikov. And then there are good people who sometimes make bad choices. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people. It just means that sometimes they choose the flesh over the spirit, or choose to feed the bad wolf over the good. In other words, they make really shitty choices.
For the sake of this discussion, let’s call our subject “Bill.” Actually, that is his real name. Bill. There’s no sense in protecting his identity. Bill’s your typical suburbanite, a transplant – originally from Connecticut, big New England Patriots fan (hated me for days when my Giants beat his Patriots in the Super Bowl a few years back) – likes to mow his lawn and yuck it up with his neighbors. Dotes on his kids. Knows the names of his neighbors, and his neighbors’ children. Seems like a nice enough guy.
But everyone knows Bill’s a drunk. I can’t ever recall a time I didn’t see Bill without a bottle of beer in his hand. He’d mow his lawn, pushing his mower with one hand, a beer bottle wrapped in a coozie in another hand. If he’s tossing a football with the kids on the street, you better believe there’s a beer bottle in his free hand. That’s just not someone who really loves a cold beer, like I do. That’s a drunk. And I know the difference between the two. I came pretty close in my life to becoming a full-fledged drunk. In my mid-twenties, I was all full of piss and vinegar, and there was nothing I loved more than to drink my bad moods away. I wasn’t a violent drunk, just someone who needed to down his demons and boost his self-worth with strong drink.
We’re not talking about me, though. We’re talking about my neighbor, Bill. Because this is leading somewhere.
For a short period, I notice I don’t see much of Bill around. I’m not one for gossip, so I don’t bother to ask the neighbors. But I start to wonder. Maybe he’s gone to rehab. Maybe his wife has finally had enough of his drinking and threw him out. Maybe…ah, it’s none of my business. Still, his presence is lost. Bill not being around means something.
Turns out he killed someone. Behind the wheel. Got drunk, drove home, vehicular manslaughter. Spent the next three years behind bars. His terrible choice had a negative effect on his family. His children were without a father for the next three years. His wife had to dump their house, although they did move into another home a few streets down. Basically, they foreclosed on the home they lived in a few doors down from where I live.
Bill was released from prison several months ago and served the remainder of his sentence in a halfway home. He’s home now, with his family.
I was at the community pool with my wife and daughter when I saw Bill there, with his family. He looked just as I’d remember him, gaunt but smiling. He waved hello, and I walked up to say hi, although I really didn’t want to. I wasn’t sure what to say to him, but he broke the ice. I could tell he was remorseful for what happened, but I thought it best to not go into details. I’m sure he felt a compulsion to want to talk about what happened, but I felt he wouldn’t have gained anything from me by talking to me about his time in prison or what happened that night.
And then he reached into a cooler, and I heard that familiar snap! of a can of beer being opened. He offered me one, but I declined.
All I wanted to do was ask him, “In all that time when you were in prison, did you think about the bad choice you made? If so, don’t you think you’re making another one right now?”