Appropriately dubbed ‘The Windy City’, movement seems to never cease; whether it is the ever-shifting mass of people, or the brisk windswept chill that seems to slow time itself.
It’s September. Fall has just begun its takeover. Trees are fading from their sharp greens; to dull reds, and brilliant yellows. The sun casts it’s golden orange beams across the glowing city earlier and earlier, as nightfall embraces the ever-darkening skyline.
On an evening such like this, I walk into a small pizza shop, that came highly recommended by a friend. An usher greets me cheerfully, and leads me to a small booth. Accepting a proffered menu, I begin my browsing.
“What is that?!” Two hands suddenly wrap my shoulders, close to the neckline with a loud ‘WHACK!’ I turn slightly, to see a man, in his early 40’s – 43 is my guess. There is something recognizable about him… the mannerisms, the smile, the painful way he is massaging my tense shoulder muscles…
“Excuse me, I’m sorry… Do I know you sir?” I ask sharply. This strange man has interrupted a very important choice of mine – I am not willing to be nice.
“Maybe you do, maybe you don’t…” he winks.
That wink! I know that wink! That’s something I… wait… Dinner forgotten for the time being, and I offer my hand. “Jerry.” “Ha! Me too!” is the response.
Narrowing my eyes, I begin mentally sizing this man up. I notice a small glimmer in his eyes - framed with smiling-lines - this guy is no stranger to spreading cheer through them. Blond hair that had been retreating from his forehead for a small while, seems to all gather at the back of his head, forming a veritable haystack of a cowlick. He is wearing a brown and cream-white checkered flannel shirt, and deep blue jeans. Beat-up and dusty black tennis shoes tell many tails of outdoor adventures.
His massive hands catch my eyes. ‘This guy could have been a very successful pianist’ I think to myself. Black edges around the fingernails… is that... tire dust? Fingers slightly bent, with the beginnings of, what looks like, arthritis. He cracks his left thumb, three times. Each time the knuckle pops, less than the time prior.
Then it clicks. (I laugh at the pun my brain just made… because knuckle cracking sounds like a… never-mind. Back to the now.)
Jerry has been looking me in the eyes this entire time. Obvious sentiment has replaced the cheerful glimmer in his eyes – almost sadness seems to be washing over him.
“May I… may I take a seat?”
I say ‘NO!’ in my head, but my voice doesn’t obey.
“Sure. I guess so.”
Ah! Thanks! This place has the best deep-dish in America. Trust me”
“Why should I trust you?”
Skepticism is an easy fallback for me. It isn’t possible for this man sitting across from me, to be me. Yet, everything, down to the quad-blink (A nervous tic). This isn’t real – But… but it is.
“Alright. Here’s the deal”
I snap out of my denial.
“Here’s the thing Jerry… Nah… I’m gonna call you Jeremiah… Here’s the thing Jeremiah. I know what you’re thinking. Ha! My – your face is an easy one to read.”
“YOUR face is an easy one to read!” I blurt subconsciously.
“That’s the idea, yeah. Your face, my face. It’s the same face, separated by a few decades.”
I shake my head.
“Okay, for the sake of argument… Wait. No. This is literally impossible. You can’t be me. I am me…
“Observant” Jerry smiles.
“Yeah. Anyways, just forget about the impossibilities, because here I am. An older, wiser, more handsome… you.”
I blink again. I want so bad to give my best sarcastic answer. At the same time, I really want to know this guy’s story… I’m torn. So, I decide to stay quiet… for now.
“Okay, look. I remembered coming to this place twenty-something years ago - by-the-way, the Sausage Deep Dish is the best – ah, yeah, anyway… There’s some stuff I really need to tell you. Like, important things… knew you’d be here.”
“Okay… fine. Whatcha got? What amazing things do I do?”
“I’m not going to tell you what happens to me- you… I want that all to be experienced firsthand, without the distraction of knowing it. Nah… That’s – that’s not why I’m here.”
“Well? Get to the point! Why exactly ARE you here?!”
“That. THAT is why I’m here.”
“This impatience, the arrogance, the annoyance… I suppose you could say I’m a warning. A yellow light: You’ve gotta decide if you have to speed up, or slow down.
“I don’t understand… A warning?”
“Listen up. You need to learn a little patience. Trust me.”
“You keep saying ‘trust me’… I really don’t.”
Jerry lets out a near-laugh, then locks eyes with mine.
“Jeremiah. Look. You’re quickly moving down a path… a path you don’t want to travel on. I’ve been there. THIS is where it led me. Your impatience causes you heartbreak. The arrogance causes your friends heartbreak. The annoyance causes familial heartbreak. All of this comes back around. You will TRY to be unaffected by all that occurs… but all that happens is numbness. Boxing yourself in, you break away from everything, and everyone, that cares for you. This box becomes your home, Jeremiah. A home that is full of hurt, loneliness, and self-destruction. I don’t want this to happen. I WANT to change who I… who you become. There is still hope for you!”
I look intently on… expecting more. Jerry is looking down at the table. I see a single tear stain, run down his left cheek. The energy that had been emulating from this man earlier, is clearly drained. His shoulders sag a little, and he appears much more… human. I feel for this man. The foresight strikes me hard.
I drop my head in pondering.
“A yellow light… It’s my choice to speed up, or slow down. But whatever I choose, I have to own that - take responsibility for it.”
I look up again. The menu is still in my hands. A young gentleman, dressed in black and deep red is standing to my right, awaiting my order.
Shaking my head slightly, I notice something quite odd.
The once occupied chair across from me, is empty.
“Your order sir?” The impatient waiter queries.
“Hold your horses just a sec... Was there another man, sitting there?”
The waiter gives me a glance, then turns sharply to leave.
“Wait, hold on! I’m being serious… Was there an older man, early forties, sitting across from me?”
“No sir. There was not. What’ll you have?”
Chicago darkens, as the sun melts slowly behind the horizon. “There is still hope for you!” hangs in the air – palpable, real. A sharp chill pierces the warmest corners of The Windy City, as it begins its bedtime ritual.
“The yellow light shines. Will you speed up, or slow down?”
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