the mean, tall man in Suite 224

I didn’t realize he was mean at first.  We’d run into each other on the way to the restroom and exchange niceties.  If I would ask him how his day was going, he’d say:

“It’s going well enough. Yours?” and I would say something awful like “I can’t complain.”  I knew it would end there, I’d soon be surrounded by the safety of a bathroom stall.  I have enough social grace to greet a person, but enough social anxiety to not want it to go any further.

Once, tall man joined me for a walk around my building.  I couldn’t believe it, and I certainly didn’t invite it.   I never saw him out and about before.  But there he was, right beside me, his stride a lot longer.  I looked up at his long face and noticed a giant wart on his left cheek.  I started our conversation by saying something equally cringe-worthy to the hallway exchange.

I said, “I’m glad it’s Thursday!”

He said, “You shouldn’t always be looking forward to the weekend.”

I looked ahead at some trees, “That’s true.” We fell in silence, going our separate ways; I opted for the longer route around the building.  I reflected on the exchange while I put my headphones in to relax myself.  Sure, he was right.  I had said a trivial thing and he had a fair response.  But why did it bug me?

Because I do live for the weekends?

The next time I saw tall man I had a backpack on.  He asked me if I was part of the backpack brigade.  I laughed and said I didn’t know what that was.

Another time I saw the tall man I was unlocking my office door the day after New Year’s.  “Do you get the whole week of Christmas off? I noticed you weren’t in all week.” I smiled as warmly as I could muster and said, “Yes, I’m very lucky – my boss let’s me take the week of Christmas off.”

He said, “Wow.  He must not care about his business very much.”

I soon realized every exchange with tall man was going to be like this.  It left me feeling heavy and annoyed.  I genuinely hoped I’d never run into him.  My bathroom trips became quicker – I once ran down the hallway thinking I heard his door open.

For some reason my wish was granted, and I never saw tall man for quite a while.  I knew which office he was in; a corner unit on the second floor that faced our parking lot.  I knew he could look out a giant window and see me or my boss parking our cars, or walking up the stairs.  But he never appeared for a long stretch of time.  Until yesterday.

There he was with the same weird smile always plastered on his face.  His wart prominent.  I grimaced inwardly, but let out a meek, “Hello.” and he said, “Hi.” back.  I opened the exit door and walked down the stairs into the hot sunshine, but my annoyance rapidly turned into remorse.

I wondered about his life.  What made him so pessimistic? So dismissive? Was he a happy man? Or was his life in the corner unit depressing? What was home to him?  What made his smile look so slimy?

I decided to take his caustic observations in stride.  I won’t let it make me someone incapable of building acquaintances into potential friendships, or spreading kindness.

And I’ll stop saying things like “I can’t complain.”

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