by: Michael Shields

Often all it takes is a little push, to do what you know you must….

The paralyzing roar of the room encompassed my entire body. The laughter, the overzealous opinions spit from inebriated tongues, and the mindless carousing banter carelessly harmonized with the droning rock pounding out of the jukebox. Dense morsels of noise composing an overwhelming pulsating buzz, which magnified my heightening anxiety.

What am I doing? I wondered aloud. Time was precious, and without wasting another moment I hastily emptied the quarter inch of whiskey in front of me and slammed the empty glass back upon the weathered oak bar. I whisked my black leather jacket from the back of my chair and threw it on as I aggressively pushed through the crowd towards the front door, the brown fire water working its way down into my stomach, igniting all my senses, and furthering my resolve.

“Excuse me. I’m sorry. Excuse me….”

For the first time in my life I felt claustrophobic, desperately so. A wave of restlessness was rushing over me and I could hardly breathe. I knew that at this point every second mattered so much. I had to get out the door, and now. I fucked up. I let her leave. Time was not on my side.

“I’m sorry. I just got to jump right through here. Thank you. Excuse me….”

After what seemed like an eternity I reached the door and flung it furiously open. My only hope was that she had lingered for some reason; to smoke a cigarette or chat with a friend, or even to stall for this moment, waiting for that coward she flirted the night away with to grow a pair. The look on my face, I was sure, reeked of restrained panic. Restrained in case she was still there, panic because I was sure she wasn’t. I surveyed to the right, all the way down Avenue C and then left towards Tompkins Square Park. I then jolted around the corner and appraised 8th Street. Nothing.

“She’s not far,” a curiously familiar voice from behind me offered.

I knew immediately the voice was directed at me. Startled, I slowly turned and saw an older, rotund gentleman leaning heavily against the brick facade. He was wearing a denim baseball cap with the brim pulled down low, its curved contour resting just above his eyes. Over his shoulders was draped a worn, black leather jacket, not unlike my own. He had the sole of his left foot resting against the wall, his tattered jeans having seen better days, and he was scrolling nonchalantly through his smart phone as a neon High Life sign haloed above him.

“What?” I barked, never the one to welcome unsolicited banter from strangers.

“I just saw her leave. Wasn’t but a minute ago,” he calmly added without looking up. “You should go after her.”

Immediately, I engaged my defenses. Who the fuck was this guy? What does he know about me? My focus shifted gears to the nosy older man before me, offering up unrequested advice, momentarily straying from the mission at hand.

“Look man, I am not sure what you think is going on here, but I’d suggest minding your own business.”

“And I would suggest,” he began, with a newfound hint of urgency, “if I may, hustling across the park and catching up with that young lady who just stumbled out of here, wishing she was being escorted home, and wishing that escort was you.”

I fell speechless. Part of me wanted to bolt across the park of course, just take off running. This guy was surely right. That’s why I came out here wasn’t it? Another part of me wanted to tell this guy what to do with his advice. Who was he to tell me what to do? And the remainder wanted to return to the cozy confines of the bar, hide from prying strangers and bury my overwhelming anxiety in a drink so stiff it would cause my nostrils to burn upon inhaling its mere aroma. I was bred with an innate ability to quit something at the first sign of trouble. Regardless of the height of any wall that presented itself between the goal and myself, its presence alone was usually a deterrent, a reason to pack up shop.

“Go after her! Fuck, don’t just stand there spineless, look around some, and then return to your drink defeated. We both know that’s what you’re going to do, right? And you shouldn’t.”

“It’s no biggie,” I proposed, unable to quell my natural instinct to play it cool. “I got her number.”

I could tell immediately I had struck a nerve. His body, once limp and sluggishly leaning against the wall, flexed like a muscle to attention. Before I knew it his face was inches from mine, his fixed piercing gaze demanding my attention, two intense blue eyes beaming with steely purpose.

“Sure you do. But this isn’t how these things work. Tomorrow, that spark that occurred in there – the one that’s inflaming your gut and tickling every nerve in your body – well, tomorrow that will be muted by both a hangover and time. You will call her, and you may even schedule a lunch date or something, but it won’t ever be like tonight. If you wait who knows what will come of it, but if go right now, that connection that just occurred in there, that miracle moment that we all wait for, may grow into something bigger than you could ever imagine.”

I was shook. I wasn’t sure what was happening.

“Look, now is not the time to be cool,” he continued. “Now is not the time to wait it out. I say this because I know from experience and I don’t want what happened to me to happen to you. Tell me you’ve experienced what you felt in there before? Tell me that?”

“I….I…..No. Not ever…..I…..”

I drifted off momentarily, my thoughts involuntarily drawn to an hour earlier inside the bar, when the cute brunette on the other side of the bar, the one who returned my gaze, and then later my smile, waded through a bustling sea of patrons over to me and asked to see my hand, which I relinquished without hesitation. Then, this beauty, who had more gall than I could ever muster, materialized a pen from out of nowhere and inscribed ten digits across my palm, calmly and softly uttering: “Don’t fuck this up.”

My stomach dropped as if I was free falling, and my entire upper body burgeoned aflame, and I knew she had me. She then drifted from my presence to wait me out, offering me a smile from time to time, until I returned her daring advances and finally pursued. I joked how the ink was beginning to smear and how I needed a second coat. And she joked that it would cost me. And then we both joked for hours. And then she said she had to leave. And then I let her.

“I have always wished……” I heard through a fog as the tendrils of the strangers words pulled me back into the reality of the moment where he remained saddled up into my personal space looking out for my best interests, “….that I walked her home, or that I at least offered to. Or that I chased after her that evening. Caught up with her and asked to buy her some coffee, and that we had talked all night, and that we never stopped talking…..forever……because I seized that moment, because I made sure I held on tight to a feeling I’d never had before. I always wished I did, and now you must.”

“Yeah, I…’re right…..”

“Yes, I am right. Go after her….because that’s what you do when you get as lucky as you did tonight. Go after her because that’s what you do when you feel what you felt. We should all be so lucky.”

“But, how do I even find her now? I mean she could be anywhere.”

“That defeated attitude will get you nowhere,” the stranger added with a reassuring tone and a wink that caught me off guard. “She headed that way,” he said while pointing towards the park, “and she was lingering a bit, waiting for something…or someone. Now…..GO!”

I took off running. The stranger’s persuasive admonishment, coupled with the thought of her smile and our time together, finally sparking within me a newfound brand of confidence, borne of an excitement for the unknown. Before I had even negotiated my way into the park, I turned around to thank the old man whose urging had me galvanized, armed with a pocket full of hope, yet where we had stood just seconds before was barren. The sidewalk abandoned, nothing more than a desolate brick wall illuminated by vintage neon beer signs remained. Impossible. I felt the urge to quickly double back, take a look around for the old man, yet I fought it off as his words reverberated steadily through my head, something bigger than you could even imagine…..something bigger than you could even imagine….

I launched back into a sprint, turning my collar to the wind, certain that my future was waiting for me.

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