Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Another Tuesday Night

"The old man went to the doctor today. He's getting better," Shawn shared with me over a Heineken last night. Shawn is in town visiting his girlfriend Cynthia, who has recently moved to Bakersfield from Reno temporarily, to take care of her father who has pancreatic cancer. Shawn has been here about a week, but last night for the first time I asked him what was wrong with Cynthia's father, Paul.

"I really admire Cynthia. You know, a lot of people wouldn't go to the trouble of taking care of their sick family members."

"Well, he's her dad."

"A lot of people wouldn't care. They couldn't be troubled."


"Really. We live in a cold world." This led to a conversation about Gabriel, which led to a conversation about child-rearing, which led to a conversation about prison reform, which led to a conversation about being a lawyer, and so on. Shawn told me he was in the army for 15 years. He was in Iraq for both wars (or conflicts, if we must be precise) and in Bosnia. While he was in Iraq in 2004, a girl in Kentucky that he'd been dating told him that she was pregnant with his child. He managed to get a leave for the baby's birth, and he let the girl and his daughter move into his home. He gave the girl power of attorney over his personal matters. When he moved back, she had ruined his property and his credit, and taken all of his money.

"I was so angry. Excuse me for cussing, but these are the things I was saying to her. You have to understand, then they didn't do any decompressing, so 48 hours prior I had been in Iraq getting shot at, and this is what I came home to. That's when she told me the baby wasn't mine. The most humiliating thing I ever had to do in my life was take that baby to get a DNA test -- she wouldn't go with me -- and they like to string you along for a few days before they tell you the results. I thought about just taking that baby and starting a life with her somewhere else. I loved that kid."

Shawn told me that he was very despondent after the incident with the girl in Kentucky. "People warned me. Never date a girl from just outside of the base. I would tell anyone in the army that, now." Shawn grew so depressed that the Army told him they couldn't send him back to Iraq. "If I can't go back, please let me out." After 15 years of service Shawn was honorably discharged into civilian society.

In the roughly two hours that I conversed with Shawn, I grew to respect him greatly. His girlfriend Cynthia arrived later, and we all talked some more. They weren't a pair that I would look at and see a match, but from what little I had learned about them, they deserved each other. Two kind-hearted people who do right just because it's what they are supposed to do.

It's no secret that Ben and I have been struggling. I am dedicated to my marriage and want things to work out. An evening with Shawn and Cynthia reminded me of how hard it is to find just a good, respectable person. If Ben and I don't work out, how many girl-from-Kentucky incidents might we both wind up experiencing? Could we ever find what we have with each other, again?

Before Cynthia arrived, Shawn looked a little sad. Sharing his Kentucky girl story, and talking about Cynthia's father's illness had taken an emotional toll on him.

"Here," I grabbed the framed photo of Gabriel, his 'most famous' smiley guy photo, from one of the shelves of the bar. "If you need to smile, look at my son. Everyone that looks at this picture has to smile."

Shawn did smile, and I did too, knowing how Gabriel continued to change people's lives and hearts.

As I got into my car after what turned out to be a more eventful evening than I had anticipated, I turned the key and heard Gabriel talking to me from the car radio. "Danny's Song," which has come to be known as "Gabe's Song" to me, was playing when I started the car. The message soothes me every time, as I listen to the reminder: "Everything's gonna be alright."

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