You’re Walking Out on Me!”
Cars pull right up to the rooms at the motel. Only a sidewalk separates parking from the door to Room 3, where we stayed. It’s a small-town, South Georgia motel, maybe fifty years old, so the rooms also are small but have enough space for a coffeemaker, microwave, and mini-fridge. It was clean and comfortable, although the walls are thin—thin enough that we heard the couple in the room next door yelling for several hours the evening we were there.
“You’re walking out on me!” in the woman’s desperate voice is all I remember, having crushed my ears between pillows to stifle the sound of the couple arguing. I knew they were young because I spoke to the husband/father the night before. I couldn’t tell his exact age because the light was poor, but I could tell that he had no or few teeth and he used a cane that didn’t help his serious difficulty walking. As I spoke to him, his children, aged maybe four and two years old, played on the sidewalk. I told him about the wedding I’d attended in the tiny town near Moody Air Force Base, and that my granddaughter’s groom was in the Air Force, although not stationed there. He said he was from a military family and considered joining himself before his “accident.”
The motel is the only lodging for twenty miles and it was two days before Christmas, so I asked if he was traveling, and he said no, that they were local and had been staying with family, but were “taking a break.” His wife came out of the room and left the door open, so I saw two bottles of whiskey on the table next to the door. I also saw the tiny room had only one king-sized bed, not much space for two adults and two children. She didn’t say much and after getting what I needed from the car, I returned to our room.
Not long after I tucked myself into bed after a long day of driving from South Florida and attending a joyous wedding, the loud voices started. I spent far too much time growing up hearing voices similar to the ones coming through the wall, so I knew they were drunk. If I’d tried to listen, I might have a more interesting story to tell, but all I remember is the repeated refrain of, “You’re walking out on me!” After an hour or so, the voices got quiet, and I slept. Some time during the night, I heard the unmistakable sounds of someone throwing up.
When I woke the next morning, all was quiet. It was Christmas Eve and we had a six-hour drive ahead of us, so my sister and I wanted to leave early. The car was almost packed when the door to the room next to us opened and the young man came out. He looked awful—as one does when the preceding night involves drinking and loud voices.
I made another trip to the room and returned to the car. As I did, the woman came out of her door. She, too, looked awful. I said “Good morning,” almost at a whisper and placed the last of my things in the car. I went back to the room for a final check and then walked outside.
I wanted to say something to the couple. Something not very helpful, like: “What are you doing? It’s Christmas Eve and you’re staying in a tiny motel. You have two small children who heard your fight loud and clear last night. You were so drunk that one of you threw up. You’re young, you have the years to turn this around, to make changes, to stop drinking, to stop fighting, to see that life has much to offer each of you.”
I didn’t say those things or anything similar. Instead, in a quiet voice, I said, “Merry Christmas.” One of them mumbled “Thank you,” but neither looked in my direction. I got in the car and we drove away.
That couple stayed with me even though I’m probably no longer in their memory. And for the brief time they considered me, they may have thought I felt above them, they may have thought I had so much more than they, they may have thought that I had no idea what a life of problems looks like. They would be wrong. I know just what a life of problems looks like, so my heart felt for them. And now my heart feels bad because I did nothing for them.
I have a friend named Jim Trick. He talks to everyone. The true definition of a Christian, he’s not judgmental. He loves people. He’s kind. He makes friends wherever he goes. He makes a difference. People change because of what he says, how he says it, and what he does. He brings a kinder spirit to people and to the world. Jim would have shown that couple love. He would have said or done something so that a spark of that love would be obvious to them. I can’t say that their lives would have changed because of his love, but they would have changed for at least a short time. And it’s those short times of change that lead to longer times. They add up, they stretch out, and they can become a life that isn’t marked by fears of being abandoned two days before Christmas.
I wasn’t Jim Trick Christmas Eve morning because I’m Chris Clark. Part of being Chris Clark means that I don’t always speak when I should or could because for so many years I spoke out of turn or in anger and used the wrong words, hurting, cutting words. Those years are gone now, and I know I have words that aren’t cutting and angry and judgmental. I have some Jim Trick words and from now on, I intend to use them. My regret at saying nothing, at offering nothing to that couple who needed so much is huge. I don’t know if I could have made a difference, but I didn’t even try. It’s two days before New Year’s Day, and I don’t make resolutions, but I might make one this year: To speak when necessary and do so with kindness, empathy, compassion, and love. Perhaps by doing so, I can be change, positive change in a world where so many of us are afraid that someone will walk out on us.