Small Stories in a Crowded City

When I used to work downtown, I would take walks on my break. Downtown Fort Worth doesn't offer much in the way of scenery, but it has neatly plotted streets. You can move briskly from the cold mid-century sterility of the courthouses to the sleek modern edges of the Water Gardens on Commerce Street. One Friday afternoon I went walking, and along the way, I ran into a man.

We each came to the intersection at different times and paces, waiting for the long light to change. To this day, I don't remember the man's name, and I kind of regret that. He was eighty-five or so he said, hunched and well-weathered with a slow, shuffling gait. He looked at me from behind his thick smudged lens and smiled. I smiled back. We talked about the weather until the signal finally changed. It was May so it was hot, but not quite as hot as May in Texas usually gets. Once the signal flickered from the red palm to the walking man, we followed suit across the street.

I had nowhere in particular to be. He said he was going to the courthouse, a bundle of government forms and papers under his arm. I remember they made a scratching sound against the fabric of his big, brown, too-heavy-for-May sweater. He told me a story about his wife, who had recently died of cancer. They had been together for fifty years, each on their second marriage and raising their total of five children together. I don't remember her name either, but he spoke of her with such a brilliant light in his eyes that I had to listen as he described her laugh and smile. They were married for fifty years; once the children were all gone and making children (and even grandchildren) of their own, he and his wife decided to adopt a little boy from China. He was a smart, sweet little boy, and the light of their lives.

Then his wife came down with cancer. The bad kind, he said; the kind that moved too quickly for them to do anything about. Before he knew it she was in hospice care in their living room and his children came to help him care for her. She had only been gone for three months he told me, his eyes still bright. He told me how hard it had been, and how lonely he suddenly felt without her. He had his young son, who was now on the frustrating precipice of teenhood, and he had his children and grandchildren, but it was still hard.

Now the government wanted to take his son and place him with a "more suitable guardian." Someone "better fit" to deal with a boy his age and needs. That was why he was on his way to the courthouse, with all his forms and papers. To meet with his oldest daughter and their lawyer, and to talk to the family court about keeping his son. We walked all the way across downtown together; him shuffling along on his stubborn legs, me following and nodding. Just listening. Just letting him get it all off of his chest.

Eventually we came to another intersection. My break was over, and the courthouse sat across the street like a looming threat. I told him I had to head back to work, wishing him the best of luck. He smiled again and told me to have a good day. I went in one direction and he went in the other. We never saw each other again. This was well over a year ago. I don't know how his case went, or if he got to keep his son. I don't know how he dealt with his wife's death, or how his family helped him through it.

I just hope it all worked out for the best.