THE MESSENGER WEBISODES

Episode 1.3: Tuesday, January 1, 2008

As I’m driving the streets of Boston, on my way to the Charles River, I pause and realize—for the first time all day—what the date is.  It’s January 1, the start of a new year.  Last night, millions of couples stood together, counting down the seconds until the end of 2007, and at the stroke of midnight, they kissed, ensuring, so the legend says, a year of bliss together.  I was asleep at midnight last night, alone in my room.

Studies show that depression worsens around the holidays, which I’m sure is true.  Only I’m not depressed.  I’ve reached a state of Zen with my circumstances, including the solitude that comes with them.  Would I love to be draped with beautiful women—or, more realistically, reasonably attractive woman?  Sure.  Wouldn’t say no to that.  But the absence thereof doesn’t leave me beating me chest, shouting, “Pauvre, pauvre moi!” (Which I don’t know why I’d do, as I don’t speak French.)  Most of the time, I’m just Tristan-all-by-his-onesies.  And that’s okay, particularly given the nature of what I have to do.

As I drive, I watch people enjoying their day off.  Most look happy, but I also see some couples who look extremely put out at the thought of being together.  I can’t read their thoughts, of course, but if I could, I imagine some of them would be thinking, How did I get stuck with this person?  It’s a shame, really.  Starting with a love that’s strong enough to unite two souls, and watching it dissolve into such bitterness, such animosity sometimes; I barely understand it.  A thin line, indeed.

Daylight is fading as I approach my destination.  Midwinter in Boston can be bleak, and today definitely qualifies.  A thick cloud cover paints the landscape in hues of gray, with snow threatening at every turn.  It is a grim and dismal place and time to die, so I really hope that I can prevent these three children from doing just that.

I get out of the car at the designated place and realize at once that there are no children in sight, let alone children on sleds.  I check my watch; still half an hour to go before the scheduled tragedy.  I confirm the location; this is the place.  I must have arrived before they did.  It’s a bit of a relief, actually, not having to race over and stop this from happening.  I can catch my breath, mentally go over what I’m going to say and do.  It’s crucial in this instance not to come across as a potential threat.

But how do I do that?  Rule one of being anywhere: look like you belong there.  Okay, lovely, but how does one look like one belongs at the edge of a river?  Looking around, I spot park benches close to the bank, and I move over to an unoccupied one that gives me a clear view of the exact spot I saw in my vision.  As I sit down, I still feel conspicuous, like this isn’t my proper place.  I feel like I need an activity, something to motivate and explain my presence here.  Reaching into my coat pocket, I find a small bag and pull it out.  The airline pretzels that accompanied the beverage service.  I hadn’t wanted them at the time, and now they might be just the reason I’m looking for.  I crumble them within the bag, open it, and slowly begin tossing the crumbs to the few nearby birds that lack the good sense to be someplace warmer right now.

A lone man on a park bench, feeding birds on New Year’s Day.  That’s … moderately less creepy than before.  We’ll go with that!

I scatter the crumbs on the ground and wait patiently, watching as sparrows and other small birds get brave enough to snatch them up and fly away.  To my surprise, the activity does have a calming effect on me, blunting the anxiety I’ve felt all day.  Could it be that I’ve had access to this soul-soothing activity all along and I just never knew it?

Several minutes later, on the verge of feeling truly tranquil, I see them arrive—three children and a woman in her early thirties.  They park an Audi in the parking lot, and the woman opens the trunk to take out three wooden sleds with metal rails; clearly designer-made and very cushy, with padded seats, so the young can plunge to their deaths in comfort.

No, no, stop thinking like that!  I’m going to save them.

As they go from the parking lot to the grass of the riverbank, the children are remarkably well-behaved.  They don’t dash forward, racing away from their guardian; they don’t shriek with anticipation.  They quietly and properly walk toward the river, two boys and a girl, just a few steps ahead of the woman who drove them here, each carrying his or her own sled.  The youngest struggles a bit with the bulkiness of the object and eventually puts it on the ground, dragging it by a short tow-rope.

They pause at the river’s edge, and still I sit on my bench dumbly—both in the mute sense and the stupid sense.  I suppose I’m hoping the woman will figure it out for herself, and I can supervise.  Come on, read the scene.  Look around you.  Diminishing daylight, temperature not that far below freezing, nobody on the river.  That, in itself, should be the clue that this is a bad idea.

But no.  She’s protective enough to adjust their coats and make sure their hats and gloves are secure, but after that, she steps back and gives her unspoken permission in sending them on their way.  My hopes of passive observation are dashed.  It’s up to me.  Standing up from my park bench, I look directly at the four of them and call out a single word.  “Wait!”

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