I last saw Palmer Kent at the funeral. He stood out among the crowd of weeping mourners not only because he was tall, but because he was beaming like he’d just won the lottery.
And then he was called to the podium to say a few words.
“I don’t know why everyone’s so sad,” he began.
That was the breaking point for Palmer’s wife. She started screaming at him.
She had tried being understanding, but having just lost their three children in the fire that also destroyed their house, she couldn’t take it anymore.
Palmer vanished in the following years, but there were rumors of unsuccessful stays at mental hospitals once he’d slipped off the fast track and gotten fired from job after job.
It wasn’t just his wife—absolutely nobody could stand him for very long.
Yesterday, I ran into him asking for spare change downtown.
I squatted to talk to this ragged man, who’d somehow lost an ear and half his leg but who still smiled happily at me through rotting teeth,
and suddenly I recalled a brief incident at almost the exact same spot, long ago.
Back then, Palmer Kent had been a surly fellow. We were walking to a meeting when a bent old woman begged him for spare change, and he had spit in her face.
I remembered how the old woman had smiled before responding, “May you be happy for the rest of your life.”
Yesterday, I saw something behind Palmer’s eyes. Something that told me he desperately wants to be unhappy about things, but can’t.