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The Cashier

He was a young man, twenty-three or four, married only a short time to a beautiful woman who he knew he didn’t deserve. Though, why would anyone use the word “deserve” to describe love?

The young man was trying to find his way and he knew it wasn’t the current path he was on. He had to get off it fast. The “way,” the answers to life, was not in a whiskey bottle. His father did that and it left him with a frail, angry body, absorbed by hatred and bitterness. So he searched hard, digging deep within the trenches of his soul, to find some glimpse of a life that would be meaningful. Yes, love has meaning, but if one does not love themself, how can they fully offer love to another?

On this particular day, the man would be tested. He was being taken back to events that were unfolding rapidly in his mind, as if a stampede of wild horses were running around him, an arm's length away from being trampled, and he felt the warm air from their strength that could produce his death in one moment. Of all the places to have an awakening experience, a gas station, holding a dirty pump handle, filling up a car that he could barely afford.

The young man was looking inside the store and recognized the cashier, something about the hair and eyes, and a murderous rage overtook him. It was something he felt only once or twice in his life, mostly for his father. Every harmed man thinks of murder, revenge, and destruction at least once in their lifetime. It comes out whether we want it to or not. We want to take back the innocence, the vulnerability, and exact a price on the person who did us wrong. I’m not talking about something simple like being struck by words or a selfish gesture. This murderous rage comes in the form of wanting revenge on someone who changed the trajectory of your life, shaping and molding your thoughts and leaving you with depression and trauma. It’s this type of revenge the young man sought.

The pump clicked, signaling that the tank was full, which also snapped him out of his transfixed glare into the store window, wondering, hoping, but frightened that it was indeed the man who harmed him so long ago. He had to be sure so he went in to pay for his gas. As he approached the counter and looked directly into the man’s eyes, with his red hair, muscular arms, and creepy smile, he knew it was him. Then, as the shirt slightly unraveled at the pocket, the name tag of the man appeared and confirmed it. He handed the cashier money that was drawing sweat from his palms, and did not say a word. He smiled and then walked away knowing what he had to do.

The young man went to his car, pulled it to the side, out of the lane but still within view of the window to the store. He felt the handle of the fixed blade knife he kept under his seat. It was a familiar feel, one he carried in the woods. He watched the cashier take out the trash and as the sun fell, he watched the cashier have a smoke break on the side of the building. The young man watched patiently and waited. His rage grew and he plotted the cashier’s murder. He was calculating the time that this red-headed man would finish his shift and then he would follow him, approach him so the cashier could look him in the eye, and then he would tell the man who he was and how he had impacted his life, doing things to him that a boy should not have to experience. It was something his father did to him as well, and for a moment the young man thought of killing his father on the same night since he was in the mood for avenging his childhood self. Both would be justified killings. “Yes, justice,” he thought. “There would finally be justice.”

His thoughts left his father and the revenge he wanted to take out on his failing, dirty body, and went back to the cashier. He waited thinking of what he would say as he approached him. Would he tell him who he was and remind him of the boy with the tortured soul? Perhaps he would have the cashier simply take the time to stare at his eyes and figure it out himself because our eyes don’t change.

He knew the cashier was an ex-con, a great athlete who ruined his own life. He would not be an easy kill, which made the young man even more eager to confront him because no man wants an easy kill. He knew the cashier would try to fight his way out of being taken by the knife, but the young man’s determination for his revenge would be too much for the cashier. He knew this red-headed man would die by his hand on this night. He knew he would feel his knife go deep in the cashier’s belly and neck. It would be a good kill, just like he was taught, for this young man was not a helpless boy anymore. He was trained, skilled, and strong. He had prepared his body so that no one would ever make him a victim again. Yes, this cashier would stop breathing soon.

The night would conceal him. It would give him an advantage and allow him to close distance quickly. What then? What would he do after his kill? He thought about the country roads and the rock quarry that he grew up within a mile from. It was a place he knew well and went to a hundred times as a kid, walking across a corn field to get to, where it was adjacent to a woods where he onced played war games, built forts, and almost hung himself from a tall tree just two years prior. On this night, the cashier's body would become part of the land. It was just a matter of time now.

The young man thought for a moment, “Was this what he has been training for, building his body and skills for years, to make it right with this red-headed man? Was his purpose to bring justice to the boy he once was?” When the box that you compartmentalize all of your suffering in order to survive comes undone, it’s either a time to weep or a time to become rage, become vengeance.

The cashier stepped out for one more smoke break and the young man started to remember how this red-headed man once controlled him, beat him, and made his youthful smile fade away. Then his thoughts went back to his father, who dwindled away in an apartment only a fifteen minute drive away, alone with his miserable self, two years after his mother had left him. He thought of how a couple of hours earlier he sat across from his dad telling him in a calm voice, “If you don’t leave mom alone, I will kill you.” His dad didn’t like being told this but there was not a thing he could do. Then, the young man rubbed his head, weary about how much murderous, violent, thoughts he was having in one night. Was this a test? Was it God laying everything out before him to see if he would act on his revenge? “No,” he thought, “This is the devil’s doing.” The devil leaves bad people alone and goes after the good ones because he has already welcomed the horrible souls to hell. The devil wants to cause chaos on the people that are trying to live a moral life. The young man knew his dad, after the years of abuse that he delivered, would have to at least have a conversation with God about his wrongdoings and at the same time, he would have one foot in hell. He knew for certain that the cashier, with his years in prison, and all of the harm he had caused others, would be delivered to hell in an express package. He also knew that he would help the cashier get there tonight.

The young man sensed, from the grip of the knife in his hand, the time was drawing near. He would take back his lost innocence. He would have his revenge and bring peace to the child he could now protect. Then, in a moment of clarity, her face entered his mind. If he murdered this man he would be taken from her, either by the steel bars that would confine him if caught, or his own mind because he knew that it was not right to take another man’s life unless it was needed to protect himself or her. He would live knowing that his revenge was not just because he could never make it right for the boy he once was. You cannot recover by wiping out the people who caused you pain, his trauma. The young man knew his only hope of bringing calmness to his mind was working on himself, making small improvements day by day for a lifetime. It was living a good life and helping others that mattered. It would be living a life of suffering and joy and seeing things that would awaken his senses, like mountains and oceans and art. He knew he needed to stay with her, to show her love and make her feel beautiful and secure for her entire life. All he could think about right at that moment was the life he would have with the woman he loved, and knowing that if he killed the cashier, he would not get revenge he sought but be taken from her. That would be the worst pain of all. To not be able to hold and love her would deliver more pain than the cashier or his father ever delivered to him. The young man knew what he had to do and so he dropped the knife in the floorboard of the car and held his head, trying to squeeze out the pain, and wept.

The cashier was allowed to go on living that night. The young man struggled driving away, knowing that there are bad people in the world causing harm to others, and chances are the cashier will continue to cause trauma to someone else. However, it would not be him that would stop him. He had to go home to her. He needed to see her and confess his pain while staring into her blue eyes. It was her that saved him and it will be her that will save him a thousand times more.

The young man had aged. He considered himself lucky to have the privilege of aging. He tried to develop his life into what he thought it should be, fumbling, falling down, making mistakes along the way, but trying to live with virtue. He never took revenge on his father either. Instead, his father took revenge on himself, ending his life one year after the cashier almost lost his.

Years later, when the young man wasn’t so young anymore, crossing the threshold into middle age, he sat across from his wife and told the truth about what had happened to him. He told most of it, what he thought she could handle, and how his suffering was why she would occasionally find him sitting alone in thought with dark eyes and tears that ruthlessly gathered with tainted memories. He needed to give her an explanation for his pain, so he told her about the men who caused it. Mostly those same men, with all of their brutality, assured that he would be resilient and strong because he wasn’t going to let anyone or anything ruin the life he wanted. He would find a way to take his trauma, depression, panic, and anxiety, and help others. He would help children, like the child he once was, who drowned in their suffering but had no idea what to do about it. He would show them the way, a new path to walk on, where they could survive and build resilience to face a world that was often cruel, but mostly to face themselves, giving grace to their own pain, and understand and accept it. Between loving his wife and serving others, it was the only way he knew how to heal.

What did he want in life? What was the meaning of it all? The man asked himself this often. The answer was to simply love his wife with everything he had, his entire being. He wanted her to feel it. He wanted her to realize that everything he has done and every decision he has made was out of love for her, trying to be the best man, the best husband, he could be.

The man sometimes sits with strong shoulders and wrinkled eyes and thinks about how he came close to killing the cashier that night, but mostly he is grateful he had the courage to walk away. Love is always stronger than hate.

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