Biff America: Sins and recompenses
Tom and I were never really friends, though you could have called us acquaintances years ago. We did have a few mutual friends. Once they moved away, I lost touch with him. I assumed he had moved, as well.
So I was a little surprised when he called me out of the blue and said he was back in town for a few days and asked if we could meet for coffee.
In retrospect, I’m glad it wasn’t lunch.
I was early, but he was already seated, served and waiting when I arrived. I helped myself to some coffee and sat down.
We made small talk for a few minutes. I asked him what he’d been doing since we last spoke. He told me he’d moved home to Kansas several years ago. He mentioned that he sometimes read my columns online but had not been back to Colorado for many years.
It might have been the first time he and I had ever sat down one on one, and I was curious why he reached out to me after all this time.
I didn’t have to wait long for the answer: He said he’d been in therapy to deal with some emotional, lifestyle and anger issues that had been plaguing him since his teens. He added that he was trying to regain control of his life and feelings.
Tom said his therapist had suggested that he contact people from his past who have had a positive impact on him as well as those who he had misused, mistreated or betrayed.
I got a sickening feeling that I wasn’t in the former category. I wished I’d ordered decaf.
Tom jumped right in by telling me he’d never liked me.
I said, “OK,” but I think he wanted me to ask him why.
He went on to say that he now realized the reason he didn’t like me had less to do with me being a jerk (though he added that I was) and more to do with the fact that he didn’t like himself. He then said he thought I exhibited a “demeanor of sarcastic arrogance.”
He asked, “How do you feel about what I just told you?”
I understood that this was all part of his quest for emotional balance and personal healing. It was for that reason I didn’t say, “Take a number.” Instead, I thanked him for his honesty, told him I wish him well and would give what he said some serious thought. He thanked me for my time, and we shook hands. I got the sense he was grateful that I’m not a hugger. He mentioned he had several other people to see before he left town.
Later that day, I was talking to a buddy of mine who has been through some therapy and 12-step programs. He said it was incredibly helpful for him and added that sometimes part of the process is to revisit people of your past and clear the air. Now that I know that, I guess I’m happy it was therapeutic for Tom to tell me he once considered me lower than whale poop.
After Tom left the coffee shop, I sat alone and wondered how many people I had inadvertently offended over the years. I wonder if any of us appear to others as we see ourselves. I know I often misinterpret shyness for snobbery, insecurity for conceit and being busy or otherwise distracted for unfriendliness. I know I often forget to give others the benefit of the doubt that I would hope they’d give me.
One result of my encounter with Tom was to remind me that we all have good days and bad. None of us can know exactly how we appear to others; I’d like to think most of us are a little nicer.
With that thought in mind, I got up to pay and leave. The sky was clouding up, and I hoped to sneak in a quick bike ride before I needed to do a little work. I went up to pay for my coffee, and the gal at the counter said, “One large coffee for you, and your friend’s latte and scone. That will be $13.50.”
Tom had stuck me with the bill.
I wish I had gotten to know Tom a little better when he lived here. I think we have a lot in common.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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