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Every now and then there’s an incident with a customer or coworker that unexpectedly affects me, whether in a negative way or a positive way.

Tonight, it was in a melancholy way.

In the department where I work, we have a gate, separate from the main entrances, that’s kept open until 7 p.m. When it was time to close the gate, as she was leaving, my coworker watching the gate told me there was an older customer still looking at our annuals inside.

“He was outside with the perennials for almost an hour, and now he’s been in here for awhile,” she said, raising her eyebrows.

I agreed that it was strange, but I like flowers a lot so I could understand. As she left, I told my other coworker he could close our register and went to the gated flower area to let the older gentleman know that I was closing the gate, but I would leave it unlocked until he was ready to leave.

When I started talking to him I noticed he had ice blue eyes much like my own, and his age-dappled face showed an embarrassed smile. “Oh, I’m sorry, my car’s right there, but I’ll just go around the front, then.”

“Don’t worry, I’m leaving the door unlocked so just let me know when you want to leave and I can let you out,” I said again.

He was clearly flustered. “No, no, thanks for telling me. I’ll just check out and go. I didn’t realize how late it was.”

I took down the lane closed sign and checked out his purchase. One six pack of bright red salvia. I pulled open the metal bars to let him out and he thanked me again. I couldn’t help but think that even more than his similar eye color, his profuse apologies and thank yous would have reminded some of my friends of me. As I told him I thought the saliva were a beautiful color, I felt a sinking feeling in my chest. I regretted disturbing him from his stroll among the flowers.

It was then I knew why he had been perusing flowers for over an hour, and why he had been embarrassed, and hesitant.

It was the fourth of July. He was alone.

He was wandering among the flowers because he didn’t want to be alone.

I tried to tell my coworker and he said, “yeah that’s sad.” Shrugging he added, “Nothing you can do, though.”

Throughout my life and it’s happenings I’ve come to know loneliness pretty well. But remembering the sad, apologetic smile he gave me I knew he was all too aware of a loneliness that I had yet to experience.

As I sat in my car alone in the parking lot of my workplace watching my city’s fireworks display through my windshield and the myriad far-away shows in the distance, I couldn’t help but think of how the fireworks fit the older man I had talked to three hours earlier. Although I haven’t heard this metaphor before, I’m sure I’m not the first to suggest life could be like a firework, the way it starts small, spirals up, makes a bright noise and later a bright bang, and then peters out. For this man, maybe all of the other sparks in his life have gone out. And there was nothing I could do about it, no help I could offer.

Earlier this week after visiting my grandparents I had another minor breakdown as I realized I don’t know how much time they have left and here I am going off to Pennsylvania. I had to cancel on a friend because my hands were shaking and I didn’t think I could drive. I feel a little bit like drowning.

I hope all the sparks in my life don’t disappear before I do.

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