The Most Important Story He Ever Told
This story is about a man. And like most men this man had a name. But that name isn’t important. What’s important is his story. Not the story of his life. Not the story of his failed relationships and two children he hadn’t seen in ten years. And not the story about how he was always one number away from hitting the jackpot.
He told a lot of stories. Some true, some maybe not so much. But that didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was his story about Costa Rica. The most important story he ever told.
The first time I ever heard this story I was in a locals-only type of bar. Not the type of bar you would visit if you were just vacationing in my city. The type of bar that was overloaded with skinny jeans, non-prescription glasses and more musical pretension then anyone could ever ask for.
I first met this man in the dark smoking alley behind the bar. It was a little alley way between two buildings that had an open roof with an old tarp tied up over it in case it rained. I showed up late as usual and happened upon my two friends talking to this man in his mid to late forties who looked completely out of place at the bar. He was so engrossed in his story, there was no time for introductions.
“This is it,” he said. “I’m out of here. I’m gettin’ out man.”
“Where you going?” my friend asked.
“Costa Rica! I’m out of here in three weeks!” he shouted.
“Why Costa Rica?”
“Why Costa Rica? Do you really need to ask that?”
“Yeah, what’s in Costa Rica that’s not here?” I asked.
“Ha! Are you kidding me man? First of all, the women, man. The women are gorgeous over there. If you move there and you’re not married to the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen within three months than something is seriously wrong with you.”
“But there’s plenty of beautiful women here.”
“Not like there, man. They’ll take care of you as long as you take care of them. Which is another reason I’m moving. There’s so much work over there. They are desperate for Americans to move over there and teach English. My cousin just moved over there last year and he’s married to the sexiest woman you’ll ever see and he’s making a good living and has a nice house by the beach.”
“Wow, that sounds awesome,” I said. “I almost want to move with you.”
“Hey, why not, man? Hell, let’s all move there together. Get your tickets. We’re leaving in three weeks.”
My friends and I spent the rest of the night hanging out with the man. Shot after shot, drink after drink, we had the greatest time with our new friend. I remember thinking I wished that guy wasn’t leaving for Costa Rica because he was actually really cool.
A few weeks and a lot more hangovers later, I met up with my friends again at that same bar. We all ordered our drinks and then immediately made our way to the smoking alley. We each packed our packs of cigarettes and flipped up a lucky. Except for one of my friends: he flipped up two. “One for the luck and one for the fuck,” he would say. (Yeah, he never got laid.)
Once in the alley, we came upon our friend who should have been in Costa Rica by then. He was drinking in a corner by himself, smoking a cigarette.
“Hey what’s up man?” I said as I shook his hand. “Shouldn’t you be in Costa Rica right now?”
“I got my bags packed man. I’m leaving in two days. There was a little mix up with getting my tickets and my cousin’s availability and all that but, yeah, I’m going man. You guys are still coming along right?”
We ended up spending the rest of the night hanging out with the man again. He had the most interesting stories. He had truly lived a rich life. I remember thinking that I hoped that I live as full of a life as that guy when I’m his age.
After the hangover the next day, I decided to let my liver rest. I took the next few months off from drinking. I focused a lot on my personal life. I decided to start dating again or at least my friend decided for me and set me up on a blind date with this girl from his work.
I’m not saying that the date went bad but afterwards I decided to break my three months of sobriety and headed down to my favorite locals-only bar. I went stag this time. Maybe I would find the love of my life. More than likely, though, I would just rediscover my love for whiskey.
I walked into the bar. It was still kind of early so there weren’t a lot of people crowded around. I ordered a whiskey sour and started packing my pack of smokes I had just bought from the 7-11 down the street. I sipped my drink as I walked into the smoking alley.
There were some people having a conversation at the other end of the alley but I paid no attention to them because I was having a love affair with my old friend Jack Daniels. I flipped over my lucky cigarette and lit up a fresh one. I was then shocked by the conversation I began to overhear.
“Yeah, I’m out of here man. In three weeks I’m moving to Costa Rica.”
I looked up and saw it was my old friend. How was that possible? How was he still here?
An overwhelming flood of emotions came over me. I didn’t know which one to grasp onto. So I just stared at this man as he told the same story he had told me and my friends four months before.
How many times had that man told that same story? He eventually saw me; I know it because we locked eyes. I saw a look of desperation in his face. It wasn’t a look of someone pleading to not blow their cover. No. It was the look of a man who had nothing. He had nothing but that story. That was what kept him going.
That story not only filled him with hope that maybe one day he will actually do something different with his life but it also inspired the people he told it to. I know this, because I was one of them. I wasn’t supposed to come back to that bar that night. I wasn’t supposed to hear that story ever again.
I set my drink down and stomped my cigarette out. I rushed out of the bar and immediately got in my car and drove off. I wasn’t supposed to go back to that bar that night.
Some stories are meant to be heard only once. I wasn’t mad at all that the man had lied to me. I got it. His story did nothing but help people. Including himself. It was his flickering light. It’s why he got up in the morning. It was his hope. And hope is what keeps us going and makes us do the crazy things we do that we never thought would be possible. And that story not only gave him hope but gave others hope as well.
The entire car ride home, though, I couldn’t help but wonder about one thing: How many times had he told that story?