Mark wandered the streets of New York, neither knowing nor caring where he was or where he was going.
He’d flown in to see Lisa for Christmas, and planned to spend two weeks with her. They’d done this every year for the four years they’d been together. But within three hours of his flight landing, she’d broken up with him.
“I’m sorry, but things haven’t been feeling right for a while now. I meant to say something earlier – I really did – but I couldn’t figure out how. And even though you’ve come all the way out here… I’m sorry, but…it’s over.”
It was an understatement to say he felt crushed. They’re spent four years together…and to have that fall apart… He knew things hadn’t been good, that they had things to work on. But he always thought there’d be more time.
“I guess I have all the time in the world now,” Mark thought, “but I have no idea what to do with myself…”
What should he do? He couldn’t go home, not after spending all that money to fly out here. Plus, going home early felt like admitting he was a failure. He dealt with those feelings often enough, but as low as he felt right now, he refused to feel sorry for himself. But what in the world should he do? He needed to find a place to stay, at the very least.
He needed time to think. He looked up. He didn’t recognize where he was, but he recognized the feel of it: the crowds, the people, the energy… “OK, let’s do this,” he said, hefting up his luggage.
He’d brought two pieces of luggage with him. The first was his suitcase, filled with two weeks of clothes, a bathroom travel kit, a spare change of shoes, and anything else he thought he might need for the two-week trip. But in the second piece of luggage, he carried his heart and soul.
He’d loved Lisa – he really had. But neither she nor any lover before her could ever replace music in his life. Many tried. Lisa had tried, but she never understood why he preferred performing in front of a crowd, however small, over parties and other social gatherings. They were alright, but they were nothing when compared to making music.
He rarely went anywhere without his instrument, and had it with him in New York. So he looked around for a few minutes to find a good spot, and set up. When he was ready, he removed his heart from its case and began tuning the strings. And once the two of them – man and instrument – were in sync, he began to play and sing.
He played a song of Christmas snow – light and fluffy. He played a song of Holiday gift-giving, bright but mysterious. He played a song to the longest night of the year, full of cheer and merriment in the face of darkness. He played a song to drive the night away.
Then Mark closed his eyes and played the song of his relationship with Lisa. It was a song of heartbreak and regret. It was a song of nostalgia and remembrance. He played of the day the two of them met. He played of the first time they made love. He played of hundreds of memories, until the ache in his fingers bothered him more than the ache in his heart. Then, he stopped playing and opened his eyes.
The crowd had stopped, and they were staring at him with bright, tear-stained eyes. “I got dumped tonight,” Mark said, a bit choked up himself, “and I had to get that off my chest. Thank you all for listening.”
And they cheered, and applauded, and hooted and hollered. Some threw money into his open music case. After he’d set his instrument aside, some of them came up and gave him hugs. Some told him things like, “That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard,” “You’re so talented,” or things like that. He listened to them, and thanked them all with an honest, if tired, smile.
And once the crowd had thinned down and died out, a woman about the same age as Mark approached him.
“That was amazing. I’ve never heard anything like it,” she said.
“Thank you very much,” Mark replied with a smile.
“Was that true? Did you really…get dumped tonight?”
“Yes,” Mark sighed. “Yes, I did. That’s why I came out here to play: to get a few things out, and think about what I was going to do over the rest of my trip.”
“How long are you going to be in New York?”
“Oh, nice. The city’s great this time of the year. Where are you staying? Maybe I can make some recommendations on things to do while you’re here.”
“Right now, I don’t know. I was supposed to be staying with my girl- with my ex, but that didn’t work out.”
“Oh God, I’m so sorry. That sounds awful.”
“Yeah, but I’ll be OK. Things have a way of working out,” Mark responded, beginning to pack up his things.
It was long, quiet couple of moments before she spoke again. “Well, it’s not much, but I have a couch that’s free at my place. I mean, if you’re interested.”
Mark stopped and turned around to look at her. She seemed nervous, but in a way that felt safe – like she’d seen hard times herself, and wanted to do something when she saw a stranger going through them too. He had a good feeling about her.
“Sure, thank you. I’d like that,” he replied. “I’m Mark.”
“I’m Hannah,” she said, offering a handshake. “it’s nice to meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you too Hannah,” Mark said, shaking her hand. “Thank you for being so kind.”
“Oh, not at all.”
Mark finished packing the last of his things and turned to face her. “Lead the way.”
She smiled shyly, and started walking.
“Oh, wait,” Mark said.
“Merry Christmas Hannah,” Mark said, giving her his best smile.
She stared for a moment before responding in kind,
“Merry Christmas Mark.”