He was beautiful and tragic.
At least that’s how I took him to be at the time. And I’m not romanticizing here…at least I don’t think I am. And I’m not talking about “beautiful” as in “attractive.” I’m talking about beautiful in that deeper way you talk about beauty, if you get what I mean.
Maybe I’m not sure what I mean by that, but it’s the only way I can describe it.
We were in Denver at The Great Divide, a nice little brewery that spits out tasty pints. We were waiting to take a tour, but it turned out that there weren’t enough people for a tour that day. We had to just settle for the wares of the place, and I stood at the edge of the crowded bar for a long time before the tender, also enjoying a tasty pint, noticed me.
Drink in hand, the five of us sat down. If you looked around the table you’d see the width and breadth of what a college education spits out: a teacher, an artist, a doctor, a financial advisor, and a pastor. The lawyer couldn’t make it this year, though he often rounds out the crew.
College friends. College roommates. Most of us fraternity brothers (the doctor and the lawyer opted out of the fraternity experience in deference for books…a questionable choice). We all raised a pint and celebrated our yearly vacation together, something we ceremoniously call “Mancation.”
We’d been in Denver for a few hours, had already visited a brewery, and were on our second hop.
I noticed him standing just behind the guard rail of the sidewalk patio. Black shirt. Deep blue jeans. Black rimmed glasses. Beer in hand, cigarette emerging from his pocket. He was listening in as we chatted. I knew he was going to chime in.
“Nice glasses,” he said to me. I was wearing my Aviators. They are nice glasses. Prescription sunglasses, which means I wear them inside, after dark, because I always forget to bring my other ones. The Financial Advisor in our group (I usually refer to him as a “banker,” which he hates) never fails to shame me when I wear them inside.
But they are nice glasses. The guy obviously has taste, so I affirmed the truth of his statement, which gave him a conversation “in.”
Turns out he was a visitor to Denver, too. Staying in town for just a few more days. We chatted about the area, the dream that is Denver living, local brews. We found out his name was Wit, short for Dewitt. He’s from North Carolina. As a fellow Carolinian, I naturally respected him implicitly.
“What brings you here?” I ask. He takes a long drag off of his cigarette. “Treatment,” he says.
And I realized at that point that, every once in a while Wit would scratch himself just below his belt line. Every time he did that you’d catch a glimpse of his stomach, and these nice little cut marks all along his pelvis. And when he said “treatment,” I looked over at his left arm. Nice little cut marks all the way up it.
He looked at me and said, “Tell me Tim, do you think I’m too skinny?”
I sat for a moment. What to say? It all became clear: the bony elbows, the ribs showing through his baggy shirt if he shifted just right, his collarbone showing clearly through pale skin.
“Do you think you are?” I asked. He smiled, his pierced lip breaking a little at the edge.
The Doctor gave me a knowing look. He’s seen this about as much as I have. His diagnosis is technically the same as mine, but I use a different word for it.
Wit’s plagued by a demon.
Maybe a demon of his past; maybe it’s more recent. Whatever it is, it torments him. It tells him lies. It tells him things like, “Every bone should show…I can’t see that collar bone enough.”
It tells him things like, “If you cut just a little bit, the pain will go away. You’ll see the red, you’ll feel the release. It’s something you can do.”
He never answered my question. He’s sitting down now, scratching the cuts on his pelvis every once in a while. Bright red. Not old cuts.
No one really knows what to say. It’s kind of like when someone who has attempted suicide shows you their wrists. You lose your words, and rightfully so. There’s no words for those types of demons. They eat all our words. They digest them and spit them back out to us as shallow platitudes, no matter how much sincerity is behind them.
But I know that Wit already feels different. He wants to be in the conversation, not out of it, even though he’s exposed himself. It’s the reason why it took him five beers to get up the courage to join us.
“Treatment, huh?” I say, “Decided it wasn’t for you?”
“Let’s just say we had disagreements regarding method,” he said in-between a drag. Cool. Smooth. He’s used that line before.
“Well, if you’re wondering about skinny, that beer’s empty calories are giving you some answers.” He laughed. I figured he could laugh at that. It wasn’t sensitive to him in that kind of way. “I’ll allow these calories,” he said.
“Yeah, I know those other calories they try to give you. Ensure and Carnation and all those chalky drinks.”
“Can’t stand the stuff. Doesn’t taste good, anyway,” he smiled again. Another crack. His lips were chapped in the middle of summer, the beer and the lack of calories sucking out the water from his skin.
We chatted a little while longer and after a bit my friends and I decided to head to a different brewery. We all bid Wit farewell, and I got up last to leave. And I looked at him before going, and somehow the pastor in me, the Christian in me, the human in me couldn’t just leave. And I put my hand on his shoulder and I said, “I don’t want you to give up on treatment, OK?”
He took out a cigarette, put it in his mouth, lit it and said, “Tim, do you think I’m too skinny?”
I said, “Wit, I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t want you to worry about that question anymore. Don’t give up on treatment.”
And this guy, who was probably in his early twenties, who I’d never met before, grabbed my hand and pulled me down into one of the tightest hugs I’ve ever had in my life. His cigarette fell to ground, and he just squeezed me. And he started crying.
Jesus says in Matthew, “My yoke is easy. My burden is light.”
Wit was yoked badly. It was sucking his life away. He thinks he needs a lighter body, but he needs a lighter yoke. He needs a yoke that doesn’t cut into him, like those red lines on his arms reveal the one he carries does.
He’s trying to force a balance on his life, a balance of weight loss to counter-balance his pain, but he’s breaking himself in the process. He’s being devoured by this demon.
I’m not sure religion is the answer for Wit, but I’m pretty sure love is. Love of self. Love for self. The love of Divine love that loves you even when you’re ill and possessed by the demons of this world…and somehow that helps you become well.
Usually I tell people that possession doesn’t really fit into my worldview. And yet, I’m not sure how else to describe what Wit is going through. He’s possessed not by some other-worldy entity, some literal demon, but by this worldly entity that continues to spit out lies to him. A different tap spits out a different lie each time he draws from it. His cup runs over in a bad way.
I was on vacation, and all I could think is, “Holy shit. This guy needs a pastor and a doctor.”
And there we were…but we were helpless in that moment. Or at least it felt that way.
I still keep Wit in my prayers, though we last met about a month ago. I wonder if he’s back in treatment; I pray he is.
I wonder if he’s sitting somewhere today asking someone, “Tell me, do you think I’m too skinny?”
I wonder what they say.
I wonder if anything that can be said is enough to battle these demons. I’ve seen both sides win in this.
For some reason I wanted to write this out today. Maybe it’s because I’m going on a longer vacation tomorrow. Maybe it’s because it’s a summer day in August and it’d be a good day for a beer. Perhaps I’m still processing the encounter with this demon.
Perhaps someone needs to hear this today.