On the train last week I saw a young man sitting at the end of the aisle.
He looked to be in his mid-twenties, and his blue jeans, black jacket, and navy Nikes were nondescript. His red-blonde hair was long and slicked back, curling around his neck and the collar of his coat. He had five or six day old scruff, mostly covered by the bandaids and gauze on his nose and cheekbones.
In one of my stories . . .
“Jonny, someday you’re going to be someone great.” His mother turned from the sink full of dishes to look at her eight-year-old. What she saw was normal—he was laying on the kitchen table with his arms hanging off the edge and his head dangling over. He was swinging his arms and humming, only she knew he was listening because he sang when he wasn’t.
Ten years later, after his last high school orchestra concert—as first violin—he was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by the graduating class of East Rivermouth High School.
Four years after that, he graduated from an esteemed university with his BFA in Violin Performance, and took an internship with the Seattle Symphony.
Three years later, he was living in a studio apartment above a Vietnamese restaurant on the north side of Chicago, working mornings at a diner and evenings as a security guard at Chicago museum.
Things had been promising at the Seattle Symphony, until the conductor’s granddaughter took an interest in Jonny. The conductor, zealously passionate for his granddaughter’s career (not her love interests), released Jonny with little explanation and less goodwill.
The professional violin industry is highly competitive, and when Jonny fell down the steps and broke his hand moving out of his Seattle apartment, it sealed his fate. Unwilling to tell his parents, he moved in with a cousin in Chicago, where he scraped together a living and developed a nasty temper. He didn't sing anymore. And his attempts to play the violin always ended with him slamming the case shut angrily.
His coworker at the museum, an elderly man who mumbled a lot and chewed tobacco when he thought no one was watching, took a vague interest in Jonny. Whenever he saw him coming, he muttered,
“Bad Jonny. You bad.” Jonny’d lost his temper once at work and slammed a glass on the floor—the old man helped him clean it up before anyone saw.
This morning, Jonny was at the diner when the Seattle Symphony conductor came in. Without thinking, Jonny swung a fist at the old man. Shocked but savvy, the old man swung right back, hitting Jonny’s nose which gave a loud crack.
Several punches and two minutes later, Jonny was on the street, out of a job and dejected.
That night, when he arrived at the museum with a bandaid covered face, the old man took one look at him and said,
“You bad, Jonny. You bad.”