Here I sit and recount the final tale of the original Ethan Weatherby. I didn’t know him personally. I‘ve only collected that which can still be discovered from those that consider themselves lucky for having known him. And have done so because I owe him my life.
On the infamous Tuesday in early July, Ethan woke, wiping the sleeping tears he’d grown used to. He wished the moments of memory were from a dream. But, he’d never been that lucky. And regret, embarrassment and shame had become his close and only real friends.
The stain on his ceiling, which he would later discover had been caused by a rupture in the no-longer functioning sprinkler system, had grown since the day before. And he wondered if he’d be able to hold onto his small nook in Brooklyn long enough for it to collapse onto his bed. Most likely on a day he’d just washed the sheets. Or maybe that one time per year he purchased new ones. Ethan was never one to look on the bright side.
His stomach growled and he wondered if he’d remembered to eat on his way home the night before. He hadn’t. The flavor of stale whiskey and peppermint gum lingered and forced him to recount every second, every movement, every thought and doubt and hope and… I know. Cheery guy. He used to tell my dad that his daily ritual of recounting was what kept him from spiraling into it completely.
“People are strange.” He would often say, “They find and they lose and they search and they decline. They linger and wander and travel. They go out and smile. They feel. They share. They seem to genuinely enjoy themselves…” Ethan had never really experienced that. He, of course, had laughed and felt joy in moments and truly had lived richly in experience. But always to return to his aging, unwashed sheets, his tear-strewn pillow cases, his stained ceiling, and his inescapable fear of sleep.
His body creaked with every move; the thirty-one years behind the bar had left his muscles and tendons brittle. He looked down at his coffee table, which held only a first-edition Collected Works of Edgar Allen Poe that he’d received for his fifty-third birthday. He’d never opened it but he liked the way it felt next to his bed. He stood and limped to the full-length mirror, taking every inch of himself in, feeling every bit of regret he knew how. And suddenly, like clock-work, it didn’t mean a damned thing. “People are strange.”
The shower sputtered and eventually got warm enough for a lengthy and rejuvenating pre-shift wash. His favorite part of the day. He could hear his neighbor, Loretta, singing through the wall. A remix of one of his old favorites. He smiled and let the water run down his body, relaxing and soothing the waking woes.
The bar was old. Like Ethan. It was bitter and unkempt. And the new hire, Rebecca, standing all of twenty-four, bounced around prepping and rambling-on about bitters and fresh juices. Ethan stepped outside for his third cigarette. That’s when everything changed.
It wasn’t anything he hadn’t seen a thousand times before. A mid-afternoon argument between millennial boyfriend and girlfriend. His first thought, he used to joke, was, “I’ll most likely see him later tonight.”
The car wasn’t moving particularly fast and they weren’t standing particularly close to the street. And had it not been for the way the light was dancing between the arguing millennials, Ethan probably wouldn’t have seen a thing, wouldn’t have stepped in to help and wouldn’t have ended up how he did.
But the light was dancing beautifully between them. The summer air and rich smoke from his Camel Blue haloed as the car rolled and the window slowly lowered. He spoke before he really knew what was happening. A gut feeling that saved two lives.
“Hey you two, get down!” His legs tensed and he dove from the side entrance doorway, grabbing the boy first, then her, knocking them both to the ground as the blasting echo shot through the city street, immediately followed by two more. And then a shriek of tires.
“Are you okay?” He asked as he rolled off of them, his cigarette still lit in his right hand.
Rebecca ran outside and passers-by gathered and saw the dripping blood pouring onto the sidewalk. The boy, frantic and scared, suddenly nothing but concerned for his young love. Ethan smiled slightly seeing the affection the boy doted on her after the argument just moments before and he thought, “Maybe they’ve got a shot.”
He felt the pressure of hands on his back and could hear people screaming around him, asking him if he was alright. But as much as he tried, no answer came. The shock began to ware and he felt the hands of the nurse, who had told him her name was Jacqueline, holding the wound in his side. He tried to turn to see but pain arrived. His muscles seized and he began to worry.
He felt the tears he normally left on his pillow running down his cold cheeks. His throat tightened. His hands grasped at nothing. And he saw the stain in his ceiling growing above him, looming towards collapse.
“What’s your name, hun?” Jacqueline was shouting for people to stay back and make sure paramedics were en route. “Does anyone know his name?”
“Ethan.” Rebecca trembled from the crowd.
“Ethan. Ethan. I’m Jacqueline. You’re going to be ok. But I need you to keep your eyes open.”
“My ceiling…” Words then seemed to come but not the right ones. He would later, in TV interviews and meetings with the mayor, say he felt like he was floating. But, the reality was, that’s something he read in a book when he was in high school. He thought it sounded better than the truth – that he was sinking and his stained ceiling was drowning him in his pillow cases. The pavement was course and hard and cold beneath him. And had it not been for the kindness and happenstance of that nurse, he surely would’ve drowned.
He was awarded a medal and promised that his apartment troubles would be resolved. They never were. He returned to work six weeks later, welcomed to the bar by droves of regulars and news junkies waiting to get a selfie with the “hero bartender.” Of course, the millennial couple was there. Her in tears; him doing his best to act like a man twice his age while shaking Ethan’s hand and thanking him.
Ethan didn’t pour a single drink that night for a guest. Nor did he ever have to again. He lived seven more years in Brooklyn before moving to the nursing home his father had died in. He requested the same room, somehow finding peace in the sadness of that. All he brought from his apartment was the first-edition Collected Works of Poe, still to never open it. He simply liked the way it felt on his coffee table.
The morning he passed, after wiping his waking tears, he looked at it, sitting next to the wedding photo of the millennial lovers, and he smiled, remembering the feeling of sinking into that pavement, knowing no matter what came next, there was soon to be a new honoree of the name Ethan Weatherby to enter this world. One who would always feel pride and love for my namesake.