I have always been told that I was a sponge. Made to absorb others emotions. Maybe you met a person like me before : someone you really feel comfortable to talk to about your feelings. Well that’s me : the sponge. Most of people, even other sponges sometimes, don’t seem to realise they are sharing their intimacy to a sponge.
So I got this faculty, or should I say “character trait” which makes me a good listener and an adept sensor for those secretive and fragile moments when people start opening their heart. As much as I can be inattentive in the middle of a day-to-day conversation, my mind is constantly aware of any fragments of personal shares. In those moments, I feel like I understand everything the person mean and find some kind answers in return quite naturally.
But that talent unfortunately can change easily into a burden. Not only a sponge can absorb but it can also keep a lot inside for quite a long time. And some people will abuse a spongy mind without even realising what they are doing. They would simply not listening in return.
A great example of my personal experience as a sponge happened when I was a barmaid.
I was working at the bar of an hostel in Cardiff a few nights every weeks. That evening was one of those when you can tell you’ll be bored, stuck behind the counter. The place was cosy but dead, which attract a certain type of customer you pray you won’t see coming. Especially when you are a 27 years old woman.
I was on my own, time was running slow, and a man arrived at the bar. He seemed quite old but I couldn’t tell his age. Obviously, alcohol and time did a great job together marking that confused face. At the moment I wasn’t surprised. Just annoyed. You can avoid this type of person in the street but not in the bar you work in.
After pouring his first pint, I tried to keep myself busy as much as I could to escape his look on me.
“ Can I talk to you for a bit please ?” Here we go ! I thought. I sort of agreed with a brief “yes” coming from in between my teeth.
“I just went out of prison and my mum is dying in hospital right now. Poor woman bless her… I’m her only son who care for her. My brother and my bitch of a sister wouldn’t come. You think they would care ? Those bastards. It’s unbelievable ! That woman is everything to me. She put me out of jail so many times ! I can’t leave her alone, can I ? She got no one, she is dying. Bless her. My sister, that bitch, said we have to let her go and my brother that coward… You think they care ? They don’t. Bloody hell. I’m clean now you know ? I mean I won’t hurt anybody that’s for sure and I care for my mum. She is a great woman, the best one. She did everything for me, I can’t leave her. You know what I mean ? My brother doesn’t help, my sister… That bitch. I hate them so much. It’s unbelievable. And now she’s on her own at the hospital ! I can’t leave her like that can I ? eh ? She helped me when I was in jail. I love her so much. I think she’s dying. My father is dead too. My brother doesn’t give a shit and my sister that fucking bitch ! I hate them both so much ! She helped me so many times when I was in prison, she never let me down. Bless her… I don’t understand those two assholes. ”
His monologue lasted three pints and an hour. Maybe less but it felt like an hour. A speech slightly interspersed by my comments : “ha”, “ok”, “I know”, “yes”, “I’m sorry”, “ha”, “That’s sad”, “I understand”.
As I absorbed the story of that man, my mind was divided. One side wanted to escape : Be firm ! Tell him you’re busy ! You don’t have to do that ! You’re not a therapist and if you were at least you could charge this guy 50 bucks an hour just for listening ! But the other side was winning : Don’t be rude… He may be aggressive if you reject him… After all he’s been suffering… He won’t stay long… Hold out ! Your shift nearly end !
When I thought it was over, and as he was clinging on to the bar trying to don’t fall, he ended up his speech with a question :
“Do you want to go for a drink with me later ?”
I declined his offer with a polite excuse and he left the bar.
Since that moment, I have been wondering what on my face invites strangers to share their stories to me.
Squeezing my sponge into the sink, I thought I may write that guy’s story.