A Conversation with a Mentor

A Story Told in the Voice of One Character

The third beer is usually the one that does it.

Do you like to drink? I used to have a taste for beers…funny to think that now. I think porters were my favorite. Those or stouts. A fresh draft of an oatmeal chocolate stout. I remember a good one in that bar down by the railroad tracks back home. Maybe the best drink of my life. Maybe it was the company. I dunno.

It’s been a long time since I’ve drunk for flavor. I suppose I miss tasting the carefully brewed creations – someone’s special craft.

But I drink for the alcohol now. I drink for the numbing.

You know, another group of the people comes in tomorrow. Another set of details to process. Another pile of cases to document. Another day of straining what remains in my own humanity to make some attempt to soften the harsh world for what remains of their humanity. Another day of asking about family member X – deceased; family member Y – missing; family member Z – left behind for now, hoping to get here later.

God I hate this. Maybe I need another beer.

I just can’t help but wonder. Why the hell is this still happening? Ya know what I mean? It’s something like 8…9 years since this damned war started. But anywhere I look for hope I can’t find any. The governments – the “good guys” – that were supposed to step in to stop it have just been opportunistic jackwagons. Sometimes I feel like I can just throw all of my hate at them. But it doesn’t matter anyway. Not like they care what I think. Someone called it the “impersonality of the state” or something like that. I hate it. But what I hate more is that no matter how much I rage against it it just doesn’t matter. Nobody cares. I’m here dealing with their messes and they don’t care.

An earlier me would have hated what I’ve become. It’s hard to believe that I was so naïve. I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this, but the thing is, I was gonna make a difference. It was easy to feel good about myself – I was choosing to face into the problem. To be present in the pain. To move forward when others were looking away. I was the good guy. I was noble.

I remember telling my friends I was headed into relief and development work and damn if it didn’t feel good to get the weird looks from them. The looks of “Wow…I don’t even know what it means but it sounds important.” The questions about whether it’s dangerous or whether I was worried. The stupid, stupid refrain of “better you than me.” I liked all of that. It fed something in me. I thought it was piety. I thought it was proving how good I was. How sorry my girlfriend should have been that she left me. How much I had improved as a human – that I’m one of the good ones now. What a testament to my faith I was. How lucky the world is to have me. How lucky the refugees would be…

I have trouble with the word r e f u g e e now. It’s so sterile, so detached. So inhuman. Just a legal designation or a political slogan. A number to count. A story to spin. And there are some that have the nerve to turn it into an epithet. I want to call those racist idiots out but I know it makes me just like them to call them scum.

I don’t know.

It’s just that when you look into someone’s eyes and you see that the fear is still there…when you know that the glassy-eyed look in their face is something that didn’t used to be there – didn’t have to be there. It’s all well and good to talk about how resilient these folks are – how they demonstrate the indomitable human spirit – how they’re a testament to overcoming. I mean look, all of that’s great.

But the first time I heard one of the stories…you’ll know what I mean when you hear one…it just shakes you. I think back then…the first time…I still thought I could fix it.  


You heard of secondary trauma? No? Well…you will. Screws you up bad, man. Like you just get hit with wave after wave after wave of other people’s pain. And then you go back to your own nice bed in your own nice room with your streaming movies and you think about how unjust all of it is. And you wonder how anything you believe can possibly be true – about yourself, about your country, about your god.

You think I’m getting carried away – I can see it in your eyes. Suit yourself. Tomorrow will come earlier than you think. You probably won’t sleep well tonight – you’ve still got that excited look the new ones always have.

What’s that? Well, yes, I do think you’re wet behind the ears. I know…I know a hundred percent that you’re judging me harder than I’m judging you right now. I suppose I’m a disappointment to you. You’re stuck with me for a mentor and you hate it. Well, welcome to the club – I’m the president of the ‘disappointed in me’ club three years running. If you can get by just being disappointed with me you’ll be doing pretty well I guess.

What to expect in the morning… Yeah that’s fair that you’d ask that. It’ll be a helluva day for you, but you won’t know what do. And you’ll be tired. Jet lag and all. I’ll be tired too…all these beers.

But come morning, the third coffee is usually the one that does it.

Do you like coffee? I used to have a taste for coffees…funny to think that now. I used to have this cute little french press travel mug I’d use when I was on the road. Real boujie, right? Yeah I liked those dark coffees – not like the big chain – but the kind where it tasted like I what imagined it would be like if you could make a flavor out of the feeling of nostalgia. Complex, some sweet notes, hard to see through, easy to get lost in.

But it’s been a long time since I’ve drunk for flavor. I suppose I miss tasting the carefully brewed creations – someone’s special craft.

But I drink for the caffeine now.

Maybe I need another beer. You buying?

Written in response to the Reedsy writing prompt: Write about someone whose job is to help people leave their old lives behind.