It was a Saturday when I met Kostos the angel. And as these things go, I have only a faint recollection of how I began talking to the ridiculous-looking, pot-bellied stranger, never mind telling him my deepest troubles.
I remember aimlessly walking in my depression around the cobblestone pathway of one of Tarpon Springs' many lakes, oblivious to the gentle breeze wafting off the January waters and unaware of the elements of fate gathering at that moment to provide me with lessons that would last a lifetime. I faintly remember a sudden swish by my ear, being lashed in the cheek by the half-brained backswing of a fisherman's pole and then untangling myself from nylon loops of 20-pound test line.
"Yo ho there, younga man." The gravel-voiced stranger turned to me in slow arthritic motion. "You gotta watch where you walking. You got my line all tangled up now!"
I ran my fingers across my cheek, checking for blood. Cursing out the man never occurred to me; somehow the sting of his rod had felt good, a cosmic force of sorts that jolted me back to full consciousness for the first time in weeks.
I stood and gawked at the odd-looking stranger. He was dressed in a white bathing suit, oblivious to the 50-degree temperature. The skin on his arms and face was dark and wrinkled, accustomed, it seemed, to harsher forces in his lifetime. If I couldn't tell the man was Greek by his accent, the Mediterranean face gave him away instantly.
But most outstanding in the comic demeanor was his emblemed captain's cap. It at once finished the cartoon image, yet at the same time hinted at another soul. A soul of someone who had, at some point in his life, wielded power. I must have just stood there, watching him fish for some time, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to be slapped in the face by a stranger's fishing rod. And I'm sure it seemed the most natural thing in the world when after a while this complete stranger said:
"Hey, you got some a problem, young man. C'mon, you can tell it to Kostos. Nobody understands problems like Kostos. I was a millionaire three times in my lifetime, lost it every time on a woman and gambling. And I'm now the poorest, most wretched 70-year-old former casino owner you ever met...and the most happy one, too!" With a vicious cast of his line, which I managed this time to duck under with split-second timing, he proclaimed: "There ain't a thing you can't tell to Kostos!"
And so I told him...about Patty, about my broken heart, about my life, about it all. Just as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world that this stranger should ask.
And just as naturally he said the words that lifted my burden as if it never had been there.
"Boyo, you 21 years old, you the most young doctor I ever met. You just startin' this here wonderful life, got everything goin' for ya, and look at the damn mess you got going on in that head." Somehow, instead of insulting me, his words made me see, really made me see myself.
"You should write that young lady the biggest thank-you letter like nobody ever has. She's done you the biggest favor anybody ever coulda. Boyo, at your age, you gotta be a crazy thinkin' about hookin' yourself up wit' just one a girl. You should be goin' out wit' a million girls!"
Anyone else could have said the same thing. Others had. But somehow, coming from this man at this particular point in time, the words resonated with near-biblical meaning.
But he wasn't done with me yet. "Somethin' else is botherin' you, boyo," he said. "You can tell me. C'mon kid, now's the time. Get this thing off your chest. Kostos can see it's been there almost as long as you have!"
How did he know? How had this man, this crusty old fisherman who never met me before in his life, read into the deepest, most holy part of me as if my heart were an Essene scroll and he a scribe knowing exactly where to unfurl it to my most shrouded secrets?
So I told him. I told him about wanting to be a writer. Told him about thinking that I'd never enter practice. Told him, most of all, about the extreme tension between me and my father, how I couldn't do anything without my father wanting me to do something else, how every conversation between us the last few years had turned into a shouting match.
His voice suddenly became stern. "Boyo, let me tell you somethin'. Your parents? They're the most important thing in the world to you. Do you hear me?"
I nodded, not daring to speak.
"I got a son. That boy calls me from California three times a week! You hear, three! He don't, he knows I come out there and I box his ears! And you know why?" I shook my head. "Of course you don't, no kid knows. But ya know what?"