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Welcome home, soldier - Sing With Me If It's Just For Today... — LiveJournal
If I should fall behind, Guyster, wait for me.
Welcome home, soldier
The thick drizzle drove us to scurry across the busy intersection outside of my office building. When Henriette and I made it to the overhang of the Chinese restaurant that had just celebrated its grand opening, we were damp. The place was packed. The hostess, draped in embroidered silk, guided us to a table.

I was happy to see Henriette, not that we’re very close friends, but we fly in same flock in LA, and she’s fun. Best known for playing “Alice” in the Brady Bunch movies, she was in town for a few days shooting segments for her documentary on Ralph Nader. I hadn’t seen her in years, and soon after we ordered, we were talking and tsking about Beth and Greg and Mark and Michael and our mutual obsession with The McLaughlin Group, and suddenly I felt like I was home.

Two tables in front of me, I faced a young man with an overgrown high ‘n’ tight. His thin face was pale, and he stared at his plate. An older couple flanked him. I imagined they were his parents. I could see the young man was in a wheelchair.

We were jabbering away when I noticed that the young man had quickly drawn back his arm, rebuffing his mother’s hand. He suddenly started to wheel himself away from the table, and tried to navigate through the narrow passage of tables set too closely together. His father bolted up from his chair and sat back down just as quick.

The young man bumped into the back of a man’s chair at the table next to us. Startled, the man turned around, looked down, looked back at his date. The young man seemed to be holding back tears with all the grit a boy can muster. The chair cleared their table, and that’s when I saw one sweat pant leg folded and pinned clear up to the young man’s thigh, the other was flat from his knee downward, its cuff hanging over the chair’s edge.

When my eyes met his, I knew I’d been caught staring. Embarrassed, I picked up our conversation about Henriette’s crazy boyfriend. The soldier wheeled around our table toward the restroom. Henriette saw him, too, and while we kept on conversation on track, my mind was somewhere else.

His struggle was just beginning when his life should be kicking into a higher gear. Would he ever get used to the sympathetic stares? Years from now, would others’ glances turn to disdain? Was there a wife in his future? A career? He was in the pit of rearranging all of his hopes and dreams. Could he climb out and find his life again?

“I see way too much of that around here,” I said, distractedly.

“Walter Reed is right around here, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, too close.”


12 comments or Leave a comment
cricketshay From: cricketshay Date: May 28th, 2005 02:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for sharing. *hugs*
ubermunkey From: ubermunkey Date: May 28th, 2005 02:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Gripping entry. Coming out was my first assumption until I read farther.

be well
fairy From: fairy Date: May 28th, 2005 03:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
OK...I'm sobbing.

You have quite a way with words. I wish more people would see and understand this. I'm choked up right now...can't even think of how to respond properly.

Thank you for sharing this.
creactivity From: creactivity Date: May 28th, 2005 06:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, man.
ladycakes From: ladycakes Date: May 28th, 2005 07:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
This makes me so angry. I'm going to go outside and hack at some shrubs.
stutts From: stutts Date: May 28th, 2005 11:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
mengus From: mengus Date: May 29th, 2005 05:03 am (UTC) (Link)
That kind of shit gives me lieutenant Dan syndrome - I never got to be in combat. I should count myself lucky, but it's difficult in a family of so many Marines.

Powerful. Thank you.
munkypham From: munkypham Date: May 29th, 2005 11:47 am (UTC) (Link)
This entry made me think about all of the guys that have been hurt from my unit, since we've been over here. It's so sad. I wish there was another way to help this country, without losing more soldiers.

I don't know if I could take another tour over here. My sanity wouldn't allow it.

Thanks for posting this and helping me remember.
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: June 7th, 2005 10:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
You've got work to do back here. You're a writer, a storyteller, and there's a whole life ahead for you to explore.

You've done your duty, soldier, it's time to come home.
privatesector From: privatesector Date: May 29th, 2005 01:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I pray that the young man and his family are receiving the counciling they need, for physical and emotional trauma. My father was an officer during WW ll and although he managed to avoid any serious phsical injury I know there's a part of him that was taken away from his family, forever.
quuf From: quuf Date: June 6th, 2005 02:06 am (UTC) (Link)
I missed this little gem when you first posted it, hence my tardiness. One of my best friends is in a wheelchair, and we've had some meaty conversations about the multi-dimensional awkwardness you describe with such spare beauty here. He isn't disabled from combat wounds, but practically speaking, that doesn't much matter. With quiet courage, he's battled the slow slide of muscular dystrophy since early adolescence.

When I'm out with M, I see how kind people can be. If it's kindness of the simple, disinterested, thoughtful sort, no problem. It's when people go overboard and the kindness is clearly self-interested, that the trouble begins. He once had a woman he'd been pleasantly chatting with in line at the post office pursue him through the parking lot with a cross she'd torn from her neck. When she tried giving it to him, with the expected tagline ("I'll pray for you!") he, a Buddhist, rejected her gift and essentially ripped her a new asshole.

I winced a little when he told me this story, because I understood the impulse behind her gesture; she wanted to do good and think well of herself in the bargain. But M's reaction contained a lesson she needed to learn. And M is one of the most capable people I've ever known -- he even went to Australia by himself a few years ago.

As for your stare, which probably wasn't a stare, you at least acknowledged that young man. Under certain circumstances, looking away can be even more conspicuous (I dearly hope I'm making sense here).
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: June 7th, 2005 10:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
I pray this young man will find the strength, humor, and determination of your friend, M. When I looked into his eyes, all I saw was fear.
12 comments or Leave a comment