May 28th, 2005


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.”