He was sitting against the concrete barrier surrounded by empty cigarette packages. He didn’t seem dirty, just depressed, as he stared blankly as the side of my just-parked car in the dark of the restaurant parking garage.
I’ve seen that look before. It used to be called shell shock.
Rather than walk by, I approached him.
“You all right?”
He barely registered my face. Swiftly, I opened my passenger side door, took out my two apples and handed them to him.
His eyes sad, he mouthed, “I can’t.” Showed me his upper teeth, all gone.
I tossed the apples back into my car and rummaged around for something else, that I had just put in the console the day before.
Six packages of Justin’s Cashew Butter, maple-flavored. Soft, easy to eat, fast protein and fats. Just the thing. Or so I hoped.
I squatted next to the man, who was young. Possibly in his thirties. Tapped him on the arm. As he looked up at me, I removed my upper denture. My teeth look like that, too. He looked in my eyes for the first time, registering me as a fellow human. Just…a fellow human. One who might have also known some pain.
I handed him the nut butters. I use them for my adventures for fast energy. They really work. They might help him, too.
He took them, and in the way of all of us military, he said, “Thank you ma’am,” in a quiet voice.
That was all I had.
I locked my car doors. Then squatted next to him again.
“Never give up on yourself. Never, ever give up on yourself,” I said softly. I have been way too close to where this young man is right now. Far too close for comfort.
“Thank you ma’am,” he whispered. My heart ached.
He couldn’t stay here, I knew, as the restaurant security folks would remove him. I decided to let the manager know, and ask that they might make a call on his behalf. Not the police. A halfway house?
I should have made that call myself, but I had a breakfast appointment coming in right then. Another veteran, like me.
Afterwards I asked the restaurant staff what had happened.
“We asked him to move, and he did, peacefully,” they said.
Move. We don’t want to do deal with you. Don’t scare our patrons.
At least, as they told me, he was working his way through the packs of cashew butter, which made me feel at least marginally better. But not much.
This is how we treat our veterans, who paid for our freedom in ways most civilians cannot possibly imagine.
Move. Out of sight, out of mind, until we need your bodies for cannon fodder.
Your pain embarrasses us.
Next time, I will ask my breakfast date to give me a few minutes. I’m going to make the call myself. I wish to hell I had. I honestly believed the restaurant staff would have cared enough to take the time. They didn’t. To them, he was a piece of human detritus soiling their parking garage.
Not to me, he wasn’t.
I’m not just going to ask a fellow vet to move his ass down the road where he won’t scare anyone.
Because we are the reason that restaurant even exists.
See a vet, thank a vet, help a vet. You don’t have what you have without us. We paid for those rights, privileges, freedoms.
We paid in ways you cannot possibly imagine. We’re still paying in ways you can’t possibly imagine.
See a vet, thank a vet, help a vet. You might save a life. A life that got sacrificed so that you could live yours.