Vietnam Veteran. Cynical. New York City.

“Hey, asshole! Watch where you’re going!” It was the second time in the same day that he was almost run over by a cabbie. They have no patience. They’re always in a rush. A rush for what?

Life was always getting harder. It wasn’t enough that he had to wander around the city in a dirty wheel chair because of losing his leg years ago, but the quality of life was diminishing and diminishing quickly. He was late for a doctor’s appointment. It was 8:30 in the morning and he was already late.

“I might as well not go,” he said to himself. “No one cares anyway.” It was more like he didn’t care. He had children who he didn’t contact regularly. His wife had passed some 10 years ago and it kills him to think about how she would’ve wanted them to be a close-knit family. It takes too much effort, he thought as he rolled himself onto the sidewalk. Life takes too much effort.

He was still headed to the clinic where he had his appointment. Did it really matter that he was late? He had nowhere to go, he was just going to get pushed back in line and he wasn’t paying for his veteran services either. Eh, might as well go. Vietnam was so long ago, but it didn’t matter. The fight and what he saw out there was unbelievable. Coming back home to his wife and kids was a dream for months after he situated himself back in to everyday life. This couldn’t be real. How could he be living so comfortably after being in dirt huts, in the hot sun, in the torrential downpours and the jungle atmosphere? When his kids came home from school to tell him what they learned, he scoffed at it all, said their teachers were sugar-coating everything.

“You know those are all lies, right?” he’d ask them. Not only did the teacher want to have conferences with him and his wife every week, but his wife would have her words with him. “Stop trying to take away their innocence!”

That was what war did to you. At least, whatever that whole situation was. Sometimes he didn’t even know anymore. He pulled out a smashed pack of Marlboro reds. Two left. Great. That’s all right, as long as he had one for after the appointment, he wouldn’t be too dissatisfied with the day. He stopped for a second and lit the awkwardly bent cigarette. He figured he was supposed to die in Vietnam anyway, so why not go out with a few tar-filled lungs?

It was amazing he had survived and even he knew that. If it weren’t for his damn leg. That’s all God wanted apparently. Maybe someone else needed one up there, hobbling around. God probably grabbed the fella by the shoulder and pulled him into his looking glass.”Well, that guy right there seems to be the perfect fit! Let me snatch that leg for you. That guy doesn’t need it for the rest of his life.” And that was that for his leg. He wondered if he’d get it back when he died.

He looked at his watch. 8:45. The nurse is going to yell at me again and I’m going to laugh it off and say, “Sweetie, you try getting around this city in a wheel chair.” She’ll say something snippy about taking the bus, but his cheap self wouldn’t do that when he’s only 15 blocks away. I survived a war, dammit. I can wheel myself to the doctor’s office! He heard it all in his head. “Yeah, what are they going to tell me anyway,” he mumbled to himself, “that I should stop smoking? That I should really watch what I eat? That I should shower more frequently?”

The downward spiral happened a lot faster after his wife passed. When that time came, he didn’t cry. He didn’t worry about his grown kids, he just stopped worrying about himself. She took care of him, like the good woman that she was and when she got sick, he took care of her, too. Now, what? His kids didn’t need him, although they did call every two weeks to leave him messages. It didn’t seem right for him as nasty of a man that he turned out to be, to have frequent contact with his grandchildren. I might jade them, he thought, like I jaded my own kids.

He was almost there. The cool air of the fall hit him in the face and it felt good, since he was warm from the rolling of the wheel chair. As he crossed the street he noticed a man older than him sitting on the sidewalk asking for change. He realized he never wanted to be that, and luckily, he never was that. It was the same guy he passed every time he came to the clinic. “Here’s a couple quarters,” he told him. “That’s all I got.” “God bless you,” said the beggar.

He has, thought the man. And oddly, in the worst ways.

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