by Frank Pauc
This first appeared in Frank’s blog on April 5, 2017, as “Compliment.” It is republished here with the author’s permission.
I sat across from an old man last night. My friends and I had just finished setting up snacks for the patients in the psych ward, so I found a chair and started talking with Jerry. He had on the standard maroon pajamas and an off-white bathrobe. Jerry had forgotten to fasten a couple of the buttons on his shirt. His white hair was unkempt, and his eyes looked even redder than mine. He was tired, but alert. I’m not entirely sure why he was at the VA hospital, but he didn’t seem at all confused.
We talked for over an hour. One subject led to another. We talked about addiction and rehab. We talked about transitioning from the Army to civilian life. We talked about depression. Jerry told me about his five-year-old grandson, who had died in a car crash. I told him about my two brothers who had died young. We talked about our kids. I told Jerry about Hans and his experiences with the Banditos. Jerry mentioned his quality time with some members of the Mafia.
Jerry told me that he had first come to the VA back in ’78. “Yeah, I was losing everything: my wife was leaving me, I was going to lose my job, and lose my license. I don’t where I would be if it wasn’t for this place.” He stopped, and said, “I’d probably be dead.”
It was getting late, and Jerry smiled and asked me, “So, what are you here for?”
I pointed the tables with the popcorn, fruit, and cookies. “I bring the snacks.”
Jerry looked lost for a moment, and then he said, “Oh, you bring the snacks here. I thought you were a patient. You’re not here for treatment?
“No, not yet.”
Jerry seemed uncomfortable. “I thought you were a vet.”
“I am a vet.”
“Oh, yeah. I know that. I thought you were one of us.”
He paused and rubbed his unshaven cheek. “I meant that as a compliment.”
I took it as such.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on March 15, 2021.