now is a good time to panic


thomas wolfe was right

So a few days ago I was at the VA for an optometry appointment. I hate going to the VA. There are creepy old men everywhere and the elevators smell like feet. This day, however, I was unprepared for the challenge that I faced.

 

A 22 year old Army kid latched on to me. Yes, my people. You read that correctly. I had a 22 year old following me around like a puppy dog. He was nice enough, but I am not the most sociable person when in uncomfortable situations, and being at the VA definitely counts as an uncomfortable situation.

 

Back to the kid. His name was Jack, and he told me his life story. I did not ask for it, but since I had to listen to it, you get to read it. I will condense it for you, because I don’t have the typing stamina to write out two hours worth of awkward babbling. Jack was from somewhere in California. I’m not sure where, because I’ve never been to California (apart from LAX, which I hatehatehate) and therefore have no reason to remember specific places. He joined the Army when he turned 18, and his family told him that if he chose the military over them, they would disown him.

 

Jack chose the military. Apparently his grades weren’t the best and he had limited opportunities in the town that they lived in, and he felt that the military was really the only way to go. He joined the army and sent home $1,000 a month to help out with the bills back at home. His family accepted the money but still wouldn’t speak to him. He continued to try for four years, but nothing.

 

When the time came for him to reenlist, his career field had no openings and the Army had too many people, so he was discharged honorably. His last duty station was here in Hawaii, so he just stayed here. He looked for work for a few months, but eventually his money ran out and he ended up on the streets. He would hold up a sign in downtown Waikiki that read ‘I’m not going to lie, I need a drink’ for money.

 

For some reason, he told me the part about the sign with a smile on his face, laughing. Like this was a very clever and hilarious thing for him to do. Really? There is nothing funny about being reduced to begging on the streets with a sign advertising your alcoholism to passing tourists. I thought that maybe the laughter was a defense mechanism or something, but no. He was really tickled at his ingenuity. Anyway, back to the story.

 

Finally he ended up at the VA somehow and they cleaned him up, put him into AA, and sent him to live at the homeless shelter down in Barber’s Point in Ewa Beach. He was at the VA that morning for an AA meeting. I asked him why he didn’t call his parents and go back to California, and he said that he tried. When he called and told them that he was homeless here in Hawaii, they told him to not bother coming back to Cali because he would be homeless there, too. They informed him that four years ago, he made his choice. He chose the Army over his family, and now he has to live with his decision.

 

I thought that was one of the saddest things I had ever heard, and he shrugged and told me that he tried to not think about it. I’m sure it hurts him that his parents had no problem accepting his financial assistance (which totaled $48,000 all together), but wouldn’t allow him to come home when he needed them. Hearing his story made me so thankful for the family and friends that I have in my life. As difficult as things are right now, I have not been reduced to begging in the street, I have friends that make sure I have food in my stomach, and once I make it home I know that my parents will try their best to help me.

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4 Comments so far
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I have a little different take on Jack. When everything in your life falls apart, you have two choices: you can deny it and hide from it or face up to it in all of its ugliness and loneliness. The last vestige is pride with all of it’s absurdity. To beg for a drink and laugh at it may be Jack’s laugh at all the hypocrisy and self indulgence of our society. At least Jack is getting some help from the VA. Many veterans coming out of Vietnam got no help and are spending their lives on the street to this day.

The truth is that we all have to go home again, physically or in our imaginations, to confront where we came from; often to face anger, disappointment, or indifference. We do this because in all our lives there are moments of promise and moments of stark reality. We have to know the origins of both before we can move forward.

We look forward to the day when you come home.

I love it when you call me DAD.

Comment by Larry Hartwick

We are beyond fortunate to have such a great VA here on the island. I’m glad that he had somewhere to turn when he was ready for help. There are plenty of Vietnam vets roaming the halls of the Honolulu VA as well.

Jack seemed to have come to terms with his family situation. He gave no indication that he was hurting from his family’s decisions, but that doesn’t mean much. Perhaps he has already gone home in his imagination and faced his family’s anger, disappointment, and indifference.

It just made me reflect on how lucky I am to have the family that I do. It never even crossed my mind that they would be angry with me for leaving home and joining the military.

Unlike Jack, however, I will be home next weekend :) xxoo

Comment by kathelldorfer

Wow! I find it very sad that his parents happily accepted the $48,000, but won’t let him come back home. I just don’t understand how someone can do that to their child. Shouldn’t they be proud that their son wanted to go serve the country they get to live in?

Comment by triing2survive

My parents have always been very proud and supportive of me, so it’s hard for me to imagine what is in the minds of his mother and father. It seems very selfish to be angry at your child for leaving you to start his own life.

Comment by kathelldorfer




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